The headlines are rife with stories of outraged and disenfranchised customers. Whether it is airline passengers being involuntarily removed from the aircraft, cable TV customers adrift in a sea of failed billing practices, utility customers unable to comprehend their bill, or someone waiting in line at the DMV, the fact is that many customers are feeling exasperated and disenchanted with the companies and service providers they interact with. All too often the worst is expected. In fact, anticipating a bad or broken service has become the norm.
A colleague and I both needed to change our return plane tickets for a pending business trip to different return dates and locations. My colleague got around to changing her ticket a few days before me. Both of us booked at the same time using the same company credit card. Yet, when my colleague changed her ticket, she did not have to pay any change fee. In fact, she received a small refund because of the fare difference. I went online to change my ticket and saw that I had a $180 change fee due. I was perplexed.
I decided to phone and speak to a customer service representative (CSR). When I did get through, the representative proceeded to share with me that indeed I did have to pay the change fee. I was confused and asked the representative if she could help me. My colleague booked at exactly the same time, using the same credit card and she was able to change her return without any fee. I expected her to say that she had no idea and she could not assist me. Instead, she took me by surprise and said, “Let me look into that for you.” I never expected to hear those 7 words. She put me on hold for a few minutes while she checked with her supervisor. As I waited on hold, I was sure that I would be hung up on, disconnected or if she really did check with her supervisor, she was just going to come back and say that my colleague should have paid the change fee, and I will need to pay it.
Instead, I was pleasantly surprised when she came back on the line and said that her supervisor agreed to waive the change fee in this case. And so my ticket was changed without any penalties, and I also received the refund from the fare difference. I was truly surprised and delighted.
It amazes me that I expected to feel devalued, and as one customer calling late at night to an offshore outsourced call center, I was expecting to be made to feel unimportant and just another caller.
Instead, this company, this rep, this supervisor, made me feel so much more than just a number. They grasped the significance of this one interaction and saw this as an opportunity to connect with me on a truly personal and emotional level. I was frustrated and my expectation was altered. I was being asked to pay for something when my colleague received a different service, despite us having the same ticket and the same change.
The reality is that every interaction is a real opportunity for that company to connect to their brand value and make that personal connection better with their customers.
These opportunities should never be tossed aside for the sake of efficiency and process. Think about these 6 steps in order to help you create a more powerful connection with your customers:
1. Real – responses must be based in a real-world context, not an idealized business process or rules based space.
2. Trust your front-line staff to interpret the situations and make decisions that are customer-centric.
3. Personalize – the information to allow for consideration of individual choices and circumstances.
4. Empathetic –. If our CSRs lack the technical knowledge or authority to make decisions, then this leads to frustration. Decisions and outcomes need to consider the underlying visceral response from the customer
5. Consistent/Fair – the processes need to be across multiple situations which should be applied in a similar way.
6. Correct – right first time, all the time. Nothing frustrates a customer more than having to return again and again to solve one problem.