Don’t be an idiot...listen to your customer

7.26.2013

listen

Every now and again I come across a startup or smaller company that has a cool product to sell. They have slick websites with eCommerce capabilities, social tie-ins, lots of rich content, along with a support tab. I usually go to their support section first: I want to see what type of experience they are offering their customers. Are they open and transparent? Are they allowing the community to engage in the discussion? Or are they top-down, heavy-handed, old-school.

The other thing I look for is a phone number, and perhaps more importantly where that number is displayed.

Is it on a product page, to contact sales? Do they also show it on their support tab? Or is it buried somewhere under Company or Contact?

Within an instant, I’m forming an opinion on your business, your values, your culture, and how you treat your customers. If you prominently display the number and don't force me to go through a ton of hoops to access it you are basically telling me: I am here for you.

If, on the other hand, you hide the number in some hard-to-find page, in 6pt font, and make me fill out a bunch of forms before I have the “privilege” of speaking with someone...well then you, are telling me

  • you don’t want my call
  • go away
  • stay the fuck away
  • take your business, your ideas, your request elsewhere

Ever been to a Nordstrom? Buying something there is pretty cool. Each representative has their own business card, with their phone number and email address. They even write down their cell phone number on the card and tell you to contact them directly.

But you know what’s even more amazing: returning or exchanging an item. You know why? Unlike every other department store, there is no Customer Service department. Every sales representative is also a Customer Service rep. You can walk up to any person and they will take care of you, right there, without you finding the 3rd floor Customer Service department, hidden way in the back (you know what I’m talking about, usually behind housewares or the luggage department.) Ever notice how the customer disservice department is set up? Like a prison waiting area! Not very inviting at all.

The thing is that Nordstrom figured out that interacting with customers is a strategic asset. The representative can determine what the problem is, how bad is it, will it create churn (meaning will the customer stop shopping there), or if there’s an opportunity to salvage the sale, perhaps through an exchange. More importantly, they can spot patterns, in quality, design or fit issues, and take quick, corrective action like sharing their insights with merchandisers and buyers.

Talking to your customer is not a privilege you afford them. It’s an invaluable opportunity to listen. To engage. To understand. While I don’t expect big businesses to understand this, as they have foolishly chosen to outsource and even negatively incentivise their support organization (like: how quickly can you get them off the phone!), it really kills me when I see startups and innovative small businesses follow this practice. When I ask them to explain their rationale its usually something like:

  • our customers don’t want to call us, or
  • it’s too expensive for us, or
  • we have really cool self-service tools, why would anyone want to call us

THIS MISSES THE FUCKING POINT!

What I am saying is that you should beg your customers to call you. It gives you a chance to ask them how the hell they’re doing. How the product is working out for them. Are they planning on expanding. Any ideas for new features.

ITS GOLD!!!!!

So my point is simple: treat your customer service tab the same way you would for your most expensive “enterprise” product page. Proudly display your phone number and make sure someone picks up the phone in a timely manner when it rings.

Your customer is calling you.

Thank them.

Shervin @calitalieh

PRO-TIP: Be authentic. Trash the call script. Forget about meaningless metrics like AHT (how long the call lasted). Help them and they will pay for your product PLUS tell their friends how awesome you are.

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