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Customer Service as a Marketing Strategy by Marsha Buehler

Where, oh where, did customer service go?

With a world full of automated phone systems, self-serve Web sites, and overworked and underpaid disgruntled employees, customer service has left the country. When was the last time you picked up the phone and called a company to actually speak to a real person without going through 15 prompts? Many companies actually disable their zero prompt on their PBX system, forcing customers to go through a labyrinth of touch-tone dialing hell in order to get to a real person who can actually help them with their issue.

Where does marketing and customer service come into play, and how do you realize the impact of your customer service (good or bad) to your bottom line?

Customer service plays a large role in satisfied customers who reward your company with loyalty and repeat business. Take a survey of your largest customers and ask them how you are doing as a company in the name of customer service. Times are tough, and time is a precious commodity for everyone these days. The last thing a customer wants is to spend five days figuring out where his or her order is when it was needed one week ago.

Customer service is also a great marketing strategy that should not be ignored. Customer service issues and resolutions should be a main concern of every executive, director, and supervisor and should be ingrained into each and every employee. It is essential this concept gets driven from the top down and should be a considered a high priority.

I once had a mortgage company (name not to be disclosed) that owed me $1,000, and it took me four months to get my money back. This included at least 40 hours on the phone (more than half the time on hold and the other half speaking to rude help desk employees), several certified letters, and the upkeep of a journal with dates and names of the idiots who were supposed to help me before I finally received the escrow payment they were by law supposed to return to me within 30 days.

I finally got creative and went to the smaller bank where my mortgage originated before it was sold to a large conglomerate. I explained my situation to the president. He gave me the phone number of an executive he knew at the unnamed mortgage company. I called and left a long voice mail. Guess what? He actually called me back within 15 minutes. Guess what else? I had my check within three days. It amazed me, but can you identify with the time, effort, and frustration involved?

I could relate to what going postal meant. Talk about a nightmare. Just imagine the thousands of people who went through the same nightmare with just this one company. I can tell you right now I would never do business with that company again. While the experience made a great impression on me as to the importance of good customer service, it also made me realize loyalty and satisfaction are brothers when it comes to business and a must to include in every marketing strategy.

My question to you: Is it time to take a reality check on customer service at your company? Here are some ways to take a serious check of the quality of your customer service.

  • Take the time and actually call your 800 number. Does it work? What is their call/resolution ratio?

  • Walk through the self-serve process on your Web site. Was it easy or difficult? Were you frustrated? Did you get the answer you sought? If it takes you less than five minutes to get your answer or resolve your issue online you’re doing great. If not, take a closer look at the process. the functionality of your Web site modules, and most importantly, the feedback you receive from your customers.

  • Take a closer look at your customer-service personnel. Do they need training? Are they polite? Are they disgruntled or unhappy?

  • Take the time to talk to your customers. Ask them how you are doing in the name of customer service.

  • Check with your Web site help desk. Are they receiving e-mail complaints about not finding answers to their problems and questions? Does your company have a customer advocate who oversees customer complaints?

  • Check with your staff. Ask them for suggestions on ways to streamline processes that would be more effective and efficient for the company and the customer. Less time, more efficiency promotes happy customers and good customer service.

  • Check with your order management department. Are customers receiving their products in the promised delivery interval? Do recurring problems with orders exist? Is it a process issue, or is it a training issue? How many complaints are received and resolved? What is the time frame involved in the resolution of issues? Most importantly, does your company track and measure problems and resolutions?

  • Check with your product training department. Are there issues with certain products over other products? Do you offer training on your products or services? Do you respond to customer issues regarding a particular product and address it on the production line?

  • Find a dedicated person or team to deal with specific customers. This provides a familiar person or team who knows your customers' habits, processes, and histories. Customers respond favorably to someone who helped resolve their issues.

  • Do not make promised you cannot keep. Once you tell someone you are going to do something and then do not follow through, you have made a negative impression. Yes, the unforeseen happens, but if it happens too often your customer will go somewhere else.

  • Provide training for your employees. One rude employee can make all the difference in the loyalty of your customers. Customers are people, too. They talk among themselves. Keep in mind you never know if you are talking to the person who makes vendor product/service decisions.

  • Throw in something extra for the customer when a mistake is made. This shows your appreciation of his or her understanding, patience, and trouble. This can go a long way with customers and encourages a strong allegiance.

  • Check your competitors’ customer service ratings and their response time to issues. Then beat it with your new marketing strategy to provide world-class customer service.

  • Implement your plan to improve main customer service issues and work your way down to the smaller issues. I cannot reiterate enough that customer service needs to be driven from the top down. A company should always strive to have a perfect record of customer service. The results will be happier customers who will want to return to you because you proved to be a company that has friendly, helpful professionals.

The focus on good customer service can be expensive in the training of personnel and with the effort-measuring issue resolution. Your expense and efforts will be worth their weight in gold when your bottom line displays sizable gains. Now is the time to get serious and get a handle on providing excellent customer service.

Why is customer service important to your overall marketing strategy? It becomes not only a competitive edge but makes a decided difference in your industry, and this keeps customers coming back for more.


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