Every business, whether a large corporation or small business, will say, “of course we care about our customers”. The real question is, do you take care of your customers in the way THEY desire?
The impact of the internet on brick and mortar business has become very obvious. What often gets overlooked is how the internet has affected customer care in business to business (B2B) companies, and not just business to consumer (B2C). Why? Because everyone who works in any industry is a customer of some internet business, like Amazon or Zappos, and they have been conditioned over time through a consumer based experience. They have become part of the “Generation of Now”! Our expectations as a consumer have influenced our behaviors in the corporate setting.
Customer care or customer service are part of all organizations in some form. They usually handle order processing, customer inquiries and problem resolution. Most of which have been traditionally handled via the telephone. Often positions in customer care are entry level and are stepping stones to other departments in an organization. As products have become more commoditized, service has become more important, in these cases the company that is easiest to do business with will win in the end.
Traditionally, call center and customer service operations were viewed as cost centers. Companies wanted to handle the most amount of calls/inquiries with the least amount of cost. However, this view is changing. In SAGIN’s experience working with leading and progressive companies, customer care operations are becoming profit centers and loyalty building operations. True success should be viewed at turning customer challenges into opportunities. The following are key best practices and components of leading customer care operations:
Understand the needs of your customer. In many businesses there is more than one type of customer, a distributor versus the local hardware store or even the end consumer. Their needs will be different. One size fits all is not the best solution when delivering Customer Care. Each customer type has unique needs. This is most critical for the 20% of your customer base that makes up 80% of your revenue. For high value customers your strategy can include a higher touch and differentiated service. This is common in the airline industry where the differentiated service is known. However, in a customer care operation, scoring customer segments based upon relationship value is becoming more common and their service is differentiated in a variety of ways from easier returns/exchanges, response time, etc. You may not know it, as in an airline loyalty program but in progressive operations, you are being rated and treated differently based on the value of the relationship.
Another common mistake companies make is believing “we know what our customers want!” The reality is the only way to find out what they want, is to ask them, keeping in mind their needs may change over time.
Developing a customer strategy is complex and time consuming, an investment many companies choose not to take. Successful companies, not just the juggernauts like Amazon and Zappos, have clear defined customer strategies. Strategies that are part of the culture of their Customer Care centers, and every member clearly understanding the strategy and how they fit in.
A strategy and operations are incomplete without the tools to achieve the goal. Companies large and small now have the option to find technology that fits their budget AND delivers capabilities once reserved for high dollar call management systems. One big (and welcome) change to call management systems is the shift to contact center solutions. Gone are the days when 90%+ of customers call via the telephone, they now want the option to email, chat or even use social media to “contact” a company. We all have seen the monitors in call centers that visually display the status of both calls and key measurements. Now many calls (referred to as voice contacts) make up only half of customer contacts. Contact Center solutions, large and small, on premise solutions or cloud based, now track, measure and report on all customer contacts. With robust reporting tools in most of these systems, you can develop a more thorough understanding of how your teams are performing across all contact options. In the past only the mega companies like airline contact centers could afford these systems, fortunately that is no longer the case.
With the increased availability and adoption of cloud based technologies, customer care operations can be established quickly, efficiently and operate virtually anywhere. These technologies/applications have also drastically reduced the cost of systems and provided smaller companies the expanded features and functionality previously only available to those who could afford it.
As mentioned earlier, the internet has turned many of us into the generation of now. Technology is an asset in understanding your performance in all contact types to see if you are meeting those “now” expectations. Responding to an email in two days can result in a phone call or another email, as well as a frustrated customer and that’s only IF they persist and not go to a competitor.
Knowledgeable Skilled Representatives
Customer care representatives or agents represent your company and the products you sell, make sure they are knowledgeable and clearly understand BOTH. Along with company and product knowledge, develop them to creatively solve problems then empower them to handle those issues with a customer. Nothing builds relationships better with customers, like having their issue resolved with one simple contact. Help customer care staff understand how to solve a problem in a cost-effective manner, this can include giving something away that has minimal cost but will make a major impression. Are you easy to do business with and creating future repeat value in the relationship with the customer?
One of the most valuable parts of many contact center solutions is Quality Management, also known as Quality Monitoring. Sometimes feared as big brother in a contact center, the real value of this feature is understanding if the company is providing the proper tools and training to ensure customer satisfaction. The goal should always be for a customer to get the same answer to the same question no matter who they deal with in customer care but not sound scripted. If a customer has doubt that the representative knew what they were talking about, they will try another call or email to see if they get a different answer. A Quality Management program is invaluable in providing great service.
All of this is rooted in a strong foundation of employee development. Progressive training and development focus on voice, tone, and listening cues. This also includes writing skills, empathy and tone of dialogue. Long past are the days of low cost labor call center operations which follow a script. Customer care agents need to be organized by customer segment and skill sets and the needs will vary based upon the business’s customer strategy.
Promises Made, Promises Kept
Simple to say, but sometimes nearly impossible to do – follow up and follow through. In our digital age unhappy customers can post unflattering stories that will require far more work than keeping the promises made.
Each component of Customer Strategy, Technology and People Skills become intertwined in and effective and efficient customer care operation. These are also the critical components in transforming support centers from addressing customer’s needs to turning them into opportunities and building lasting value.
Mark Gorog is the senior leader of SAGIN’s Customer Care practice. Mark has worked with leading global companies to build their customer care operations transforming them into a value driver for our clients.
SAGIN, LLC is a firm comprised of seasoned and experienced professionals with a hands-on approach to performance improvement. We operate a Customer Care practice which can assess your operations and provide tangible and obtainable recommendations to improve performance. Our core expertise is centered on strategy, technology, and employee development.