In today’s fast moving, high tech world, it is often easy to forget the most important component of business is the customer. Customer service has been reduced to a faceless, nameless, and often voiceless entity. To satisfy your own customers, there are certain important factors that need to be considered:
1. Without customers there is no business income.
2. Satisfied customers mean less time and finance contributed to conflict resolution and added value through production and increases in the profit margin.
3. Dissatisfied customers result in bloated personnel budgets to resolve customer product or service concerns.
4. Automated and impersonal customer service removes the “personal touch” many businesses were built on and continue to thrive on today.
5. Statistics reflect that “word of mouth” is still the best form of advertising.
The Importance of The Customer
The first item should require no explanation, however many companies get so completely wrapped up in their business plans that they seem to forget this most important economic fact. Obviously, a business exists to earn a profit, and without customers willing to make purchases, a company can quickly near bankruptcy, or terminate the operation entirely. Making a product attractive and spending millions of dollars on advertising will not keep customers consuming a product, especially if they are treated poorly.
It is amazing that in many boardrooms and conference rooms, the frequent echo of statements like, “I don’t care what the customer wants,” or “The customer is too picky.” Apparently these companies have forgotten where their money comes from. Since the only way a company can profit, as well as compensate their employees and stockholders, is by selling their product to their customers; therefore it is of paramount importance that the customer be happy and satisfied. Every company would be well advised to keep their attitude towards their customers pointed in a positive direction.
Wasted Production Time
Some companies spend extraordinarily large amounts of staff time and resources, staffing huge telephone systems, fancy website “Help Desk” applications, and manual “customer service and information” counters. Reducing these resources and redirecting them to production would reduce the bottom line by increasing resources used in production. For example, if it takes a supervisor 15 minutes on the phone with an irate customer, that same supervisor could also be spending the 15 minutes helping to produce an additional unit to be sold.
In most companies, something over 50% of all customer problems can be attributed to a lack of knowledge or training available to the customer. Providing proper and understandable documentation at the user level can prevent many of these trouble areas. Many companies provide completely awkward and/or incomprehensible documentation, which simply beg for the customer concerns to arise, resulting in overall less efficiency. Customer Service Representatives (CSR’s) should gently refer a customer to understandable documentation, which they have available in front of them, and can often minimize the amount of time spent by company personnel. This policy can save extraordinary amounts of personnel time and result in significant profit margin increases.
Having addressed the amount of time allotted to customers in terms of potential product development, consider the excess budgetary expenditures on overhead; a supervisor’s salary and benefits, as well as the salary and benefits of his employees, and the amount of money required on a quality communications, or rather, telephone system should be taken into account.
It is not unusual to have a single individual dedicated to the specific task of handling customer inquires, especially in small to medium sized companies. More often than not, there may actually be several people involved. Once an irate customer voices a complaint, it is rare that their issue with service or product remains a one-time occurrence. Satisfying customer needs the first time will save the company additional resources and money. Additionally, when the appropriate attention is provided to the customer at the onset, not only will it save the customer time and potential unhappiness, but will further lend to the efficiency and productivity of the business itself, resulting in more increases to the profit margin.
The Personal Touch
Human beings are social animals and as such, enjoy doing business with people they know and trust. Consider a favorite butcher, baker, or a grocery store manager with whom you have done business with previously. Over the years most consumers will develop a working relationship with these businesses, and most importantly, a relationship established on trust. Without personal interaction from a company, customers are likely to purchase a competitor’s product or service-even if that product results in inferiority and more cost to the consumer. By denying consumers personal attention through the use of faceless and impersonal services, it can cost a company in terms of customer loyalty and return sales. To illustrate, this is largely the reason large chain stores have greeters at the entrance doors of their establishments.
With the advent of the Internet and telephone “kiosk” systems, many companies have in reality lost all touch with their customers. Customers have quickly become inundated with faceless voices on the telephone, or an impersonal message on a computer screen. While there are economic purposes of this style operation, a company would do well to weigh the benefits, as opposed to the potential loss of business.
Telephone systems, automated messaging, and automated websites cannot take the place of personal attention to a customer. If a customer is forced to spend their time in frustration wading through several levels of an automated telephone system or website just to get to speak to a company representative, what may have originally been a simple and quick question may well turn out to be a product return, and a non-returning consumer.
Word of Mouth
Anyone who has seen negative stories either on television or in the newspaper is aware of the huge impact such advertising can have on a business. The mere fact that such negative attention exists is only the tip of the “iceberg.” Consider the case of a woman several years ago that was allegedly burned by spilling a hot cup of coffee on herself at a fast food restaurant. A lawsuit ensued, and eventually the restaurant was forced to pay through legal action. In addition, the restaurant chain lost potentially thousands of customers simply through “word of mouth” spreading during conversations at the water cooler. By the same token, customers who have a bad experience with customer service at a company also spread the word. The word spreads very quickly from person to person that a certain company cannot be trusted to take care of their customers fairly-whether or not the actual incident was fairly analyzed by the customer is no longer important.
As an aside, companies need to be keenly aware of the customer’s need to be able to understand a company representative. That is, when a customer is successful in reaching a company on the telephone, it is important that the company representative be able to speak and understand the customer’s language. While this may in some cases be an ethnic issue, it is not always the case. An engineer with a Ph.D., for instance, may be speaking English, but in technical terms. The customer calling may be an English teacher with no computer experience at all. Help desk personnel must be trained to communicate at the customer’s level and not expect the customer to train themselves.
Every company can have a smoothly run and efficient help desk. Keeping in mind that the purpose is to help the customer use our products will keep them returning to us rather than to our competitors.