Customer satisfaction is the key to the long-term success of any business. But far too many companies annoy and frustrate their customers before they even speak to them! They do this by making it difficult and/or expensive for their customers to contact them.
Here are some of the classic mistakes:
- Despite the growth of the web, text chat and email most research shows people still prefer to speak to someone if they have a question or, even more so, if they want to make a complaint. Yet it is amazing that some companies don’t even provide a contact number on their web sites. They may offer the ability to request a contact via a form or email. This is usually done to avoid having to staff a help desk or contact centre. It’s all about saving money and that says a lot about their commitment to their customers. It also says they don’t have much foresight for their business. So make sure you have a phone number clearly available on your website.
- Even those that do offer a telephone number are still capable of making their callers’ life hell and, even worse, in some cases making them pay for the privilege. Assuming you do provide a number, is it the right one for your customers? Do they call you regularly from their mobiles or landlines? If so using 0800 or 0845 numbers can deter mobile callers from making the call as these numbers are expensive. Mobile companies now give warnings as to the cost of the call. Surveys show that almost a third of mobile callers to an 0800 number abandon it when they get that message. Most phone companies also charge more to call an 0845 number than a geographic number e.g. 020 so why have one? Is it to disguise where they are actually calling?
- Even worse, do you profiteer by using 0844 or 0871 numbers? Any company using these numbers for sales or services should be avoided. They make a profit on every call they receive – even a sales call. There are limitations on using these numbers for consumer post sales support but in other areas these numbers still exist. There is a useful website http://www.saynoto0870.com/ which lists many alternative numbers for companies that use 0500, 0800, 0808, 0842, 0843, 0844, 0845, 0870, 0871, 0872 and 0873 numbers.
- Once your customer has made the call, how easy do you make it for them to talk to someone? Do you use options such as ‘press 1’, ‘press 2’ etc. to route calls to various departments? If so, did you know that this will cause some customers to abandon the call? At best they’ll get irritated at having to listen to a number of options only to end up being told to go to the web site. It is interesting to note that First Direct, which always scores highly on customer service surveys, does not use this method. Instead it routes every call to a real person. You can do the maths; if your announcement had three levels of choice and each level has five choices that means there are you are asking customers to effectively make 125 choices. Four levels and it is 625 choices and five levels makes it 3,125 choices. How much simpler to speak to someone and say “can I talk to someone about…”
- Equally frustrating are those companies that install systems that prompt users, before they talk to anyone, to enter their account code/customer number etc. and then, having eventually got through to someone, the first thing you are asked is “can I have your account number?”. You have to ask who advised them on this – suppliers wanting to sell more software?
- Do you even know how many customers abandon their calls because of long answer times? Many companies don’t even measure it. As a general rule, people start to get irritated after only 10 seconds or four rings. That could result in losing a customer forever. In fact the rise of the Internet has made people even less tolerant – if a page doesn’t load immediately it gets abandoned. Similarly people expect the phone answered quickly.
- Businesses spend a lot of money playing comforting messages – stressing how important their call is to you. If it were that important why not hire more people to ensure there are enough to answer the calls. Customers are not fooled!
- Some companies have in the past resorted to moving support centres overseas – most notably certain telecoms companies and financial institutions. However the trend is changing and they are moving back to the UK. Customers have voted with their business; the companies that have focused on ‘how do we make servicing our customers cheaper rather than better’ are losing out.
- Smaller companies face a similar choice; do I use an answering service or let a call go to voicemail? It depends. Does the answering service just take a message and pass it on or do they add value? Can they solve or answer some queries? If they are just passing on a call back message how does that help?
- Finally do you have a plan to enable your customers get in touch if you cannot get to your office or shop due to bad weather or transport problems? Can you reroute calls to someone else without going to the office? How can your staff carry on working? There are plenty of solutions which are not expensive. But without planning for these eventualities you can end up with frustrated customers and lost orders.
In summary, it should be easy for customers to reach you at zero or little cost to them and without waiting forever to talk to someone. A great test is to pretend to be your own customer and call your own company – was it a good experience for you? If not that is what your customers have to deal with everyday. So put some thought into how you can improve the experience – if you don’t then your customers could end up calling your competitors.