Posted Monday, May 5, 2003
I called my ISP the other day, a one horse operation in a one horse town. Got a message. Punch this for this, punch that for that, etc. And finally, "Please stay on the line and a technician will be with you shortly. Our average hold time is 12 minutes." Ummmm. 30 minutes later I gave up listening to elevator music. When I redialed, I managed to punch the right number, and left a message. Got a reply, too. Someone called back six hours later.
My question was answered in two minutes. And as I had suspected, it was their error, not mine. I even got a thank-you for pointing it out.
The Cost Of Waiting
Half an hour of listening to a kind of music I don't care for, preformed in a please-everybody mode? Not exactly billable time. A six hour wait to arrange things so I could accomplish a task for a client? Nuts.
The wait cost my ISP nothing. It cost me 30 minutes. And it delayed my response to a client by six hours.
If there was another ISP within my calling area, I would have switched services, for this happens too often. The very idea that my time is meaningless while yours is invaluable gives me a pain where I sit.
Elevator Music For All
This "infection" in phone systems is now an epidemic. It satisfies the needs of management at the expense of customer time.
If asked about such systems, I would point out they hurt in the long run. Can you picture the response to such a comment made to the owner of my current ISP? Or the CEO of Bank Of America? Yet businesses that accept customer service and support as the number one priority will succeed big time in the years ahead. Those that continue to erect barriers to shield them from their customers will decline, even fail.
Focus Beyond The Immediate Sale
Many businesses today seem totally focused on the sale. Many have cut customer services and support to the bare minimum. This has come about in part through overuse and abuse of downsizing. Which means, really, doing the best you can with fewer employees to cut salary overhead.
In this, a fundamental seems to have been overlooked. The lifetime value of a customer. Many will pay $50 - $80 to obtain a customer. Why? Because repeat sales will amount to much, much more over the long term. But there will be no repeat sales without great customer support. Companies who seek cost savings by decimating their service operation and staff will be losers soon enough.
When the economy is good as it is now, price will not sell, for all have discretionary dollars. What people look for in times like these, and what they are coming to demand, is service and support. While they may be unwilling to pay extra for it, they will do so over time. They will choose to do business only with those companies that provide it.
In The Real World
Call Office Depot, 1-888-463-3768, and see how long you have to wait. Ask for the order desk, and your question will be answered promptly, with or without an order. On orders over $50, delivery is free. Once you order, watch the flow of expensive catalogs arriving in your mailbox. These people want your business, and demonstrate it by providing superior service on all counts.
They have what you need at modest prices. They provide complete answers to questions, making it easy to order the item that best suits your needs. Then wrap it all with fast delivery.
This is also true of Staples. L.L. Bean will allow you to return anything delivered, and accept it with a smile. CostCo will give a refund on an item out of warranty.
While most home businesses are small and unable to provide this level of support, it remains the goal.
Look For Opportunities
The most fertile ground to cultivate is people whom you have encountered. Get all possible email addresses, and keep the list "entertained." Yes, entertained. Tell them things they will enjoy hearing. Useful information works. Give them serious discounts. Let them in on introductory offers. And continue to provide elements that draw them back to your site.
Some claim it is unwise to take the time to answer your email more than once or twice each day. Except that doing so means you have to put something aside for a time, I don't get it. Whether you answer your email only once a day or on the hour, you will receive the same number of messages. And it will take the same amount of time to deal with them.
You can demonstrate your concern for your visitors and customers by providing prompt response to their email. If you are truly overwhelmed with the stuff, hire out the task. If only notes you need to deal with personally are forwarded, your life will be greatly simplified.
Get an 800 number. Arrange for someone who knows what they are talking about to pick up 24 hours per day. If you are just getting started, let it ring through to your bedroom at night. And display this number prominently on every page, particularly on the order page.
The odd thing to me is that few call. It seems most are content to know they can. For sure, an 800 number demonstrates you are serious about supporting your customers.
Tools for interaction with customers through your site are coming. Many are optimistic about their impact. Some results may be startling.
Even so, we will still be looking at an image of a web page on a monitor. We will see only pictures of products that can not be examined with fingers. Tools such as suggested above may help offset the lack of a physical presence and tangible goods. However, continuing interaction with those interested, prompt email response, and an 800 number will remain major contributors to your bottom line.