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Don't let your machines mess up customer delight

When you call up the customer service number for your bank account details, a credit card payment or even to enquire about a flight booking, you hear an automated voice on the other end telling you to press certain digits on your phone to get the information. Some of us have the patience to go through the rigmarole of getting the information but for many of us it can be exasperating.

Today's technology has removed the need for conventional face-to-face interactions with customers. As companies gloat over the self-processing automation that makes communications and transactions as simple as the click of a mouse, the very same technology makes them anonymous, annihilating their inherent identity.

The human touch is sorely missing as interactive voice responses can ‘supposedly' do everything from booking tickets, placing orders, trading shares to solving problems.

Hapless customers may try anything - be it e-mails, phone calls or websites, only to receive automatically generated replies. Even after they decode an elongated system of options to reach a ‘live' person, it creates a wait time of at least 15 minutes! And, even the ‘real' customer service representatives may not deliver the expected service or information. No wonder then that a customer care centre experience leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Things have come full circle as customers crave for the old-fashioned flesh-and-blood connection instead of unemotional and soulless systems.

In fact, according to international surveys, customers will buy more if they can speak with a representative at the time of purchase.

Companies need to wake up to the fact that they cannot replace the human interface totally. Organisational bottom line depends far more on the goodwill of real human beings than on how fast it can process transactions. Moreover, the only way that a company can stand out from the crowd is by delivering a satisfactory customer experience. The solution is not in eliminating technology but using it to help people.

In a service-oriented culture, automatic systems can effectively deal with routine transactions. But for the perplexing or complex problems customers might face, management should keep human experts readily available. As Tetsu Fujisaki, head of the human-centric applications group at IBM says, “Some form of collaboration with a human expert is essential for consumers to carry out complicated or infrequently performed transactions.”

The customer care executives should be courteous and knowledgeable and answer questions, provide insight and offer suggestions. The company can even provide training to help them make the interaction as personal and attentive as possible.

The service also needs to be timely and consistent. To maintain quick responses, the average wait time cannot be longer than 30-60 seconds with a leeway of up to two minutes for complex queries. Customer care personnel should overcome the notorious ‘forgetful' tag by getting back to the customers with needful information as quickly as possible. Managers should also regularly review and update the knowledge database that the representatives use to respond to inquiries.

The management can also develop a live online customer interaction to personalise the Internet experience. With chatting or instant messaging, the company representatives can be on hand to answer queries as well as direct visitors to specific information or areas of interest. They can also track the most frequent enquiries and develop adequate answers. However, management should take care that the customers get concise, meaningful and pertinent information and not a deluge of sales talk.

All said and done, management should create as many personal touch-points as possible with e-mails, phone numbers and instant message addresses. Afterall, the customer is king and every chance to interact with him is an opportunity.


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