Can’t get no satisfaction? Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2007

The history books are full of examples where little things meant a lot. The histories of many companies could be a lot better if management paid closer attention to every chance to tie customers closer to their product or service. A positive customer experience is the place to start any customer retention program.

“Every customer interaction is an opportunity to build or destroy customer loyalty,” says Steve Boyazis, executive vice president at InfoCision Management Corp. “This ranges from how simple the instructions are, to how knowledgeable the salesperson is, to how easy it is for the CSR [customer service representative] to resolve issues and problems at once.”

Smart Business talked with Boyazis about some of the “little” things that make a big difference when building customer loyalty.

Is the focus on the existing customer or new customers?

So much marketing, advertising and development effort is spent on attracting new clients — but more likely than not, the most profitable customers are the ones you already have. This means your team has to shine when clients call back and want to make a change in their merchandise or service order, or has a problem or a question. This is most likely going to be the next time you get a chance to interact with them. And that’s when you have to provide a great customer experience.

Existing clients are already convinced to purchase your product or service, so the challenge is to assure that they will continue to be good clients in the future and that they will recommend you to their friends.

What leads to a great customer experience?

Being in the customer care business, we are always looking to find what leads to a great customer experience. Some things are obvious, like it starts with the people who are addressing the issue. More specifically, are they friendly, knowledgeable and passionate about what they are doing?

Ultimately you have to strive to provide a resolution for clients the first time they call with a concern. This actual metric always depends on the industry and product, but shooting for a resolution rate better than 85 percent is a good rule of thumb. After that, there is no real silver bullet. It is really about doing all the little things that help inspire trust and confidence.

Can you share some touchstones that build a great customer experience?

We’ve found that to be great at customer care you have to manage all the details:

 

  1. Answer the complaint, question and change calls quickly (less than 30 seconds). The longer people are on hold, the more difficult the interaction is.

     

  2. Have an efficient process to quickly approve and manage rebates, alternative offers and the like.

     

  3. On the other hand, you have to be careful not just to give away things to resolve the problem.

     

  4. Ensure the folks on the phone have access to all the appropriate product and/or service information so they can do the research themselves to answer the question. Try to eliminate having to escalate issues to other people in the network. This should occur less than 10 percent of the time.

     

  5. When things can’t be resolved, provide a timeline as to when they will be.

     

  6. Follow up with the client to make sure things worked as described and/or the action items were completed.

 

Do actual results prove your points?

We recently ran a customer care program that dealt with customers looking to downgrade or cancel a service and found that by doing a bunch of the little things, 75 percent fewer customers actually canceled than were planning to before we started working with the client.

As far as we can tell, no one thing in particular drove this success. But on average, we answered the customers’ calls 30 percent faster, which led to few angry callbacks. We were able to resolve about 10 percent more of the issues on the first call. We armed our communicators with better data so they could identify alternatives and solutions faster and thus made the call about 30 seconds shorter. And we called back over twice as many customers to follow up on unresolved issues.

All of these little things ultimately added up to the fact that customers were more satisfied (by about 11 percentage points) and the amount of business that was actually canceled was 75 percent lower than expected.

STEVE BOYAZIS is executive vice president at InfoCision Management Corp. in Akron. Reach him at (330) 670-5877 or Steve.boyazis@infocision.com.