Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker, customer loyalty consultant and best-selling author. His newest book is The 9½ Principles of Innovative Service (www.simpletruths.com). He can be reached at www.chipbell.com.
One Sunday evening at my computer, I was online ordering promotional visors from Stitch America in Bremen, Georgia. I had selected the visor color, style, and words to be stitched in a particular font and thread color. After loading in my credit card information, I sent the order off into cyberspace. I was about to turn out the light when I received a text message on my smartphone.
“Mr. Bell, may I call you about the order you just placed?” I responded, “Yes.” Within less than a minute, the phone rang. “This is Tonya. Thanks for your order. I want to make sure you get exactly what you wanted.” I was thrilled! Someone cared on a Sunday night about an online order.
“The font size you’ve chosen will be too hard to read.” She continued, “May I suggest doubling it? I can send you a PDF photo showing the front of the visor in the actual size.” I agreed and hung up the phone.
When I turned on my computer the next morning, there was the promised PDF from Tonya. With it came a short email note, “As soon as you give me the word that this is the best-looking visor you have ever seen, I will get it into production.” Two days later I got an email and text message from the production department that the visors were finished and being packaged for shipment. Later that day, I got an email with a photocopy of the tracking order. Two days later a follow-up e-mail came indicating that their system showed the order had been delivered.
Then Tonya called again. “Are you totally thrilled with your order?” I totally was! And the Stitch America service made me want to give up shopping centers forever.
Our firm was conducting a series of focus groups for a large client to ascertain what service factors were deemed most important by their customers. One technique used was paired comparison.
You can put twenty high interest factors on a sheet of paper and ask respondents to rank order them. However, you can get a far more accurate picture of priority if respondents are asked to look at each factor paired with every other factor to select which is more important. Applying a simple regression analysis to the data leads to a true picture of customer preference.
“Easy to do business with” was more important than smart people, empowered people, friendly people, accuracy, reliability, great service recovery, knows me and my needs, and even a 10% discount!
So, why is effortless (what we used to call being “easy to do business with”) emerging as the trait to trump? Many factors feed this phenomenon, but the greatest is the advent of self-service and automation as an efficiency-enhancing, cost-lowering, headcount reducing way to bolster a bottom line under duress.
Customers love self-service. It enables them to get what they want when they want it. ATM’s are certainly not as friendly as the teller, but there is rarely a wait and never a hassle. Online ordering is easier than finding a parking spot in the mall or a clerk in the store. It has elevated the service expectations for most customers.
Effortless standards are also driven higher by the dark side of self-service. Customers hate self-service when it fails to work and they are left with no escape route to a real person. It feels like being without a phone on a stuck elevator or losing a dollar in a vending machine in a remote area! Since customers today are wired (edgy, impatient and connected), they don’t just take their venom out on the service provider; they spew it onto the Internet alerting the masses of their displeasure. Word of mouse (or touchpad) has become far greater than word of mouth.
While the wired and dangerous customer wreaks havoc with the service provider’s reputation forcing merchants to try to neutralize blogs and tweets, it elevates the expectations for effortless even higher. Customers who never thought about why they couldn’t get their doctor’s administrative forms online in Word instead of having to handwrite them on a faded PDF are now demanding it their way.
We text instead of email, pick the ATM over the branch lobby, and make fast food our main culinary staple. We despise getting transferred or having to punch lots of numbers on the phone to get what we need. And short 9-5 office hours leave us eager to find a service provider with around-the-clock service.
So, what is the key takeaway?
While customers love the ease of self-service, they never stop wanting a quick and easy connection with a human being to bring fast resolution to any problem or issue. It means creating an experience that assures customers there is a guardian of the transaction always watching over the encounter, eager and able to help if there is any hint of customer consternation.
The best websites are easily tailorable by customers with obvious access to “somebody back there” via numerous channels — “call us, web chat with us, email us, pony express us.” The message should always be that “we are here for you and enjoy communicating.” And, ensure all customer contact employees have easy access to customer information.
High-touch without high-tech makes most customers feel like they are in a slow moving, antiquated, rural environment that still relies on fax and paper forms. While that might be charming on vacation when “slowing down” is a part of the ambiance, it fails to satisfy in the fast-paced everyday work world.
But, high-tech without high-touch is even worse. Organizations without an emotional connection with customers when needed tend to become commoditized and compete largely on price, eventually losing marketshare to competitors with superior service and better word of mouse.
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