Superior Customer Care in a Self-Service World
by Jonathan Berman
How do you provide unparalleled, personalized customer service and tech support in a high-tech, self-service world system? This blue ribbon is achievable by fusing the human component of superb customer care with user-friendly, high-tech solutions that are available around the clock.
Technology has made it possible for customers to get assistance with many of their questions and concerns any time of the day or night, with no need to be concerned with business hours or time zone differences. Automated operators and sophisticated websites can increase efficiency and reduce costs, but what they cannot do is replace the friendly greeting by a real person - the undivided attention that makes a customer feel valued - and it cannot build a lasting relationship with a customer.
We have to determine what the customer’s needs are and how best to fulfill them using both components of human and technology services.
WHAT CUSTOMERS EXPECT
Customers want and expect quality service, whether it is searching for an answer online or speaking to a live person via telephone or face to face. Customers want their needs met and will gravitate to whatever source can help them avoid this deficiency.
Customer service and tech support both have characteristics related to Abraham Maslow’s The Theory of Human Motivation (1943) in which he posited his theory of human needs. Maslow’s research concluded that humans — in this case, customers — have basic needs to include “affection, security, and self-esteem.”
Translated into customer service terminology, this represents having a relationship with your customer in which they feel ‘known’ by your company, that you care about their needs as a customer and, as a result, that you care.
These basic needs are also termed “deficiency needs” because if they are not met, the person, or customer, will strive to make up the deficiency. In the case of customer care, this means if your company is not meeting those needs, the customer will find another company that will.
ATTAINING CUSTOMER LOYALTY
Another important study on human motivational factors, conducted by Frederick Herzberg, focused on issues that must be present prior to motivating an individual.
Herzberg’s study, The Two-Factor Theory (1959), focused on what causes dissatisfaction among employees — and as a by-product, customers — and what motivates them to remain loyal to a company.
Two of the primary “dissatisfiers” are working conditions and policies from administrative practices. Understanding these two factors as they relate to customers is integral to building customer loyalty company-wide. Working conditions, policies, and administrative practices impact the overall environment the customer has to operate within, whether that is technology-based or with a live person.
To motivate loyalty, you must first satisfy their basic needs, then offer other incentives that will transition the client from a satisfied customer to a loyal customer.
In the words of Jeffrey Gitomer, one of the leading experts on sales and customer loyalty, “Great salespeople [human and technology-based resources] are relationship builders who provide value and help their customers win.”
CREATING CUSTOMER TRUST WITH “ALWAYS”
Most successful companies are familiar with the adage, “people do business with those they know, like, and trust.”
Customers cannot develop a relationship with your broadband or automated operator. The human interface remains a vital component to climbing to the summit of customer care known as “always.”
Shep Hyken, a leading expert in customer service, wrote in his blog, “How to Create Customer Trust,” that “always” is the one word you want your customers to associate with your company. “They are always so nice.” “They always take care of me.” “I can always count on them.” And, when there is a mistake or a problem, “they always fix it.”
Following is a partial list of the steps to reach the summit of “always”:
- Be predictable – Make sure the customer can count on your company to provide a rock- solid, positive experience.
- Consistency – Regardless of whom or what your customer is dealing with - whether they encounter one of your employees or an automated service - ensure the answers are consistent and the service is impeccable.
- Eliminate Friction – Make the process of contacting your company as painless as possible, by creating an environment in which the customer can locate information quickly and obtain accurate, reliable answers to their questions.
Achieving these benchmarks will take some trial and error, but it is important to your customer that their issues be resolved quickly and accurately. “Always” is a statement of company culture, expectations, and mission. The impression the customer walks away with after each interaction will be directly related to the importance you place on getting to “always.”
TECHNOLOGY AND THE HUMAN TOUCH
Customer’s needs will continually change; technology is always marching forward at a rapid pace. The benefits of offering multi-layered options, such as automated telephone menus and web-based self-service, can be invaluable by providing insight into the needs of your customer. This will allow you to tailor your platforms to satisfy those requirements to ensure a positive customer experience.
Meanwhile, the human interaction remains a vital key to a company’s success. Customers want access to information on their schedule, yet the person-to-person contact builds the relationship. It is still the role of the company and its associates to uncover what the customer needs and wants, find the common links to establish rapport, and ask questions to discover what their concerns and/or objections are. This is achievable only by personal interaction.
The synthesis of personalized customer care and support with the ever-increasing demand for real-time answers to immediate needs will always be an ongoing process. Companies will need to adjust, tweak, revise and reevaluate their products as customers’ needs evolve.
DELIVER AND “SHIP”
Continuing down the path of unparalleled customer care to reach the pinnacle of “always” is the embodiment of two concepts. First, deliver what you sell, inclusive of product and service. If you oversell and under-deliver, you will probably lose the customer.
Second, “ship.” Seth Godin defines “ship” in his book Lynchpin as, “the collision between your work and the outside world.” Meaning, get your product and/or service out into the marketplace.
It might appear at first glance that these two concepts are contradictory, but in reality, they complement one another. This methodology will ensure the customer receives the highest level of service available and they will know their needs are understood and are being met. As a result, the customer will reward your company with the coveted trophy of loyalty.
About the Author
Jonathan Berman is the president and general manager of Open Options. He earned a BSc in Business Administration from Centenary College of Louisiana and an MBA from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. Berman started his career with Open Options in 1999 as product manager and was then offered the National Sales Manager position (2001-2004). Thereafter, Berman was promoted to VP and GM (2005-2015), and in 2015 was promoted to President and GM. Open Options is continually revising their business strategy and model to grow customer loyalty and considers this a marketable differentiator.