I participate in a lot of big discussions where executives generate plenty of ideas about how to use digital means to improve processes, reduce complexity, get more transparency, tackle the challenges they see in markets, and, last but not least, improve customer relations. When senior management talks about technologies, I hear words like Industrial Internet of things (IIoT), minimum viable product (MVP), Net Promoter Score (NPS), and agile, but one of the most discussed topics is certainly customer intimacy.
Discussions are wide, wild, and often end with bold, breathtaking visions that leave you with the feeling that the organization is on the brink of change. In many cases, people leave the meetings and update their teams and circulate PowerPoint presentations, and the spirit of change becomes vivid. Excitement is all over the place!
In the other extreme, that people realize that executives are talking and shaping the future, but nobody gets any information. I imagine this sounds familiar to you.
The extra mile
Most of the customer-facing projects I see are in sales, which is a very important area because a company needs to sell the products it produces to survive and grow. But what about communications, marketing, supply chain, customer service, and all the other areas a company needs to deliver an end-to-end service that puts the customer at the epicenter of the business?
While most of the companies I talk to agree with this assessment, customer service is usually seen as something that “just needs to work.” It’s something that costs money and, ideally, could be reduced to a budget and headcounts. It has been unusual to see chemical companies go the extra mile and walk in the field of customer service or, as I call it, “the field of gold.”
Nothing much has changed; customer service in the chemical industry today is mostly the same as what we knew 20 years ago. Customers keep asking the same questions, problems and issues are solved using the same processes, and arguments against putting more effort into creating an exceptional customer service have been around for decades. Workarounds are everlasting and will be for the next couple of years.
This will be the same until it is widely accepted that customer satisfaction is different from customer loyalty. Customers today can use plenty of channels to share their bad experiences and their future expectations. Companies keep saying “we know our customer,” and use this “knowledge” to start, lead, and implement projects. In the end, customer service has to carry the burden of premature assumptions and customer-decoupled ideas.
“Saying ‘I’m sorry for the inconvenience’ many times doesn’t fix the fact that your process is a mess and you are not addressing it even now.”
― Daren Martin
The place loyalty is born and maintained
While customer service is one of the best ways to generate or keep loyal customers who come back even if the overall experience was not free of friction, companies keep viewing with a mindset of cost-saving and efficiency. On average, it takes seven minutes to respond to a customer service email with a requested document. Sometimes an employee doesn’t have access to the most current version of a document; if the customer learns there’s an updated version, they’ll want to know why they were given outdated information.
Digitalization can help solve this problem, but please look at the situation from a customer’s perspective. There might be good reasons why your customer prefers to send an email, which takes 10 times the effort for your customer service to handle, than to use self-service.
How much insight do you have on your customer service performance and your customers’ satisfaction and loyalty? Compare these insights to other areas of your business, and ask yourself, why isn’t there much more?
Time for the red carpet treatment
Customer service is an area that can benefit tremendously from digitalization. Instead of forwarding emailed questions to someone inside or outside the organization, why not create a ticket and make sure the defined service level agreements are met? This can help you identify room for improvement. Imagine you can provide your customer with a solution right away, rather than telling them you’ve forwarded their email to someone else to answer, only to receive another email from them a few days later asking for the status, which you don’t know.
Constantly measuring customer feedback helps to ensure you are all set on your customer front line. Companies typically offer a large number of communication and interaction channels, and a few understand that customers will start using these very channels to ask questions that would be typically seen as customer service topics.
Products and technology are in jeopardy when assuming that selling is all that counts. The number of answered emails as a key performance indicator (KPI) is too old-school and not very insightful. Aim for the insights, for perfect issue handling, and for loyal customers.
Transform your customer service role from being a caretaker to a customer happiness officer. Think big and put your customer service into the context of your business growth strategy. Business transactions might come through your salespeople, but customer service plays an impactful role in the maintenance of the relationship.
Companies struggle to understand potential new services and solutions. Using the argument, “we use digital methods to do recurring tasks so you have time for more valuable work” is not easy for people to buy into. Why not position your customer service in such an impactful role? They might be a good source of information to help fill your business development pipeline.
Many chemical businesses are not huge producers selling to huge customers. Many important customers are family-owned and well-structured, and people in these types of businesses talk to each other, sharing their experiences, opinions, and vendor employees’ names. Make sure your customer service is well-positioned, equipped, and connected to your overall strategy. This is all about business growth, customer satisfaction, and customer loyalty; efficiency comes as a side effect.