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When businesses decide to neglect customer service

Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn no longer maintain call centers claiming the costs are too high. Do these powerful organizations therefore view customer service as an operational cost rather than a marketing investment? In a  study from CRM Guru, bad customer service accounts for 70 percent of customer attrition followed by poor quality at 30 percent, price at 25 percent, and functionality at 15 percent.

Banks, telephone services, Internet services, and insurance companies tend to closely follow these customer churn rates and especially dealing with the rigors of the current economy, try to diagnose and repair some of the causes of customer dissatisfaction and subsequent departures. Even in huge industries, the cost of keeping existing customers is still far less expensive than recruiting new ones. Of course the root causes of some of the problems might never be totally eliminated, but that “stepping out of the box” thought pattern as to excellent customer service will still increase the net profitability at the end of the year as customers maintain their loyalty and continue to spend their hard-earned money.

Long term customer retention strategies may vary from company to company, but the voluntary churn of customers continue to be a key business factor. When a voluntary churn occurs, which is a customer’s decision to switch services, the lack of customer service personnel available to work out the problems and convince the customer to reconsider becomes expensive. Long term customers are valued thereby making long term strategies sound business decisions; otherwise an organization is at risk for a sharp decline in business.

Today’s highly competitive business venues across the nation and abroad call for giving customers multiple avenues for customer service. The youngest population of buyers and potential buyers are growing up with more technological ways to communicate with a company, but there still continues to be a growing  demand for phone service call centers as well as email and of course social media contact methods. Whereas a young buyer may not spend a lot of money initially, he becomes much more valuable as he makes more money, has more money to spend, and recommends your company to his friends.

As an example, the change from Directv to Comcast was a decision based primarily on the lack of quality of the company’s customer service. From the frustration of trying to find a qualified customer service representative without spending extra-time winding the way around the obligatory, endless maze of phone queues, to the mandatory standard procedures of starting from step one for service problems, individualized customer service for extenuating problems never happened. Less than six-months later, however an endless amount of phone calls and invitations to return to Directv most likely has cost the company far more money and time than had the customer service procedures been effective.

The quality of customer service paves the way for loyalty, revenue and happy shareholders.

The importance of customer service in city government

The non emergency city and local call centers of 3-1-1 are a popular one-stop shopping conduit for citizens to report or question issues relating to city services. Either by using your phone to dial 3-1-1 or by using an online link, a resident can find out if the pothole on Military Trail in Palm Beach Gardens will be repaired or if Alternate A-1-A will reopen for traffic before the weekend animal adoption event. In Palm Beach County where I live and in many other cities, you can use an online form or mobile application known as SeeClickFix, and submit such problems as broken parking meters, street lights, community alerts, etc.  The service, depending on the city can handle hundreds of requests ranging from procuring a dog license, city parks and recreation, job applications, trash pickup, or information about specific services and problems.

Just this last month Detroit discontinued their 3-1-1 non emergency call centers claiming the current economic situation has forced budget cuts. Somehow politicians decided that customer service should be laid aside for residents and the 400 different requests areas formerly handled by polite and informative agents should be replaced by directories and the usual fare of the prerecorded maze of  “press one, two, three,” until the caller’s head spins in an endless turmoil of confusion and messages stating:

“I am not at my desk at this time, but please leave a message. Your call is important to us.”

In New York City, the 3-1-1 service successfully adds more services for the residents by adding consistent and periodic training for employees which strive to make the implementation of services more efficient and effective. Is it effective? Of course that answer can be somewhat objective depending on the callers, even though New York  states their quality assurance and operations are provided with routine feedback and quarterly assessments. The most common complaints center around the departments citizens are referred to – more often the lack of services once a caller gets to the designated department relative to their issue or complaint.

The City of Philadelphia initiated their 3-1-1 Contact Center in 2008 with the promise of becoming a national leader in customer service. By 2012, city records show the service has handled 4.5 million contacts. The service isn’t advertised; it has become known through word of mouth, and citizens are extremely pleased with the degree of courtesy and respect demonstrated by their customer service agents.

City government should be a place where citizens can readily find solutions to their problems in a straightforward way and in the most efficient time considering the tight time parameters of busy residents. In actuality 3-1-1 non emergency call centers can:

  • Help citizens contact the proper city department and save city workers time, money and energy having to explain to a resident they need to contact a different department
  • Help citizens find a quicker method to resolve their conflict or answer a question
  • Aid in a positive public image needed by communities with 3-1-1- agents who have been trained to respond to a wide venue of community interests and issues.

There is no doubt that all levels of  government needs to be accountable and treat their citizens to the best customer service possible. How does your city compare?

Book Review: Roadmap to Revenue

I just finished reading Roadmap to Revenue: How To Sell The Way Your Customers Want To Buy (Amazon.com link). The book was written by Kristin Zhivago, a Revenue Coach and worldwide speaker who helps CEOs and entrepreneurs understand what customers really want and how they want to buy.

In a nutshell, Roadmap to Revenue helps us understand the customer-centric instead of the common company-centric mindset. In other words, the most successful organizations work on selling the way customers want to buy while making it easy for buyers to find you. From the moment a reader opens the book, a whimsical roadmap appears on the front inside cover which begins with an “awakening point” and concludes with “revenue city.” Following the correct route, the organization arrives at the ultimate reward of success. The author guides the reader through:

  • Discover – The “awakening  point” to help figure out what makes customers buy and how to help the customer benefit from a product or service
  • Debate –  The “resolution junction” identifying customers, how they want to buy and  strengths and weaknesses as applicable to the sales process
  • Deploy –  The “action plan” in the buying process that satisfies the customer-centric experience and thus increases revenue

The book creates an interesting customer experience strategy and follows a logical sequence of explanations and examples to help the reader understand the behavior of customers and what they want. In the very beginning of the book we find out there is no “silver bullet” solution to make customers come to you. In fact many businesses sabotage and impede their own efforts. Fortunately the solutions to success don’t require major restructuring, but knowing how and when to appeal to customers to set you apart from your competition. Buyers don’t always know what they want even though they may approach a particular product or service with interest, but if the buyer doesn’t follow through to the purchase, there arises the question of what happened and what did not occur that interfered with the sale.

From Chapters 2 to Chapter 5, the reader discovers the mindset of the purchaser and what to do. In the technological age where any purchaser can Google 80 percent of  their questions prior to purchasing a product or service, the onus to answer the specific 20 percent of questions remaining in their minds can lead to disappointment on the part of the customer if the agent for an organization doesn’t have specific answers. Sales personnel and customer service personnel need to be documenting customer questions and making all data available to everyone in the company as well as on websites. The more specific the information pertaining to what a buyer wants, the more a buyer will be attracted to what you have to sell. As you continue to learn what your customers are thinking, you will be able to meet their needs, even as the market changes. Sometimes you just need to make changes to a product -most times by learning through extensive interviews and reports.

From Chapters 6 through 12, the reader finds out how to understand the customer. Of four levels of buyer scrutiny, we discover how customers want to buy from us and how to avoid making expensive mistakes.  The Scrutiny chapters address each level; Light, Medium, Heavy, and Intense which depends upon particular products or services.

The book uses real examples about marketing and selling channels in order to reach customers and answer questions. As social media hype continues to increase, businesses still need to be guided by the vital information from their customers and knowing what is important to them and what specifically appeals to them. For instance, how you handle a buyer who has just researched a product and landed on your website is paramount.  The potential buyer is theoretically knocking at your door, so be sure your website is chock full of answers, integrity, and efficiency. On-going relationships, repeat business, and endorsements continue to lead  organizations along the road to financial rewards and future success.

Bottomline: The book is a good read and is aimed towards retail and consumer service providers. As a real estate sales agent I found many of the chapters particularly focused towards creating a customer service culture using data to build a knowledge base of what customers are looking for and how to interview potential customers to encourage them to buy from me and ultimately make a sale.

Pros: Well-written and logically planned. The book reminds us to put customers first and how to think like a customer helping us to create that ever important customer experience strategy to set all of us apart from our competition.

Interested: Those interested in the book can buy it on Amazon.com.

Is British Airways providing better customer service or are they stalking you?

British Airways has initiated a new customer service program called “Know Me.” The company claims the iPad based system is intended to proactively recreate “the feeling of recognition” a customer often delights in when they walk into their favorite restaurant and the maitre d’ or the owner of the establishment knows their name and greets them personally. Most of us remember the popular television program “Cheers” – the Boston bar where “everyone knows your name.”

The airlines will be searching Google for photographs of their customers in order to recognize them as they enter the airport or aircraft and claim it will be a proactive approach in case a customer’s flight is delayed or to just thank a repeat customer for their “continued patronage.” The search system to be employed will also be able to pull up information about a customer’s previous travel arrangements, prior complaints, meal requests, and Executive Club status.

According to the British tabloid Evening Standard, privacy issues are becoming a hot topic. Passengers purchasing tickets argue that buying an airline ticket doesn’t give the company permission to hunt for one’s personal information. Other passengers seem to care less. Let’s face it; how many organizations that we deal with in our day to day business lives already have our personal information? My favorite Italian restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens knows where I live, my son’s birthday, and even my favorite Bordeaux. My personal shopper at Nordstrom knows my favorite color, my favorite perfume, my eye color, and a cellphone number I only use for my personal use.The difference is however, that I have voluntarily offered the information to the restaurant and to the department store.

Still British Airways state they hope to recognize 4500 customers per day by the end of the year, but it seems rather illogical that customer service agents are going to be able to recognize and recreate that “welcome” feeling most of us associate with the personal touch. After all British Airways have quite the extensive global route. Will the representatives just be specifically using Google to identify First Class passengers? What happens to all of the John Smith passengers of the world? Will they be overlooked, or will customer service representatives use birth date information to get even more personal? What if Susan Smith is no longer a blonde when she next travels to London? Will a customer service representative ask her if the photograph on Google is really her?

The “Know Me” service should be a voluntary program for those passengers who want that extra level of service. With so many people having been victims of identity theft, consumers need to think twice before subjecting themselves to arbitrary Internet stalking just because they need to fly from Miami to London. What do you think?

How to improve customer service in the digital world

Wachovia turned into Wells Fargo in March 2011. The conversion had been going on since 2008, and Wells Fargo promised to become more environmentally friendly and use less paper and forms. They also promised to have more in-house personnel to assist customers and to become more efficient. There’s no denying that the Wells Fargo branch I use in Jupiter, Fla. has had the best and brightest customer assistance I have ever had the pleasure to meet in a long line of mediocre banking institutions, however their digital world has problems that still need to be addressed.

At this time it’s impossible for me to access any of my cash in a Wells Fargo banking machine because only one of my PIN identifications came in. When I visited the website there was insufficient information for me to figure out what was happening. Besides when I realized I needed extra cash that afternoon, I wasn’t home and tried to access my information via my Iphone. So then another question came to pass in my mind. What if I was traveling and either lost my ATM card or didn’t remember my PIN? I’m not always the best organized when it comes to having multiple passwords, and in an attempt to keep my accounts safe from hackers however, I still keep them in a private notebook. The problem is I do not always have that particular notebook with me.

So how can Wells Fargo and other institutions or businesses become more customer service friendly? First of all we should always have the ability to use our own PIN combinations. How about letting us access that first bank assigned PIN through our account information online instead of through these mailings? Why not make call centers more customer friendly? If the monotonous standard message is telling me that my business is very important to you, then why do I need to be on hold for ten minutes or more? Why isn’t there an application that will take my phone number and call me back as soon as the next customer service agent is available? Train customer service agents better. Of course there are always red flags that go up when a customer over the phone is trying to access their PIN identification numbers, but many times the request is real. Why not have banks be proactive in updating security information? When I tried to access my account from another bank, the question related to a pet my former husband had when he was ten-years-old even though the joint account had been transferred to my name three-years ago.

Companies need to use human contact in conjunction with the digital world. It doesn’t work to decrease customer service representatives in lieu of pressing multiple numbers on our phones to just wind up in a complete circle. Customer service is still and will always center on people helping people.