Customer Service Trends in 2012

customer service trends 2012

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As recently highlighted in Chanel 4’s Dispatches: Richard Wilson on Hold, if there’s one sure way to alienate your customers it’s by installing a fully automated telephone system where a person could clearly do a much better job. We’re not talking about “on hold messages” here but a system where you are actually expected to have achieved something by the end of the call without actually having spoken to a living breathing person.

Once hailed as the answer to spiralling contact centre costs, automated telephone systems are now widely blamed for a large proportion of revenue loss. So, if it’s the telephone you use to sell your product or service, make sure it’s manned by a real person – one who will answer your customers’ questions and not drive them to the brink of taking a hammer to the telephone handset. The backlash against automated phone systems has begun!

Arm your Customer Service Agents with all the goodies they need to do a great job

Whilst it true that you may occasionally receive a call from someone who‘s just phoned for a chat, on the whole your customers want their query answered quickly and accurately with the minimum amount of fuss and time spent on the phone.

In order to provide such a service, it is essential that customer service agents have better tools to do their jobs.  Systems should put all the relevant information about a customer right in front of their eyes. Irrelevant and unnecessary information should be kept to a minimum to cut back on the amount of reading (and erring) involved, and all this information should be displayed in an intuitive, efficient and organised way for at- a-glance reference.

Check your priorities – your customers’ needs must come before your own

Companies are slowly learning that, while customers appreciate self-serve options that provide a genuine benefit to them (e.g. ATMs, on-line shopping, etc.), they’re not so impressed when a company is just trying to dump the work back on the customer (e.g. Self-serve checkouts).  Mums with kids in tow for example, probably aren’t going to have their hands free to operate the self-service checkout whilst trying to restrain a couple of wilful toddlers… So why on earth would a large well known chemist (and notorious haunt of the busy mum) do away with the majority of their manned service tills in favour of the somewhat less dextrous self-service checkouts? Lunacy! Thankfully though, a number of large grocery store chains have seen the light and are in the process of removing their self-service checkouts.

Keeping mums happy isn’t the only very strong argument for doing away with self-serve checkouts though. In reality, how much money do they actually save the retailer? Surely the money saved needs to be weighed against the amount of shrinkage caused by certain celebrity chefs taking advantage of the lack of personnel by pinching “low value goods”. Ready Steady RUN Anthony Worrall-Thompson! In all seriousness though, it’s well documented that the very solution designed to save the retailer oodles in salaries is now costing them an arm and a leg in retail fraud and theft.

Quality control

This should arguably be at the top of this list- surely, the first defence against customers complaints is to minimise what they have to complain about in the first place i.e. make sure that the quality of your product or service meets (or preferably exceeds) the expectations of your customers.

Customer service training is back

More and more companies are re-investing in employee training when it comes to the treatment of their customers – mainly due to the fact that customer service has become the most utilised form of brand differentiation (see added value below).  WeAnswer, providers of contact centre services to over 130 household names, currently offers NVQ qualifications to its entire contact centre staff and David Crook, CEO believes it has “paid dividends in terms of client retention.”

Added Value

Marketing professionals have long advised clients to provide their customers with a “value added proposition”. It’s nothing new but in an environment where price no longer differentiates competitors (because everyone is charging the same minimum rate just to get a sale) it really is giving that little bit extra that gets you noticed.

So what is it? Well, in a marketing nutshell “added value” is simply something you can give to your customers that is of high value to them, but of low cost to you.

It can be as simple as offering advice on how to make the most of the product or service they have bought from you, complimentary accessories they cannot do without, or discounts for return custom or referral to another customer. It can even take the form of quality assurance or a guarantee.

The idea is that the customer perceives the increased worth of what you are offering them, in the guise of excellent customer service or quality of your product’s features, all of which goes towards gaining customer loyalty and repeated business. Of course this all depends greatly on undertaking relevant and effective marketing research to find out what your customers really want – which is a time consuming process, but the rewards could be well worth the effort.

The Gripevine

It’s amazing how much bolder people feel about complaining when they do it online. More and more people are using social media to shout out when they have customer service beef. The advent of social media has been likened to a tidal wave – and you can see why, it’s a force of nature and if you don’t master it, it has the potential to destroy you.

Australian clothing giant Gasp fell right off the crest when one of their sales people was quoted on Facebook and Twitter as saying “I knew you girls were a joke the minute you walked in”  after bride-to-be Keira O’Neill declined to buy the (considerably more expensive) pink wedding dress the sales person “recommended” she buy.  As if this tale weren’t damning enough, Gasp then proceeded to complete their social suicide mission by publicly defending their salesperson, saying he was “good at what he does… and doesn’t like his time being wasted”;   you can imagine the ensuing social uproar.

As a result of stories like this, and the tools that people now have at their disposal to make a public complaint, we are starting to see a re-awakening of consumers. People are far less inclined to accept second best in the way they once were, taking direct, and sometimes devastating, action.

On the up side

It’s not all doom and gloom, owing to its power, there’s an awful lot social media can do for your business if you play it right. Companies that are prepared to put their customers first now have the opportunity to reap the rewards. So make sure your customers have plenty of good things to tweet about.

But even if you do get a bit of bad press… lap it up! It’s the way you deal with this (ideally well and publicly) that can completely turn around the public perception of your company.

Social media sites are also an infinite source of management information. Actively encourage your customers’ natural urge to vent their spleen and use it to make them feel listened to! Where practical, you could even make the suggested changes and advertise the fact that, thanks to Mrs Jones from Dorchester, everyone can now benefit from better customer service.

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