• May 14, 2013
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Angie's List Founder Lists Customer Service as a Priority

INDIANAPOLIS (Interactions 2013) — As someone who runs a company that handles customer reviews for companies across more than 550 business types in more than 200 U.S. and Canadian cities, Angie Hicks might know a thing or two about customer service.

Getting it right is not easy, according to Hicks, who in 1995 founded Angie's List. There is plenty that call centers can do with automation today, but "nothing can replace the human interaction," Hicks told almost 2,000 attendees today at Interactions, Interactive Intelligence's user conference.

Most of the subscribers to Angie's List go online to access the company's services, "but it is a competitive advantage to have people to talk to," Hicks said during a morning keynote. Live operators handle "such a small part of our business, but it's an important part of our business."

It's not enough to have operators in a call center to take customer calls, Hicks advised. Managers need to hire the right people and empower them to resolve customer issues on the spot, she said.

Hicks said the secret is to customer success is to "under-promise and over-deliver" to meet and exceed customer expectations.

According to Hicks, many company interactions with customers go wrong because of miscommunications or misalignment of expectations. "No one will be perfect at customer service all the time, but it's what you do when the chips are down that sets the tone for your business," she said.

Companies need to listen to their customers and take their feedback to improve their businesses, she added.

"When you get a complaint, look at it, read it, and then go get a cup of coffee," she said. "The companies that respond too quickly might not respond correctly." Often they get too defensive, and that's not the right approach, Hicks advises.

And then, "if it's truly something that you can fix, you should fix it," Hicks said. "Think of it as an opportunity to win over your customers."

Fixing problems "can be one of the most powerful marketing tools a company can have," Hicks said. "Everyone gets complaints, but how you handle them makes all the difference in the world for your business."

As such, Hicks advised conference attendees to be as transparent as possible, especially in today's business world where social media is so prevalent. "Consumers have always talked about [companies], but now with social media we get to listen in," she said. "Before, it was quiet conversations over the back fence."

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