“Hello, is anybody there?”

Has your company gone a little too automated?  Today we rely on technology in so many ways.  Want to get take out?  Go to your cell phone and use the app to order.  Need a ride somewhere?  Go to your cell phone and use the app to have a ride-service pick you up.  Granted, for many occasions it is very convenient and helpful to use an app or email a company to make your request.

I wonder, though: is more technology still an improvement if we have removed the personal touch when dealing with a client or customer?  I’ve always understood that when you want the best price on most goods you go to the big box stores, or shop online.  It’ll probably save you a few dollars.  But if you have a question, heaven help you!  It’s much better when you’re buying something you don’t have a total understanding of to go to a “mom and pop” store or other smaller company.  The owner is likely much more present, and the staff may be more knowledgeable, but most importantly, they’re much more likely to be willing to answer questions about your purchase.  And if they’re really good, they’ll provide a welcome personal touch, like referring to you by name.

As we barrel headlong into the age of automation, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to ask: is the client always better off with more technology?  Heck no!  We can all think of a situation where something has gone wrong with a product or service and we want to get it resolved.  In my experience, this is where more apps fall horribly short.  So you pick up the phone and dial the company.  You patiently wait while listening to the recordings, you input several numbers that you desperately hope will bring you to the correct department, and when you finally do hear someone on the other end of the line, it’s just a recording saying, “Your call is important to us, so please remain on the line for the next customer service representative.” 

That doesn’t make me feel very important.

It shouldn’t feel like I have to go through this just to get someone to answer a question.

Beyond that, when you finally do get anyone on the line and you explain your situation, you’ve got a pretty good chance of hearing the infamous “I’m sorry- I’ll need to transfer you to someone else.” Really!  Is that what it looks like to make the customer happy?

I use the horrible call waiting experience because it’s so relatable, but the truth of the matter is that quality customer service being good for business goes beyond anecdotal evidence.  There are myriad survey companies monitoring the effects customer service metrics have on a customer base.  It might not surprise you to find that it’s always worth it.  Even millennials, a demographic oft-maligned for its social skills and exceedingly comfortable with technology, prefer having at the very least the option to speak to a human.  This need is significantly more compulsive when they are doing something unfamiliar or new (like, for instance, filing an insurance claim)!

We reported on the importance of response time and communication in customer satisfaction following a catastrophe on this blog last year.  Transparent, speedy communication was the number one satisfaction indicator for policyholders following a catastrophe.  Not the payouts. Not whether a claim was denied. The level of communication. The results of these constant surveys shouldn’t come as a revelation, because they remain consistent.  The number one reason customers leave a company is simply because they weren’t made to feel valuable.

A Rockefeller Corporation study found that 68% of customers, when asked why they left a company, answered they believed the company did not care about them.

Many years ago, I received some excellent advice.  If you’re really serious about providing excellent customer service for your business, try calling your own company and listening to how the phone is answered.  Is it a machine?  Were there a number of automated barriers before you could talk to a person?  Did they pick up right away, or did it ring eight times?  Does that person sound like they actually want to assist you, or do you perceive that they might be a little annoyed with your situation?

I believe prompt, courteous contact with a “real live person” is the number one factor in making a customer feel valued.   That goes beyond simple customer service guidelines or metrics.  Making sure the phone is answered within three rings doesn’t guarantee a pleasant interaction.  Powerful customer service- the kind that retains customers- starts with a culture.  Your staff should be well-prepared, knowledgeable in your products and services and trained in how to handle customer interactions in a friendly, polite, and expedient manner.  They should be empowered to fix problems while minimizing the need to ever transfer a customer to another individual.

So again: “Hello, is anybody there?”  I cringe when I think of that feeling of wandering helplessly in search of an able employee (or sometimes, any employee at all.)  I would never want a customer to feel that from my company.  That’s why I’m so proud of ACS’s commitment to customer service- and we’ve seen that bear out in value.  Our employees are committed to listening to our clients, understanding their difficulties, and promptly handling their inquiries.  We are committed to creating loyal customers who understand they are valued.  We want clients who relocate to tell their new company about us based on their positive customer experience.  Your company should want that, too.

The bottom line is that it is 6 to 7 times easier to sell to an existing customer than it is to create a new one.  It takes less effort, less time, and less money- just a commitment to making them feel valued.  That’s really it.  Companies often believe that not making a mistake is crucial to keeping customers, but that’s not actually true.  Numerous studies have found that customers that have a negative experience- let’s say a delayed flight- but have that negative experience handled in a way that made them feel validated and valued causes those customers to hold the company in higher regard than customers who had no bad experience at all.

More and more, customers will also reach out via social media. It’s important to be responsive there, as well.

So admit if you make a mistake.  Your customer might be dissatisfied, upset, and possibly even unreasonable, but an employee who is committed to excellent customer service will be able to focus on conveying value to the customer.  Problems are usually correctable- if an employee is unable to fix it themselves, they can inform the customer that they will investigate with the proper staff members, and get back to them with an answer.  (Don’t forget to convey and keep a timeline.)  Ask how and when best to contact them; show respect and good manners; empathize rather than escalate.  When their concern is satisfied, you will have established that they can depend on you, even in difficult circumstances, and that level of trust will lead to excellent customer retention.

Also, don’t forget to thank your customers.  Gratitude is memorable.

After 25 years with Administrative Claim Service, I’ve seen firsthand a long line of technological improvements.  We strive to offer services that deliver an efficient experience that meets client needs and reduce their spend.  Where I feel we have excelled, however, is our commitment to the people in those companies that we service.  We aren’t hiding behind our technology: we are helpful, available, and prompt.  For us, that begins with a phone call: you can be sure that when it rings, you’ll find on the other end a human being who is ready, willing, and able to assist you.

“How can I help you today?”

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