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Thursday, 01 May 2008

Minding Your Business - Responding to Customers

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Vision Magazine

Originally published in Vision Consumer Electronics Magazine



Is that the impression the consumer gets when they call your customer service number?

If it is, you need to review how much was budgeted for product returns.  You did plan (remember You Gotta Have A Plan!) for the amount of product that will be returned and budget for the impact on sales, expense and cash flow didn’t you?

A recent survey of consumers showed that more than 70% of them regard a toll free Call Center to be very or extremely important when they have a question or a problem. Only 5% considered a web site as an important source that they would use to find answers to their questions.

One of the first questions that we ask our clients is; “What do you want the consumer who has a question or a problem with the operation of a product to do?”  The response is normally that they want the consumer to call the customer service center so that they can fix the consumer’s problem, prevent the product from being returned to a store, and improve brand loyalty. All manufacturers should have a clear and defined plan as to what they want the consumer to do when they have a question or a problem with the product that they have purchased, and are trying to use.

In this day of  “no help” mass merchants and untrained sales associates, the customer service representative at the call center may be the only intelligent human contact that the consumer will have who can explain how to use the product. How manufacturers interact with the consumer who has a question or a problem effects the brands image in the marketplace and has a significant impact on the amount of product that ends up in the reverse logistics pipeline. Your Call Center may be the last line of defense in preventing the consumer from returning the product for a refund.

Manufacturers who want to cultivate brand loyalty should clearly indicate on the packaging, on the product itself and in the advertising that they want the consumer to contact them directly to resolve any problems or answer their questions. You cannot depend on the instruction manual to be an effective way of explaining how to setup and operate the product. How many people sit down and read the manual before starting to play with their new toy, do you?

However, manufacturer must be able to follow through on their request that the consumers contact them directly.

All too often, when the consumer does pick up the phone and call the 800 number they are greeted by, “Press 1 for a corporate directory, press 2 for rebate coupons, press 3 to check on a shipment . . .  Press 97 for customer assistance.” After listening to all those options, the customer with a problem is often greeted with; “We are sorry all support personnel are helping other customers.” “ Please stay on the line for the next available representative.”  Sounds like a great way to improve customer loyalty doesn’t it.

Can you imagine if a call to the fire department was answered with, “for grease fires press 1, for hazardous material fires press 2 … sorry. we are busy, put it out yourself.” “Call us back if that doesn’t work out.”

The customer that has a problem or a question about how to operate a product that they have purchased is the most important person who is calling the company. Why do we treat them so poorly?

When questions are not answered or problems are not resolved in a timely fashion, the customers next action will likely be to return their purchase to the store for a refund!

Ask yourself the following questions as a first step in determining how effective your call center is. How do you measure the effectiveness of your Call Center? Is it judged on how fast they can get the caller off of the phone, or on how effectively they are able to solve problems?  How often do you call your company’s center to test their responsiveness? When was the last time you called your competitors Call Center and compared them to yours? Is the Call Center treated as a Cost Center or a Sales Saver Center? How is the Call Center staff levels determined? Does the coverage correspond with the day and times that your products are sold and / or used the most?


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Bill Stuart

Bill Stuart is CEO of Stuart & Associates, a retail consulting firm specializing in Sales and Margin Growth Programs and Returns Reduction Programs.

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