Customer support affects customer experience. This is not a radical idea, but the connections are not always clear to all stakeholders. Certainly, devising a viable customer support program can be a challenging proposition. This article looks at the factors that drive strong customer support and how they make a positive impact on customer experience. In the process, the article will differentiate between customer support and customer service, while also examining the role of technologies like enterprise search in enabling positive customer care outcomes.
Consider the following true and informative anecdote: A few years ago, a chain of coffee shops hired one of America’s foremost experts on service-based businesses to help them improve their customer service. The company had been fielding complaints about poor service and bad attitudes at the front counters and wanted to take action to correct the problem.
The expert addressed a large gathering of employees, saying, “A customer comes in on Monday and orders a coffee and a roll. You smile at him. He smiles back, and hands you two dollars. He’s having a positive experience. He comes in on Tuesday and orders. You smile. He smiles, and hands you two dollars. Same thing on Wednesday, another two dollars… then Thursday and Friday—ten dollars for the week.”
All the employees were nodding. The expert then said, “That’s the money we pay you with…” This detail turned out to be a big surprise to most of the employees. They didn’t connect taking money in at the register and earning a paycheck. The story illustrates two important aspects of customer support. One is that good customer support drives sustainable revenue growth. The other is that not everyone has an intuitive understanding of how the various elements of customer support hold together.
What are the objectives of customer support
Most people understand that customers are important to a business, and that a company should make efforts to keep customers happy. But, there’s more to it than that. The objectives of customer support include practicalities like solving customer problems as well as more strategic goals, such as customer retention and earnings growth.
What are customers’ expectations
The simplest definition of customer support is that it’s the sum total of what it takes to meet customer expectations. What are customer expectations? They vary by business, of course, but in general, all customers want the same things:
- To receive the products and services they ordered on time and without any problems
- To be treated with respect
- To have any issues addressed promptly and professionally
- To be made to feel special
- To feel as if they are getting a great value
- To feel as if the vendor is contributing to their success, i.e., customer success
Why customer support is important for your business
Customer support is important for your business for many reasons. At a basic level, happy customers are the easiest to deal with. They don’t demand refunds or stress out employees with complaints and difficult problems to solve. Customer support, if done right, also keeps customers coming back, which is good for business in more ways than one.
Customer service vs customer support
The terms “customer service” and “customer support” are often used interchangeably. They do overlap, and the concepts are similar. However, customer service generally refers to the specific act of providing service to a customer, such as answering a customer service phone line and solving the customer’s immediate problem.
Customer support differs in at least to ways. It tends to be a more broad-based program of figuring out the customer’s needs and the customer’s journey and then deliberately delivering an experience that will fulfill those needs. Customer support also sometimes refers to activities surrounding customers of a particular product. For example, if a bank issues a Gold Credit Card, there is invariably a person or team somewhere in the bank tasked with “Gold Credit Card customer experience” for customers who have the Gold Credit Card. The Platinum Card would have it own separate customer support team that deals with the unique customer issues affecting Platinum cardholders.
Understanding the notion of customer experience
It’s easy to get lost in jargon when it comes to customer experience. Customer support managers talk about “360 customer” and “customer success.” What do these terms mean? A productive way to think about it is that a customer engages with a brand because he or she gets a positive experience out it, whatever that means. It could mean getting good value, having an enjoyable time, feeling emotionally positive about the brand and so forth. When people talk about customer success, they’re usually describing a customer who has a positive experience with the brand.
What is the customer experience?
Customer experience is a subjective concept, but it is possible to articulate it in ways that can lead to practical actions. Simply, it’s about how the customer experiences a brand. For instance, if every interaction with the brand involves a long wait on hold over the phone, followed by a stressful conversation with a bored, irritable customer service representative, that customer is going to have a very negative experience. Their impression of the brand will also be negative. They’ll abandon the brand and tell their friends how much they dislike the experience. The opposite is also true. A brand that delivers value, combined with emotionally pleasant interactions will create a positive customer experience.
How to measure it
Companies measure customer experience through data. They collect this data through direct customer satisfaction surveys or through indirect means like analyzing unstructured data such as social media posts. Or, they scan customer service call logs and chat threads. For example, if a company runs a hundred thousand customer service chat conversations through a data analytics solution and discovers that 50% of them contained the words “I want a refund” and “I can’t stand dealing with you,” that would indicate a negative customer experience problem. This is known as sentiment analysis.
Why is customer experience important
The importance of customer experience stems in large part from the role of the customer in a company’s financial performance. Like the satisfied coffee shop customer in the example, a well-supported customer is a source of steady revenue. Recurring revenues are essential for a sustainable business. And, if a company can keep adding new, satisfied, recurring revenue customers, it will start to grow.
Also at work here is a concept known as the cost of customer acquisition. Customers are not free. There is almost always a cost associated with getting a customer in the door or onto a website. Every advertising and marketing campaign the customer had to see, every direct mail piece, every cold sales phone call, every web ad click—the total of all of those expenditures comprises what it costs to acquire a new customer.
In some cases, the cost of acquisition can be astonishingly high. When a customer signs up for a new credit card, for instance, it may have cost the financial institution hundreds of dollars in marketing. If the customer does not generate enough credit card interest payments to cover his or her cost of acquisition, that customer will represent a net financial loss to the bank. Why would a customer stop using a credit card? One reason could be a poor customer experience. If the customer does not receive adequate support, he or she might cancel the card.
How to improve customer experience through customer support?
Customer support translates into customer experience, for better or worse. It’s important to note that customer experience is about a lot more than just the performance of customer service representatives. A great customer experience represents the totality of the company’s approach to dealing with customers. If the customer service representative is not equipped to help the customer, it’s not his fault that the customer experience is poor. Conversely, good customer support, representing a thorough, holistic approach to pleasing the customer, usually results in a good customer experience.
Quick and relevant answers required
Customers want quick, relevant answers to their questions when they interact with a business. Understanding the importance of this expectation, businesses have invested billions of dollars into call centers with access to corporate systems. That way, if you call a shipping company, they can usually tell you in a few seconds when your package will arrive. Those over 50 will remember that this was not at all the norm prior to about 1985. If you were expecting a shipment, well… you just waited until it arrived. Federal Express (now FedEX) revolutionized its industry, and much of the business world, by extension, by offering instant, phone-based package tracking—a capability that also required the installation of a massive package tracking infrastructure in the field.
Importance of data access
The FedEx example shows the criticality of data access for creating a positive customer experience. People who interact with customers need to get their hands on accurate data, rapidly. The phrase “I don’t know” is seldom good for customer experience. Customer support therefore needs information technology, and a lot of it. When a customer service rep can easily answer your query over the phone, it’s because someone has put a huge amount of thought and resources into equipping him or her with information access.
Indeed, information-driven customer experience can be about more than just providing data. It can be help build relationships. Like, if you call a company with a question or concern, and the person on the other end says, “Hey, I see your wife’s birthday is coming up. How would you like to surprise her with a gift?” that exchange can help build the sense of belonging and engagement that leads to more revenue and a positive brand aura.
Why Customer care needs an enterprise search solution
Enterprise search plays a vital role in customer support. Except in the simplest use cases, customer support personnel tend to need quick access to information about the customer’s account and orders. Such information may not be in easy-to-search databases. Rather, the data is contained in unstructured data sources like PDF documents and spreadsheets. It could even be sitting in chat bot threads and emails.
If a customer needs support based on such unstructured data, the support team has to have a reliable, fast way of getting it. Enterprise search makes this happen. A suitable enterprise search platform enables strong customer support and positive experience by giving people the information they need to handle customer needs as they arise. The platform is able to connect with and understand data in any system, format, location or language.
Further illustrating the value of enterprise search in customer support, consider a situation where the support team has to engage in research to address a customer’s issues. For example, if a bank customer calls the customer service line and explains that she is getting divorced, that her soon-to-be ex-husband is moving to Thailand, and then asks what will the bank be doing to stop him from draining their joint account…?
This is the sort of issue that can take hours to resolve if the customer service representative has to start calling other employees and figuring out the rules and so forth. These odd exception cases can be massive time and money wasters for banks. They can also cause legal problems if they are not handled correctly. Enterprise search gives the customer support organization the ability to look up the correct policies and respond promptly and accurately to the situation.
Customer support makes possible positive customer experience outcomes. A well-designed and well-run customer support program makes customers feel valued. They enjoy engaging with the brand and will become more likely to patronize the business in the future. Thus, positive customer experience is a driver of recurring revenue and customer retention. It makes the return on investment on customer acquisition as high as possible. Technology underpins these capabilities. In particular, enterprise search gives customer support teams a tool they can use to handle even the most challenging customer support issues. As companies continue to leverage technology to improve customer experience, enterprise search is likely to play an increasingly important role in the entire effort.
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