Customer Service Pays For Itself

I’m showing my age here, but I spent the 1980s covering the PC revolution. Sometimes the similarities with how today’s Internet is evolving are eerie.

It took five years, for instance, for many companies to develop professional help desks, staffed by respected people, making full use of the very technology these PC makers were selling.

The same is true on the web, and if you figure this medium got hot in 1995, you’re time’s up.

So maybe our own Tom Kuegler will become the Peter Norton of web help. He spoke on email customer service at the ClickZ Delivering on Email conference this week, and much of what he offered was both profound and obvious profound in the sense of this can really pay, obvious in the sense of “why didn’t we think of this before?”

“Customer service is part of the marketing department. That’s not how the org chart is set up, but it should be tightly interwoven,” he said. “Inbound email is a vital part of your marketing.”

If you manage your inbound help messages professionally, in other words, you increase sales, build loyalty, cut costs, and make your site better. “You have to deal with stupid questions. They’re at least important to the stupid people asking them. They might give you money at some point.”

The key to doing it right is a database, built by your customer service staff (not the IT guys), which takes in questions from all sources, turns them into trouble tickets, then uses the answers to improve a knowledge base which resides on your web site.

Next, he said, interface this with your auto responses using a mail merge. “Don’t have a standard autoresponse. Customize it. Mention the person who writes you by name. Give them a trouble ticket number. Add the problem to the auto response, and tell them in the message that it’s an auto response.” This message needs to get out within an hour of your problem’s receipt.

In a former life Kuegler ran for public office, where he learned the principle of “Three Magic Touches.” The idea is “if someone sees your name three times you’re 75 percent more likely to get their vote,” even if one mention is your indictment.

So apply this to your email help desk. After you send the auto response, “Have a customer service rep get back as fast as possible with a real answer. Then have a manager type a follow up afterward. That’s three touches.” Three touches will make for happy customers, who are more likely to be repeat customers.

Don’t just throw that database into a corner, either. The customer service department needs the power to use it and change your site.

Kuegler gave the example of Ben & Jerry’s. “Most people wanted to know when Free Cone Day was,” an annual promotion where people can get free ice cream. Making that more prominent on the site also “frees up customer support to deal with the personal, important questions,” he noted.

Kuegler called this “Phase Three” customer support, then polled his audience, revealing 86 percent of a fairly sophisticated group hasn’t gotten there yet.

It’s not easy or cheap to implement. “You need a suite of solutions, all working together, to inform a dynamic knowledge base,” he said. But the return on investment is awesome. Xerox cut customer service phone calls 25 percent, he said, and Interland cut them 58 percent, while making customers happier and more loyal.

If you want return on investment from email, in other words, but don’t think you need it because you’re not an editorial site, maybe this will change your mind.

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