Good customer service can go a long way
Leading companies show how to get experience right
WASHINGTON: Anyone who has survived a marathon phone session with an internet service provider knows the frustration, not to mention the elevated stress, associated with today’s automated world.
In many cases, customer service has been supplanted by do-it-yourself phone menus and websites. In some cases, do- it- yourself beats doing it with a real person.
What got me thinking about the value of good customer service was a recent experience with bad – make that awful – phone support. It doesn’t seem as if it should be all that hard to do right.
Surely corporate executives weigh the costs and benefits of having an adequate staff of well-trained representatives to field customer calls and provide solutions on a timely basis.
Market research confirms that a happy customer tends to be a customer for life. Bad service, on the other hand, costs the company in lost sales. And customers are much more likely to tell friends about their negative experiences than their positive ones.
I started my quest by calling a few companies that provided exceptional customer service for me in the last few months.
I also spoke with Southwest Airlines, based on the recommendations of friends who swear by it.
I’ve tried to distill the message I got from these companies into some important concepts.
● Customer service is marketing: surveys suggest that customer service has a large and long-lasting impact on the buying behaviour of customers.
“It’s the philosophy: above all, you need to get it right with the customer, or make it right,” said Bob Maresca, president and chief executive at audio systems manufacturer Bose.
● The price of loyalty: at Weber, manufacturer of braai grills, they call it the “loyalty loop,” said chief executive Tom Koos. It all starts with a great product, easy assembly and a great cooking experience.
I’m in the loop, as they say. Last summer, I called Weber to get a replacement part for my gas grill and ended up with the part plus instructions for cooking a turkey on a gas grill.
Koos said business schools teach the four Ps of marketing: product, price, place and promotion. But they “miss the fifth ‘P’: positive word of mouth.” At Weber, 60 customer-support representatives take 500 000 calls a year.
“Nobody else talks to customers,” he says. Nobody has to.
● Who we are is what we do: that might not be good advice for someone searching for his identity, but it sure fits Southwest Airlines. Customer service “is part of our core being,” said Teresa Laraba, senior vice-president for customer services.
Ever since Southwest started 42 years ago, the goal has always been “to bring customer service back to the skies”.
New candidates interview with recruiters and then with employees who are doing the specific job.
“We want employees to be invested in someone who’s going to share that job,” she said.
Southwest’s policies are an added perk. Even customers who purchase tickets with the most restrictive fares can re-use the ticket as long as they cancel before the flight. (See No 2 above.) No wonder Southwest ranks near the top – second behind JetBlue – among US low-cost carriers in customer satisfaction surveys.
● The time value of money, or the value of our time: consumers may comparison-shop for the best deal on a computer or flat-screen TV, but if they’re like me, they will gladly pay up for service.
We hate being trapped in automated-phone menus and waiting on hold for a real person to answer. We hate being disconnected. We hate the do-not-call(back) policy many companies seem to favour. And a customer-support agent knowledgeable enough to solve the problem is key. Fixing any or all of these problems would win our hearts and minds.
Amazon.com recently introduced a Mayday button on its Kindle Fire HDX tablet. Press the button, and in 15 seconds or less you are connected to an Amazon expert who is avail- able 24/7, 365 days a year.
“Amazon’s goal is to be Earth’s most customer-centric company,” Kelly Cheesman, a company spokeswoman, told me. I think chief executive Jeff Bezos has succeeded. I am a devoted Amazon Prime customer.
And I just realised that in all this time, I have never had reason to contact a real person at Amazon. Now that’s the definition of good customer service. – Washington Post
● Baum is author of Just What I Said
THE WAY: A call centre operator is trained in the finer points of customer service.
PICTURE BONGANI MBATHA