By Lisa Witepski
(The following article appeared in an edition of The Journal of Marketing)
Customer service. The words are bandied about so frequently that they’ve become an entrenched part of the corporate lexicon. In spite of this, and in spite of the fact that so many organisations preach good customer service, how many are actually putting it into practise? The Journal of Marketing takes a look at why good customer service is such an essential part of CRM.
The power of word of mouth is astounding. Think about it: how many times have you been tempted to try a new restaurant because your friends have been giving it rave reviews? On the other hand, it’s equally possible that reports of poor service have persuaded you to keep your distance.
The same goes for your organisation. It takes one unhappy customer to spread the word, and your product comes under a cloud – no matter how good it is in reality. As Mark Annett of Camsoft says, “It’s not enough simply to sell something, you must be prepared to service it, too. By doing so, you show customers that you care about them and value them. And that affects your ability to retain their custom.”
That may seem rather obvious, but think about the more subtle implications. If, for some reason, the customer’s experience of your product is less than stellar, you can still redeem the organisation’s image by offering an outstanding service experience. “Providing flawless customer service helps smooth ruffled feathers,” Annett points out. “Think of an airline, for example. There can be no greater inconvenience than a plane running late – it’s infuriating. But you’re more likely to give the airline a second chance if it makes an attempt at compensation, perhaps by bumping you up a class. Remember that repeat business hinges on having a satisfied customer.”
But customer service is about more than providing warm fuzzy feelings. It can also function to enhance your organisation’s effectiveness. By keeping a record of customer interactions, you’re given insights into how the company’s products – and, by extension, the company itself – is performing. This also allows you to address problems proactively: imagine that you’ve received complaints from a number of different customers about the same product. Clearly, something’s gone wrong – but the good news is that you’ve been alerted to it and can address it before more customers report their dissatisfaction. In fact, if you have a good CRM system in place, you can even keep track of customers who have bought the product, and let them know of potential problems, aiding product recall if necessary – but more about the role of CRM systems later.
Getting it right
So, what does it take to provide good customer service? How do you know if you’re getting right, or if you’re just skating along, about to lose another customer because of your perceived laissez-faire attitude?
Annett quotes the website www.customerservicepoint.com, which observes that “most of us continue with people and business who give good service. We might not say anything, but we reward good service providers by continuing to do business with them. If the service is outstanding, we will probably tell our friends and colleagues about it. Likewise, when we receive poor service most of us vote, not with our voice but with our feet – we just leave.”
The website identified eight crucial steps to providing customer service. The first is to recognise that customers are the reason for work, not an interruption of work. Accordingly, it’s unacceptable to leave a disgruntled customer waiting while you address ‘more important things’. Secondly, the best way to get employees to recognise this is to train them – continuously and thoroughly. In fact, every employee in your organisation, regardless of which department they serve, should be able to help customers with queries and complaints. This means that you have to do more than provide the skills to help them supply good customer service; you need to give them access to physical resources, too. Customerservicepoint.com calls this “empowering staff to serve”, and points out that this may range from providing tools and equipment to simply creating an organisational culture where employees feel comfortable making their own decisions regarding customer service. The website also recommends that you make service personal, whether it’s with a handshake, calling the customer by name or thanking them for their patronage, and states that “it is ok to say ‘yes’ even when you should say ‘No.’ Support your staff when they make customer service decisions…it creates a greater willingness to serve the customer.” By the same token, a little bit of employee recognition goes a long way – everyone likes a pat on the back, and one of the best ways of motivating your staff to take better care of customers is to show that you appreciate it when they do. Next, focus on offering a solution, assuring the customer that you’ve not only heard their complaint but that you’re taking the necessary steps to set things right. Finally, don’t be shy to ask your customers what they think of their service. This is a case where the adage “no news is good news” just doesn’t apply – if you’re not receiving positive comments, chances your customers aren’t that impressed. Time to get out those comment and suggestion cards.
Tools of the trade
Great customer service in eight easy steps – it sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? In truth, though, your new customer service ethic needs to be backed by some tools of the trade. And that’s where your CRM system comes in. “A good CRM system, like Maximizer, has the ability to optimise service resources and frontline service representatives to dramatically increase productivity and improve customer satisfaction,” Annett maintains. Indeed, with comprehensive customer information and records of past interactions at their fingertips, your employees are given a definite advantage in terms of keeping customers happy.
“By storing customer details, including emails, notes from phone calls and staff observations, in a central location, it’s possible to access everything you need to know about a customer quickly and easily. It’s also possible to build up customer service cases, making for increased efficiency.” Without having to sift through reams of information scattered through disparate locations, employees can respond swiftly to queries and complaints – and this has significant implications for building positive customer relationships. What’s more, your customers will appreciate the fact that they don’t have to repeat their history with the organisation to each new operator they speak to – it assures them that their problem is being handled competently and effectively.
That’s one advantage. Another, says Annett, is the fact that good CRM systems allow you to automate processes, with high quality service the result. “For example, with Maximizer, you can ensure customers are supported by tracking expiration dates of service level agreements and sending renewal notices. You can also search databases for overdue or unresolved cases at regular intervals, and send email alerts to the relevant customer managers and assigned customer service representative, and monitor incoming emails for keywords. This enables you to create customer service cases automatically, based on intelligent tracking of message content.” This translates into better performance – if you’re aware that the company is dragging its heels in a certain area, you can take the steps to make things happen more quickly. And you can use your CRM system to notify customers of this, too, by sending them electronic alerts regarding the status of their case.
“You could also use your CRM system to take advantage of cross-selling or up-selling opportunities,” Annett states. If you have an idea of the products and services that interest your customer – as recorded in their profile – you’ll be able to keep them updated with new developments. At the same time, because your CRM system tracks all correspondence, you won’t run the risk of annoying them by sending repeated messages that are ignored. “Effective CRM also makes it possible for customers to avoid the hassle of waiting in phone queues. If you have a well managed call centre or a comprehensive website linked to your CRM system, they can log their complaint and wait for you to respond.” The message is clear: as much as organisational success hinges on excellent customer service, the ability to provide that service depends on having the right CRM system in place.