Feel the Love
magazine recently asked readers to share their strategies for earning--and keeping--the affection of their customers. It turns out that as in any relationship, being considerate and responsive goes a long way towards developing devotion.
A Direct Line to Service
We all want our customers to feel appreciated, but if they regularly have difficulty in reaching a human being what they'll feel is frustrated. Vaisala, an industrial instrumentation manufacturer, faced this problem. "Too many customers were forced to leave voicemail and were beginning to complain," says Jim Tennermann, business development manager at the company's North American headquarters in Woburn, MA. Rather than fleeing to buy new technology, however, Vaisala took a hard look at its service organization. The problem was an unbalanced service staff that was too specialized in particular types of inquiries, compounded by a small portion of the team getting a disproportionate number of calls manually routed to them by the receptionist.
Vaisala's strategy was to simply make better use of the phone system the company already had in place by rotating calls through a service staff better prepared to handle multiple types of inquiries. Voicemail incidents during the support center workday are now "down to zero," says Vaisala Director Gerry Ducharme.
Make no mistake: Convincing customers to fall in love all over again with the support center wasn't as easy as flipping a switch on the PBX. "We were putting a little bit of pressure on our company as a whole to make sure [support staffers] can handle all of the tasks in the group, rather than having a dominant player in the group and leaning on them because they're taking up the slack," Tennermann says.
Now Vaisala wants to share the love with the rest of the company, and plans to expand the new streamlined call system to the sales and product support divisions as well. "What we're striving for is to get a system for the general population of customers to have no need for voice mail in our office anymore," Tennermann says. "You're never going to get away from a customer calling one individual and the individual not being there, but the idea is that if you call into the office, you will be handled live."
The payoff is coming back in more than just good feelings. Aside from earning customer applause for cutting back on workday voicemail, Vaisala's sales force is handling far fewer elevated customer complaints about unresponsive support staff, leaving them more time to sell.
Money Can't Buy You Love
Connect Tech fights for customers in a competitive industry, but doesn't want to buy their love. "You can get lower-quality products at a lower price than we sell, but we don't play that game," says Jeannette Cantin, special projects coordinator for the maker of specialized networking equipment, in Guelph, Ontario.
Instead the company focuses on building customer loyalty. But when Connect Tech examined its CRM efforts it found them lacking, because sales and customer service were not working from the same database. The system's usefulness was low, so its uptake was weak. "It wasn't a good information tool, because not everybody was using it," Cantin says.
The company took two steps to ensure that sales and service formed a more holistic customer picture, rather than only sharing crisis situations with each other: It upgraded to Maximizer Enterprise and implemented a new approach to examining a customer's entire situation when handing a request or outbound contact. Now Connect Tech is better able to deliver a client-pleasing experience. "We often get indications from customers that working with us is a lot easier than other companies, and that we're more responsive," Cantin says. "A lot of that has to do with the fact that we're all plugged in to the same database. People can call up information very quickly, and the right hand knows what the left hand is doing."
An Answer to Every Question
Having prompt, correct answers to tough questions is an important part of any relationship. Rockwell Automation, whose components are built into a wide range of industrial equipment, gets all manner of queries. Questions could run the gamut from a problem with a part to "'My plant's not making cans, what's wrong?'" says David Handley, manager of business systems for the Milwaukee-based manufacturer.
Handley has worked to keep Rockwell's customers happy by giving them faster, better answers to their questions. The company put an end to islands of information and the call center blame-and-transfer game by moving all its call centers to an Amdocs ClarifyCRM system and implementing a problem resolution knowledge base. Rockwell has slashed the internal costs of researching answers to customers' questions, and more important, has raised first-call resolution from just 30 percent to 80 percent, all the while sustaining call volume growth without having to add support staff.
Of course, internal metrics don't tell you when customers are happy; customers tell you when customers are happy. And they have. "Our customer satisfaction [improvement] was a lack of customer escalations through commercial channels," Handley says. "Then, as we began to gather data and had the vehicle to do formal surveys, our rating [for telephone support] has improved thirty percent over the past four years."
A Tasty Solution
Schwan's Home Service embraces the time-honored principle of blazing a trail to the heart via the stomach. Schwan's is a direct consumer delivery service for all manner of frozen foods, in Marshall, MN. When the 51-year-old company started getting serious about enhancing its face-to-face selling model with
e-commerce, it recognized that change is stressful even for golden anniversary couples. So to maintain the happiness of its dinnertime public the company used online enhancements to create value. Schwan's added the personalized service of face-to-face order taking and delivery to its Web interface, which tracks and displays the entire purchase history regardless of the channel the order originally came from. Schwan's now also uses analytics to target thank-you gifts that will best suit its most valuable customers. "Each of these campaigns generated numerous calls, emails, and letters of appreciation to Schwan's and their Schwan's representative," says Glenn Bader, director of Internet and advanced technology marketing.
The key to keeping a high-touch business relevant and satisfying to long-term customers in a high-tech era is to maintain the original flavor of the message, and customers have responded well to the new channels, according to Bader. In fact, 70 percent of respondents to one of Schwan's early email forays are still buying online.
Love is never easy, and when it comes to dollars and cents, is never easily given. However, listening, having the right answers, and maintaining a respectful tone go a long way towards making sure love means never having to say you're sorry.