Ignoring Customer Service?

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There are so many places that feedback arrives from your customers that it is hard to capture them all. And while it is important to focus on the key sources of feedback it is equally important to not cut yourself off from valuable insight which you did not anticipate.

To put this in focus here are some questions to think about:

  • What is the most common complaint your business gets?
  • What was the source of that complaint?
  • Where are they in the life-cycle of a customer?
  • Are the common complaints different from different sources / stages?

That last one might need a bit more explanation. What I mean is, are the complaints of prospects the same as that of new customers, existing customers and customers who are leaving or who have left your business?

Different sources for the various stages in the life cycle of a customer often produce different problems.

The key here is to use input from the various stages of the customers lifecycle to understand what is actually going on. Historically salespeople and sales teams are good at recording feedback from prospects particularly when a sale has been challenging or met with considerable resistance. While this is good it is not the only source available to you in understanding what problems plague customers.

Beyond sales we can look at how marketing teams are listening to feedback from prospects and during the decision journey through to the point where they convert and become customers. Most often the feedback given to marketing is managed and understood with the same discipline as sales teams. However, because of the greater reach of marketing and the typical lowered level of feedback, the comments and complaints coming in are often a very small subset of the reach out. Again this is not a problem it is just something to be aware of in that it limits what you can know about the challenges facing your prospects.

The third area I want to call attention to is customer service. Here the diligence of incoming messages is most often the opposite of what happens in sales and marketing. The effort to reach out to customers and solicit feedback doesn’t seem to include the customer service experience for most organizations. Typically what happens is customers with issues, problems or situations to resolve contact customer service and in the process of resolving said issue they provide feedback that is most often never captured. If it is captured is seldom shared with anyone in the organization properly address the situation. If it is shared it is likely ignored.

The support or service team is quite often very closely connected to the rest of the organization. This means that the flow of information from customer experiences easily happens back to the rest of the organization. In the small and early stage companies this can provide a great source of feedback, insight and ultimately competitive advantage.

As organizations grow larger, the isolation between customer service and the rest of the organization increases. Despite the fact that many of these same organizations record customer calls (supposedly) for “quality and training purposes”. Personally I’m never certain what kind of quality or training they are using this material for as the majority of times I have been on the calling end of that equation nothing really seems to change.

But let’s not just focus on my experience!

Contact on LinkedIn (let’s call her Barbara) reached out to me with a challenge that her organization was facing. They had noticed an increase in customers cancelling their services. They were unclear as to what was the cause for the increase in cancellations. Barbara explained that customers cancel their service on the phone or online were asked for comments and for the reason they decide to cancel. Unfortunately, most of them did not give much in the way of explanation as to why they cancelled. When they did give a reason it often seemed as if it was not very significant in the overall scheme of things.

I asked Barbara what was the most common cause of cancellation in the prior year. She said the most common reason given was that they were no longer interested in using the service. I asked her what follow-ups were done with those customers to try and determine what was actually happening.

At this point she looked a bit embarrassed and said “really we don’t do much in the way of follow-up. They left and they are gone, that’s it.”

“So what has been the more recent feedback” I asked.

“It has been largely the same” She replied. She went on to say that they really couldn’t see a difference except that people were cancelling the service at nearly double the rate that they were only six months ago. As we delved further into the situation it became evident that her organization had not spent much time at all trying to determine why people actually cancelled the service. At this point I asked her how of the customer calls were recorded. She explained that all calls to the service team were recorded and kept. When I pressed her for what was done with these recordings she stared at me blankly.

“They are for training use”

“What kind of training and with whom?” I enquired.

She explained that they used them whenever there were complaints about a specific customer service agent or an unusually high number of requests for a manager to get involved in a call. I wondered if anyone from marketing or upper management ever receives summaries or briefings of these calls. To which she answered “No. they are just used in Customer Service.”

I suggested to her that she go back and review customer calls of any customer who canceled their service over the last six months. She expressed her concerns as to how many calls that could be and how much time that might take. I pointed out to her that if there were a lot of those calls then obviously it is really important to do this analysis. Clearly customers were telling  you something that you were not seeing otherwise.

We setup a process to review and analyze those calls. That exercise took nearly 3 weeks to complete. By the end of it what they had established is that most customers cancelling their service recently had been having a number of problems with the application that began eight months prior. This came after a seemingly small but important feature change in the product. Evidently this change had led to a considerable amount of frustration on behalf of some of their users enough so that many of them had gone looking for alternative solutions. And when they found alternative solutions they jumped ship.

Many of those customers who later discontinued their service didn’t state the real reason for cancelling, you had to look back into the history of their calls to customer service to see what problems they were really facing. In some cases listening to the calls betrayed the frustration in their voices even when the words didn’t say it. They were definitely angry.  But they were mostly lashing out against service and support issues rather than actual core problem which was a software change.

Ignoring Big Data

It’s often surprising to me how much information is collected by organizations and never used.

In the era where big data is all the rage, too many organizations approach it as big collection and big ignore. The real goal is not to collect a lot of data the real goal is to understand what’s happening, as quickly as possible.

One of the most interesting things that came out during this project was even before the review of the customer calls have been completed numerous customer service representatives had already told me what the problem was. The people on the front lines of support knew well what was causing people’s frustration. The new the software change had not been well received by the customers. They didn’t need to listen to the recordings. They had been part of them. They experienced why customers were leaving.

But of course nobody asked them and there was no process for collecting and analyzing the situation until it escalated into a full-blown loss of revenue.

Too bad it’s really hard to get customer back once they leave. Too bad they didn’t use all those channels of listening and all the insight of the people doing the listening. Too bad that information did not get back to their product development team to let them change course.

Too bad but all too common.

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