Online customer service could be more important than offline

While many companies bend over backwards to set up systems that provide exemplary service to their customers in the real world, they are often at a loss as to how to manage customer relationships in an online world says SeeWhy Software's Charles Nicholls.
Written by Charles Nicholls, Contributor
Commentary--While many companies bend over backwards to set up systems that provide exemplary service to their customers in the real world, they are often at a loss as to how to manage customer relationships in an online world.

With more and more customers choosing to shop on the internet, providing the best online service is crucial to creating happy, loyal customers for a lifetime.

Customers judge your performance as a brand with every interaction, through all channels, including every click they make on your website. But online customer experiences vary dramatically from customer to customer based on a large number of factors. Unless you measure it, you don’t know what quality of experience your customers are having.

Are you measuring the right things?
Most companies today with any significant online presence measure lots of performance indicators, for example:

  • Server availability
  • Network availability
  • Application response time to a scripted transaction

But none of the typical measures, like these, actually measure individual customers’ experiences. At any given moment, the customers using your website will be experiencing a range of different qualities of service, and consequently will be going through a range of states of satisfaction.

Understanding the quality of the online service that each customer experiences or appreciating how each individual customer interacts with you online can be quite a challenge for any business.

There are many variables and dependencies, both inside and outside your organization, involved in providing a great user experience from your online application. But unlike the real world, in the online channel you can measure every interaction precisely from the customer’s point of view. When you do, it is very revealing – some customers are very negatively affected by what you may have thought were minor issues – because it is then apparent that problems rarely are distributed evenly across your customer base. What typically happens is a few unlucky souls get hit really badly, so your minor problem has a huge impact on the unlucky ones.

Taking action
Once you are measuring individual customer experiences, your next question is almost certainly what you are going to do about it. There are different courses of action that you can take:

  • Do nothing
  • Try to fix the problem that is causing the problem
  • Use the information to warn the call center that there is a problem
  • Update the customer records of those affected so that if they call to complain, the call center can respond appropriately
  • Proactively contact the customer to help them complete whatever process they were trying to do
  • Adjust the network infrastructure using the load balancers to route high value customers and critical processes to unaffected resources
  • Change the content on the site to show the individual affected customer that you are aware of the problem, and suggest an alternate channel

These types of actions fall into two camps: reactive and proactive. The reactive ones almost inevitably feel like you’re shutting the barn door after the horse has already bolted.

The proactive ones are a whole lot more exciting, and are revolutionizing the way that we interact with customers, particularly in the USA where customer service has more value than in many parts of Europe.

In order to act on individual customers’ experiences, though, you need to consider what the appropriate action is for that unique customer. Not all customers are equal, and high value customers will warrant different treatment from low value clients. For example, a high value banking client that abandons an online account opening process should be contacted by phone, within the hour, to offer to complete the process by phone. But a low value client will not warrant this level of service (and consequent expense) and will probably be contacted by email.

Event based marketing systems, enable organizations to communicate at the exact moment that the customer is most engaged and receptive to an online message. By responding automatically to the actions of individual customers in real time, such systems can monitor critical customer events in the context of the customer’s unique personal history and can automatically initiate a real time response on the website – via a CRM system, an email or a text message.

Fewer dissatisfied customers
This can revolutionize a customer’s experience by automatically initiating corrective actions in real time. By constantly monitoring at the individual customer and application level, you can automate an appropriate response to ensure that that poor experiences and revenue leakage are addressed immediately. By detecting and fixing poor website performance in real time, businesses will be able to stop revenue leakage immediately.

Charles Nicholls is CEO & Founder of SeeWhy Software, and author of In Search of Insight which can be downloaded free of charge here. You can also read his blog here: http://www.seewhy.com/blog/.

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