Solving the modern customer services conundurum

Picture the scene, you’re the Managing Director of a successful eCommerce company. You serve hundreds, maybe thousands of customers every day – the orders go out accurately and on-time but your Customer Services department look like they haven’t slept in a week…
You know why, the latest report from Marketing indicates that they have an uphill battle trying to fight social media fires due in large part to a lack of timely, and sometimes any, response to customer questions.
You know that the  “Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013” were recently introduced and you’ve made adjustments to cater for the new change but surely this can’t account for the look of despair in their eyes?

The problem

Customer Services hasn’t been able to adapt to the modern buyer. They make contact through a myriad of channels (phone, email, web form, social media) and expect an instant, professional response and acknowledgement. They want you to know who they are and what they’ve purchased, and if they’ve already spoken to someone about it, or sent in an email, they expect you to have those details to hand so they don’t have to repeat themselves.

  • They want to be acknowledged, instantly.
  • They want an expedient reply that hopefully solves their problem; they want to know that you’ve heard them. Not providing this, particularly in the case of complaints, results in more complaints and compounds the problem.
  • When it’s a simple support question this can quickly escalate into a complaint if it takes longer than they expect.
  • But if they have questions, they are often the same questions as other customers have asked in the past and you find yourself repeating, over and over again, the same responses.
  • And if they want to return an item, managing the return within company policy and tracking when it arrives so a refund can be issued all adds delays to the process.

The customer doesn’t care about complexity, or your problems – all they see is how long it is taking.

Did you know: According to UPS, the busiest day for returns is 3rd January? They’ve named it “National Returns Day”. 

The solution

It is important to note that technology cannot solve a “human” problem. Nothing can replace good quality staff, training and company ethic – so provided those things are in place, a potential solution to the above problem might look like this.

Process:

  1. A customer enquiry is instantly acknowledged with a tracking number, whether it is email, web or manual entry.
  2. Once the customer request has been received it can be allocated to the most appropriate representative (many routing options are available: either the first available, or if more information is available, someone with more expertise or authority, or the specific representative for that customer – to name just a few options).
  3. Based on who is making the request this can also be assigned a priority (perhaps they have a support agreement in place, or they are a valued customer who you make special efforts for).
  4. If the question is one that has been asked and answered in the past, a “solution”, which is a pre-formatted and approved response can be sent from the knowledgebase.
  5. If it is a new question, a solution can be agreed and approved internally to be sent to the customer.
  6. If the question needs to be escalated – perhaps it’s a complaint – this can be managed and recorded in the system, allowing whoever deals with the question a full overview of all interactions with the customer.
  7. If the customer wishes to return an item, this can be linked directly to an invoice and a RMA number provided, which feeds directly into the warehouse “Goods-in” process.
  8. Once the item is received and in acceptable condition, this is noted and accounts payable is automatically notified to issue a refund.
  9. At all stages in the process the customer can be kept informed of the process and if more information is required from them this can be recorded in a single place for further review.

Did you know: Handling a returned item can cost eCommerce companies between $6 and $18 (The Economist)

Reporting and management

Now this may seem like the proverbial “Chicken & Egg” scenario. We spoke initially about the problem – but we were only able to identify one because of the downtrodden souls in the Customer Service department. Now, we’ve presented a solution – so all should be dandy.
Not quite.
As I mentioned earlier, technology is not a magic wand, as much as we want it to be. It doesn’t solve our problems for us, it helps us solve our problems. It does this in a number of ways – the most visible of which is in the data it collects and the reports it can produce that allow us to analyse our business and make decisions based on measured, agreed, actual figures.
So once the system and process is in place and the business is using it, some of the usual KPI’s you might see are:

  • How long does it take to answer a query?
  • What type of enquiries do you get most often? Returns? Complaints? “How-to’s”?
  • Which customers complain / return the most?
  • Which suppliers provide the most returnable items?
  • Which customer services representative is the most / least productive?
  • Which items do you have the most / least problems with?

Using this information you can then initiate exception tracking and investigation. Why do you have more problems with one item versus another? Why does this customer return so much more than this one, but they buy the same items?

Conclusion

It is often mooted that the mark of a good company isn’t how they do when everything is going well, but how they react when things don’t. By having a robust process in place to deal with these issues, and to be able to make adjustments to your business processes based on accurate data to empower continuous improvement gives a huge boost to customer confidence and satisfaction in the short- and long-term.
By using your customer services experience as a barometer of your performance, and not just sales and marketing, every complaint and customer interaction truly is an opportunity and not just a drain on resources.
I’d be interested to hear your experiences – have you turned around your customer services process, regardless of whether you’ve used technology to achieve it? How did you identify the problem and what did you do to resolve it? Let me know in the comments. 
There are a number of point solutions that can deal with different parts of this process; however, as a NetSuite Solution Provider, if you would like to evaluate a truly integrated solution that can resolve these problems from start to finish then please get in touch.
Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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