E-CRM: Can anybody hear me?

20 Dec 2004|Added Value

The internet has enabled many companies and brands to innovate and raise the bar when it comes to the “customer experience.” Amazon pioneered predictive “cross-selling” with personalized recommendations, Barnes & Noble offers same-day delivery from your screen to your door, the list goes on.

When comes to the “service” part of the customer experience, the promise was that email and live chat technology would allow companies to provide a higher, quicker level of service at even lower costs. Sometimes that’s true.

Unfortunately, too many companies focus on the technology and not the actual experience someone has trying to communicate with them.

A recent example involves Sony. I applaud the company for having a rich frequently asked questions (FAQ) database available, and even moreso the availablity of live customer service help 24 hours a day. The latter is–in theory–a nice differentiating service feature.

Then reality sets. I’ve had my eye on the Sony P100 5 megapixel camera for a year now, waiting for the price to come down. I recently discovered it has, and that Sony’s website offers it in exclusive colors. Unfortuantely, I had just missed the date for a mail-in rebate offer around Thanksgiving. Since the site lists all rebate offers, including expired ones, I could see that they had been rotating models on rebate for the last month or so, and this week I expected my model to come back on.

Yet, today there were no current offers listed. I figured I’d use the live chat to ask them if they knew if the offers were over. In about 1 minute the live chat applet loaded and I was connected quickly to a service rep. I stated that I wanted to know if there any offers coming this week, and that I had already looked at the webpage which did not list any. I was politey asked to hold. In about another minute or two, the rep replied that “there are no offers currently available, please check back regularly.” Thanks for the newsflash–I already had told the rep that. I did not get any new information, and was kind of frustrated that I bothered to engage in the chat at all. To be fair, the process worked well, and perhaps they are not allowed to give out that information, but all in all it seemed pointless.

I had a worse situation using email. I wanted to purchase a video game, “City of Heroes” that requires an avanced video card. I had done lots of research to find out which cards were supported, but my video card was never listed in any of the documentation. I emailed customer support, clearly detailing that I had read which video cards are listed as working, and that my video card had a similar model # but not exactly one listed. Could they confirm if it DOES or DOES NOT work?

Well, I literally had to go through 7-8 emails before I got an actual response. I kept getting canned replies with links to their webiste, which I had already read and quoted back to them. After about several tries of putting “Need human response, please do not provide automated reply”, I finally got a seemingly personalized reply, asking me to provide some data from my PC, which I did, and then they were able to tell me that no, this game would NOT work on my machine.

Glad I didn’t plunk down th $60 just to learn that and stare at the box (though I’m still dying to try this game).

Unfortunately, these examples are all too common. Companies install automated systems to lower the costs of e-customer service, which can also speed response time (I worked on this myself at American Express). But there does not seem to be an option to get “out of the email loop” the way (good) IVR phone prompts let you “O” out for a live operator. Sometimes the system adds insult to injury by sending automated “follow ups” to see how well they resolved the issue, when the issue hasn’t even been resovled!

One way to avoid these problems is to get customers involved in creating this customer experience. It is not enough to test the canned response system to make sure it gives the right response, or tweak the user interface on the live chat aplication (these are important too of cousre). Actual customers have to go through these sytems with actual problems and communications; these transactions need to be monitored in real time so that unforeseen situations and problems can be identified, diagnosed, and resolved.

Even if 10 emails to the same customer is cheaper than a 1-2 minute call to the service center, the negative impact on that customer’s loyalty and future value to the brand is a much higher price.

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