Where You Listen to Customers is as Important as How You Listen

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The topic du jour in the consumer industry these days is how technology is changing the landscape of the customer service experience. That’s true, but it’s not necessarily a cause for hand-wringing. Consider it the new cost of doing business. Customer experience consultant Xavier Rault says:

Because online shopping does not allow the consumer to physically handle the product before making a purchase nor is it as easy to ask questions as it would be in a brick and mortar retail establishment, people now rely on the opinions of other consumers more so than anything else. Like the shot heard around the world, consumer complaints can and do make a difference.

The typical communication methods for internet-savvy consumers are forums and social media networks. That’s where you’ll find lots of chatter about product perception, how to troubleshoot issues, and, yes, complaints. They’re not ideal environments for customers to talk about your product or service, but they’re not going away anytime soon. So what’s a CEO to do? Well, to coin a phrase, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

As we’ve mentioned before, it makes good business sense to corral consumer discourse by leading users to your environment to engage with each other. The goal isn’t to silence your customers, it’s to learn from them. Listen to what they’re talking about, what they need, and what they’re looking for so you can deliver it.

What does that delivery system look like? Ideally it provides real-time information that updates synchronously everywhere; support ticket and call center agent systems, online product documentation and knowledge bases, in-app help docs, and so on. Everywhere. It’s terrific when customers talk about and question your product so give them space to do that. At the end of the day, though, make sure the answers they walk away with are from you so they’re current, complete, and most of all, accurate. Let your help content become your customer communication channel.

If you think providing this kind of exceptional customer experience isn’t worth it, think again. The consumer playing field is nearly level at this point. There are very few ways left to stand out in the crowd so businesses are winning over — and keeping — customers with great customer service.

Do a quick mental inventory of the amount of customer loyalty programs that vie for your attention every time you shop. Every store from pharmacies, airlines and supermarkets, to home improvement retailers and gas stations want you to pledge your unending affection to them. They’re willing to cough up all kinds of incentives to keep you from shopping anywhere else. Consumers know this and they’ll take their dollars to the businesses that consistently do right by them. A superior customer experience is a loyalty program in itself because it incentivizes repeat business.

Since we’re talking about repeat business, let’s take a minute to acknowledge a very real benefit to great customer service: It gives companies a chance to offer users additional products or services. It’s gauche to suggest you should only offer great customer service as a means to increase sales or upsell to your users. Let’s be realistic, though. Companies that don’t maximize income stream opportunities won’t be in business for long. There’s nothing disingenuous about profiting from a favorable rapport with your customers — it’s all in how you manage the relationship.

If your engagement seems shallow and superficial to users, they’ll take their business elsewhere. On the other hand, if your primary focus is on helping your customer, then loyalty — and more sales — will naturally follow. Let’s take Amazon, for example. There’s really no question its primary existence is to sell things to people, yet the company’s excellent customer support landed them the number one spot in MSN.com’s 2012 Customer Service Hall of Fame. While it’s true that Amazon is really good at cross-selling to its customers, their outstanding consumer experience strategy makes it a non-issue for shoppers.

Kudos to businesses that have great social media engagement or ship detailed 32-page booklets with their products. You clearly want to be there for your users and potential customers  Now take some time to figure out what else you could be doing to bring people to your doorstep — and keep them there.

Image: publicenergy

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