Great Service Matters

A look at bad service and how to use technology to avoid it.

By Charles Groce, Head Engineer/Developer

According to a survey by market research firm Dimensional Research in April 2013, 24% of customers continued to seek out new vendor partners even after two or more years of having a good experience with a vendor. The same survey revealed that 29% of customers continued to avoid a vendor two or more years after having a bad experience. These two figures highlight the need not only to continually improve the relationships your company has with your existing customer base, but also highlights the need to provide continually great service.

Well, what is great customer service? I think it’s perhaps easier to answer this question through first identifying what is bad customer service.

Bad customer services is taking a day to return an email, when the customer wants an immediate answer but doesn’t have the time to pick up the phone.

Bad service is needing your customer to hold your hand during a process that they pay you to perform because of a lack of expertise on your end.

Bad service is providing inaccurate information to customers because the information is not available when it’s needed by the customer.

Bad service is requiring customers to use outdated file transfer technology like FTP and faxes, or even outdated versions of Java, when their usual setup works fine for everyone else with which they do business. Don’t make your customers use antique technology.

There is no magic bullet when it comes to providing great service and always getting it right, because providing great customer service isn’t something you can just plug in and make happen. It requires a change in company culture and outlook, and a common understanding among staff of the role of technology in helping your good company become a great company.

Two tools to help your company do this are Customer Relationship Management systems (or CRM technology) and a documentation system (or Wiki). And of course, the open source versions of these technologies are a great place to start because you can get started for free, that is without any licensing costs.

In addition to systems that satisfy the traditional informational needs of your shop, like billing, production, and shipping, your organization also needs documentation systems that allow staff to understand operational processes and to remember all sorts of customer-specific requirements.

Operational information is information that applies to all or some segment of your customers, which enables your staff to have an expertise about the nuts and bolts of the operation. An example of this type of information is customer service rep know-how of the FSC workflow requirements for your shop. This is where wiki software comes in.

Customer-specific information applies to individual customers. In addition to the traditional informational needs, like billing or shipping info, this includes atypical informational requirements, like design requirements, non-standard postal documentation requirements, etc. This is where CRM technology comes in.

Getting a handle on operational information and organizing customer-specific information effectively are problems facing all businesses, not just print. For this reason, print should look to open source to solve the problem.

A wiki is a documentation management system, which over time accumulates informational value on your company’s processes, procedures, and equipment. This of it as a search engine specific to your company’s information. When there’s a question by staff and it’s been properly documented, they can check the wiki and get answers in seconds on their own. This has all sorts of operational advantages, including providing a platform for self-support, for documenting compliance requirements, for knocking down information siloes, and for protecting your company against unexpected turnover.

I know from my experience as an IT Manager, it is not uncommon for a company to have one and only one person who knows how to use a particular kind of software or other equipment. When that person leaves the operation, for whatever reason, it can throw the company into crisis mode. Leveraging the wiki to document that expertise when it resides in your facility means being able to train others in such a way that an unexpected transition doesn’t affect the service you’re providing to your customers. This is the only way to create lasting value out of the expertise that resides in the heads of leading company personnel.

CRM technology, on the other hand, is how your staff become experts on customers and their needs. No company can afford to hire one customer service rep per customer, and at any rate if they could they shouldn’t. CRM technology can create a much better organized and efficient staff who have expertise in providing great service to a much larger number of customers than in the past.

Practically this means using the technology to remember and use unique customer requirements, such as pro forma invoicing or customer-specific non-profit mailing requirements. It also means accumulating a documentation base of the history of all of the important interactions your company has with its customers, especially when there are a problems. Nothing makes a customer who’s been through a relationship-straining experience with your company happier than seeing that you’re ahead of the problem next time around and are actually preemptively addressing it rather than pretending it doesn’t exist.

According to that same study by Dimensional Research cited in the beginning of this article, 69% of customers surveyed said that good customer service means quick resolutions to problems when they arise. Think about that for a moment. Those surveyed didn’t say good customer service means never having problems. Customers know problems are going to arise, but when they do arise, working with a partner who can solve that problem quickly is good customer service. Document your processes and share knowledge internally to raise staff expertise.

On the other hand, 72% of survey respondents said bad customer service means having to go through more than one customer service rep during the resolution of a problem. That is to say, customers want to work with a team of experts, not a team led by experts. Your company should adopt technology that helps you provide what your customers want: great service with a partner they can trust.

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