I recently saw a tweet that infuriated me:
“We welcome our customers,” Best Buy training supposedly says, “not greet them.” First off, if you’re doing this, fuck you. This is silly word-lawyering for any job, but particularly for retail. They’re already relatively low-paid and high-bullshit, why are you making it worse?
But even apart from treating your employees like they’re people, there’s a business argument for this. Over-engineering customer service interactions makes them less serving of the customer. Empowering the employees to serve the customer leads to better service. And it turns out better service can help you keep your customers.
By coincidence, I had to deal with a couple of financial firms earlier this week. The first interaction boiled down to “welp, I can’t really do much for you. Go away.” The second, with Fidelity, made me feel like my problem was their problem, too, and it would get solved. Every time I’ve needed something from Fidelity, I’ve felt that way.
The same is true for T-Mobile. Even when it’s possibly not their problem, they do as much as they can to help me solve it. As a result, I’m still a T-Mobile customer, even though the coverage map isn’t as coverage-ful as I’d like. This is in no small part due to the quality of service I’ve received.
In both of these cases, the customer service representatives don’t feel like they’re mindlessly reading from a script. I get the sense that I’m talking to an actual person who wants to solve my problem, not close my case. They don’t seem to be judged on the difference between “greet” and “welcome”.
“Twitter wants you to DM brands about your problems” read a recent Engagdet article. It seems Twitter is making it easier to contact certain brand accounts by putting a big contact button on the profile page. The idea being that the button, along with additional information about when the account is most responsive, will make it easier for customers to get support via social media. I can understand wanting to make that process easier; Twitter and other social media sites has been an effective way for unhappy customers to get attention.
The previous sentence explains why I don’t think this will end up being a very useful feature. Good customer support seems to be the exception rather than the rule. People began turning to social media to vent their frustration with the poor service they received. To their credit, companies responded well by providing prompt responses (if not always resolutions). But the incentive there is to tamp down publicly-expressed bad sentiment.
When I worked at McDonald’s, we were told that people are more likely to talk about, and will tell more people, the customer service they experienced. Studies also show complaints have an outsized impact. The public nature of the complaint, not the specific medium, is what drives the effectiveness of social media support.
In a world where complaints are dealt with privately, I expect companies to revert to their old ways. Slow and unhelpful responses will become the norm over time. If anything, the experience may get worse since social media platforms lack some of the functionality of traditional customer support platforms. It will be easier, for example, for replies to fall through the cracks.
I try to be not-a-jerk. In most cases, I’ll go through the usual channels first and try to get the problem resolved that way. But if I take to social media for satisfaction, you can bet I’ll do it publicly.
Anyone who has ever had to call a customer service center has at least one story of an unpleasant experience. While some companies have poor customer service because they won’t invest in it, no company sets out to intentionally provide terrible customer service. Companies that try to provide good service and fail do so because they focus on the wrong things.
That’s the basic premise of The Effortless Experience, a 2013 book by Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick Delisi. Based on extensive research from both customer and service organization perspective, The Effortless Experience challenges common assumptions about what the customer wants and how to provide it.
Companies like Amazon and Zappos (which is owned by Amazon) have made a name for themselves by providing excellent customer service. Other companies have had high profile stories of above-and-beyond customer service. Companies in competitive areas try to distinguish themselves by providing service that delights the customer. Research shows this is of little benefit.
Increasing customer loyalty doesn’t do much to keep them around. Decreasing customer disloyalty should be the ultimate goal. Disloyalty is decreased by reducing the customer’s effort. This isn’t necessarily their exertion, which is how much work they actually have to do, but the perception of that work.
The ultimate goal of any customer service interaction is to get something done as quickly and painlessly as possible. This could be changing a cell phone plan, configuring email, or ordering a part. In The Effortless Experience, the authors describe how to move toward that goal. They include the results of surveys and actual implementations from organizations that have shifted to a focus on effort.
Dixon and his coauthors give usable guidance for assessing your organization’s performance and moving to a culture that focuses on effort. This includes advice for non-call-center interactions. It’s a quick read with a lot of great content. Like many books of this type, The Effortless Experience describes what should be common knowledge. I strongly recommend it for anyone who provides service to customers.