Customer Service: Good Is The New Average

Most big companies strive to minimise the cost of customer service by streamlining average transactions, such that they cost less. They spend huge amounts of time and money on:

  • Shaving a few seconds off an average call handling time by automating something
  • Driving a higher percentage of people to serve themselves on-line
  • Scripting call centre interactions so less qualified representatives can deal with calls

These and other similar initiatives are a great way to cut costs. They can even increase the overall level and consistency of service. The problem as I see it, is that this type of change creates a standard level of service, which is fast becoming a hygiene factor – it does not produce anything exceptional.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important to reach a good standard level and do the basics right. This is no longer enough to make you stand out from the crowd though – because people don’t notice the average.  And on average most customer service is better than it has ever been. People don’t notice good any longer.

I often don’t want to notice customer service. If I have something simple to do such as pay a bill or update an address, I want it done with the minimum of fuss, quickly and painlessly. By all means greet me courteously, be polite and cheerful and say please and thank you, but I don’t need frills or to talk to you about anything else. In fact I’d rather deal with this type of thing on-line. Good for me, cheaper for the company.

Deviating from this average service is what makes companies stand out – people notice the terrible and the exceptional.

I want to receive exceptional service when I have a complicated query. In these situations, the web won’t do – I know my query isn’t standard, and won’t be in your FAQ. I don’t want a script read to me by someone in a call centre, and I really want to know that the person I’m speaking to will take the time to understand me and be equipped with the skills, tools and information to help.

These complicated queries are often when something has gone wrong. You’ve already deviated from the average “good” service, and this become as critical moment for your relationship with that customer. Continue to get things wrong, and the customer is never coming back.

But, if you go out of your way to make things right and delight the customer, not only have you rectified the problem, you have probably built a stronger loyalty with them. You’ve been given the opportunity to have an extended conversation with the customer. If you do things right, you can have a significant positive effect.

Not all contacts with customers provide this opportunity to excel. You need to be geared up for the ones which do.

If you implement all the right things to standardise the majority of interactions, there is huge opportunity to use some of the savings to improve your service for this type of complicated query.

How you do this will be dependent on what your complicated queries are, how you provide your service, and how big your company is.

For example, if I was working with a large corporate I might suggest they adopt a strategy like this for handling complex calls to a contact centre:

  • Put all of your best customer services people in one (possibly virtual) team and have them handle the complicated calls, and nothing else
  • Pay them more than you would for handling “standard” calls
  • Let them take as long as needed to resolve it – don’t measure the average Handling Time (AHT)
  • Empower your trusted team to do whatever they need to make the customer happy within reason. Actually no, not within reason – trust them, give them the responsibility to decide
  • Provide them with the tools they need – listen to them often – they’ll know what these tools are
  • Measure only the percentage of happy customers they produce

This might not be as cheap as trying to deal with everything in a standard way, but it could make the companies service remarkable. It then becomes a feature of your product, and actually becomes its own marketing.

Think of any extra cost as marketing spend and measure it as such.

Now maybe you don’t have a call centre with teams of people answering the phones in your business. Most readers of Define Refine don’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t implement a similar method within your own customer service. How about:

  • If you make a mistake, apologise and put it right as fast as humanly possible
  • Use any opportunity to engage in conversation with customers.  See even the trickiest complaint as an opportunity to delight them
  • Go out of your way to make things better for that customer right there and then
  • Ask them how your resolution made them feel, what you could have done better and act on any suggestions they have
  • Check back in with them after a period of time to make sure that they’re still happy
  • Don’t try to “sell” them anything in this interaction, just listen and help

None of these are particularly innovative on their own, but they create a conversation with your customer that you just wouldn’t have otherwise. The goal is to increase customers confidence in you, even if something has gone wrong. Customers who feel that way will not only forgive you for mistakes, but will also be more likely to buy from you again or recommend you to a friend. They’re happy, you get more business and everyone comes out ahead.

Of course another option is to decide that customers with complicated needs aren’t good business. It’s an acceptable strategy, but you’re moving towards being a commodity at that point. Is that in line with your overall strategy?



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