Thursday, June 2, 2016

Reactive customer service is dead. Woohoo!

In 2013 BusinessWire published an article about how SaaS companies' customer satisfaction ratings were in short, 'dire' (not their word of choice - it's BusinessWire after all). And, while everyone can tell a tale of bad support they receive, it's harder to find ones of good support. And even when we do find them as testimonials, there's something that nags at people to gloss over it and look at it from the "well, they would post these wouldn't they?" standpoint. Around two months ago, Simon Ouderkirk who works for Automattic (who own WordPress), wrote a blog that helped add some cool perspective on things for us.

We're in full agreement with Simon, customer service is the last mile in service delivery. No matter how good a product or service is in terms of its functionality, if the customer service side of it sucks, odds are unless you operate in some very limited choice market, growth will be painful beyond words.

Top that off with clich├ęs such as "don't talk about yourself, talk about your audience" or "don't toot your own horn" and you've one of those times where it's okay to feel like you don't know whether to 'shit-or-wind-your-watch' when it comes to communicating with your customers. There is nothing wrong with highlighting the things you do well. Equally, there is nothing wrong with things you don't do well. There is no perfection; only a great balancing act that even Philippe Petit would be proud of.

"Sometimes we need someone to turn the flashlight on for us. Other times we need to turn it on for others."- Lizzie Velasquez

But the first thing to really achieve to overcome this is to shift the mentality away from 'talking to' your customers. Instead, realise what it really is; 'talking with' your customers. Your customers may be a business, whether it's a start-up or a giant monolithic corporation; from top to bottom, your customers are people. You talk with people.

Your customers while expecting great service most of the time want their providers to talk with them, not to them or at them. It's easy to find yourself like Tim Cook joyously pronouncing that you have Customer SAT scores of over 90% (kudos to them by the way - we've happy Apple users in-house here too), and you should celebrate your successes. But, your failures too deserve some acknowledgement. Not as a 'learning experience', as we find this can distract from building upon the successes but as a sobering reminder that a pat-on-the-back can sometimes feel a world away from a probably deserved ass-kicking. You've to accept these come as par for the course when you provide any service; free, freemium or paid.

Communicating is not talking. Talking is not communication

Customers of any kind will always have expectations. You will never fully meet them all. However, you can do alot to help your cause by making things feel, well a lot or a little less 'sucky'. The recipe for this is never a case of do X & Y and everything will be right like it's a mathematical equation that can be run as rinse-and-repeat. 

It is more about as much as possible where you can, implement a strong strategy of common-sense basics (despite the fact some would say the trouble with common sense is that it's not very common), and where you have a customer service interaction where it's one-on-one, whether a call or e-mail, that on the balance of things, most times you have the person on the other side leave the interaction with a sense of understanding'.

You can't always have them leave happy. Sometimes, bad news is delivered or an expectation can go unmet. But, you can help contribute to how the person feels leaving that interaction by paying attention to the person you've been talking with. It's so easy to view these interactions as 'customer communication' and while correct in most forms, it describes that interaction in a cold clinical manner, which is in effect the language of abject indifference. Communicating is not talking. Talking is not communication. One is not part of the other or vice-versa.

Your customer is not a dog you throw a ball to, and their wagging tail and enthusiasm is easily on display. The underlying relationship of understanding, transparency and trust is what allows any business to build relationships with its customers.

And in Simon's post, he talks about how the experiences we give our customers collectively as SaaS businesses being the last mile is ever more important. Getting customers is easy. Keeping them is another. Bells & whistles alone won't keep them. They're the value-adds for them. The service they experience interacting with your business is why they'll stay. 

Similarly, you can have exceptional reactive service to give to people, and yes that may put you ahead of your competition. It's so easy to become better at being reactive. Most times, someone else's successes pushes you to improve on this. But, this is again about building on weaknesses not strengths. By having pro-active customer service, you change the dynamic of interactions. They focus more on the importance of relationship building, and expectation management.

A simplified example of this is customers telling you there's a problem with your service, you thank them for telling you and fix it ASAP. Your responsiveness and ability to resolve that headache while welcome is nowhere as powerful and meaningful than telling them first before they find out.

StatusHub is designed to be part of your last-mile strategy to help with your customer retention, and building sales based on trust through transparency. For your free trial, sign up today - no credit card needed.