You purchase something and it doesn’t work, fit or match so you click on the customer support button onscreen and the ordeal starts. What you might expect to be something pretty straightforward, like in the ‘offline world’, turns into an experience straight out of Inception. Not only is it painfully complicated to navigate the endless variety of screens that you’re forced through and enter a mind-blowing array of information (that most often has already been captured) then, you need to print a packing list & shipping slip before repacking and taking whatever you purchased to a pickup point. If you’re lucky, a replacement unit can be sent immediately by the vendor but the majority of web merchants usually ask you to repurchase and then credit your account once the article you’re sending back has been received and inspected. Somewhere along this journey, you’ll probably receive upwards 5 automated (bot) emails and most likely a bundle of additional SMS from the vendor confirming steps in the process and frequently asking you how you ‘feel’ about the experience — before even receiving the article you purchased in the first place. Once you get your well-merited object and tried it out, you quickly forget about the hassle, enjoying your new something and moving on in your life but, never returning to that website again.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
When I pick up a new piece of equipment at my local bike store and it doesn’t work, I take it back, get a new one and off I go. I never feel bad and quite honestly, it’s often a pleasure. Sure you say, that’s because we’re in the physical world were this tight looped process can be easily executed. But that’s not all that happens at my favorite bike store. There are major differences that make this consumer experience truly enjoyable starting with the reaction of the store owner. His face, gestures and words of genuine sorrow convey immediate and sincere care about my problem and his following actions to replace the part often include adding a little extra (something he ‘knows’ I’d appreciate) quickly evaporate any bad feelings I have. But it doesn’t stop there. The next time I come in to just browse and ‘talk bike’ (which I and others do regularly), he ask’s about my new equipment, how it’s holding up and what it adds to my biking experience — this is key, he’s remembering my mishap and engaging with me and that makes me feel recognised and belonging to a ‘tribe’. And finally when I do repurchase something, often months later, he sprinkles in a discount or something equally rewarding, to compensate my time and disappointment from my previous purchase. These seemingly insignificant gestures and actions leave lasting impressions of true customer service and irreplaceable value, and strange as it may sound, all of these can be duplicated in the online world.
But they rarely are.
This is where a fathomless opportunity lies for e-Merchants and startups in practically any industry. One that no one ever talks about because it’s much (much) simpler to just plug in some brainless (but overrated) software that the whole tech sphere admires and hire someone who has no consumer passion themselves (but is a fashionable geek), make them responsible of your customer facing ‘brand’ and manage them with a few words of wisdom you copied from a slide pack circulating on some glitzy tech website and a slew of well-known KPIs to keep them in line. But countless meetings later and the whole company’s ‘mandatory needs’ compiled & woven into a nightmarishly complex knot, the customer becomes the aggressor and this is why support today is so dismal. True customer service has nothing to do with the above, it’s all about the emotion you want your customers to perceive when things go wrong, what they need to do to repair the mishap vs what your organisation needs and how you want them to remember your brand. And it can be achieved online but it takes ‘heart’ to build that experience and guide you through the steps. You have to start with yourself, how you feel when your purchase doesn’t meet expectations. Sure you can test the majors and even some of the newbies, those that publicise themselves as ‘best in class’ or ‘our difference is’, buy something and return it just to map the process, but unless you really care about what you’re doing, you won’t get the necessary ‘buzz’. Not until you’re child’s tears grab you in the gut, your spouses grin that the size is not right or when there’s no room available for your family planned vacation — then you’ll feel it.
The magic moment of ‘humanness’ can erase that sensation of deception, it takes a bit more time and skill to implement but the love and caring will carry your brand message forever and your customers will never forget it.