How easy is it for customers to contact you if they have a problem with your product or service?
There are usually several routes available for a customer to make a complaint:
- In person. This only works if you have a physical location that customers can visit – you’re probably a retailer. Some companies have built a solid reputation on their customer service (such as John Lewis) and this works well for them and is intrinsic to their brand. I imagine that their staff receive comprehensive training in how to handle difficult customers and defuse tricky situations. But it can be inconvenient for the customers, as they have to make a special trip.
- By phone: but we’ve all had bad experiences at the hands of a call centre. So much so that it is a surprise to find one that works, with pleasant, helpful staff who pick up the phone quickly, and are empowered to solve problems. If your call centre works like this, congratulations! Please keep it up – and reward your staff, too, because they’re doing a great job at maintaining your brand. Famously good at this are Lakeland, who have built a special relationship with their customers. So much so, that when their customer service director died a few years ago, this was met with an astonishing outpouring of sympathy and distress from their customer base.
- By email. This tends to be slow, despite the instant-response ‘We’ve received your email; our staff will be dealing with it as soon as possible’. (Does this remind you of ‘your call is important to us, please continue to hold’?). Again, some companies monitor emails in real time, and respond quickly with a resolution: this tends to be a surprise, and therefore, to use an old phrase, truly does delight the customer. You will all have your own favourites here: I’m going to nominate Grand Illusions (who responded to a complaint last week with speed and humour) and Nativespace (whose technical support is always timely). Both smaller companies – I wonder if this kind of response works better with the smaller companies, or those problems which need investigation before a response can be made?
- By post. This is probably the slowest means of communication, but for companies that require documentary evidence of a problem, such as financial institutions, this may be a necessary route to go, possibly in conjunction with a preliminary phone contact system.
Twitter. For the vocal customer, particularly those with online influence and a large audience, this can be a very effective means of alerting companies to issues, and has had some successes, notably for Comcast. The companies concerned need to have someone monitoring what is said about them on Twitter – which can be time-consuming – and that person needs to be able to resolve the issues – which may mean giving them power across corporate boundaries. This can be a problem for some companies. However, not having someone monitoring the Twitter stream can be dangerous, as it is a very public means of making a complaint, and bad news can spread virally. On the other hand, a public resolution of the issues can impress others and leave a positive impression of the brand.
- Get Satisfaction. This is a tool that has been around for a while now, and I’ve been impressed by the concept every time I’ve come across it. They say:
Get Satisfaction is a direct connection between people and companies that fosters problem-solving, promotes sharing, and builds up relationships. Thousands of companies use this neutral space to support customers, exchange ideas, and get feedback about their products and services. Get Satisfaction is open, transparent, and free. You’re free to ask, free to answer, and free to start a new conversation. Everyone is invited and encouraged to participate: companies, employees, customers — anyone with an opinion, an answer, or something to say.
It is essentially a forum in which customers can raise issues which they are experiencing with a product or service. Other customers using the forum can add their voices to that issue, and staff from the company can interact with them to keep them updated on the resolution to the issues. Old issues remain on the system, so that if a customer has an issue that has arisen before, they can find the resolution. This is a great way of bringing together customers and companies to find a solution, and is used by such companies as Adobe, Dell and the BBC. Again, it does require staff from the company to use the forum regularly to deal with problems and keep customers updated.
So: which of these would work best for your company?
Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and it will depend on your customer base, but somewhere in there is the perfect combination of contact methods for you. Like John Lewis and Lakeland, though, you will need to have dedicated staff who can both solve problems and deal with customer relations whichever you choose. And that is the difficult part …
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