The freemium business model is meant to deliver benefits for both business and customer: For the business, it's a strategy to foster loyalty, product or service awareness, and long-term revenue potential, and for the customer, it makes discovering a product or service effortless and worry-free. However, this business approach presents a series of unique challenges—and customer service is one of them. As career-long customer care specialists, we've seen that one size doesn't fit all. Freemium model customer care must include a distinct approach.
Taking care of freemium customers requires thought and a personal touch, or you run the risk of creating more problems than solutions. Generally, dialogue about freemium customer care deficits pivots around the fact that customer service departments aren't adapting for this model, which thrives on live, customized interaction between agents and customers.
The difference between the freemium and subscription model—that the former offers customers a scaled-down set of product or service features for free before, or instead of, purchasing a subscription, the latter not offering a free level of product or service at all—is what defines the difference between customer support strategies for the two models. Because customer retention isn't built in to the freemium model, customer care agents for freemium businesses have an incredibly high standard to meet and ultimately drive business success.
Over the years, we've observed that specific best practices hold true time and again in freemium customer interactions. They may confirm that what you're doing in freemium customer care is on track, or inspire you to uplevel the way your agents communicate with your customers. There are five such practices.
Don't just serve, care. The number one mindset shift that needs to be made with freemium customer interactions is that the goal is to establish personal relationships, not isolated transactions. The idea of customer service connotes a certain flatness and mechanical response. Caring for the customer and keeping him at the center of the dialogue is crucial in a freemium support capacity because there is no reason that a customer must continue using—or paying for—your product or service. If a customer is experiencing a technical issue or upset about another aspect of the service, an agent's personalized approach to solving the problem can be the difference between retention and attrition.
Rethink success. The freemium-based business should center success metrics around its customer-centric mission, not necessarily pure sales or length of calls. Of course revenue and conversion play a role in a freemium organization's success, but at the forefront of measurement should be customer happiness. Satisfaction surveys and random call monitoring are ways businesses can track this, the most critical of all metrics.
Crunch—and use—the numbers. The call center inherently holds tons of rich qualitative and quantitative data. The successful freemium business finds ways to leverage that data and package it in a way that becomes meaningful throughout the organization, including marketing, product, and technology groups. At MyLife, we implemented a feedback mechanism that gathered data around customer usage of our Web site and presented findings and trends to our entire organization. As a result, we implemented a new service that helps customers manage their online presence, something that was an expressed need directly from customers and which became a new revenue stream for our organization.
Expect more from agents. The onus is higher on the freemium company to continue delivering value, so the business' challenge is to build a customer care team that broadens traditional call center boundaries. Freemium models include paid options that expand on the free service set. Bring on board agents with sales backgrounds, who are skilled at confidently educating customers on the value of the product or service, leading a call, and reselling a customer on the value. In addition, incorporate formal personality profiling to identify what top performing agents have in common and work to assimilate those characteristics throughout the team.
Make it personal. We cannot stress this enough—your customer care agents need to have a passion for forming personal connections with your customers. If you're scripting your agents, every call will feel like the same call, every customer will be treated like the one before, and true listening and problem solving cannot occur. The freemium call center is not there for the sole purpose of solving technology issues or resolving billing concerns, but it is there to make customers feel comfortable enough with your company that they want to keep spending their valuable time and money on what you sell. To keep care agents focused on the individual customer, do away with scripts and measuring agents on the duration of their calls. Without these constraints, true customer care can flourish.
When supporting freemium customers, businesses must recognize the long-term value of each and every person on the customer support line, and vouch to listen as though he or she is the only customer. One size doesn't fit all when it comes to freemium customer service, and if businesses align their practices to this philosophy, they won't just meet the high customer care bar, they'll clear it outright.
Aaron Taylor is the vice president of customer care at MyLife, a Web site that enables more than 60 million members to connect to and manage all their social and email accounts, monitor their online information, and make new connections all in one place. For more information, visit www.mylife.com.