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Online Convenience Vs Old-School Customer Service

This is a guest post by Stan Greene.

We’ve all been there: stuck on the phone with a clueless “customer service” agent who knows close to nothing about you or your needs. After what seems like hours of being placed on hold, listening to god-awful elevator music, and talking in circles to different representatives, you end the call more frustrated than you began with. So, whatever happened to great customer service? The truth is, nothing.

E-Commerce And Customer Service

E-commerce and automation are often blamed for the death of stellar customer service. However, the truth is, they have made it more important than ever. How so? Simply because today, we no longer compete at a local level, we compete both nationally and globally. It’s no secret that our ability to shop around hundreds of options, in turn, makes markets more competitive, but it also makes it easier for those who offer really great service to stand out amongst the rest. Of course, customers want the convenience of online self-service, but it can’t be their only option.

Truly successful companies offer customers self-service options as well as access to employees who know their business and can successfully identify the customer’s questions and concerns; the data proves it. Research by Aberdeen Group found that companies who only interact with customers online, keep about 1 out of every 3 customers, compared with the 8 in 10 retained by companies who not only connect over the phone but in person as well.

Our industry is one in which physical communication is so important. Customers often want to feel the product in their hands and see it in person, not just on screen. Famous e-commerce shoe store, Zappos, faced the same problem as a startup–customers couldn’t try on the shoes online, so, Zappos made highly trained customer service agents easy to reach.

Zappos also gives these employees the freedom to do whatever it takes to help the customer build a relationship of trust and acquire customer loyalty to their brand. Even today, with more than $2 billion in annual sales, Zappos customer service agents have no scripts and no unbreakable rules. To date, their longest customer service call was over 10 hours long!

At Announcement Converters, we’re light years from evolving into a giant like Zappos, but our approach to customer service is much the same. We hire people who truly want to understand our customers and how they can meet their needs when nobody else can. With those smart choices in people, it’s all about empowering them to exercise initiative; whether online or in person and getting out of their way.

In other words, it’s simply recognizing that exceptional service is an economic necessity, not an expense. Lifetime customer relationships are at stake, so, the return on investment for providing consistently exceptional service clearly justifies the short-term cost.

As a result, we have many second-generation customers who consider “their” rep almost family. Other customers might order online constantly but might only speak with us once a year. That’s the reality of our business today. You can’t just offer online convenience or old-school “real-live” service–you have to offer both!

Author Bio: Stan Greene is the founder and president of Announcement Converters Inc. a specialty paper supplier. Before founding the company in 1972, he served in the U.S. Naval Air Reserve, graduated with an MBA from Columbia University, and worked on Madison Avenue in an advertising agency now made famous by the TV show Mad Men. Stan has been recognized for his adaptive and innovative leadership in an ever-changing industry. Announcement Converters roots stretch back as far as 1923 in New York City. Now based in Miami, the company is a leading force in the specialty paper and envelope supply business with thousands of customers from around the world.

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