Listen to the voice of your customers when they say, “Get the Basics Right First”

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Listen to the voice of your customers when they say, “Get the Basics Right First”

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Lately I have found that too many organizations are jumping on the social media bandwagon before ever mastering the basics of serving customers.  The result is an incompatible experience that leaves customers wondering about an organization’s priorities.

Earlier this week I was reviewing my insurance bill and was surprised to find it had nearly doubled.   Those of you who know me, know that I drive “with personality”, but I had not been fined recently for my driving style, so there was no reason for the premium increase.  I called my insurance agent and was informed that according to their records I had acquired another vehicle.  Part of me was very curious to find out what I’d purchased (I hope it’s a Mustang!!).  The more pragmatic side of me was quite concerned.  It turned out that “I” had acquired an automobile the exact same year, make, model and color of the car I already own – how boring. I should note that this insurance agency sends me a card each year on my birthday, meets with me annually to review my insurance needs, sends me quarterly electronic newsletters, has its own Facebook page, and yet it’s employees find a creative new way to mispronounce my name every time we meet.

customers-grade-the-callsCompanies need to take a few steps back from the glitz and the glam of social media and really examine how they are doing on the fundamentals.  Billing is one of those basics that must be done right the first time.  What the impact of this billing debacle to our relationship?  I’m wondering if anyone’s paying attention to the important stuff.  I find myself irked by little things that would have not even occurred to me before this incident and now I’m poised to quickly escalate if this billing error is not corrected next month.  In short – I’m scrutinizing the relationship and even my choice of insurers.  What is the impact of failing to send me a birthday card?  None.  Nada.  I probably wouldn’t have even noticed.  A single negative event can knock an otherwise content customer down a few levels on the loyalty ladder, so organizations need to stay ahead of such incidents by ensuring that they’ve mastered the basic before expanding into new ways of engaging with their customers such as social media:

  1. Money is important – to customers and to organizations.  For many of our business partners, the concept of money is tracked in customer surveys by classifying the data as “Billing-related”.  Thus far in 2010, those with the ability to segment feedback into the “Billing” type know that 23% of all call center contacts are related to billing inquiries.  Banking customers have enjoyed the ability to set up automated alerts for large withdrawals, low balances, overdrafts and the like for a number of years now.  Why not use the same logic to alert customers if their bills change more than expected based on forecasts, historical spend, seasonality, etc.?  As an organization you can choose to allocate resources to being proactive on behalf of your customers or you can allocate even more resources to solving problems you created while angry customers yell at your delegates.
  2. People are fairly predictable creatures.  Make it easy for your customers to get the information they’re looking for.  Every call center has a handful of questions to which answers can be recited by agents in their sleep.  Put those FAQs prominently on your website, include answers to these questions in your welcome calls / packets and play them in your IVR messaging (and if you can’t / won’t play them in your IVR, for gosh-sakes please don’t make you customers feel like they need a degree in abnormal psychology to get through your IVR).
  3. Think one step ahead.  As much as I hate to repeat myself, people are predictable.   If a customer calls to ask what their deductible is, they likely have no idea what their co-insurance percentage is either.   If a customer admits to not knowing what the transmission fee is on their utility bill, chances are they’re also unaware of what the generation fee is and why they’re being charged for it.  Answer your customer’s immediate question as simply and completely as possible and then offer to answer the question they’re likely to have the minute they hang up the phone.
  4. Do what you say you’re going to do (a.k.a – don’t lie to your customers).   Customers would rather be told the truth than some too-good-to-be-true tale.  Sure, there is a chance that they won’t like what they hear and that they will go comparison shopping.  But if your customer leaves your organization for a competitor, at least they will remember you fondly and speak of your honest business practices instead of spreading the horrors of your deception all over the blogsphere.  If your customer experience measurement suggests that delegates of your organization are setting unrealistic expectations about your product / service and/or failing to take accountability for customer issues, you may consider incorporating and honesty and accuracy criteria into your quality monitoring form that has some teeth to it.  Your agents should be more fearful of being caught lying to a customer than losing one.

If you have not already taken the social plunge, now is a good time to ensure you have the basics in place before you do so.  Your customers will appreciate the attention you’ve dedicated to serving them and your satisfaction scores will reflect it.  Of course if you’ve already executed your social strategy, it’s never too late to place yourself under the microscope to examine the way you do business and the message your approach is sending to your customers.

Photo Credit: MessageWorks Communications

About Jim Rembach

Jim Rembach is a panel expert with the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) and an SVP for Customer Relationship Metrics (CRM). Jim spent many years in contact center operations and leverages this to help others. He is a certified Emotional Intelligence (EQ) practitioner and frequently quoted industry expert. Call Jim at 336-288-8226 if you need help with customer-centric enhancements.

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By | 2016-12-05T15:15:17+00:00 November 11th, 2010|For External Relationships, This Thursday's Tip|6 Comments
  • Thanks for bringing this article to my attention @amandakaufmann. There’s lots of great pointers in here. But I’m still wondering if companies ever get in a room with their customers – including those who are fans, detractors and indifferent – and actually together try and agree what the basics are, what it means to get them right, and which areas to actually focus on. Unless both sides are talking the same language about the same things, they will both forever be playing a guessing game. One of the fundamental problems is that companies know the answer but not the question, while customers know the question but not the answer.

  • Brian Jameson

    So very true. Companies that forgo the basics of customer service in favor of the new shiny object in the room (i.e. Social CRM), run the risk of alienating customers. Christophe Van Bael, posted an article about T-Mobile’s oversight of the basics and social media debacle in the Netherlands ( The two channels, or all channels for that matter, need to leverage strategy, technology, and people to deliver consistent experiences. Companies spend millions on adding business rules, automating process, and streamlining customer processes; why not create proactive customer service processes? This may have prevented your billing miscue or could have triggered an outbound courtesy call to make sure it wasn’t a mistake…. Imagine that, an outbound call to make sure they didn’t make a billing error. I would be WOW’d!

    Thanks for the great post!

  • Brian,

    Thank you for your comment and for sharing the Christophe Van Bael article (I appreciate anyone who references Kafka in a blog post). I share his disgust with the fact that the loudest, squeakiest wheel got the grease while presumably the quiet dissenters continue to receive poor service. It sets a precedent that T-Mobile and others alike may quickly regret.

    To your point, this insurance agency has gone out of their way to build the appearance of engagement, so much so that I was surprised when they did not call me about this change in policy. Through their CRM strategy, they created an image and a set of expectations that fell flat when it came time to deliver.

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