Put the Transactional Service Approach to Rest — Celebrate Your Customers

This blog was originally posted on Startups.co

If your customers were to make a list of all the ways they’d like to spend their evenings, how many things would they list before they got to “calling a customer service department with a complaint?” A million?

And when they do call, which experience do you think they’d rather have: a personal interaction in which they’re treated like individuals with unique needs or a systemized exchange that distills them into categorized obstacles to overcome?

The first approach is anathema to efficiency experts, taking serious time and costing serious money. But it’s worth every second and every cent.

Time Well Spent

Customers hate being treated poorly, and they express this displeasure by taking their business elsewhere. According to NewVoiceMedia, businesses lose $41 billion each year following a bad customer experience.

Can you think of a better definition of a bad customer experience than “press 1 for yes or 2 for no?” Even human customer service representatives are often trained to act like robots, never asking the customer’s name, interested only in customer ID numbers or the last four digits of a Social Security number.

Do you like to talk to a robot? Exactly. No one does.

What people do want is to be treated like individuals with names and unique problems that don’t fit into any preconceived resolutions. They want to be heard. They want to tell the stories of their complaints, their days, their lives, their careers, or the coming zombie apocalypse. And they want resolutions to their concerns. In return, they’ll be loyal customers and tell their friends about the incredible support they received.

It sounds crazy, but it’s not too much to ask.

Time to Innovate

The transactional approach to customer service has been the go-to for the financial services industry for far too long. As a result, studies show that 61 percent of people distrust the financial services firms they do business with regularly.

Across industries, 56 percent of people have to explain their problems multiple times to customer service, while 62 percent have to call repeatedly to solve an issue.

Banks are prime offenders. It’s no wonder 77 percent of financial firm executives are concerned about losing customers to companies such as Apple, Google, Amazon, and Lending Club. These companies have reputations for anticipating and meeting customer needs, while banks have a reputation for charging fees.

To see this different mindset at work, look at the non-bank lender Social Finance. The company holds private cocktail parties in Manhattan for its customers, replete with free appetizers and drinks. Yes, free. Top that, Bank of America.

I realize SoFi is a non-bank lender. But regulated financial firms have no reason not to innovate. There are massive opportunities for companies to be creative in finding solutions and delivering service to their customers.

It all starts with the right attitude.

Change Your Mindset

In customer service, most customer issues come down to a small handful of well-researched resolutions. But the path to those resolutions is never the same. To find innovative solutions, you can’t think of every customer the same way.
Have the mindset that each customer is unique, with a unique issue that’s in need of unique treatment and resolution. Ask every customer his or her name. Chat, and ask how he or she likes your product so far. You know, pretend he or she is a human being.

Be sure to encourage feedback. Don’t just ask for it one way. Start a blog, open social media accounts, and create forms on your website. Show that you’re serious by offering rewards for feedback. Make it easy.

The key to these mindset changes is to think from the perspective of your customer. Don’t build a customer service process that you wouldn’t be delighted to experience. Aim to dazzle.

Change Your Approach

Once you’re in the habit of treating customers like individuals and seeking their input, you need structures in place to ensure that feedback gets put to the best use.

  • Implement measuring tools. Yes, you should be all about individual feedback, but data still tells a really cool and accurate story of how your customers feel about you. The two approaches work well together. By training your customer service representatives to respond to customers who give you low rankings, your resolution rate could increase by as much as 31 percent.
  • Don’t measure speed. Key performance indicators are important, but none of them should measure how fast your team gets customers off the phone. Measure what you really want: customer satisfaction. At Bristlecone Holdings, long calls make us happy because it means we’re getting to know our customers. Remember, this is not a transaction; it’s a relationship. If wait times skyrocket, we hire more people. It costs more money, but it delights the customers. After all, they’re the ones who will make or break it for us.
  • Put customer service under marketing. Good customer service is good marketing, and it’s hard to do good marketing if you don’t know what people think about your brand. Customer complaints let you know how your product or service can be better, and that’s information every marketer should have.

The bottom line is that customer service needs to be central to every part of your business. High-performing customer service teams are nearly twice as likely as under-performing ones to say that customer service is the responsibility of the entire company.

No department should be operating without the knowledge of customer feedback. That’s the quickest way — in truth, the only way — for your business to truly improve.

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