Do you ever get the sense that companies are afraid to speak to their customers? How else to explain an almost knee-jerk impulse to send customers to poorly designed support Websites or, worse, into automated telephone menu hell?
I find it amazing that companies insist on referring customers to automated environments without properly vetting the user-experience themselves. Haven’t we learned about taking our customers for granted? You can automate the customer experience, but take heed if you think your customers are automatic.
Customer experience—online or off—will always be a dominant driver of a brand’s success. At the end of the day, a positive service experience can probably overcome just about anything. Sure, there are potential cost benefits for a company in turning to the Web and/or phone automation for customer service. But it is no simple equation. There is a tradeoff in customer drop-off and, more intangibly, in opportunities to build loyalty. If companies would at least develop a checklist for monitoring their customer experience through these changes, both they and consumers would be much better off.
Thus, my seven tips—but first, an anecdote.
I received a mailing from the Hilton HHonors rewards program inviting me to come online to check my account. So I did. Ten frustrating minutes later, I was on the phone with a rep who was able to handle my inquiry quickly, painlessly, and efficiently. And she even upsold me into Hilton’s Double Dip program, allowing me to get even more points. I mentioned my less-than-stellar experience on the Website, and she laughed. If my online experience can’t be as good as my phone experience, Hilton should not have sent me to the Website. Thanks to a good phone rep, I’m still a member (and a Double Dip one at that).
The key to my seven tips: If you are sending customers to the Web or to the phone, make sure they get what they expect once they arrive. And beware if the experience is anything less than intuitive, efficient, and ultimately, satisfying.
Tip #1: Put on your consumer hat.
Of course formal user research is great to test Web or phone experiences. But on top of that, follow your call to action yourself. Then ask a co-worker or a friend to try it. You can never test usability enough.
Tip #2: Monitor behavior.
Where consumers go and how they get there will tell you a great deal about their level of understanding. On the Web, follow the click-through patterns. Are they following the paths you expected? Are they making a lot of wrong turns? Are they abandoning the process at some point?
On the phone, if your customers are constantly pressing the “*0” to speak to an operator, you’ve got some work to do on your menus. An endless string of menus, even if they flow pretty logically, can quickly make for an unhappy customer. There are tools available to monitor this behavior. Use them, learn from them, and evolve accordingly.
Tip #3: Continually improve performance.
Customer expectations change quickly. Stay one step ahead by developing and surpassing performance metrics in response rates, satisfaction levels, resolution levels, etc.
Tip #4: Speak to your customers.
Ask phone customers if they have tried to handle the matter online. You might find that many had and finally had to resort to a phone call.
Tip #5: Clock the traffic.
Consumers expect a 24/7 world. The Web does not excuse you from offering a human connection any time of day or night. More and more companies are limiting phone hours, presumably because they offer some attempt at customer service online. You may want to rethink this. Track the number of calls you get in off hours. Expanded hours may actually decrease volume and hold times in other day parts. Consumers want access on their time, not yours.
Tip #6: Keep customer service reps informed.
Seems like a basic tenet of customer service that reps should know more than the customer. Too often, this is not the case. If your reps are confused or uninitiated, how do you expect your customers to understand? Strong training, constant briefings, samples of customer advertising, and communication can all help keeping your reps up to speed.
Tip #7: Every so often, try routing incoming calls directly to a representative.
Imagine your customer’s surprise when the first thing he hears is a helpful human voice. Talk about refreshing!
The Web creates great opportunities for customers to personalize their experience and control their interactions with your brand. And, of course, it offers huge cost savings with automated customer support. But it can be too easy to become seduced by this promise and overlook the user experience—ultimately turning the promise of a win-win into a disenchanted customer on his way out the door.
Jonathan Paisner is brand director of CoreBrand, a marketing and branding firm based in Stamford, CT.