This is an actual story. I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to relate:
- I call an online service provider and I get auto prompts requesting more information “to serve me better.” I punch in my phone number, my social security number and my account number.
- I follow more prompts and punch in more numbers to reach a customer service rep.
- The rep asks me for my phone number, social security number and account number.
- The rep can’t help me because my request falls under “specialty services,” so she transfers me to the “specialty services” department.
- The next representative in “specialty services” asks for me for my phone number, my social security number and my account number.
After the call, paradoxically, I wasn’t feeling that special.
The same sense of frustration builds when I call to cancel an order and the online support person asks me, “And so, what did you want to return?” “I’ve just given you my name, can’t you see my purchase history?”
These experiences are somewhat akin to what you’ve just experienced here: reading “phone number, social security number and account number” now four times. Isn’t once enough?
It should be.
I’ve taken to politely asking, “Why do you need this information again?” I’m usually told, “I’m accessing a different system.”
We all spend the extra time to repeat what “the system” should already know. It’s underwhelming in an age where our medical records can flow freely from doctor's office to doctor's office. What’s going on when retailers and service centers can’t determine what my customer account is — much less the status of that account.
No wonder customer satisfaction is low. Yet things can be done to reverse that trend. If done correctly, this should go a long way to keeping me (and others) as a happy customer. Here are five things that companies could and should do to enhance their customer relationships:
- Unify thy experience (see thy example above). Integrate the CRM platform with the billing platform with the accounting software so that all departments can access the same information and pull up relevant information when required. Then I don’t have to repeat information, the customer service rep doesn’t have to input the information, and time is saved for all! This means the rep can get to the next customer sooner and I can get on with my day. Win! Win!
- Use data to suggest alternatives and ideas. Let’s say I purchased a pair of biking shorts. Why not suggest some socks and gloves to go with it? Or that groovy Pearl Izumi line that I so dig? How about suggesting what’s available in the fall lineup? B-to-B companies could learn from retailers and how they leverage customer data. By tying my purchase history to my online experience, companies can then refer products that make them more money and make me more likely to return.
- Automate to speed things up. Users get a quicker, better experience when responses are automated based on their behavior. We do this already. For example, when I purchase a product and then get an online receipt via email, the company is automating a response. Look for other opportunities to optimize the customer experience. Airlines, hotels and rental car agencies do this with status notifications and change alerts. Since this information is fed to me en route, I can adjust on the fly without bothering an agent. It means fewer people in lines, fewer phone calls and better information to users quickly moving ahead to their destinations.
- Offer self-service to give me more control. When was the last time you waited in a bank line or had a cashier tally your grocery receipts? ATMs, automated checkouts and web forms provide customers with greater control over their budget and time.
- Simplify complexity. Why do I need to have separate accounts for the service that’s billed on two cards? I don’t want two bills. I want one bill that shows the accounting for each card.
The good news is there are companies out there that can help — companies that provide back-end support to easily create product offers and then bring everything together to provide a single record for subsequent billing, revenue recognition and customer service. Companies that are looking beyond “what’s been done” to “what can we do” to improve are netting process improvements and dividends with the customer as well.
Parker Trewin is senior director, content and communications, of Aria Systems, a subscription billing software provider that specializes in enterprise commerce.