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Managing Data or Customer Service; Which should be Your 2014 Priority?

This post was prompted by an article I read recently which proposed that companies should hire a CDO (Chief Data Officer). Whilst I agree that there is an awful lot of data flowing into businesses today that needs to be managed, I believe that we don’t really need another C-suite title. I think that the CIO is the best person for the job and more than used to managing huge data flows.

However, I also believe that there is an even greater need for CCOs (Chief Customer Officers), which have started to appear in a few forward-thinking organisations. Unless your customers are satisfied and hopefully delighted, there won’t be a business to use all that data in the very near future. So for that reason and to answer the question in the title of this post, my vote goes to customer service, but I’m sure you expected that, didn’t you?

This is why I thought I would cover some of the customer service areas that will need reviewing in 2014 and some ideas and solutions on how to address them. After the stress of queuing to buy all those last minute purchases last week, did you have to call about a replacement or suffer the queues for the return of some of the gifts you received this week? If so, then you have certainly experienced huge variations in customer service.

I’m going to use my own experiences here in California over the last few days, to highlight some of the opportunities that retail in particular has, to up their game in the New Year. However, if you work in a different industry I am sure that many of these comments will be just as relevant for you too, so please read on.

EMAIL: According to Forrester, the usage of email has been surpassed by web self-services today. However, whether it is from a PC, tablet or smartphone, customers contact a business and expect an answer almost immediately. In fact according to another Forrester report, 41% of customers expect a reply to their email within six hours, yet only 36% of retailers manage to respond within that delay.

Email is a popular customer service connection point

SUGGESTION: Customers don’t like waiting today. Therefore if you can’t guarantee the expected timing, at least inform your customer by return that you will do your best to respond as quickly as possible and by when you will reply. And keep in mind the situation is likely to get worse and customers will become even more dem anding for a quick reply. See below for further solutions.

CHAT: This is a great alternative for customers since it often pops up automatically when someone is searching online. It’s nice to have  the choice and opportunity to get immediate responses, rather than having to call or email, especially if your web search remains less than satisfactory. However, if you’re going to propose a chat, then the person connecting with the customer is unlikely to do the best support job if they are trying to manage several conversations at the same time.

I asked the question of one of my recent chat correspondents and was told that at some periods of the day they had to cope with not only multiple chats but email too. They had an automated first response and then were told to respond to each customer in rotation with a comment. This meant that at times there would be several minutes delay in the conversation since the employee had to read not only the customer’s response, but also the previous comments to be sure they remembered what the customer was asking about.

Chat for customer service

SUGGESTION: If you offer chat, then make the service adequate or consider cancelling it at busy times, rather than getting your personnel to (inadequately) respond to multiple customers at the same time. If possible, add video to make the whole experience more human. According to the aboce mentioned Forrester report, chat use has increased almost 50% in the last three years, so expect this contact medium to become an even more important connection point for your customers in the future.

ONLINE: This is where customer service is going, or has gone; customers expect immediate access to and immediate response from business today. Most companies seem to have understood this and are offering self-service information and FAQs. They are also managing to respond to Tweets or Facebook comments within a few minutes or hours. It is therefore not surprising that when customers are dissatisfied by a lack of response to their calls and emails, they feel forced to rant about their disappointment online (I admit it I’ve done it myself).

SUGGESTION: Are organisations responding efficiently online because the exchange is public? If so, then they are not truly customer centric. They are merely encouraging their customers to express their dissatisfaction online. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to solve their issues in private?

If you agree, then up your game on email and social media response times. Customers will happily Tweet about their fantastic experiences if you satisfy their dem ands quickly and go above and beyond their expectations. And update your FAQs on a regular basis, based upon the latest requests you receive. Customers are happy to self-serve if it is quicker and simpler for them, but they can also become frsutrated if their efforts are now rewarded with the desired information.

RETAIL EXPERTS: If you are offering expert support, make sure they really are experts. According to Genesys 78% of happy customer experiences are dependent upon having competent service reps. Apple call their experts “Geniuses” which in my opinion is just setting themselves up for customer disappointment. This was confirmed by my latest experience with them, which was less than convincing; if you speak with a genius you are expecting to have the help of someone who knows more than you do. After all, that’s why you as a customer, are looking for support isn’t it?

Whatever you call your own retail employees, they are your first line of contact with your customers and have a lot to share with you. I understood from the Apple Genius I spoke to, that they themselves actually hate the name; perhaps Apple should listen and try to underst and why.

Customer service can be funSUGGESTION: Listen regularly to what your retail employees have to share about their contact with your customers. Whether they are cashiers, merch andisers, demonstrators or stock managers, they all have stories to tell about your customers. In fact why not BECOME a retail employee for a day or two? Your time will not be wasted and you yourself will have stories to tell your co-workers about the “front line”.

CALLS: Perhaps my latest experience with call centers was an exception, but during a call to a well-known PC manufacturer, I was transferred a total of EIGHT times, as departments “passed the buck” for my issue. As I explained to each new representative my issue, I also suggested that instead of transferring me they could sort out my problem, since departmental structure is an internal issue, whilst as far as I was concerned, I was speaking to one company. Luckily I eventually got to a person who understood that even if she herself couldn’t help, she would find the person to sort it out for me (Thanks Linda). She even warned me that due to the holidays my response would only come on Thursday.

SUGGESTION: Don’t allow your employees to hide behind internal company structure. Manage the expectations of your customers to resolve the issue as simply and as rapidly as possible, and inform them by when it is likely to be resolved if there is any risk of delay. If it is necessary to transfer the call, ensure that it is ONLY EVER done ONCE.

These are a few ideas on improving customer services from some of my own recent experiences. Let’s make 2014 the year that we all become truly customer centric. Do you know how customer centric your organisation is today and what needs to be changed, improved or emphasised? If not, or if you are just curious to see how close your thoughts are to reality, then why not complete the C³Centricity Evaluator? It will give you a detailed analysis of where you are and what changes you might like to make. It’s free to complete for all C³Centricity members, and it’s free to join.

If you would like some help improving your own customer services and centricity, then please contact us for an informal chat. No obligation, just INSPIRATION!

C³Centricity uses images from Dreamstime  and Kozzi

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