The Case for Having Human, Not Robot, Customer Support 24/7
Nothing is more frustrating than trying to get through to customer support on the phone and only reaching a mechanical voice on the other end. We understand that. We also understand that not everyone is on the clock from 9-5 or even awake when the sun is up. This is a reality for many Advance Financial customers, some of whom work different hours or might have unexpected emergencies that require fast access to cash. In fact, over 30 percent of our business happens between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m.
That’s why it’s the right business decision for us to be open as many hours as possible with real people on the job. For us, that means 24/7 and all 365 days of the year. Prioritizing a 24/7 human touch with our customer service as brought these benefits:
1. Meeting Unconventional Needs/Flexibility
About 15 percent of Americans are working the “graveyard shift” on any given day, according to Career Trend, meaning they might not be awake during daylight hours. This is one reason why it’s so important to have services that can be accessed at any time of the day (or night), so night nurses or overnight truckers can stop in and get some cash if they need it.
Or maybe someone in that same group of people has an issue with his or her loan and needs to contact customer support. They can still count on speaking with an actual person, even if it’s in the middle of the night.
2. Getting to Know the Customer
Many stores have regulars who drop in, so staff have an opportunity to get to know them, giving the customer a familiar face to welcome them to the store. For instance, there was a regular customer in one of our stores who had just been diagnosed with cancer in August, and he lamented that he was stuck at home in the heat with no air-conditioning. The store employees took that opportunity to connect with the customer and partnered with Home Depot to get an AC unit installed in his home. A robot voice on the phone just can’t provide that same human connection.
Staff can also get to know customers’ habits and use that data to improve customer service. For example, we have a program called “Secret Shopper” in which we send an unknown corporate employee into a store to go through the customer process and take notes of his or her experience and what can be improved. It provides fresh and valuable insights into the customer experience because our Secret Shoppers know what level of service is expected. Every customer should be getting the same high level of care, so this is one way we can make sure of that.
3. Creating Brand Loyalty
It’s a simple fact of business—when customers feel like their needs are being met with quality, they are more likely to return. How many times have you called up a company’s customer service line, gone through several different automated systems, possibly waited an extended amount of time, then gotten frustrated and just hung up without your inquiry being answered? It’s a much more common occurrence than you think.
No business wants to have the reputation of “impossible to reach” or “my questions never get answered because the robot doesn’t understand.” In fact, 74 percent of U.S. adults said they are likely to choose another business after a bad phone experience, according to a study by call analytics company Invoca. With a person answering the phone, there is a much higher likelihood that customers’ needs are being met effectively and that they understand you care about them.
The secret to this level of customer service is also providing a great employee experience. When employees feel valued, they’re more likely to pass that sentiment on to the customer. That’s how you create an awesome customer experience—and people on both sides of the desk who are happy with your brand.
Making Customer Service More Personal
Not every company can promise 24/7/365 business hours, but most can implement policies to add a personal touch, such as these:
- Add flexible hours. Rather than making your hours only 9 to 5 every day, switch it up so some days have a wider range of hours to accommodate customers with unconventional schedules or who need to work around their conventional schedules.
- Hire a greeter. Have someone at the front desk at all times who can give each visitor a small and gracious welcome. (A tactic used in our corporate office.)
- Use first names. Have employees address every customer by first name when conversing with them, and put employees’ first name only on their name tags. It automatically makes the customer feel more comfortable because they are talking to a normal person who values them as a person, too.
- Follow up. Just like after a good job interview, follow-up is key to solidifying the relationship. Every customer should receive some sort of follow-up—by email or phone—from a company representative to thank them and ask if they have any questions. It’s another way to make sure the customer feels that their needs are important to the company.
As you develop new and improved products, don’t let customer service fall by the wayside. We know it’s not sustainable for every company to stay open for 24 hours a day, but find your own version of 24/7/365—your metric for customer service success—and keep up that standard no matter what.
Carrie Strecker is senior director of operations at Advance Financial, overseeing store operations for the company's 103 retail locations throughout Tennessee. Key responsibilities include store performance, recruiting, training and development, security and compliance, and more.