While researching a service online recently, I submitted contact forms to a couple of well known local businesses – I was frustrated by the fact that it took four days for one of the firms to contact me…and I’ve yet to hear from the other one.
More and more people are using online search to find products/services to meet their needs. As communication becomes more “instant” with the growth of tools like Twitter, are consumers expectations with respect to service delivery becoming more demanding?
Are some organizations failing to adjust to the new speed of communication? If so, what can companies do to bridge the gap between consumer expectation and service delivery?
One prevailing notion about the web is that it has made consumers more impatient. Based on my experience, this could be true – I was expecting a response from my online inquiry within 24 hours. However, if this is the online service dynamic, shouldn’t businesses be prepared to deliver on the implied expectation?
William Howard, Owner of William Howard Marketing and Marketing Communications in Charlotte, North Carolina, has had similar online service experiences, often leaving him feeling frustrated and disappointed in the company he’s trying to connect with.
“In the fast paced technological environment we are in, people want a response to their inquiry and they want it within a reasonable time frame,” says Howard. “One of the worst things a company or individual can do is not respond to inquiries. If you solicit an inquiry and then ignore it, or take too long to acknowledge it, you are sending a powerful message – You just told (your customer) they are not important.”
Brent Vinthers, a Client Services Representative at Target Internet Development Corporation in St. Catharines Ontario, has experienced repeated service problems and has a hard time understanding how companies doing business online can be successful when they don’t get back to people in a reasonable amount of time.
“The maximum about of time to provide a good customer experience would be 24 hours,” say Vinthers. “Although…this is changing with twitter and online chat. I recently inquired about a Microsoft product and was able to chat with a rep online within 30 seconds – I was impressed to say the least”
Jennifer Nemes, a Marketing & Sales Associate at CB Apparel in Spokane Washington, feels it’s important to acknowledge customer requests and make a connection as soon as possible.
“We receive customer comments or questions daily and funnel them through a single customer service agent who receives them in email,” states Nemes. “Customer service email is checked throughout the day and responses are expected same day, 24hrs at the longest.”
Online service gaps seem to develop as a result of:
- systems issues
- unclear service delivery expectations
- insufficient training
- departmental/inter-departmental communication (for larger organizations)
- time management (for entrepreneurs/small businesses)
“The problem begins at the top,” says Howard. “Companies who put inquiry forms on their websites often fail to put a system in place to cover all inquiries. Those who respond need to be trained and motivated to respond within a specified period of time.”
Howard goes on to say that developing online touch points with the expectation that they will become self managed is mistake that can prove costly.
“Merely having a form on the web and advising customer service to respond to inquiries is not enough. Each and every solicitation for an inquiry must be backed by a solid plan of action on the part of the company and be monitored for effectiveness.”
Ashok Neelakanta, COO at i-Vista Digital Solutions Ltd in Bangalore India, believes that the fundamental problem (for mid-large organizations) is related to a culture of operational silos.
“The person who sets up various online mechanisms might not be responsible for addressing queries and, hence, causes the gap,” says Neelakanta. “In addition, marketers are chasing trends and setting up interfaces in every available online venue…perhaps not realizing the bandwidth required to service consumer needs (through multiple channels).”
Bridging the Service Gap
Gregg Van Voorhis, an Operations Manager at the Bureau of National Affairs Inc in Washington DC, runs a call centre that recently migrated from a customer service email system to web forms because clients complained of gaps in service. Gregg’s team had issues tracking who picked up each e-mail from a group mailbox, who responded and when. As a result it was difficult to improve customer satisfaction.
“Before jumping to web forms I had one key requirement,” said Van Voorhis. “Although it was easy to merely direct a web form to an e-mail address, the key factor was to instead direct it to a database with work flow
capabilities. Now the following takes place:
- The customers receives an immediate “Thank You!” e-mail to let them know their request was received
- The response also includes estimated response time, our hours of operation and a phone number in case they prefer to call
- The request is categorized based on where they found the form, what form they chose and various responses to fields on the form. It is then prioritized
- Based on the priority a notice is automatically sent to at least one staff member’s and at least one manager’s personal e-mail
- The inquiry is date/time stamped
- Each category has a threshold for responses. If the customer has not received a response by the threshold, the staff and manager(s) receives another e-mail.”
The technology to implement an effective online customer service system exists. Whether it’s a full scale enterprise solution or a simple system using PDAs – the challenge lies in understanding the service expectations of the online consumer and making the commitment to deliver on your service promise.
“The impact on customer satisfaction is immediate,” says Van Voorhis.
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