Customer Support Channels – Drive Friendly

While driving from the Austin (TX) airport to our soon-to-be-open new Creative Design & Customer Support Center, I had to smile as I passed one of the highway signs that urge drivers to “Drive Friendly.” During an early site survey, our contractor explained that the signs encourage Texans to yield to other drivers and be courteous. He added, “It’s the Texas way.” I doubt if we can credit the signs, but everyone we’ve met and talked with has been over-the-top courteous and has gone out of his/her way to make introductions so we can rapidly build a creative customer-focused team in Texas. Austin’s positive approach certainly fits OWC’s employee and customer support DNA like a glove.

Solid Foundation
Since our beginning back in 1988, our underlying philosophy has been to provide a courteous, safe, inspiring environment where our people can thrive and grow. The new facility will give us room to more than double our creative and customer service team so we can not only meet but exceed the expectations of our growing customer base. It is no longer enough to just sell or provide a product or service. Organizations need to provide prompt service and assistance to the consumer.

Customers Differ
We think our success to date closely parallels the customer journey ZDNet described last year.

Customer Journey – Customer relations/customer engagement is a never-ending process that should involve everyone in the organization, not just people on the customer service desk. By listening, understanding and engaging customers, organizations can improve their processes, procedures and products. Source – Jeff Nolan, ZDNet

Companies in the computer industry serve a broad range of customers:
- Individuals who are able to field strip their systems and put them back together …blindfolded
- Those who have their system/mobile device and simply want to use them for work, personal communications, entertainment
- People who moved into the mobile device arena with a smartphone or tablet then decided to add a notebook or ultrabook

People, their levels of expertise, their experience and needs are all different. Simply providing support using a scripted service binder doesn’t really help them or the company. We recently read an article in “The New York Times” that described how Internet and social media companies (Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.) only provide customer support via email. The irony is that with the increased popularity of social media sites such as these, the number of ways we can interact with customers has grown, rather than shrunk. The biggest challenge for every product/service company is that there are no longer defined points or moments of customer interaction. People contact us on our web site, on a dozen different social media sites and hundreds of different staff members’ postings as well as via email, Twitter and even the phone. While our goal is customer acquisition and preservation, we also know that customer service at every level binds the two halves of the equation together. That means customer engagement is everyone’s business.

Customer Engagement – Similar to regular organizational business/product planning meetings, firms also need to conduct periodic customer engagement meetings with people drawn from throughout the organization and at all levels. These meetings provide companies with a better understanding of their customers and their needs as well as their organization’s strengths and weaknesses. Today, people are able to reach almost anyone inside an organization on the phone, via email or on their company/personal social media page.  We, and others concerned about reaching the enabled consumer, have begun conducting customer engagement summits. The objective is to ensure the company is listening to, understanding, engaging with and improving customer engagement with products, brands, people.

One of the first things we discovered was that products are important to customers, but not to the point of having a relationship with the brand. One of our corporate customers explained, “We like you folks, but you’re not a member of my family. We reserve relationships for friends, family, colleagues.” At one of our recent customer engagement meetings, we determined that there is no single best or preferred method of customer contact. Based on the wide range of customer expertise we support, this wasn’t a real eye opener; but what we found very interesting is that the channel the person first used to contact us for product/assistance was the one they stayed with:
- We’ve seen a significant increase on our online live chat service and they enjoy using quick questions, getting quick responses
- Our forum members have also been quick to jump in and answer questions based on their experiences and help each other solve problems and the solutions are often different from the ones our engineering/support people might recommend but they work because they’re based on real world usage
- Many people really enjoy solving their problems themselves using our online documentation, videos that cover almost every issue we can think of and working with our forum members to crowdsource solutions, workarounds and even new product ideas, applications
- People who post questions/issues on Facebook, Pinterest and even those who send out question/problem Tweets, like to get the responses back in the same form. Often, when the questions get extremely technical or require detailed discussion/information, we will take the discussions offline and assist the customer with personal email, live chat or phone calls.
- Phone support – we know lots of organizations feel customer support over the phone went out with the partyline, but we’ve found there are large numbers of people who actually like to talk to a real person – especially one who doesn’t use a script to answer and talks in his/her native tongue

Answers, Information – While many organizations believe that a customer service organization manned by real people who take phone calls, respond to emails, handle live online chats and field social media issues is a waste of time and money; consumers want access to the organization that they are most comfortable with … not what the company is most comfortable with.

On the Line
Why the phone? First, some people (actually lots of people) find it difficult and laboriously slow to type. Spelling out the problem, solutions they have attempted and precisely describing the issues in writing is not only time-consuming, it can exacerbate the problem. When a customer calls one of our support people for assistance, he/she is often frustrated, irritated, disillusioned or downright mad. Our customer service manager, who has probably heard it all and will soon be training our Austin, TX support team, explained the issue to one of our applicants, “It’s a lot like having to go to the doctor or dentist. Your body shouldn’t have problems and your system or mobile device shouldn’t have a problem. When it does, no one says whoopee!” We try to walk in both camps by focusing on developing the best, most innovative products we can and at the same time having a strong focus on our customers whenever and however they want to get in contact with us. If they approach us via live chat, email, on one of our social media pages or with Twitter; we want to get their device up and working as quickly as possible so they can get on their way. If they prefer to use the phone, they shouldn’t be left on hold, forced into a phone system maze or be disconnected and have to start all over … again. Our Woodstock and future Austin product development teams will continue to be highly intertwined with customer support because our products reflect the needs of our customers. As our customer service manager said in a recent customer engagement meeting, “None of you should be too busy, too important to talk with a customer.” He added that he personally preferred the phone calls because when an issue was solved online all he received was a “Thank you” message. But when everything comes together for a customer on the phone, you can hear the joy, relief immediately.

Voila!! – Assisting customers with problems, issues and questions online can be efficient and effective because it strips away a lot of personal emotion issues. But nothing is more satisfying to one of our service team than when the person on the other end of the phone squeals with glee, “It’s working, we did it!” It’s a great way to drive business…Friendly – The Texas (and Illinois) Way!

About the author:
Andy has worked in front of and behind the TV camera and radio mike. Unlike most PR people he listens to and understands the consumer’s perspective on the actual use of products. He has written more than 100 articles in the business and trade press. During this time he has also addressed industry issues and technologies not as corporate wishlists but how they can be used by normal people. Unable to hold a regular 9-5 job, he has been a marketing and communications consultant for more than ...


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