The Post-Sale Customer Service Conundrum: Lip Service or Genuine Care?


By James D. Roumeliotis

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Customer service - white gloves and tray

Delirious, confused and frustrated are merely three terms which best describe what clients typically experience when dealing with many customer support representatives. Excellent customer service is a crucial component of your business image and philosophy. Regardless of how good your products and prices are, if you can’t offer a positive experience for your customers, they will likely not return. Moreover, you can be certain they will spread negative word-of-mouth. With social media so prevalent, a brand’s reputation can eventually take a nose dive. Today, customers are more demanding than ever. They want to know their issues are genuinely acknowledged and demand timely results. Simply apologizing to them does not suffice.

Do head honchos get it?

Much is touted by companies about customer satisfaction but surprisingly only a few actually deliver on their promises. Prominent brands are not immune either. At the outset, it appears that many lack a vital customer relations policy. Inadequate staff training amongst other factors further aggravates the problem.  Picking up the telephone and calling certain companies, for example, can sometimes lead to an exasperating experience. People love to hate the phone tree experience where you have to go through a maze of menus until you eventually get to speak to a human – assuming you’re lucky. It shouldn’t have to be that way.

The executives who are is in charge of finance and operations respectively (consider the CFO and COO) are mainly focusing on costs and productivity even to the detriment of the average customer. Consequently, they will measure the calls answered per minute – regardless of the outcome. In contrast, a customer focused executive will reward those who take their time to listen, engage and solve customer issues.

Deliberate bad customer experience

Sadly, some brands have a built-in mechanism to test their systems with some clients in the hopes they will give in which in the short term will not entail refunds or product returns which can hurt bottom lines. However, this approach is quite short sighted with long term negative consequences. Those companies use their seemingly discounted prices to lure customers but their real business model seems to be in tricking customers with inaccurate payment information and then charging extra for any delayed payment amongst other inconveniences and unpleasant surprises along the way. Many gym memberships and website hosting service organizations are notorious for such trickery. Their hope is that through a lack of awareness, or constant frustration an average customer will simply cave in. This ultimately backfires with constant negative consumer publicity and an unusually excessive business turnover. Most modern consumers are too sophisticated to relinquish their rights to fair treatment. Companies may ignore this syndrome claiming it’s a ‘numbers game’, as well as a cost of doing business. Though, in the process, they also corrupt their front line staff who have to address an abnormal rate of legitimate grievances.

Marketing maven and best-selling author, Seth Godin rationalizes it this way:

Unfortunately, just about all big customer service organizations do this precisely backward. They don’t escalate to a supervisor or roll out the kindness carpet until after someone has gone to Defcon 4. They decide that it’s too expensive to be flexible, to listen or to treat people fairly, and they wait until the costs to both sides are really high, and then they give an empowered person a chance to solve the problem. There’s huge waste here, as the problem costs more to solve at this point, and the unseen challenge is that they’ve established a cycle in which umbrage is the rewarded behavior.”

The customer centric organization: solving issues before they occur

Going above and beyond customer expectations is focusing on customer centricity. It begins by developing, implementing and continuously delivering a total positive customer experience at every touch point and beyond. The costs and benefits of this practice are equally beneficial for the customers and the business. A University of Michigan study revealed that companies which received high scores in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) consistently outperform the S&P 500. Those companies include Walt Disney and Amazon, amongst others. Those are most certainly organizations that focus on quality over quantity and measure what truly make them remarkable.

The after sales service department should be designed with an efficient infrastructure in place so as to make the entire experience an effortless task for both the customers and employees who are assigned with the responsibility. It should be easy for the client to reach a customer service agent and/or online agent to chat with. Moreover, the client should not have to be placed on hold for more than 5 minutes. Whenever the wait is more than two minutes, there should be an option to offer a simple way to be called back. The organization’s mindset should be to constantly think of ways to release tensions and give solutions to the client promptly.

Since many of the inbound calls normally concern frequently asked questions, why not have them prominently displayed on the website and/or printed on the product insert. Having them recorded as an option on your phone line, in a clear English voice (and second or even third most popular language relevant to the region’s business demographics), can eliminate unnecessary calls and waiting times with a live person.

Staff tasked with customer service should:

  • Possess a positive attitude under duress;
  • Be initially trained and occasionally re-trained,
  • Treated with respect, and
  • Be empowered to make timely customer satisfaction decisions on their own.

There is no better example to illustrate this than online shoe retailer Zappos.

What customers get to see displayed prominently on the web site:
– 24/7 1-800 number on every page
– Free shipping
– Free return shipping
– 365-day return policy

What customers will experience:
– Fast, accurate fulfillment
– Most customers are “surprise”-upgraded to overnight shipping
– Creating a “WOW” factor
– Friendly, helpful “above and beyond” customer service
– Occasionally direct customers to competitors’ web sites

What’s done behind the scenes?
– No call times, no sales-based performance goals for representatives
– The telephone is considered for them one of the best branding devices available.
– Run warehouse 24/7. Inventory all products (no drop-shipping).
– Five weeks of culture, core values, customer service, and warehouse training for everyone in Las Vegas office.
– A Culture Book
– Interviews & performance reviews are 50% based on core values and culture fit.

Customer Experience equals customer abbreviation

Putting it all together

Within every organization, decision making drives performance. Every day, employees at work make decisions that impact performance. These decisions, at every level of the organization, including customer service policies and tactics, define the corporate culture and drive performance.

It’s important to keep in consideration that measuring customer satisfaction is a way to assess its effectiveness, and refine what’s necessary along the way. This is performed by evaluating communication at your help desk or and/or call centers, as well as conducting surveys or sending out brief questionnaires soon after a call has been consummated. How satisfied were your customers with the level of service they received and will they do business with you again in addition to recommending you to others?

Customers are not concerned about your operational problems, your costs and margins, your lead times, your staff shortages, and much more. They are only interested in themselves and the benefits they may be able to obtain from your business instead of the one down the street, or the other ones found over the internet.

Thus, a priority need for every (selfish) customer or prospective buyer is timely and personal service.

Bill Marriot said it succinctly with “Take good care of your employees and they’ll take good care of the customer—and the customer will come back.”

This management philosophy isn’t common but it is shared by both Southwest and Costco. When using either company you can experience it as employees are generally in a great mood, and in turn, happy to help.

Customer centricity should be everyone’s job in an organization. It’s to be embedded in the internal culture. It begins with the top leadership and permeates through the entire organization. Implementation of new and refined strategies and tactics equate to daily and long-term success in building profitable customer relationships. Been helpful with your customers, even if there’s no immediate profit in it, is simply a good business practice with pragmatic thinking for the long-haul.

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