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Customer service. Customer experience. Focus on the customer. The customer is at the centre of everything we do.
Why do we hear this so much? Because time and again we see that selling something of value at a fair price is not enough. The customer must find the seller easy to do business with at every touch point.
Most organizations are relatively good at easily allowing you to buy goods and services from them. But only some understand that being easy to do business with must include service and support as well.
- Apple is extremely good at making sure you are looked after with very little effort involved.
- Best Buy’s Geek Squad makes sales and after-sales support easier.
- Zappos lets customers return purchases, no questions asked, for up to a year.
- The Ritz-Carlton gives every staff member a no-strings budget to resolve any customer experience issue.
Personal experience confirms how this ease builds customer loyalty. Recently I purchased a suitcase that had a problem with the handle. When I notified customer service, I was asked to take a photo of the affected part and fill out a few pieces of information like my address and email it to them. Within 20 minutes, I was advised that a new bag was on the way. As a result, I am a customer for life.
Like me, you probably have a great customer experience story that solidified your loyalty to a brand. Most often the story stars someone who seemingly went out of their way to make you feel special and resolve the issue to your satisfaction. This person at the bag company was the key to being easy to do business with.
Where companies miss the mark
So why isn’t every company easy to do business with at every customer touch point?
Some of it has to do with policies and risk aversion.
Policies were created to reduce the risk of economic loss to an organization. The famous 30-day money-back guarantee that many of us grew up with was put in place to stop you from returning every single thing that you have ever purchased from a company. The policy was created to stop a very small percentage of customers from taking advantage of the organization.
But if you want to become a truly customer-centric organization, you can’t let risk aversion hold you back. You can accomplish your goals by employing only the most customer-centric people in this role and empowering them to make issue resolution enjoyable for the customer.
Customer services process
For example, let the customer tell you, online or by mobile, why they need help. Then have an expert who can quickly resolve the issue contact them, using a well-defined, step-by-step process that will resolve the issue on the first call.
This involves only two steps:
1. Hire, train and promote your most customer-centric people and remove those who are not able to deliver on the customer experience promise.
2. Allow and provide the budget and other tools for these people to make decision and resolve the individual customer issue.
If you ask most executives to cancel all customer-facing policies and leave everything up to the people in customer-supporting roles, they will shiver with fear, worrying that employees will give away the farm to avoid confrontation and dissatisfaction.
Fortunately, in my experience, this is not the case. I once started with an organization that had so many restrictive policies that employees were powerless to resolve customer problems. as an example, they were authorized to give a maximum 10 per cent credit to resolve an issue. This meant high-value customers would end up returning the item (at a significant cost to us) instead of taking the credit, which severely undermined their loyalty.
How we empowered heroes
After I got involved, we hired, supported and trained our customer support staff to be engaging customer advocates. We removed the small few who were damaging the customer experience. Then we did the unthinkable. We allowed anyone to give any credit they wished as long as they felt it was appropriate for the customer and the issue at hand. We provided quite a few examples of what “good” might look like and what a reasonable budget limit might be, but it was up to the individual to decide.
We collaborated with them to determine the best and most efficient resolution on the first call. Customer support staff discussed scenarios with each other in meetings and at breaks.
The result? Customer kudos poured in.
Our staff was elated that they were free from the restrictive policies that added stress to their jobs and prevented them from helping customers.
Because our supervisors received almost no escalations, they were freed up to coach individuals on what might be appropriate under what circumstances.
On our intranet, staff shared examples of where they gave credits and examples where they did not feel it was appropriate. There were so very few examples of customer support staff giving away too much for the issue and customer at hand.
The most difficult part? Convincing a small percentage of customer advocates that they actually needed to take advantage of the budget they had. They were so protective of the company that they were worried about making the commitment. Over time they came around.
So how did the new credit levels compare to the old ones? They went up about 15%, mainly because customers and customer support staff had other reasonable options to consider. Overall we were ahead in profits, returns were reduced and our customers liked our new easy-to-do- business-with philosophy.
The customer support team was now in charge of customer service. Our revenues increased, our lapsed customers decreased and employee morale had never been higher.
Executive Vice President, Verde Group