Personal touch

It turns out that people like to do business with other people.  The article “Poor Customer Service Holding Back E-Commerce Sales”by Chris Crum (in WebProNews) says the lack of human assistance affects the purchase decision. The article references a poll that finds that 77% of customers would like to get help from a person before making a purchase online. The takeaway, says Crum,  is this: “While it is a good idea to make the online purchase as easy on your customers as possible, from simply the design and usability standpoint, you may consider whether or not you are offering enough human assistance, and how easy that is for the customer to obtain.”

Some companies are recognizing the need for personal assistance and face-to-face interaction. Samsung, for instance, is opening “customer service plazas” across Australia, complete with coffee and Internet, for people to bring in their products for testing. Read the story here.

Although automation can quicken some processes, some questions are more complex or involved.  In customer service, an important principle is good clear communication.  When there are problems to resolve, it is best to have a two-way interaction that is only possible when dealing with other people.

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Good, bad and indifferent

Most everything can be classified as good, bad or neither.  The same goes for customer service. However, only one type of customer service will impact your bottom line positively: good. Bad or indifferent customer service will hurt not only your bottom line, but your reputation as well.

We all have heard stories of  bad customer service. In fact,we follow customer service news from around the country, and there is a cable company that is always mentioned…for its bad customer service.  Subscribers often feel frustrated and unheeded. Studies have shown that this company holds a monopoly in certain areas, allowing it to charge higher fees and provide subpar service. This company provokes lots of rage in its customer base, and worse, has the image of being an uncaring company.

Indifferent customer service is when a company neither gives you good service or bad service, but rather tends to ignore its customers. If you have a problem, they will take care of it, but they won’t do anything for you unless you contact them, even if you have been a long-time, loyal customer. Although this is not as negative as delivering bad service, it causes customers to question their loyalty to the company and to shop around.

Think about the last time you went to your primary care physician. If everything was fine, you probably didn’t hear from the office again. Perhaps, you needed some tests, so the office arranged them for you. But say you got a reminder card from the doctor’s office about scheduling your next visit, or better yet, an update about easy ways to stay healthy or some information on a virus that has been making the rounds. Proactive actions from your doctor’s office would reinforce your  perception that the doctor is concerned about your health, right?

Good customer service is always remembered, and always casts a positive light on the company providing it.  Ron Costolino wrote an article in the Houston Chronicle whose title says it all: “First-rate customer service truly stands out.” This article is worth reading. Among the many insights Costolino relays about providing top-notch customer service are these:

  • Personalize customer service to get repeat business
  • Give customers more than the paid for
  • Anticipate customers’ needs
  • Deliver what you promise
  • Listen to your customer

It is probably harder to deliver first rate customer service, because more effort is involved. However, the return on your investment is higher customer satisfaction, more return business and a better corporate image.

Emphasis on service

Many times, we think of customer service as a place where complaints are lodged. Not so.

As Jim Fletcher points out in this blog post for the Fort Worth examiner:,  ”

“….many businesses see Customer Care (aka Customer Service) as nothing more than a complaint center.  The reality of Customer Care is that it is vital to a company’s success in more ways than one.

A successful business treats its customers as royalty but knows that the limitations of good will have to be brought to bear at some point.  The key elements are to recognize and pro-actively seek resolutions that (a) satisfy the customers and (b) ensure that the relationships are profitable.”

What Fletcher is saying is simply that customer service is about satisfying customers and not just resolving their problems. It is about preventing the complaints from arising in the first place. He goes on to say that customer service is more than a department.  We agree. Customer service is actually a business strategy, with an emphasis on service to the customer. Everyone in the organization has a part in customer service, because as we have pointed out before, a company does not exist without customers.

Of course businesses must have someone to take care of complaints, because these do inevitably come up. However, reaching out to customers before they reach out to you will most likely help your bottom line.

What are your thoughts? We encourage comments and discussion.

Classes for customer service?

The title of  Dean Harris’ piece in the Westside Connect says it all: “Customer Service Crucial to Success in Today’s Business World.” We couldn’t agree more. Now more than ever, businesses must find ways to attract and RETAIN customers. Harris writes how he and his wife were made to wait 30 minutes in a store because a surly clerk was too engaged in his computer to get something they were going to buy.  Clearly the clerk was not too interested in making a sale.

Perhaps the solution is to send your staff to customer service school, or at least, a class on customer service. In Mississippi, the Copiah-Lincoln Community College will be offering such a class. The idea is to help people boost customer loyalty to promote sales.  This is a fabulous idea! Would you be interested in a class on customer service?

Recession and Customer Service

At ARMA, we believe that customer service is essential, regardless of the state of the economy. Apparently, other businesses seem to think customer service is disposable, one more budget item to cut to keep costs low. We read this blog entry by Michael Hickins  in InformationWeek about how various companies seem to be cutting back on customer service.

We agree with Michael Hickins’ conclusion:

“Treating customers well is a much better way of ensuring repeat business than trying to trick them with dubious marketing practices or skating by with a poor excuse of an apology. Obvious as this may be, it seems to have escaped a lot of people in the digital landscape.”

To us it is self-evident that all customers wish to be treated well, and want to have problems rectified. Customers can deal with problems if someone is willing and able to help them fix those problems. Companies who pretend otherwise are not well regarded by their customers. Eventually, this causes an erosion in reputation, and customer defections.

Is customer service an art?

Good customer service is indeed an art. But it also a science.  Some companies and individuals instictively understand the importance of customer service and work to please their customers. Other companies train their employees to be better customer service representatives.

A case in point is McDonald’s, as this article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch discusses.  No employee starts dealing directly with customers until he or she has been properly trained.  In the piece, the author, Lori Amirshahi closes with these thoughts:

  • Never underestimate the value of personal contact.
  • Surprise and delight your clients on a regular basis.
  • Leave them with a good experience, and you’ll get five referrals; leave them with a bad experience and you’ll get complaints from twice as many.

Whether an art or a science, good customer service is good business.

The beginning, middle and end

Delivering service to your customers begins and ends with communications.  No company or service provider can achieve high customer satisfaction if it does not know what the customer needs and expects.  The only way to find out customer needs and wants is to have open dialogue.

At ARMA, we always have a conversation with our customers about what is working and what is now. We work to determine what is expected and then we work to deliver (or overdeliver) on those expectations.

Ongoing conversations assure everyone involved that you are committed to understanding what is needed. However, it is is not enough to have an understanding. You must also deliver on what you promised. If you can’t deliver on what you promise, then you must tell your customer why. Again, have open, honest communication.

Here’s a story from the Smart Planet blog that discusses what happens when you don’t follow through on your promise.