My 13-year-old daughter tells me that I am an aging technology neophyte. Yet, I was able to go online to purchase my first smart phone and upgrade our family calling plan without talking to a human being. Like many baby boomers, I’m resigned to life with a cell phone. I use the web but only to map out travel routes, do basic vacation research and find the lowest prices for merchandise.
I may be a technology novice, but I am quite a savvy shopper. When I realized I needed a smart phone, I diligently identified my requirements and went online to see what I could find. A Google search overwhelmed me with too many results, so I narrowed my search to phones offered from the service providers located within 10 miles of my house.
One site stood out in my search. And that site should serve as a model for other businesses.
Here’s what happened. The site asked me to enter some basic information up front—my phone requirements, the number of people on my calling plan, the types of calls I was expected to make. I immediately received back a clear listing of phones suitable for my needs and budget, with embedded consumer ratings and links to peer reviews. The site also recommended the best plan for me, with an analysis of why it was the best plan.
I read through all the material available, went through live chat to ask a couple of questions—which were immediately answered—and quickly came to a decision as to what phone would be best for me.
I purchased the phone and the calling plan via the web site, and when I turned on the phone for the first time, I was greeted with a personalized welcome message.
Every time I logged into the service provider’s site, I was greeted by name and was presented with a consolidated view of my family’s billing plan, my payments and any open support tickets. The site remembered my last searches, and any service that the site recommended always seemed pertinent to my situation.
Beyond the expected
The site went beyond simple service. For example, I had signed up for automatic payments, which meant that the site notified me by email every time a payment was debited from my account. I was also notified each time my daughter was within 10 minutes of exceeding her monthly plan, which helped me monitor her phone usage—and confiscate her phone when she chatted for too long instead of doing her homework.
After several months, I received an email that included a recommendation for a cheaper rate plan for me based on my consolidated usage history. And after a year, when the rate for email notification was raised, I didn’t even consider discontinuing this service, as email notification had made my life easier.
Companies with a web presence really need to pay attention to this customer experience. Today, industries such as telecommunications are becoming commoditized. Customers have little brand loyalty and shop by price, typically on the web. But customers are also searching for a good customer service experience—just as I was—and oftentimes will pay a premium to be assured such service. Good service builds trust—and loyalty. And only when you have a receptive customer base can you be successful at marketing and selling to them.
The optimal customer service experience should start up front, before a user even becomes a customer. The web site should be visually pleasing and easily navigable, with a consistent user interface propagated throughout the site. Breadcrumbs and recently viewed pages should be displayed to help orient the user within a site.
The site should offer a variety of self-service methods to find on-topic results, methods that appeal to different categories of users. Novice users are often most comfortable with a guided search approach, while more experienced users may prefer navigating a browsable folder structure. Clarifying questions should be used to narrow relevant search results and guide the user to the most relevant topic. And spelling suggestions for mistyped words should always be available.
If users are not able to find the information that they are looking for, they should be able to escalate from a self-service session to an agent via email, chat or phone and not have to repeat information.
Sophisticated sites also run under-the-covers searches on the questions that are being escalated, so they can present relevant solutions, thereby passively “de-escalating” a request before it reaches a call center agent.
Once the user becomes a customer, any visit to the web site should be personalized and targeted exactly for that customer demographic. The site should have memory of customers’ actions—their orders, their past and pending service requests, transcripts of their chat and email interactions with agents and a history of any self-service interaction that was escalated to an agent. Responses to customer queries should be tailored to the persona of the customer. Techniques like these help assure customers that they matter; that their interactions are understood; and that their history with the company is important.
Companies need to go a step further and offer services as a value-add to basic customer care. Examples are personalized offers based on past purchase history and demographics and service alerts tailored to the specific product that was purchased.
At the heart of each of these customer service solutions is a knowledge base integrated with a case management system that can manage multi-channel customer requests. This integration ensures that a customer’s consolidated interactions are visible via a self-service web session—or by a call center agent when a problem escalates. Analytics coupled with the customer service solution allow you to analyze your customer base and target specific, relationship-building offers and product information to them.
Customer service software like this allows my service provider to differentiate itself from its competitors—and keep customers like me not only loyal but also passionate supporters of the service.