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Customer service on a shoestring

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The economic climate in South Africa can be comfortably described as volatile and, finding ways to entice new customers has never been more important. The cost of capturing customer attention in an already crowded market space is challenging as businesses are struggle to find a balance between sustainable growth and cautious control.
The line is fine, especially when it comes to building and retaining customer relationships. Customer service can’t come to a halt when the economy does, so how do organisations stay ahead?
“As much as organisations like to build these perfect customer service environments, ultimately the costs involved remain a grudge expense,” says Jed Hewson, co-founder and joint-CEO, 1Stream.
“Most companies would rather spend as little as possible on customer service, which means that in tough economic times, they come under pressure. The organisation has to ensure they are investing enough so that customers receive an acceptable level of service. They also need to do so while not wasting money on the services they don’t need.”
The business must measure the volume of work required to retain and engage the customer and match this to supply. In the call centre environment this is vital. If supply versus demand is incorrectly assessed, customers either get poor service or agents are left tapping their fingers. Either way, both lose the business money.
“The contact centre needs to be structured in a way that allows you to identify who the profitable customers are, and which should receive superior support,” adds Hewson.
“Uber’s system is an excellent example — rate your agents and your customers and then match the two. Contact centres can then be structured around those customers that deliver longer term value.”
The call centre is already rating people at some level, so introducing this measure will not only improve insight into the customer and costs, but the levels of service. It’s a strategic step that will support the organisation in matching investment to budget without compromising on quality.
There is also complexity around determining investment into customer service channels and which are the most relevant for the organisation.
“We have noticed that there is a trend towards organisations hiding their telephone numbers and email addresses, forcing customers down a particular channel,” adds Hewson.
“Ideally, the business needs a variety of channels so that the client can pick the one they most prefer. However, some organisations are reluctant to include additional channels to cut costs and hassle.”
The channel dilemma is further compounded by the competition. If the other market leaders are offering their customers a plethora of channels to choose from, you don’t want to be the one with a limited bouquet and a frustrated customer base.
“While times may be tough, the business shouldn’t be taking away contact channels,” says Hewson.
“People expect options. There isn’t much in the way of customer loyalty anymore, so customer service needs to be the one thing the business gets right. There is no shortcut to achieving that either. You need the right people who are appropriately trained, using the right technology that is managed correctly.”
The time is right to properly integrate customer service to maximise customer retention in a market that is redefining loyalty and volatility. With the right tools, support and investment, the organisation can distinguish itself through the level of support it delivers.
And, in a world where there are thousands of companies selling the same services to the same market, customer service is the differentiator. It may not cut costs, but it can see sustainable business growth despite economic hardship.