Customer Service Has to Be Real, Responsive
“We might just make it. Did that thought ever cross your brain? Well, regardless, I would rather take my chance out there on the ocean than to stay here and die on this island, spending the rest of my life talking…” – Chuck Noland, “Cast Away,” 20th Century Fox (2000)
Last Saturday, the wife went shopping at Stanford Mall…O.K., so that’s not unusual and not particularly exciting or for most males. The next day, she had a thank you email from the associate (there are no clerks today) encouraging the wife to call or better yet, come by (oh, we know what that means) if she had any questions/issues. The associate even volunteered to let her know from time to time when there were sales, events she thought the wife would be interested in (whoopee!). A pretty good customer engagement effort. But a month before, we had ordered a new car cover from one outlet and sportswear from another. Got an email from the online auto store welcoming us to the “family,” and asking us to take a look at the linked catalog and get some more great stuff at a fantastic 10 percent off. We’ve received two other offers since…still waiting for the car cover. Got the sportswear and twice a week, we get an offer for more really neat stuff, sweet deals. We’d like the first online store to know we’re not interested in being part of their “family”…have enough trouble with our own. As for the second, six “undergarments” will last for awhile. If we do, we’ll ask the wife to go to the store. She’s a customer. We’re a target. Chuck looked at the flood of friendly emails and equated it to his last trip, “I should’ve never gotten on that plane. I should’ve never gotten out of the car.” Lonely Feeling – People will talk your ear off when they want to help you understand why you need to buy their product, system or service. But then, as you try to get things going, you get blank stares you can feel over the phone, Internet. Companies large and small (B2B or B2C) give a lot of lip service to customer contact/engagement, but what they really want is to sell something and drop them on a deserted island.
When you’re ready to talk to them about something new, they’re your long-lost forever buddies. Companies have to come to grips with the fact that today’s consumers and business customers are increasingly selective about which brands share their lives.
Born Listener/Advisor – Some people just seem to be tailor-made to provide pretty good feedback and information. These people seem to have a sixth sense about what’s wrong, what you need and how to resolve your issues. The key is listening to what the person is saying and not saying. Prospective customers form impressions with every encounter, not with crafted messages, responses. Interactions/touch points are no longer limited to marketing, sales or customer service. They are spread across the entire organization because customers gain an experience, impression from everyone in your organization. They read your online promo blasts, read reviews, read/respond to blogs, check social media posts, email, call. Some firms are forming operational and decision-making customer engagement councils that involve people from every part of the organization – CEO, marketing, communications, accounting, sales, customer support, production, shipping, etc. – because no one today is hidden from or out of the customer’s reach. Changes need to be made, not just on projected financial returns; but also on how customer expectations are evolving, how competitors are changing their customer engagement focus and where the company may be able to win through superior customer engagement.
Not long ago, Mitch Joel, CEO of Twist Image, divided business into two distinct breeds:
* Product Focus – constantly evolving their product with tweets, updates and overhauls, focusing all of the attention on putting out the most interesting, most relevant products possible
* Customer Focus – making/selling products in volume with updates to stay relevant
If you read the recent article in the New York Times about people being unable to call in to today’s Internet-based darlings, they firmly put themselves in this category by saying we don’t take calls from people who want information, assistance…use the Internet. Wrong Wilson! The customer should choose the means of communications – and there are dozens that need to be monitored.
Uncomfortable Calls – We’ve encountered really good/great customer support people and really bad/rotten customer support people. The good ones understand the caller is a little irritated, perplexed because things should just work. Sometimes the best thing they do is …listen. People call for many different reasons; but the key reason is they want information/assistance.
People call, not because they are Internet illiterate, but because:
- Not everyone is really proficient with a keyboard.
- It takes time, effort to spell out all the issues and often leads to a prolonged discussion – if the person gets a response – for both sides to clearly understand the issue/solution.
- Sometimes, it’s just easier to talk through what you think the issue is and what the person on the other end of the phone can visualize as a potential solution.
Looking at the issue philosophically, Chuck commented, “We live and we die by time. And we must not commit the sin of losing our track on time.”
We’re Internet-Based – Having real people as customer support responders is expensive and doesn’t really scale very well. However, simply making you talk to the hand doesn’t do much for the company, its products/services or a future relationship.
We understand why organizations don’t like the calls:
* Phones cost money
* Phones don’t scale
* Phones are a distraction
* The caller is usually desperate, over-the-top irritated or has just hit a brick wall
The last reason is why scripted support, assistance, guidance doesn’t work. The customer knows the person they are talking with is leafing through a manual and often that only exacerbates the situation. People who have more freedom to work with the customer usually do a better job of making it a positive customer engagement because they’re listening instead of scrolling through canned answers.
Big Data Fast – CERN, the Large Hadron Collider, was developed to produce volumes of data and data points to help people learn the universes’ point of origin. CERN studies and provides information on more than a million points of light. Sorta’ think social media firms can follow the same example and talk to users in the mode he/she wants to communicate with the site/activity. True, for Internet-based social media firms, there are many sound reasons for people using the online tools that made them what they are today – large with millions of users that they mine data from and sell to others.
Oh Sure eMail is a great solution but…
According to most research, including a report from STELLAService:
* 54 percent of the customers get a complete answer to their straightforward questions
* 80 percent of the rest get an automated response
* About 20 percent receive no response
As Chuck noted waiting for a response, “87 hours is an eternity. The cosmos was created in less time.”
If the phone is too low tech for the company and people are too busy doing important things to respond to a customer, there are other options available the company can/should implement:
* An online live chat service allows both parties to use quick questions, quick responses to get the solution.
* User forums need to be established, monitored, assisted. There are hundreds, thousands of real users out there who enjoy jumping in and answering questions based on their experience. Their responses are often better, more creative than the company’s engineering/support people might recommend based on real world use.
* People often enjoy solving their problems themselves so online documentation, videos are ideal.
* Facebook, Pinterest, Tweet questions often get almost immediate answers; and some of them are actually helpful, rather than snarky. Company members who monitor these social sites often take the discussions offline and assist the customer with personal email, live chat, phone calls which strengthen the customer relationship and broadens the brand’s reach, influence.
Solving his problem, Chuck noted with glee, “Aha. Look what I’ve created. I have made FIRE.”
We know you’re saying right now that this isn’t putting anything on the company’s bottom line because it doesn’t produce a brand relationship, which is how marketing is measured by senior management. That’s why marketing focuses so much on driving highly-favorable relationships with endless emails, complex loyalty programs, microsites, print/online ads, product announcements. After all, “everyone” knows the more interaction (usually one-way) the company has with the customer, the better the relationship. Sorry, it doesn’t work and it’s a good way to get you on a desert island or worse.
Abandon, Forgotten – You get tons of emails and offers every day of the week; but when you click and buy, it somehow turns off the supplier’s contact resources. Your new device/ service looks good but when it doesn’t work as advertised and you want a little help, all too often you might as well be on a deserted island. As Stan told Chuck, “We buried you. There was a coffin, a gravestone… the whole thing.” It happens when your product, your service, your posts, your Tweets become more important than the customer. You may not even know it happened…but it will.