The Brutal Truth About Online Support – Part Two

Last time, we explored all the reasons why the online retail world has less than stellar customer support. I think most companies realize it when this is the case. I even think they try to fix it. But for some reason, the problem persists. Here’s why, and how you might be able to avoid it.

KISS – Always The Best Approach

I had a coach once who answered almost every question with the same abrupt answer: “Don’t be an idiot, use the KISS.” He was talking about the famous “Keep It Simple Stupid” system. Although I thought this coach was semi-insane, I think this piece of advice might be just what the coach ordered for most online retailers.

Many online retailers have sophisticated set-ups for their online support. They have invested a great deal of money in their communication systems for support. Many of these systems take months to install and get into place, and require highly qualified staff to make them run correctly.

All this sophistication looks great on paper and in the technical laboratory, but unfortunately, it’s not in the lab where most customer support takes place. I don’t want to stereotype all sophistication as problem-prone, but the fact is that this isn’t far from the truth.

Instead of relying on technology to make your support better, you may want to try to get quality people who are dedicated to making every customer satisfied. The simple concept of mandating this type of approach is lost on many online retailers, and it may be the single biggest reason why online customer support is less than what most customers hope for.

Revenue, Revenue, Revenue – All That Really Matters

Most online retailers fall into a group of companies usually referred to as “Dot Coms.” This means two things: They probably have a lot of funding (either public or private) and they are seeking the next wave of funding. I tend to see this as the double death of quality support. I may be off-base, but I believe the growth of the Internet has created many really bad companies. I don’t think most of them have any real plan for long-term success. Then they are driven by short-term revenue numbers and customer acquisitions. It’s all about making numbers now to either get them to an IPO or push the stock price up post-IPO.

Unfortunately, a high rate of customer satisfaction is not usually one of the numbers they are chasing. Venture capitalists tend not to look at customer satisfaction numbers with the same scrutiny they apply to revenue, margins, and customer acquisition costs.

I don’t fault VCs or investors for this approach. They are just trying to maximize their returns, and most of them are not long-term buyers. But this approach is not really meant to build customer satisfaction levels, and in many cases it hurts this effort. Companies sacrifice effort in the satisfaction world in order to reach their numbers in the revenue categories.

In general, there can be many reasons why online customer support isn’t getting better, but most of the reasons point to a business environment where it is not a priority. There is also a widespread penchant for seeking sophisticated solutions to simple problems. Until this overall approach changes, there will never be great online customer support, and you will continue to hear stories about unhappy online buyers.

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