Many of us have fallen foul of ineffective, or non-existent after-sales support systems. Here the Frog expounds the virtues of the 5 As of Internet Customer Service…
This week I’ve found myself thinking about customer service on the internet and whether offline rules apply to the online world.
A few months ago, my friend (think “Mrs Bouquet”) decided to purchase a classical French bathroom suite during one of her many flights of fancy. Since then, we’ve all endured updates akin to the breaking news on Sky, detailing her quest to find “the one”. It was relief all round when a few weeks ago she found her suite of dreams, located a t’interweb company with it in stock and made the purchase. Not that my friend is one to brag, but “even their website radiated such quality, darling”.
Skip forward a fortnight and the suite was delivered by one of the “carefully selected delivery partners”; the bathroom equivalent of coffee beans hand-picked by blind nuns in the remote hills of Madagascar. At the grand unveiling (complete with sparkling wine, M&S houmous and vol-au-vents), the mass cooing was suddenly replaced with sharp intakes of breath; the bubble wrap stripped back to reveal imperfect and marked marble. The eyes of her husband – hollow with the exhaustion of being asked “what about this one?” every day for three months – now reflected the resignation of a man tasked with arranging the world’s quickest replacement.
Quite naturally, his first port of call was the contact number displayed on the website. When this proved to be continually unavailable, he started to panic (you’d understand if you ever met his wife) and swiftly moved onto emails. These too were without success. In a move of sheer genius, he remembered the company owned a real-life shop, dialled the moustached running men and obtained a number that worked. Phew! The relief was short-lived when the disinterested company owner entered the equation. After days of increasingly heated telephone calls, sharing of photographic evidence worthy of CSI and an extended philosophical debate about what constitutes marked marble, a replacement was finally arranged. We are now at the point where they’re expecting the exchange. No doubt from the “carefully selected delivery partners”.
So, in recognition of my friend – who happened to shout “aaaaah” when she first saw her marked marble – here are my 5As of Internet Customer Service:
- Anticipate: Customers don’t want to contact you unless they really have to and presumably, you don’t want to be bombarded by a veritable deluge of unnecessary emails and calls. Consider making everyone’s life easier by anticipating common and likely queries (e.g. returns policy, delivery times, what to do if a delivery hasn’t arrived etc) and answering them in a robust FAQ.
- Accessible: Some customers WILL need to contact you, so ensure you’re accessible. Share a telephone number (preferably one that works!), provide an answer phone facility, manage your emails and provide a postal address. It’s never been so easy to support customer contact – you could even consider one of the many reasonably priced options to outsource a live chat support for times when you’re unavailable.
- Acknowledge: Ensure you acknowledge your customers; whether it’s when they’ve made a purchase, made contact or you’ve just posted their order. This doesn’t have to be resource intensive; there are options to absorb acknowledgements into order summaries and employ auto-responders.
- Answer: When customers contact you, dig deeper to establish what they’re actually telling you. Intended meanings frequently go astray when discussed by emails, which can lead to unpleasant escalations of events that would have been resolved face-to-face. Keep your communications individual – generic responses can feel impersonal and portray a lack of concern.
- Assure: Share your company’s guarantees with your customers and then honour them. Whether it be your position on refunds, exchanges, warranties or delivery times, make these clear to your customers and stand by them. Consider sharing some examples of when these have been honoured in order to strengthen the level of assurance for your potential and existing customers.
These 5 steps, used effectively and systematically will ensure that you achieve your end goal – making your customer feel confident and assured when using your company. however unknowingly, internet customers can often feel vulnerable because they perceive the company to be some distance away, hovering deep in the digital ether. In order to provide an excellent internet customer service therefore, you must make it your mission to ensure that they don’t feel that distance, and that the virtual gap is bridged.
Now back to the bathroom suite. How do I tell my friend that I saw the same suite in an episode of Crossroads?
If you would like further help with improving your service systems and overall customer experience, please contact the Bright team at www.bright4impact.com