Keeping the Customer Satisfied

There may be no statistical support for this proposition.

There may be no statistical support for this proposition. But methinks the longer a company spends talking to its customers face to face or on the line, the longer those customers will stick with the company. Ergo, the more loyal those customers will be.

For instance, Ive stuck with the same Internet service provider for eight years now because, with few exceptions, the customer support has been outstanding. Way back, the companys founders created a filter for me that allowed me to have a nine-letter handle ("tomhyphen"), even though its Unix servers could only recognize eight ("tomhyphn"). A Mac specialist could be found, even in the middle of the night, if there were connection issues. When the company got rolled up and automation took over many functions, it still was responsive. Support personnel were patient. There was always an e-mail follow-up (easy to do), and often a phone follow-up (thats conscientious).

This is largely how I judge companies these days. The products must be good. But you stick with a company if it treats you well.

Thats why I find it hard to believe that a frequent benchmark of telephone support centers is call time. Call center operators constantly boast of their abilities to bring down "talk time," by minutes at first, tens of seconds later, and a second here and there, when theres almost no talk time left.

This begs logic. This assumes that customers are wastes of time. That the only good customer interaction is no customer interaction. That you dont really want to hear from your sources of revenue.

Now, to be sure, there will be callers who abuse the system, who just want to hear a voice. But why measure the 95 percent by the standards for disposing of the 5 percent? Just talk about business and eliminate the conversations that lack purpose.

Economics supposedly drives the focus on this metric. Dealing with customers face to face or voice to voice is expensive. Talking to a customer in a bank branch can cost $15. The cost of a phone call is typically between $2 and $5. Cost of a Web interaction is on the order of 25 cents or half a buck. Viva the Web. Let everybody talk to the screen.

Handled well, that can be productive. Customers want quick answers; and if they can get it on the Web faster than making a call or driving to a store, theyll respond.

But, if you have a customer on the line or in your store, the mind-set ought to change radically. Heres the chance to find out everything your customer thinks about your business — and therein lies the secret to the future of your business.

If your only thought is to fix the problem fast and get off the hook, youre sunk. Take your time. Show interest in the problem and getting the right solution. May-be when you are done, you can find out what they think of your products overall, or the company as a whole. Maybe you can sell some related products or services if the conversation goes well. Do you want a customer for life? Or just 10 seconds?

Last Saturday, I called customer service at Cable-vision, because I had been having a recurring problem with reconnecting to its Optimum Online service, after my computer would freeze or be shut off accidentally.

I wanted to know why I had to unplug the modem, plug it back in; make the Transport Control Protocol/ Internet Protocol stack inactive; shut down the computer; power everything back up; and reactivate the TCP/IP stack every time my computer froze.

The fellow wanted to make the computer the villain in the piece, when the problem really seemed to lie elsewhere. When the same machine froze in Texas, it wasnt necessary to reset the cable modem or the TCP/IP stack.

Though we went around and around on this — to both sides mutual dissatisfaction — he never lost his cool. As long as it took, he was going to satisfy the customer.

The call time may have been horrendous. The payback will be tremendous. The customer is sticking around.