I just got off of a VERY frustrating phone call with the company that handles insurance for my cell phone company. I had a number of problems with them, but what really put me over the edge was when I requested to escalate and was told that my call would be returned within 2 business days. The turn-around service on the insurance is supposed to be 48 hours, so they double the time frame with this.
At any rate, the point of this post isn’t too complain, but to discuss customer service. The problem with customer service is that most businesses treat it as a cost center. In reality, it is probably one of the most effective marketing opportunities for businesses.
The people calling customer service are either A) existing customers or B) potential future customers.
Marketing to Existing Customers
Customer service has a huge opportunity to market your business to existing customers and actually increase sales.
If your customer service staff is well trained they can probably up-sell existing customers. I watch the TV show outsourced where they attempt to train an Indian call center on how to up-sell American Shwag. It is difficult for people who don’t have experience with your product to up-sell, which is demonstrated in the show.
Next, if you treat your customers well, they will probably recommend you to their friends. For many products customer service is one of the few person-to-person interactions that we have with a company. This is the opportunity to shine, delight and be remarkable. Instead, we end up having to navigate automated messages and wait on hold. If customer service was treated as a referral engine it would probably be handled better.
I would LOVE to know if there are any examples of companies that have specific ROI on how an investment in customer service can increase sales.
I bet that we all have examples of how it has cost companies sales.
Marketing to Potential Future Customers
The other time that customer service has the opportunity to delight is when potential customers call with questions. If they have to wait on hold and navigate menus only to speak with a representative who is poorly informed and not very nice, they probably won’t choose to do business with you.
I know that in my own personal experience I actually paid more money to go with a competitor after a terrible customer service experience when I called to ask a question.
The Problem = Scripts, Metrics and Time
The problem is that many customer service departments are built to scale. This means that people have little to no discretionary powers and they are held to certain metrics.
Most customer service departments run off of scripts. If X happens do Y. If people ask questions tell them it is “policy”.
The problem with the scripts is that while they work for maybe over half of the situations, they don’t work well for the other half. They also leave customers even more frustrated because customers don’t feel that they have been given an adequate response.
Many customer service metrics are based on how long it takes to resolve issues. If you view customer service as a marketing opportunity you would realize that a longer call can actually deepen the relationship.
Zappos is great at this, and it is probably partly why they are so successful. The customer service reps have discretionary authority and they chat with you a bit so that you are really delighted with your experience.
Telephone customer service is actually really inefficient. It wastes a ton of time. I have to call, then navigate through menus and give my info. They eventually I figure out how to talk to someone and have to give the info all over again, plus verify a variety of things.
Next I have to wait on hold to be connected.
Then wait while my issue is researched and resolved.
Even though my interaction (explaining my problem and listening to the answer) may be limited to 2 minutes, the totally call time is 20 while I wait for them to call up my account, think about it and get me a solution.
How Social Media Helps Customer Service
I was recently training an insurance agency social media team in social media for business, and customer service was one of the most interesting applications of social media marketing.
In discussing the benefits of using Twitter for customer service, I showed them how Tweeting to customer service doesn’t necessarily take more of their time/energy, but can save the customer plenty.
Consider you have a problem and need customer service. You first research the correct number. Then you call. Then you work your way through their automated message. Next you type in your account number. Then you finally request to talk to a real person. You listen to an automated message about how your call can be recorded. Then you wait on hold. Then you find someone. You verify your account again. Then you explain your problem. Then they research it (while you wait on hold). Then they (ideally) fix your problem.
The actually required interaction was really only 2 of the steps. You tell them your problem, they tell you the solution.
Imagine if you tweeted the problem. You tweet the problem “How come my account was charged $5 extra?” They request more info “DM us your account number”. They research it and tweet you “It has been corrected” or “It is for blah, blah, blah. Call me and I’ll explain”.
The time to research and provide a response on the customer service side was the same in both cases, but the consumer time was largely reduced.
This is why Social Media is so popular for customer service. Maybe not because it results in cost savings for the company (although often it does), but because it provides better overall service.
Customer Service can Make or Break your Company
Many of the most frustrating interactions that we have with companies come from their customer service. It costs them business. Because we hate them and tell everyone that we hate them.
They say that the #1 differentiator in Doctors getting sued is how much people like them. Are they kind, friendly and understanding. This is true of your employees. Starting with “Hello Ms Neher, how are you today?” and after I’m frustrated ending with “It was a pleasure serving you. Thanks for doing business with us.” does NOT create a friendly relationship.
We do business with people we know, like and trust. Customer service is a key part of building this.