People don’t do business with you just because you’re the least expensive or have the highest quality product or service. There’s something much more important to them.
That Cable Company …
A couple summers ago, the story of the “worst customer service rep in the world” made the pages of Time magazine and a four-minute spot on National Public Radio. The company that employed that representative is still feeling the sting.
The story told of a Comcast customer who had called the company to discontinue service. When the representative asked why, the customer declined to state a reason. Rather than comply with the customer’s request, the rep became incredulous, continuing to insist the customer give him a reason: “Tell me why you want to leave the number one rated service. Tell me why you don’t want the fastest internet,” etc.
The recording that the customer made of the call is enough to make anyone cringe.
Comcast is frequently included on lists of “worst companies.” For several years, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) found them to have the lowest customer satisfaction rating in the U.S.— even lower than the Internal Revenue Service.
It must have finally affected their bottom line because in mid-2015, the company announced plans to “reinvent the customer experience.”
This kind of announcement is indicative of a company that doesn’t fully understand customer service. It’s not something they need to reinvent; they just need to provide it.
It’s All about Communication
While statistics abound for how consumers respond to great or lousy customer service, there is much less data on what they feel constitutes a great customer service experience. However, one study of 1,000 consumers, conducted by the market research firm Dimensional Research, found that the top three factors are:
- Problem was resolved quickly
- Customer service person was pleasant
- Problem resolved with one agent, in one interaction
These are valuable points, but beneath them is an even more important one: communication.
If you don’t listen, you can’t understand. If you don’t understand, you can’t resolve.
If you’re not pleasant, the customer won’t want to speak to you, which leads to multiple contacts and attempts to handle the problem, which then leads to a “bad customer service experience.”
How bad can failing to listen get? People-skills expert Kate Nasser posted a series of the worst customer service stories she’s ever heard, including this one:
A woman’s father had recently passed away and she contacted one of his credit card companies to cancel his account.
“My name is Debra,” she said. “My father Pat passed away and I am the executor of the estate. I am calling to cancel his account.”
“Well, I need to talk to Pat,” the rep replied.
“Listen very carefully,” she said. “He’s dead.”
Not all of this occurs over the phone. Market research firm J.D. Power & Associates found that 67% of customers have used a business’ social media page for customer service purposes.
Yet, companies very often fail to “listen” to these inquiries. The UK social media customer service engagement platform Sentiment reported that 59% of questions and complaints posted on companies’ Twitter accounts went unanswered. And while customers would like to get a response via social media within an hour, the average response time via Twitter ran between four and five hours.
The Price of Communication Failure
The most recent statistics from Nielsen showed that 86% of customers stopped doing business with a company due to a poor customer service experience.
What does this mean in terms of lost revenue? It is estimated that U.S. businesses lose between $41 billion and $83 billion a year due to bad customer service.
It isn’t merely loss of a single sale, but loss of an income stream. Consider these four data points:
- According to the White House Office on Consumer Affairs, a loyal customer’s future business is worth up to 10 times the value of their initial business.
- The probability of selling to one of your existing customers is 60 to 70%, whereas, there’s only a 5 to 20% chance of selling to a new prospect.
- The White House also estimates that it costs a business 6 to 7 times more to get a new customer than keep an existing one.
- Findings by Gartner Research showed that today, businesses don’t compete on issues of price or quality, but mainly on customer service.
With these in mind, it’s easy to see that your existing, loyal customers are valuable assets, representing considerable potential revenue. So any company that wants to remain in business needs to put a strong focus on providing the best possible customer experience.
How to Do It
There are plenty of books on the market about how to achieve great customer service. The web is full of articles and listicles on the topic. But the best place to start is communication. Here are a few suggestions:
- Find out the customer’s name and whether they prefer to be addressed by their first name or as “Mr.” or Ms.”
- Acknowledge to the caller that you understand their concern. This can be done by repeating it back to them, i.e. “Okay, so you’re having a problem with ____ and would like to _____, correct?”
- Empathize; don’t buy them off. Not all customers who call with a problem are seeking money—a refund, discount or other pay-off. They want to be heard and understood first and foremost.
- Representatives should fully understand the customers’ needs. Understanding and speaking with the customer in their own language helps to establish trust, rapport and often reduces the likeliness of miscommunication.
- Get off the script. There is nothing more annoying that a customer service agent who greets the caller from a script and/or attempts to answer questions and handle complaints from a script. That’s not communication; it’s robotism.
- Remember that you’re there to solve customers’ problems, not to figure out ways they can’t be solved. The customer is who funds your paycheck. That doesn’t mean you have to comply with unreasonable demands, but there is almost always some way you can assist them.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, listening to customers is the way you learn how to provide them with the best possible customer experience. In her article, “Being Human is Good Business” customer service thought leader Kristin Smaby wrote:
“When customers share their story, they’re not just sharing pain points. They’re actually teaching you how to make your product, service, and business better. Your customer service organization should be designed to efficiently communicate those issues [to management, etc.].”
So listen to them. Understand them. Help them as best you can and thank them for their feedback.
Chances are, they will thank you with continued loyalty.