Customer Service: Roll out the red carpet treatment

In this article User Vision identifies that customer care is as important online as it is offline. It is identified that if customer care is integrated throughout a customers online experience various benefits can be reaped.
The old adage of customer is king is as valid today as it’s ever been. By designing for what customers want, rather than what the technology can offer, companies can reap great rewards.

In business circles the phrase “The customer is king” is a cliché that carries the same level of authenticity as your passing work colleagues asking, “how are you doing?” However, businesses in Scotland ignore this overused phrase at their financial peril. The costs of offering poor customer care are considerable, and the companies that proactively please their patrons through the entire relationship cycle can reap extraordinary rewards and loyalty.

Customer care is not just being polite when you answer the phone. It is looking at the entire customer experience – or walking in the shoes of the customers. This journey starts before you even meet your customer, the trick is to forget all that you know or think you and your customers know about your business or product and ask yourself – “why would they want this?”. With companies offering technology based solutions for everything, customer care is more important mow than ever. Sales literature and indeed entire campaigns are based on describing the technology used rather than how it addresses real user requirements.

Consider the origins of many of our technology companies. The product or services offered are often directed by the abilities and imagination of the technologists who create them.

Some businesses start with the question “what can we do?” rather than “what do people want and why do they want it?” Letting technological creations obscure the wider view of the end customer experience is often the root of both poorly designed products and poor levels of customer service.

Customer care has taken on another dimension since the web became a marketing tool, sales channel and customer service facilitator. But have you ever watched them try to use your company’s web site to learn about you or buy from you? Most companies don’t, and they incur thousands of pounds in “silent losses” from this aspect of poor customer service.

Technology sites need to present the company’s wares without unnecessary jargon or marketese that turns off non-technical visitors on the very first page they view. This is particularly important if you are selling online because the web reverses the buying decision and user experience relative to traditional software.

Attracted by wonderful-sounding functionality, most customers previously purchased software or technology products before they experienced the interface. With the web, the sequence is often reversed – first the potential customer visits your home page and often has their first interaction with your brand. They often decide the site is too difficult for them to find the right product information never mind buying it.

Companies who take a look at their own sites often gain first hand experience in a frustrating customer experience. Clearly, attention to the design and content of a web site will have a significant impact on the likely sales. Getting this right however is more difficult than you would think as new experts in company websites are ten a penny, but real experts are few and far between. Traditionally customer service drops off after the sale is made and good online customer service practice often falls down on implementation.

Do your customers actually get a reply to their email or “call me back” request on your site? Do you actively contact customers to ensure that all is well with the installation, operation and everyday use? Maintaining some form of conversation with the customer smoothes the path for the next sale and bridging the gap between the online promise and real world delivery is key.

As companies grow, companies often fall into other customer care traps caused by poor internal communications between departments. Many companies new to the web have suffered from marketing drives that include postal mailings that refer to things not featured on the company website, which more and more often is the next port of call for potentially interested customers.Sometimes even call centre staff are unaware of the campaigns, and customer feedback from this important channel is all too often ignored.

The news that companies need to heed is that customer service and usability are becoming competitive battlegrounds – areas where you can distinguish yourself from you competitors and profit from customer loyalty and recommendations.To achieve this several steps need to be taken, such as educating company-wide about the importance of customer care and demonstrating its many facets: written communication, data protection, web and email channels, phone responses, internal feedback mechanisms, and proactive after sales service to name a few.

Companies that improve customer care can enjoy the benefits from return sales and recommendations, as well as reducing the overheads of dealing with problems when customers complain. The return on investment on a customer care programme can be significant; in many cases it would easily double a company’s turnover, if you find that hard to believe you probably need it most.

As for that old maxim – “the customer is king”, well it is set to reign for a long time indeed, so it’s best to declare your allegiance.
What Can you do next?

Read some more usability and accessibility articles
Improve your customer’s experience with usability testing.
Attend one of our usability training courses and learn the tricks of the trade for yourself

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This article was written by Chris Rourke. Chris is the Managing Director of User Vision, a usability and accessibility consultancy that helps clients gain a competitive advantage through improved ease of use.

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