Customer Autonomy In The Virtual Marketplace
Technology and its ability to connect customers with businesses 24 hours a day, 7 days a week has changed the way many companies and consumers view customer service. As interested consumers can view details about products and services whenever and wherever, it may seem there is little need or desire for old fashioned types of customer service on either side of the virtual handshake.
The theory goes that customers are empowered by access; they control to things they want, no longer tied to traditional business hours and brick and mortar stores. Freedom from the chore of listening to annoying salespeople asking if they can help, and having all the time in the world to make a decision without distractions may be attractive to many who are looking to purchase goods and services. After all, the customer has strong beliefs and opinions and, as the saying goes, knows best.
Customer Assistance — A Relic Of A Bygone Age?
If the customer is always right, is it logical to assume the customer wants no help or guidance? A business that posts all relevant information on its website and links to manufacturer, governmental and other related information may feel there is nothing left that it needs to offer to the customer.
This viewpoint is common today and is built upon any number of technological advances that stand in for a face to face salesperson or the representative on the phone. It tempts a company to deflect customer inquiries to online “chat” windows and anonymous email accounts, in order to save time and money. Business owners may reason that most customers prefer a link to a “FAQ” page to phoning a customer service representative, so why bother staffing the phones or operating a walk-in location?
Is Virtual Assistance Adequate?
All a business owner needs to do to answer this question is to reflect upon the last time he or she relied upon online or phone menu solutions for any personal or business matter. Chances are good that the distant, impersonal treatment was not received well. It is particularly irritating to have a canned voice remind you of online options when you have taken the time to call for an answer or to solve a problem. Personalizing the experience by thinking about your own response brings home the realization that keeping customers at arm’s length may be the surest way to lose them to the competition.
What Does The Business Miss Out On When Customer Care Becomes Automated?
The decision to provide no traditional customer service, whether in the form of sales assistance during the decision-making phase or aftermarket resolutions to questions of problems, removes a hugely important opportunity for the business owner. In short, you lose the connection with the customer. No longer do you have an insight into what the customer really needs, wants or feels.
This information is crucial to ensure your customer is satisfied and happy with you, not just a product or service which, perhaps, a hundred other vendors could provide. A successful business mines customer connections as though they are veins of precious metals. Intelligent customers seek businesses that understand this so that they receive what they need from a business, not just what they think they need. It is a symbiotic relationship that cannot survive using technological advances alone.
The Best Solution — A Hybrid Of Traditional Customer Service And Technology
There are matters that are best handled with a personal touch. The wise business owner will realize that the decision about which matters fall into this category needs to be largely in the control of the customer. Only the customer understands the depth and seriousness of the questions that need answers, and the malfunctions and flaws they cannot accept without seriously considering a competitor next time.
Not all customer questions and concerns need traditional customer service responses. Today’s savvy customer has research and deductive tools and abilities that can lead them to the best answer in many cases. A quick email or a read through of frequently asked questions may be all a customer needs to resolve a problem or find a solution. Many customers appreciate the freedom to manage this type of matter without waiting on hold or traveling to a location. Respect this approach while leaving all communication avenues open.
The leading businesses in any industry will also reach out in personal ways to their customers during projects and after sales to make sure the customer understands their unique approach. For these companies, customer service includes truly caring about customer satisfaction. Ask for reviews, develop surveys and consider personally sitting down face to face or talking over the phone on a case by case basis, both to educate yourself and to remind your customers just how much they mean to you and your business.