Real SMB IT: On Customer Service

June 17, 2010

There was an animated discussion on Twitter this past Tuesday about what too often seems to a bane of our existence; Customer service as delivered through call centers.

To start, let me state that as small to medium businesses, if we are committed to good customer service, I believe we have an advantage that the big companies don’t. Simply put, we are closer to the front lines and customer needs.

And IT can be a linchpin to support your customer service efforts.

Sure, as this example I wrote about shows, IT can help your customer service in both the pre-sales and sales processes, but for this post I just want to follow up on after sales customer service. After sales customer service usually translates into the word support because something is not working correctly, or not understood. In other words; Help Me!!!

I also want to leave this in a Business to Business (B2B) context, not business to consumer (B2C) because that is the majority of my experience.

With that out of the way, we know that supporting your product or service can be costly.Customer Service

Statistics show that first line telephone service can cost up to $36.00 per call, and that amount goes up if escalation to another tier of service is required.

Looking at that number, many businesses then make one mistake; Customer Service costs that? lets reduce!

But there is a better way to look at it.

Try asking; What is it costing our customer? By that I mean what is the value they have placed on your product or service. Is it differentiated? or a commodity? How is this time and effort asking questions and getting this fixed costing them?

That expectation of value is what you need to look at when planning customer service strategy for your product or service. As an example, if you sell me recycled toner cartridges for printers, my value of the product may say that a quick replacement of a defective cartridge is excellent customer service.

But if I spend six figures? My perceived value changes, and you need to accommodate that.

This post will be the first in a short series, this one will deal with lower perceived value products, the next will dive into more higher perceived value issues.

And part two in customer service is the human element

One of the common refrains that were voiced during  that Twitter chat was a simple theme; people want to feel like they have been heard, that there is a reason, or an answer to their problems. Even if there is no solution that will make your customer 100% satisfied (sorry, that unit does not work in 30 feet of water) they will be even less satisfied with you if they just get no response.

So how can you use IT to help both the human and cost element?

One of the easiest customer service objective for SME’s is Call Avoidance.

No, I don’t mean hide your phone number or ‘Dump the Chump’ games. I mean you have a Website, use it! Add a section for frequently asked questions. Add common customer service issues and known problems.

Love them or hate ’em, Microsoft is a master at this. If you have an error in some Microsoft product and search their Website for an answer, you may find a technical bulletin that contains information that explains;

Microsoft has confirmed that this is a problem in the Microsoft products that are listed in the “Applies to” section

To resolve this problem……

In some cases that message will tell you that it won’t be fixed until the next version of the product.

While you may find it frustrating to have to wait – at least you know the answer! You are not left in the dark guessing.

Forward looking companies have taken this concept to the next level by having public Question & Answer forums where other customers may be the ones answering questions.

And don’t let this web based data stagnate. As your customer service team fields calls, ensure that new questions or identified issues get added to that on-line repository.

Each time that your customer find the information that they need with out calling your customer service team, the happier they are, and the happier you are.

The SMB Takeaway

Our Websites are too often underutilized. That Website is prime real estate to create an environment where your customers can try to help themselves first.

Allowing them to help themselves provides both the the answer that they are looking for, and reduces the number of calls you are receiving.

Photo Credit urbanmkr via flickr


One Response to “Real SMB IT: On Customer Service”

  1. […] original here: Real SMB IT: On Customer Service « A Dime a Dozen Small Business … Comments […]

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