Are Your Customer-Facing Systems and People Meeting Expectations?

call center girl 300x200I just got a letter from my pharmacy, part of a top chain, saying that as part of an audit five months ago they found I had been overcharged by 33 cents, with the check enclosed. I’m sure it’s required by their insurance company or the government, or both. You can’t make up something this ridiculous. Can you imagine the time and money it took to find the error, authorize payment and get a check written?

What’s really ridiculous is that the company’s automated refill and texting system is a disaster.  The local drug store can’t explain why. An automated system sends out a text that says “Reply REFILL to fill your Rx now.” But if I call the store, they say nothing is due to be refilled. If I hit REFILL, the same day or next day, it’s filled and ready for pickup, 100% of the time. Just to see how far this can be pushed on two prescriptions, I have 180 days on hand for two refills. I discontinued automated refills rather than create further problems.

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You may be saying, “This doesn’t apply to my business.” I think however in the omnichannel world consumers are constantly comparing the performance, responsiveness and ease of use of all businesses. Do your customer-facing systems, procedures and people create a positive or negative shopping experience? And do negative experiences kill any further customer spending?

A recent report from IBM, sponsored by Bridge Solutions Group, shows how dramatically customer expectations are accelerating.

Here are a few recent client assessment findings and a few IBM observations:

  • Inventory Availability: As I have written in this blog before, inventory systems and item availability have become front and center customer-facing applications. The IBM study found 81% consider this so important they’d choose to shop one retailer over another based on this capability alone. Also, 78% of consumers want more than availability, looking for information such as limited quantities, call store to confirm delivery, etc. 
  • Time to customer: For one client we recently did a warehouse assessment and found their same day order cutoff was 2 p.m. The changes we recommended allow same-day shipping of 100% of the orders up until 5:30 p.m., a huge gain.  

But as the IBM study observes, the Amazon effect is driving customer expectations higher. It shows 72% of consumers now consider the availability of two-day delivery important when choosing whether or not to make an online or mobile purchase. Also 45% considered one or two-hour delivery to be important.

On a personal note, we had to buy a new refrigerator this week. An in-stock refrigerator from one of America’s big-box home centers will take seven days to deliver because they use outside contractors! So the item was in stock, but they offered very slow delivery.

  • Unresolved customer contacts: A client selling technical products with sales of $10 million annually ended up firing its call center director. When they started digging through their email system they found 700 unanswered customer emails. What controls do you have in place to prevent this from happening? What is your turnaround standard? Best in class is less than two hours. 
  • Shopping surprises: I was on a B2B materials supply website that offered the lowest price I could find for these commodity products. The problem is when I checked out they added a $20 handling fee. I’m out of here!  
  • Customer refunds: In an operations process assessment for an omnichannel apparel client, we asked how fast they process returns. The answer: “Customers get their credits and refunds within four weeks; sales are slow.” I told them that best-in-class companies have 48 hour turnaround times. By far most companies process all customer transactions in five days. 

What are your customers experiencing with your service? And how do you go about gaining insight in this area? Here are some practical steps you can take.

Analyze: There are a variety of ways to get a multi-faceted view of the customer experience, including:

  • Survey tools like BizRate Insights
  • Conducting data analysis on lost sales capture
  • Call and complaints logging and reporting
  • Abandoned cart analysis
  • Returns code reporting
  • Outbound telephone surveys
  • Call monitoring programs 

Shop your company: go through your call center and customer service. Check inventory availability, ecommerce and returns processing. What do you see from the customer’s perspective? What are areas have the highest need for change?

Listen to your customers: For businesses that rely on a call center, establish a lunch and learn session for executives and listen to customer orders and calls. Include your call center, fulfillment, inventory management, merchandising and marketing executives in this exercise.  Rate the calls for service level, new product ideas, etc. Have you fully empowered reps to serve the customer without transferring the call?

If you’re an ecommerce pure play, do you put sufficient emphasis on helping the customer through call center rep availability? Or do you let customers figure it out by floundering around themselves?

How can you get innovative with service functions within systems? Can your call center reps see into a customer’s shopping cart? Can they take control of the cart to help the customer complete the transaction?

Product is still #1 in my mind, but service is becoming the great differentiator. Perform an assessment of your customers’ service perceptions and realities and create a plan to make improvements. Your competition and the customer have brought about tremendous change in the omnichannel marketplace, which will only continue at a rapid place.

Curt Barry is Founder & Partner of F. Curtis Barry & Company

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