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For Online Businesses, 'Customer, Help Thyself' is New Rule of Thumb

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October 22, 2014

For Online Businesses, 'Customer, Help Thyself' is New Rule of Thumb

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

Customer service is extremely important to the continued operation of any business, a fact that has been widely accepted for quite some time now. Offering the best in customer service has a way of being repaid with customer loyalty, improved sales, and even some of the best advertising there is: unsolicited word-of-mouth. But the best in customer service can be expensive, especially when trying to provide it to a changing market that demands such developments. However, a new report from details something of a new movement in customer service: offering customers the necessary tools to better serve customers.

Yes, helping the customer to help him- or herself is a rapidly growing development of late, and the report details this well. Specifically, the report notes a particular website that focuses on customer service. Operated by the Patricia Seybold Group, the site details how to make an organization truly focused on the customer. Since Seybold—founder and CEO—has an extensive background in computers and customer service, the information should have particular value.

Most recently, Seybold examined 16 separate case studies from major customer service-heavy organizations like, American Airlines, and Wells Fargo (News - Alert), among others. The studies in question worked together to illustrate a set of eight principles that can apply throughout  e-commerce, that in turn make customers more likely to work with a company.

Easily one of the biggest principles was that idea of self-service, of allowing the customer to handle some of his or her own issues. If customers have access to the necessary information that allows said customer to resolve many of those problems—issues related to product composition, product availability, pricing and so on—the customer gets answers, and also saves the business both time and money. For instance, every week, Dell (News - Alert) saves about $8 every time a customer doesn't call the company to check on an order's status. But every week, around 25,000 Dell customers check order status online, which means that Dell itself is saving about $200,000 a week by not handling order status calls. Yet each of those customers is, essentially, more satisfied than when said customers came in. This leads into another point about how the customer experience provided is the company's message.

It's one thing for advertising to tell customers how much the business cares about its customers, but if the customer experience doesn't match up, few will believe the advertising over the experience. Finally, consider adding means to allow customers to not only help themselves, but also help each other. Customers know product as well—sometimes even better—than call center employees, so if there's a messaging setup to allow customers to ask product-related questions of other customers, someone who had a similar experience can ring in. This shouldn't be left in isolation, of course, so as to not leave flawed or even false information in play, but in many cases, customers can help customers as or even more effectively than the call center can.

It's a rational enough viewpoint, at least on a certain level. The more that the customer can do, the less that the call center will have to do for the customer. That means staffing levels can be, potentially reduced or otherwise repurposed, and those calls that do reach the call center will be those calls that are most urgently needed or most require sheer expertise to work through. That's a valuable development for businesses—Dell alone proved that point out—and one that's well worth a second look.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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