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Call Center Articles

Coronavirus Communication

Seek Balance in Your Customer-Facing Messaging

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

It seems cliché to say it, but we live in an unprecedented time. We don’t have a roadmap on how to navigate this crisis we’re in. Responses to this pandemic vary, with some overreacting and others being dismissive. We need balance in our response, neither panicking nor ignoring. The same holds true when communicating with and supporting our clients and customers.

Here are some ideas to help guide us forward.

Answer Questions

Do your stakeholders (both customers and staff) have questions about the impact of coronavirus? Anticipate their queries, and answer them before anyone asks. They’ll appreciate your initiative. Then fine-tune your messaging as updates become available.

Consider Your Situation

However, you may not even need to formulate a coronavirus plan. For example, since I, and all my subcontractors, work at home (or can work at home), it’s business as usual. I’ve not made a coronavirus statement to our customers. What’s interesting is that no one has asked. This makes me wonder how many companies are spending time on coronavirus messaging when they don’t need to.

Avoid Overcommunicating

In the past month, the number of email messages I receive has decreased greatly. Yet a disproportionate number of them are about coronavirus and COVID-19. Some of these emails come from businesses I use regularly. I appreciate their initial message telling me what to expect. But I don’t appreciate receiving additional emails that don’t tell me anything of value.

Other businesses where I have, at best, a tangential relationship have contacted me too. I don’t care, and I unsubscribe. What surprises me most is the number of companies with whom I’ve never done business that feel I’m interested in their coronavirus response. I’m not. These emails merely cause irritation.

Provide Help

Look at your company’s product and service offerings. How can these items help your stakeholders? Consider their pain points and how you might be able to offer something that can address these needs. 

Of particular value are products that carry no incremental cost to provide. Yes, by giving them away for free for a time, you lengthen the payback period of your initial investment, or you lose income to reinvest in your operation, but offering these tools don’t carry a direct cost. And when you do so, you invest in a long-term relationship with your stakeholders. They won’t forget it.

Offer Respect 

No doubt you’ve heard of people and companies taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis. This is not a time to maximize profits. I’ve had memberships and subscriptions that I couldn’t use because the organization closed due to coronavirus, keeping me from using what I had paid for. Yet they’re not offering an extension when they reopen. Instead they’ve already asked me to renew even though they’re closed.

Another local business promoted home delivery of their products for twenty-five dollars. But when I placed the order, it doubled to fifty dollars. I contacted customer service for an explanation, but they never responded. Three days later I decided to place my order anyway, but the delivery fee had tripled to seventy-five dollars. I’ll never forget that this business—one I often frequented—ripped me off.

Treat your stakeholders with respect, and they won’t forget it. Take advantage of them, and they won’t forget that either.

Seek to Maintain Business as Usual

One company’s coronavirus email simply said that since all their employees already work from home, I could expect no interruption to their availability and the level of service they provide. For them it was business as usual. To the degree possible, we should seek to do the same. I don’t want to diminish the critical situation that coronavirus has put us in, but I do want to point out that by focusing on it, we serve to amplify its impact.

Going Forward

Some people look ahead to when things return to normal. Other people worry that this won’t happen. Instead, we’ll form a new normal. As we move forward to an unpredictable future, let’s take the lessons that we’re learning now and apply them to tomorrow. Whether tomorrow is a return to normal or a new normal doesn’t matter as much as what we can do to make the most of it.

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Call Center Articles

Customer Service Makes the Difference



The Way Companies Deal with Customer Issues Has Future Implications

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-customer service

A day and a half into my week, and I’ve already endured three major customer service issues from three vendors. Their responses could not have been more different.

One issue was with a global company that whisks money around the world in seconds. Usually, everything works flawlessly. But if there’s a hiccup, they leave customers hanging. I’m left with filling out an online resolution dispute form. 

Doesn’t Care

At best they get back with me within a week, never hours or even a few days. At worst they told me it would take one to three months. Since it only took them three weeks, I suppose I should be grateful. This week’s issue needed a quick resolution, so I didn’t bother to contact them. It only took the person I sent money to and me an hour and a half to figure out a workaround resolution on our own.

This company is hard to reach. I suspect it’s part of their business model. Deprioritizing customer service seems to work for them. They’ll surely retain market share until someone matches their features and provides good customer support. Then they’ll wish they had given customer service more attention.

Puts Forth a Good Effort

The second episode occurred with an even larger global company. People often complain about their customer service. As for me, they always try to help, and they often succeed. That’s not a grand endorsement, but it’s far better than the first company.

Though hard to find, this company gives two customer service options: email and call back. If my question isn’t time-critical or I must convey a lot of detailed information, I opt for email. They respond within twenty-four hours, usually two or three.

However, they encourage phone support. I complete a short form online (picking the right options is the hard part), verify my phone number, and click submit. My phone rings within seconds, and I’m connected to a person within a minute. That person usually resolves my issue on that phone call, without transferring me. 

This time, after spending hours trying to figure things out myself, I contacted them. But I reached the wrong division. The woman instructed me to contact a different group. I don’t know if she couldn’t transfer me or didn’t want to.

The second person was hard to understand, and the audio level was low. For each point, I had to confirm multiple times to make sure I understood correctly. Her words often seemed to contradict what I thought she just said. Eventually, we got through everything, and I obtained the information I needed. As a bonus, it turned out to be correct.

Though this company pushes people to self-service solutions, they do provide personal customer service. From my perspective, they succeed in most instances. However, their smaller, nimbler competitors outshine them in this area, and the company’s market share is shrinking.

Customer Service Excellence

The third incident was with a financial institution. Over the weekend, they upgraded their website and online banking services. They clearly communicated the timetable, what was involved, and what to expect. Despite their meticulous planning, glitches occurred. Though I needed to download a new app, I had trouble finding it on the App Store. This took an hour to resolve. I spent another hour trying to navigate their new interface, configure it correctly, and accomplish the one urgent banking task I had to do.

At one point, I found myself locked out of my account. This required calling them to reset it. Unlike the other two organizations, this one wants people to call. They have their number promptly displayed on every page of their website and each page of their statements. Someone answered on the first ring. Her enthusiasm sounded like this was her first call of the day. Without coming across as haggard or rushed, she reset my password, stayed connected as I logged in, and asked if she could help me with anything else. It was a remarkable experience.

Renowned for their excellent customer service, this successful, rapidly growing, mid-size financial company has won awards and received national recognition as a leader in their sector. 

I have no doubt their success and growth come from their excellent customer service. 

Why don’t other companies get this?

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Call Center Articles

How to Enhance the Customer Experience



Pursue Big-Picture Solutions, Not Incremental Improvements

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-customer experience

There’s a lot of talk about customer experience and ways to enhance it. Though this is the right outcome, too often the approach to get there is shortsighted. Making incremental changes to improve one metric may help a bit, but how many metrics must you improve and by how much for the customer to realize an enhanced experience? And how much stress will your frontline staff endure to get there?

Instead of focusing on the minutia of data that call center systems are so good at producing, take a step back and address big-picture issues. These will have the greatest impact on improving customer experience. And the side effect of these changes will make it easier, not harder, for your staff to do their job with excellence.

Integrate Isolated Repositories of Information

How many places do you store customer data and the information your staff needs to serve callers? How easy is it for agents to get all relevant information displayed on a single monitor—or even two?

Ideally you want everything in one place, in a unified database. However, sometimes this isn’t feasible. In those instances, it’s critical to be able to seamlessly move from one to the other. Consider how often customer service representatives give wrong information simply because they aren’t looking in the right place.

Integrating or interconnecting databases for seamless customer experience is something for vendors to accomplish; it’s too complex for end-users to solve. However, investigate whether your implementation of your vendor’s solutions hampers your team from fully using the tools you already have. Sometimes the solution is there, but you can’t tap into its power because of how you deployed it.

Remove Internal Silos of Control

Many companies operate as a group of disengaged fiefdoms. This occurs in departments such as operations, marketing, sales, accounting, tech support, and so forth. When management measures each department head for that unit’s individual performance, disconnected from the company’s overall objectives, the result is managers doing what is in the best interest of themselves, their job, and their staff. Customer needs and the overall good of the company comes in second. 

To correct this, deemphasize—but don’t eliminate—individual department objectives and performance incentives. Instead elevate company-wide results and the way in which each department plays a role to achieve those objectives. 

For example, companies are in business to make money, regardless of what their corporate vision and mission statement affirm. Look at how each department contributes to this, either directly or indirectly. It comes down to two activities: how much money they spend and what they do to drive revenue. It’s true that there are secondary metrics, often unique to each unit, that affect this. But to remove internal silos of control in your company, downplay the importance of the specific measurements and instead look at overall company metrics.

Empower Agents So They Can Best Serve Customers

Everyone knows to empower frontline people. However, this is easier to say than to do. It’s hard to let entry-level employees make decisions that cost money. Yet prohibiting them from doing so has an even worse result: it costs customers.

When agents can’t serve customers to the best of their ability and keep those customers happy, you end up losing those customers’ business, both now and in the future. Yes, sometimes empowered agents go overboard and make ill-advised decisions. Although undesirable, wouldn’t it be better for them to do that than being prohibited from doing what’s right for the customer, thus losing those customers?

Integrate Communications Channels

With omnichannel, the goal is to provide contact options for customers. Again, this requires sophisticated technology from vendors. Yet as end-users of contact center platforms, make sure that your implementation of the technology doesn’t interfere with your ability to use it to its fullest and enjoy integrated communications channels.

Final Thoughts

These are big-picture considerations. You won’t solve them quickly or easily, but you must pursue them if you want to provide the customer experience that callers expect—a customer experience that will retain them as your customers and not your competitors’.

Categories
Call Center Articles

What Kind of Customer Experience Do You Provide?



Customer Experience Is More Than a Buzzword—It’s the Path to Success

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

People love to share their stories about their experiences when interacting with various companies. They post things online, which can have a far reach and may go viral. They also tell people face-to-face, which doesn’t have the reach but has more impact.

The types of stories they like to share seldom fall in the category of typical. Instead they pick outlier examples to tell others about. These are either interactions that went amazingly well or ones that went shockingly bad. The normal experiences are just too average to warrant much attention.

Instead they want to share extreme examples, which are far more fun to recount.

Negative Customer Experience

Most of the time, extreme customer experience examples are not positive ones. This may be because companies let us down more than they delight us. Or it could be because bad news garners more attention. If you doubt that, just watch the nightly news. Better yet, don’t watch the news, and take my word for it. Rarely does the news include any feel-good stories, even though they do exist.

The more horrific the customer experience, the more interesting it seems, and the more it resonates with everyone who hears it. Revealing their bad experiences to others results in a shared experience of customer service gone awry. We’ve all been there. We all have our stories. We tell them in person to our friends and families, and even strangers. We post them online, forming a permanent record for all to see of how poorly a company treated us and how badly they wronged us.

When we vent, we feel better. This may be the only redress we’ll ever receive for the wounds inflicted upon us by some company. It doesn’t correct the mistake, but it does lessen the sting—just a bit. Unfortunately, the company who stands as the villain in these stories can suffer much and suffer long, especially when the stories are posted online.

Positive Customer Experience

Much less common is a positive customer experience. Though it’s possible they may not happen as often, it’s more likely that we aren’t so compelled to share them. We gain more traction by sharing our horrors than our delights. Even so, astounding customer experiences happen every day. It’s just that we’re less aware of them, because people are less inclined to take the time to share them.

Yet when shared, these stories serve to create a positive bond between us and the company. These tales create loyalty, and they produce repeat business. This is true for us, and it carries over to positively affect the people who hear them.

Just as negative customer experiences have a harmful impact on the company, positive customer experiences create the opposite.

Enhancing the Customer Experience

The customer service bar continually rises. What consumers considered excellent service five years ago is now the minimum standard. Furthermore, what was the acceptable standard five years ago may have now degraded to unacceptable.

Just to stay even, we must seek to enhance the customer experience. And to gain ground, we must go beyond merely enhancing customers’ experience to overhauling it.

We don’t achieve the needed changes by making incremental improvements. Tracking metrics and seeking to improve them seldom correlates to enhanced customer experiences. Instead, we need to rethink all we do in our customer-facing interactions. This includes knocking down internal silos of information and control, empowering agents to do what’s right to best serve customers, and integrating communication channels.

As we do these things to overhaul our provision of customer service, we will enhance the customer experience. But remember, enhancing the customer experience isn’t the goal. Delighting customers and winning their loyalty is the objective we must seek.

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Call Center Articles

The Failure of New Customer Discounts


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Companies Focus on New Customer Acquisition and Then Encourage Customers to Leave in Two Years

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

My family just completed our biennial cell phone switch. We’ve been doing this like clockwork for two decades. We pick the company that offers the best price and switch to that one. Two years later our rates jump, and no amount of pleading results in a package we can accept. So we switch carriers.

Of course, the same thing happens with our internet service provider and our cable TV/satellite provider. They also entice us with low introductory rates and then methodically jack up our bill every chance they get. We’re on a two-year cycle with them too.

Loyalty Goes Both Ways

new customer

I’d prefer to find a vendor I can stick with and not change every two years. All they need to do to earn my loyalty is to offer fair prices. But they don’t. They give sweet deals to new customers as they gouge their current ones. They apparently value new business more than existing business. Don’t they know it costs several times more to gain new customers than to simply keep the ones they have? They should, but their actions don’t show it.

They prove their disloyalty to me with their unfair pricing. This causes me to be disloyal to them, and I have no regret about leaving them for a better deal. They’ve trained me to act this way.

The Burden on Customer Service Staff

Each time we switch a provider, we make multiple calls and even visits to each potential vendor, gathering information and looking for potential shortfalls in their service package. Of course, we foolishly start with our existing provider, but they’re not interested in keeping our business—at least not yet.

As we proceed, we take time with our existing provider and then all their competitors, including the one we eventually select. Our existing provider spends time with us to lose our business. Our new provider spends a couple of hours to close the deal and transfer our account. That’s a huge investment of time to obtain an account they won’t keep. In addition, all the other providers waste time with a prospect they won’t land.

The Impact on Customers

As customers, we spend a lot of time analyzing our options. Then we expend more time switching providers. But the biggest investment of our time is programming and learning our new technology, be it our phones, video entertainment, or internet access. Maybe someday I will gladly accept my bill doubling to avoid the agony of switching. Or maybe not.[bctt tweet=”It costs several times more to gain new customers than to simply keep the ones you have.” username=”Connections_Mag”]

Churning Customers Is a Futile Business Model

If companies worked harder to keep the customers they have, there wouldn’t be so much pressure to gain new ones. They wouldn’t have to offer their new-customer incentives, which are likely at or below cost. They wouldn’t have to spend as much money on marketing. And their sales and customer service people could avoid a lot a of needless effort that produces no results.

Too Late to Make a Difference

Most of the time, once we switch providers, our former provider then makes a last-ditch effort to “win back” our business. But they’re too late. We’ve just gone through the agony of considering our options and doing a thorough spreadsheet analysis. We’ve gone through the pain of switching. We have shiny new equipment, which looks promising—once we learn how to use it. And now they think they can keep our business? No way. The only way we’ll do business with them is in two, four, or six years as we go through another cycle of selecting a new provider.

Though these service providers will persist in their insane cycle of customer acquisition and churn, your company doesn’t have to. Make sure you don’t follow their foolish example.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.