Let’s state the obvious: Customer service sucks mostly everywhere.
For almost 30 years, business leaders have been treating customer service as a necessary evil. When analyzing a P&L, it’s clear that customer service is one of the largest cost centers so immediately it gets a target on its back for cost reduction.
Why isn’t customer service meeting the expectations of the consumer? Maybe the department is outsourced overseas, causing training challenges or a feeling of disconnect. Maybe customer service phone numbers are difficult to locate and interactive voice responses (IVRs) are used, like Fort Knox, to keep people from reaching a human being. Maybe representative training time has been cut. Whatever the deep cuts were, there is one thing for certain, you have a group of customers who are not as happy and loyal as they could be. Baby boomers and generations older than them control 52 percent of U.S. consumer package goods spending (and that will be 55 percent in three years).
For millennials, who grew up in an environment of DIY customer service, it may be hard for them to understand that this is a problem. Millennials grew up with new companies that don’t have humans providing customer service, like Google and Uber for example. This generation doesn’t need the same help getting up and running with services or learning about new features as older adults do. The older consumer often needs help getting familiar with new technology and needs support and encouragement to keep using it.
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Other than Zappos, known for going above and beyond to make customers happy, there aren’t many companies out there trying to wow customers with service. The door is open to use customer service to differentiate against competitors.
Part of the problem is viewing customer service only as a cost rather than an opportunity to gain the trust and loyalty of customers. However, for companies serving the older adult or senior market, customer service is a key driver of lifetime value. It extends beyond improving customer satisfaction to simply build loyalty. By establishing strong, trusted customer relationships, companies earn the right to create new products and services, and sell them to existing customers; therefore, increasing revenue per customer.
Here’s the catch: as companies develop a larger portfolio of products and solutions that need to be sold and serviced, the competency of the customer service team must also increase. Experts must be trained and able to make a complex array of solutions feel simple to the customer. What’s needed is a team that can evaluate customer needs and make sensible product recommendations for them that add value to their lives. A team that truly believes in the company mission and knows they are the company as far as customers are concerned. Can this type of team result from an outsourced operation overseas?
The savings that could be generated by outsourcing customer service are dwarfed by the value being generated by highly trained, caring, U.S. based service centers. This type of team should be seen as an investment in customer care and wellbeing rather than as an unnecessary expense.
Although great customer service can help brand reputation through loyalty and word-of-mouth, it isn’t necessarily a message that breaks through in consumer marketing, nor does it need to be used as a lead marketing message. It is an intangible benefit that is hard to drive purchase around but one that can and should be used as a differentiator and an investment.
So whatever has happened to your customer service department - whether they are across an ocean or just a separate part of the office -- take a look at what could happen by bringing them back into the company. Not just insourcing but truly integrating the team into your company culture. You may be surprised at the value that could be unleashed.