“Back in the good old days”, Fortune 100 companies recruited beautiful women with sexy voices, coiffures, expensive dresses (and brains). They were called “Receptionists”. It was their job to sit at the front desk and be the “face” of the company. After the company name hanging on the wall, the beautiful receptionist was the first thing people saw. The receptionist had to have brains. She had to be tactful and diplomatic in handling whoever contacted the company. She was the front line of what would be called: “Customer Service”.
Today the majority of incoming communication is by telephone and email. A pretty receptionist is nice but not that important. When someone contacts the company, these days, they are likely to encounter the dreaded “telephone tree”. This diabolical device, certainly not invented by customers, can be an additional source of and addition to their frustration, consternation and (frequently) anger. It is not uncommon for customers to be placed on hold for over an hour.
They are calling customer service because they either didn’t get what they wanted or they have a problem. They are not real happy, and what do they get? The Telephone tree.
Bestselling author of Freakonomics Stephen J. Dubner, says, “I am probably typical in that I hate making a customer-service call to just about any large company. The odds of getting useful information in anything under a half hour are pretty slim”. He seems to be the flag bearer for frustrated consumers who want to fight back, “I can imagine that some people won’t be interested in giving out their phone numbers, even to a website that’s providing a free and pretty useful service,” he writes. “I can also imagine that some people may be tempted to exploit this service, getting a customer-service rep on the line and then, since it cost nothing to do so, hanging up on them out of spite for all the past injustices”. Ouch!
IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU!
Is your customer service guilty of causing this kind of frustration? How quickly does your company respond? How long do your callers wait on hold? What do you do to keep customers satisfied, happy and above all: keep them as a customer? Klixxx contacted some industry leaders to get their view. Mary Gillis, Queen of Marketing at FlashCash says, “These days, it is Customer Service who responds to whoever might have a question, complaint or query. The CS person might never be seen. But their ability to reply in a positive manner is what puts a “face” on a company”. According to Ms. Gillis, “The first and most important thing to do is to have dedicated Customer Support Specialists, who are happy and professional”. Klixxx couldn’t agree more.
WHAT IS CUSTOMER SERVICE?
Let’s define the term. Doug Howardell, of ACA Group (Canada) a management consulting firm says, “Customer service is the ability of an organization to constantly and consistently give the customer what they want and need”. If you are in business to provide XYZ and you take the customer’s money but don’t provide XYZ, the customer will probably contact you…duh! They want to get what they paid for. If your company does not give the customer what they think XYZ entails, in a timely manner (making them wait on hold for an hour) then you are not doing a good job of Customer Service.
YOU ARE A SERVICE ORGANIZATION!
You provide an intangible service. You are not selling stainless steel widgets! If yours is a website, then you are a service company! Harmik Gharapetian, of Epoch, who was named the Xbiz Business person of the year, says, “At the heart of what we do, Epoch is a service organization. What makes us stand apart from our competition is the way we handle the customer experience. We’ve concentrated heavily on our philosophy and approach to customer service…the average caller gets to an agent within 5-10 seconds and never has to navigate though a myriad of phone menus. Our agents are trained extensively before taking their first call. I can truly say that our customer service is state-of-the-art”.
THE ART OF KEEPING CUSTOMERS AND THE COST OF LOSING THEM
A lot of professionals know that the cost of acquiring a customer is up to ten times the cost of keeping them. If you are good you can make a great presentation and sell the prospect…once! But the way you handle the bump in the road; how you respond to your customer’s call for service, will determine if that person remains a customer or goes off to your competition.
Professionals will also tell you that it is easier to sell someone you are already selling than it is to establish a new relationship. So, companies frequently bend over backwards to make sure the customer stays a customer.
123Resourcing Customer Service Call Centers offer Customer Support on a pay per call/pay per minute or flat fee per month basis. Fabian Buys of 123resourcing.com says, “When customers take the time to call and complain about charges it means the membership is over. The program has lost a client and incurred a potential chargeback. Our company has standards in place to evaluate a customer’s level of dissatisfaction and offer them the proper alternatives. In certain situations we advise clients to allow us to give their client a 3-6 months complimentary password. For example, if a consumer charged a recurring membership for 6 months, it is beneficial to everyone involved to refund 1 month’s membership charge and give 3 months free access. Versus risking 6 months charge backs, which in reality is 6 separate charge backs, it’s a win – win situation.”
Professionalism is being able to handle the irate caller and keep them as a customer. “This is not a job for random part-timers,” Mary Gillis says. “You need educated, intelligent staff. These people are often the only people who interact directly with your consumers; they are the representatives of your company. If they don’t know their stuff, your company looks foolish”.
YOU NEED A GAME PLAN
A good strategy planning session makes sense. Put down in black and white just what your policy is (or policies are). Who will handle specific kinds of queries or complaints? Mary thinks, “Another important aspect is to ensure that your CS team is included in major decisions. They know how consumers react, they know what sort of issues will come up and (they) can contribute meaningfully to your projects. So, educate your CS Team, keep them in the loop and keep them happy so that they can be the type of representative that YOU would want to answer YOUR questions.”
DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU’RE TALKING TO?
Who is your customer? If you are a doing business in other countries, do you have people on staff who can speak to customers…in their language? Harmik Gharapetian, of Epoch says, “Since the Internet is a global marketplace, we staff our customer service department 24-7-365 and our agents can accommodate customers in over 100 languages”. Now that’s Customer service!
HOW TO PROVIDE EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE!
What can your company do to keep customers happy? Here are some tips:
1. Answer the phone. When someone calls and hears the phone ring and ring, it sends the message that nobody is in the office. And it raises questions. Is the company out of business or incompetent? Are they understaffed? Do they have the capability to handle the customer’s needs? Not answering quickly is a big mistake!
2. Do What You Promise. There is a basic law of CS that Mary Gillis cites and that is doing what you say you will do. “By remembering the one true secret of good customer service and acting accordingly; ‘you will be judged by what you do, not what you say.”
3. Listen to what they have to say, really listen. Customers hate having to repeat their complaint over and over just because the person on the other end isn’t really listening. Active listening, asking questions and determining the problem is very important.
4. Handle the complaint. Find a way to give them the satisfaction they want. It’s an opportunity to be creative or to find the person in your company who can give the customer what they want.
5. Be there for them. Be human. Be nice. Give them a good experience with your company even if you can’t make a sale. By being the Good Samaritan, they will remember you.
6. Teach the staff your philosophy. Make sure the staff all sings the same song. Let them hear you handle some complaint calls so they know your feelings and how you want the job done. They will follow you by example.
7. Go “The Extra Mile.” Just as in #5 above, when you are kind, courteous and respectful, but above all friendly and helpful, people remember you and come back.
8. Offer A Token Gift. As Fabian Buys of 123Resourcing Customer Service Call Centers, does, offer a gift. He gives them 3 months free access. You think they’ll remember that? Damn straight.
Good customer service is the heart and soul of a company with a future. You can offer promotions, price reductions, tie-ins and other incentives, but if your service to your customers – when they really want it – is nonexistent, then your company will need a beautiful receptionist with brains.