Customer relationship: availability

Say you post on a Facebook page of a business or a government organisation or @-mention them on Twitter. How long do you expect it can pass until you receive a reply from them? Are your expectations different if instead of contacting them on social networks you e-mail them?

I’ve found that businesses and organisations, on their venture to provide their customers with exceptional service, tend to send contact-us-between-8-and-17 signals across their social network profiles. They have set hours that they want to be expected to be available on the social networks.

Whether this strategy is something that serves the interests of the customers and public is arguable. The nature of social networks is fast. Speed and relevancy are never to underestimate in the relationship with your customers. If you know your customers are prone to contact you between 17:00 and 18:00, but you make a conscious choice not to serve them after 17:00, you should better have very good reasons for your actions (or rather inactivity).

Another aspect of the nature of social networks is that they are interactive. So, neither is dialogue to underestimate when it comes to customer service and experience. Take note of the behaviour your customers exhibit. Come to an agreement as to what works best for both your organisation and them.

Your customers are in for a relationship, make the most of it. Do not be afraid to show that things might have been going too fast, and that you wish to slow down. If you aren’t ready to take things further and at the same time are sincere about your motives, you might have a future with your customers.

On the other hand, if you are indeed ready to move past the acquaintance stage and on to the first base (I might be pushing this relationship metaphor too far, but bear with me) with your customers, be honest about why you choose to make yourself available in the evenings and on the weekends. Only make sure beforehand that you both are running the same race at the same pace.

Communicate with your customers using the channels they prefer, part 2

Last week, I started thinking about how your customers’ choice of the channel of communication can be a helpful source of insight. For example, many enquiries on the selection of your products via telephone might be a pointer at the inadequate product description on your website. So, your customers’ behaviour bears a lot of ideas for our channel strategy.

However, your channel strategy is a tricky business. On the one hand, you want to meet your customers and provide them with the best service where they are. On the other hand, if your customers prefer meeting in person to calling you on the telephone, you might end up paying big money for little value. Now, I’m not saying meeting your customers isn’t worth it. You must nevertheless be aware of when and how you provide your customers with service.

For a local government organisation, their service to the public (the “customers”) is a perfect arena for channel management. How much does it cost for you to answer a public enquiry via e-mail? What about telephone? How short should an average telephone call be for you to not waste money? How long should it be for you to satisfy your customer?

Private sector is probably in a tougher spot compared to the public sector. The latter can claim taxes paid by their “customers” as the best grounds for limiting the public’s access to the communication channels that are too expensive. Is this the main reason for many forms of citizen self service?

While I believe you should communicate with your customers using the channels they prefer, you should understand how different channels work, be aware which channels benefit you and your customers in the long run and act according to your customer service goals. Because your goals include customer service, right?

Communicate with your customers using the channels they prefer

Do you pay attention to the behaviour of your customers? Have you ever thought of what their preferred choice of communication channel can tell you? If you have, are you listening?

There’s a danger that how you treat your customers is directly guided by what your management deems important. Eliminate obstacles to efficient modus operandi and you can focus on providing sensational customer service, right? Wrong! Backing the wrong horse will not help you win the race.

If your customer tweets to ask you something, make sure they get the service they deserve (and more) on Twitter. If your customer contacts you via the phone, make sure you are ready to take care of them via the phone. You get the idea. Do you get 500 @-mentions and 100 phone calls a day? Time to set your customer service priorities straight! Your customers are showing you how they want to be served, which is a great source of insight. Don’t clog it!

What if the medium limits you in what information you can disclose openly? Do not just refer your customer to other channels, but explain why you can’t (and not “won’t”) answer their question, too. Be on their side. Don’t just serve them. Attend to them. Nurture them. Nurse them. Give them love. Your customers reaching out to you do not need an answer to the question. They crave a relationship.

A well nurtured relationship with your customer makes them come back for more dragging a couple of friends with them. A neglected relationship makes sure you lose ten to twenty other customers, whom you haven’t met. You don’t want to let that happen, do you?

One stop to happiness

In Sweden, there’s a general mistrust of the public sector in general and the municipalities in particular. To put it more precisely, people do not trust the competence of those employed by Sweden’s “lower-level local government entities.” It is most probably characteristic of other countries as well though, and not just Sweden.

The mistrust is best revealed and observed at the first point of contact between the municipality officials and the public in need of service. Usually, it is a kind of a customer service centre called “One stop shop” or “One stop centre”. (It is safe to assert that the one stop centre trend has been soaring over Sweden for the past several years. Skellefteå started it, I guess. The project Innoveta continued.) Both links are in Swedish.

The name of such centres in the English language has been amusing and intriguing me for some time. One stop. The idea is that regardless of the nature of one’s enquiry or its inherence in the organisation of the municipality, the public can get their questions taken care of only having to contact the local authority once.

One stop. The idea is fairly complex. Before one can fully buy it (as if it were a goal in itself), I believe, one needs to get the answers to the questions regarding knowledge management, case management, channel management, etc. On a totally different level, the idea is straightforward, too. The public sector pride themselves in customer-centric perspective. It is therefore natural for them to see the benefit of say cutting on administration to pursue efficiency for the sake of the public’s gain.

On a quite subjective and somewhat unexperienced level, I’ll be touching on different issues of establishing and running a one stop centre within the coming couple of months. More specifically, I am interested in operations and operational (business) development of one stop centres, which will probably lead me to consider the role that self-service plays in the interaction between the local government and the public.