My 13-year-old daughter tells me that I am an aging technology neophyte. Yet, the fact that I purchased my first smart phone and upgraded our family calling plan without talking to a human being demonstrates how far we have come in changing our behavior through superior technology.
I don’t think that I am any different than the typical baby boomer. I have a cell phone and a basic calling plan. I only use the Web as a tool to help me map out travel routes, do basic vacation research and help me find lowest prices for merchandise. I have no interest in mobile e-mail. However, I realized that without it, I would never be able to contact my daughter who spends her life on chat and SMS and who refuses to answer the phone as a call takes too much of her time.
I may be a technology novice, but I am quite a savvy shopper. When I realized I needed a smart phone, I diligently identified my requirements — voice service to call my husband, e-mail and SMS to communicate with my daughter, a camera as a bonus add-on, and a price tag of under $400. With this list in hand, I went to the Web to see what I could find.
A Google search overwhelmed me with too many results, so I narrowed my search to phones offered from the service providers located within 10 miles of my house.
One site stood out in my search. It asked me to enter some basic information up front — like my phone requirements, the number of people on my calling plan, the types of calls I was expected to make — enough information to unsettle me a bit. But, by giving up a little of myself, I got a lot back. Not only did I get a clear listing of phones suitable for my needs, ordered by price, and with embedded consumer ratings, but the site also recommended the best plan for me, with an analysis of why it was the best plan.
The site also included links to a searchable discussion board where additional product information and peer reviews were posted. I read through all the material available, asked a couple of questions which were immediately answered, and quickly came to a decision as to what phone would be best for me.
I purchased the phone and the calling plan via their Web site, and when I turned on the phone for the first time, I was greeted with a personalized welcome message, and a one line survey that asked me how my experience was. “Great”, I SMS’ed back, and realized that I had just sent my very first text message.
Every time I logged into the service provider’s site, I was always greeted by name, and was presented with a consolidated view of my information — my family’s billing plan, my payments, my questions and open support tickets. My last searches were remembered, and any service which the site recommended always seemed pertinent to my situation.
I felt that the site went beyond simple service. For example, I had signed up for automatic payments, which meant that the site notified me by e-mail every time a payment was debited from my account. Yet, I was also notified each time my daughter was within 10 minutes of exceeding her monthly plan, which helped me monitor her phone usage, and confiscate her phone when she chatted for too long instead of doing her homework.
After several months, I received an e-mail which included a recommendation for a cheaper rate plan for me based on my consolidated usage history. And, after a year, when the rate for e-mail notification was raised, I didn’t even consider discontinuing this service as e-mail notification had made my life easier. I even started telling a friend or two about the wonderful experience I was having with this service provider.
Companies with a Web presence really need to pay attention to this customer experience. Today, industries such as telecommunications are becoming commoditized. Customers have little brand loyalty, and shop by price, typically on the Web.
The Value of Good Customer Service
But like me, customers are also searching for a good customer service experience, and oftentimes will pay a premium to be assured such service. Good service builds trust, and loyalty. And, only when you have a receptive customer base, can you be successful at marketing and selling to them.
The optimal customer service experience should start up front, prior to a user even becoming a customer. The Web site should be visually pleasing, easily navigable, with a consistent user interface propagated throughout the site. Breadcrumbs and recently viewed pages should be displayed to help orient the user within a site.
The site should offer a variety of self-service methods to find on-topic results — methods which appeal to different categories of users. For example, novice users are often most comfortable with a guided search approach, which leads the user down a particular discovery path to the correct solution. More experienced users may prefer navigating a browsable folder structure. Yet others prefer keyword or natural language search, search techniques that include phrase search as well as the ability to search within a specific product category.
Clarifying questions should be used to narrow relevant search results and guide the user to the most relevant topic. And, spelling suggestions for mistyped words should always be available. In addition, sites should also display answers to the most frequently asked questions.
Search should not be limited only to content within, for example, a product knowledge base, but should also return pertinent solutions from the Web site and discussion boards linked to the Web site. And if the user is not able to find the information that he is looking for, he should be able to escalate from a self-service session to an agent, via e-mail, chat or phone and not have to repeat information.
Sophisticated sites also run under-the-covers searches on the questions that are being escalated, in hopes of presenting a relevant solution to the user, thereby passively de-escalating a request before it reaches a call center agent.
Once the user becomes a customer, any visit to the Web site should be personalized and targeted exactly for that customer demographic. The site should have memory of a customer’s every transaction, every action — their orders, their past and pending service requests, transcripts of their chat and e-mail interactions with agents, as well as history of any self-service interaction that was escalated to an agent.
The customer’s search history should also be preserved, so that when a new search is launched, search results can be tailored to the persona of the customer. Techniques like these help assure customers that they matter, that their interactions are understood, and that their history with the company is important.
Companies need to go a step further and offer services as a value-add to basic customer care. Examples are personalized offers, based on past purchase history and demographics, or service alerts tailored to the specific product that was purchased.
At the heart of each of these customer service solutions is a knowledge base integrated with a case management system that can manage multi-channel customer requests — via the phone, web, e-mail or chat. This integration ensures that a customer’s consolidated interactions are visible via a self-service Web session, or by a call center agent in the case of an escalation.
Analytics coupled with the customer service solution allow you to analyze your customer base and target specific, relationship-building offers and product information to them.
Customer service software like this allows my service provider to differentiate themselves from their competitors, and keep customers like me as a loyal customer and passionate supporter of their service.
Kate Leggett is the Director of e-Service Product Strategy at KANA. Her 10 plus years of experience as a senior Engineering management professional in the enterprise software industry have been instrumental in allowing KANA to consistently deliver robust and competitive Knowledge Management products. Prior to joining KANA, she spent a decade working in many diverse areas of the eCommerce and CRM software industry. Kate uses her experience to help deliver world-class customer service solutions.