On customer service: You have to think beyond the traditional means by which people define customer service, and that is thinking beyond additional staffing in the customer service department and really thinking long and hard about how your service works. Does it, in fact, build in mechanisms that are sympathetic to the challenges that your customer faces?
If not, you might have the nicest folks leading customer service, you might send out the most beautiful birthday cards and have the most pleasant things to say when you get on the telephone, but if your customer faces a challenge, you need to have a product and a process which helps them with that.
It’s really about making sure you’re easily accessible to your customer, you ask the right questions through a very hands-on customer service process. It’s through providing transparent information about the way your product works. The second piece is making sure, upfront, that your product and your process is designed to address the unique needs of your customers.
A traditional approach to customer service means being immediately available to your customers to answer the broadest range of possible questions they might have, either on their path to becoming a customer or once they become a customer. In every question that we’re asked, if it’s a new question, we write it down. It becomes part of our frequently asked questions. The intent is that we work with those customers as their businesses go through their natural cycles.
On developing customer relationships: We make sure we truly understand the type of business they’re in, understanding what his business can support and providing that analysis and information upfront. Going forward, it’s about communicating with them about how well the business is doing along the way.
As well as touching base with him along the way, we have a touch-point process. It’s a matrix, and along the top of the matrix are various dates and times over the life of our relationship with him, as well as certain milestones. Along the left side are the various ways we communicate with him telephone calls, birthday cards, e-mail, snail mail, a message in his statement.
We make sure, that through multiple means, we are communicating with him as his business flows, as well as be there for him if and when he should have an additional need.
On tailoring customer communication: We customize to the extent that if a customer doesn’t necessarily want to be contacted by e-mail or doesn’t have e-mail, then e-mail should not be available. We communicate to the customer about a welcome call, where we talk about the beginning of the relationship, and we’re going to be communicating with that customer week by week.
Then our system effectively translates his characteristics into that touch-point process whether or not he’s accessible by e-mail, when he receives statements and how he receives them, does he want to go on our Web site to get information or receive it in the mail.
Through that touch-point process, we are letting the customer know that we are thinking about them. We send out birthday cards, as well as invite them to share with us anything that they might have. We also provide information about the industries we’re involved in, about what we see happening in those industries.
On working with customers: Once we have established a relationship, they are given the option to maintain a relationship with an individual customer service representative.
We really try to leave it up to the customer. For some, it’s very important they have that continuity. For others, it’s more important that they can get to someone quickly ‘I’ve worked with Ian for the last few transactions, but Ian is away from his desk, and I want to speak with someone now.’ ‘Would you like to work with Kathy?’
We have sophisticated in-house systems that track every point of contact with a merchant. So if Kathy now talks to that person, that merchant’s screen automatically pops up, and she will be able to see every conversation we have had with that merchant, every transaction, every contract, how it’s performed, information about the merchant’s business.
On tracking information: The data is updated in real time. Because we are never willing to settle and we like systems that are incredibly dynamic, anybody within the company can create a dashboard and select information most relative to their job. Rather than having to go into the system to pull that information out for a report, the system allows you to push that information to you.
I have a screen on my desk that shows me, throughout the given day, metrics on our entire business how many contracts are being submitted, what sources they’re being submitted for, and any number of other variables that I normally would have to go in and pull a report for. Instead of taking seven seconds to get a report, it’s instantly available. Most companies would be satisfied with seven seconds. Not us.
On making decisions: (The system) was designed to give us a sense for how our customer was responding to our product offering. Rolling out a new product and establish a sales plan, I don’t want to wait six months and read through hundreds of pages of Excel spreadsheets to figure out whether or not a product was effective. I can watch it throughout a given day for a number of weeks and draw my own conclusion.
What drives this is at the end of the day, all paths lead to our customer and that customer being satisfied and staying with us for a long time. If somebody says, ‘It would be really great if we could have such and such on our Blackberrys,’ the question is OK, why? What would it do for our customer? How can it expand our market?
And if we don’t have a good answer to that, we don’t do it. If you do, then we do.
How to reach: AdvanceMe Inc., www.advanceme.com