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Nikolai Onken

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A little gesture to get customer support right

Customer support can be an incredibly tough thing to get right, no matter whether for a small startup or a large corporation. It is not only tough because:

  • real trouble often rises after a sale has been made, and once the money is in the pocket, there often doesn’t seem to be any incentive left to value good customer relationship.

but also because

  • support agents usually don’t have the means and mandates to solve real problems fast (think of first, second, third, etc. level of support).

Support done right and wrong

I want to show you two concrete personal examples of where I saw large corporations shine and fall:

1. A support team with mandate to fix problems and getting things done

Case:

I was about to fly together with my wife and (back then) 6 months old daughter. We could not book seats because of some technical issue and were left having to sit in some crappy spot in the plane, potentially being very annoying for the rest of the passengers (we all love screaming babies don’t we?). I contacted support by phone, then contacted the social media team and went back and fourth a few times. A few hours later I got a call from one of the agents and she stated that it was very complicated to get this sorted out, that they had to do quite a few calls, and in the end literally had to call the airport crew to make it happen. Nevertheless, all was sorted out, we got great seats, and they wished us a nice trip.

Result:

I was left as a happy customer, was looking forward to the trip and probably ended up being a lot more loyal than before.

2. A support team with no mandate to act when things have gone bad

Case:

I made a delivery appointment with a courier delivery service for them to drop off a package the next day. When I checked the status online next morning, I saw that they’ve sent it back to where it came from… The reaction I got from their agent was that they are sorry, but that they can’t do anything about it. All I could do, was to file a complaint by snail-mail (with what result exactly?) and contact the sender to send again.

Result:

I will very likely avoid doing any business with that company in the future.

A very small gesture is all it takes

Sometimes there literally is nothing you can do (very very few times I believe) and this is your opportunity to shine and to make a personal connection with your customer to keep them on board. We all make mistakes, and we all tend to forgive when we feel that there is honest intend to making up for it. Maybe an odd comparison, but we know it from being in relationships: going through hard times will make your bond stronger many times.

Give away something for free! In the courier delivery companies case, proactively offer a free shipment next time I want to send something. In the airlines case (if they would not have been able to help) give us a free drink while waiting for checkin, or something when boarding, or even just say hello personally when on board and apologise for the problems.

You very likely have all customer data (name, address, preference, etc.) at your hand to create that personal connection so there is no reason for not doing it.

The effects would be very simple

  1. Your customer would leave the disappointing situation with a token of appreciation
  2. Your customer would very likely use your service again
  3. Your customers brand loyalty would very likely increase
  4. Your customer will probably share their experience with peers

Process driven support

It is clear, that you have to have processes in place when you are running a support department, but imagine you are in following situation:

Actually you made a mistake, but really can’t do anything about it.

If your staff is not able to act freely, and go to all lengths trying to keep a valuable (revenue generating) customer, then your processes are flawed. Support teams have to be able to pivot, act and react fast.

Your support staff will do much better work (and probably enjoy work a lot better) when they actually have the means to make customers happy rather than being the first line of defence.

So I ask you: Whether you are a business owner, support agent or coordinating a larger support operation, put something in place, for when you have made a mistake which you can’t really make up for. Think about how you can regain your customers loyalty. See this as an opportunity to create that special connection. Give people the next month of your service for free, or whatever would relate to your business.

What do you think, why don’t we see this more often? Which companies do you know off which are really bad at this, which ones shine?

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