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While it’s good to see American Express picking up the slack for retailers’ weak returns policies, it shouldn’t have to come to this (Amex will provide a full refund for items purchased on the Web up to 180 days from the date of purchase):
Companies of all shapes and sizes (and especially online stores) have the opportunity to connect with us as consumers by providing great customer service – truly being there for us when we need them. However, it appears there’s a critical mass of online stores missing the boat!
I have a feeling American Express did their research and made a calculated move to become the surrogate-customer-service-provider for online shoppers unsatisfied with their current returns experiences. What a shame for all the e-retailers out there who are now sending us somewhere else for customer service…how exactly does that play into the whole “building long-term loyalty with customers” strategy?
When a company fails to meet market demands for a certain kind of customer service (in this case the time-frame to return a product), we’re forced to go elsewhere to get the kind of experience we want (and apparently will even pay for!). Seems crazy to me that companies would spend millions of dollars to get us to visit their stores (which they do) and hopefully get us comfortable enough to buy (which they sometimes do), just so they can send us away to a big name brand we already trust (Amex) to take care of our returns.
If I ran an online store with a return window of 30 – or even 90 – days, I’d spend the ten seconds this morning to update that number to at least 180 days. Those ten seconds could bring $10 million in lifetime sales back to a business by simply giving shoppers what they want – a flexible and consumer-friendly return policy.
I recently requested an invitation to try out a brand new banking service from a Brooklyn, NY based startup called BankSimple. About a day after requesting an invite, I received the following email:
I’m (Name Redacted), a Customer Relations Representative at BankSimple. Thanks so much for requesting an invitation to try out our service! We’re still planning and testing, but we’ll begin opening up BankSimple soon.
In the meantime, though, I’d love to hear your story. I want to hear from you, personally, about what you want from a bank: your loves, hates, quibbles, desires, hopes, and dreams regarding your financial life. Really: what’s on your mind, and what are you hoping for from BankSimple? We’re committed to building the best service we possibly can, and the only way to do that is to know what you’re looking for. So, what’s up?
We can’t wait to show you what we’ve been working on– and get your insight into how we can make it better.
Thanks again. Hope to hear from you soon!
Given that I NEVER speak to anyone at my current bank, a personal email from BankSimple asking about my personal finances was very impressive. When I enrolled at my current account, I vividly remember salespeople trying to up-sell me on products and services I didn’t need, with little to no consultation. Contrast that to the tone of the above email which is thoughtful and considerate. With that in mind, I most definitely plan on responding. I have no idea what’s in store from BankSimple, but given this consultative email, I’m very excited to find out.
The team here at STELLAService loves when companies display a color coded map of shipping speeds across the US. Not only does it do a better job of communicating shipping time than just plain old text, but it also gets customers to think more pragmatically about the reality of the fulfillment process. Customers sometimes lose sight that a package may have to travel thousands of miles to reach its final destination. It’s really an amazing feat and, thus, setting clear expectations is extremely important.
American Express released survey results last week concluding that “Americans will spend 9% more with companies that provide excellent service”. We’re suffering from a bit of deja vu here at STELLAService ( we released a similar study (in partnership with Ovum) this past March and reached an eerily similar conclusion).
All joking aside, we’re thrilled that American Express reached the same conclusion after conducting their own survey. Their findings provide further reinforcement that delivering excellent customer service is of the utmost importance to consumers and can positively impact a company’s bottom line. In the world of ecommerce, websites currently displaying the STELLAService Seal are taking full advantage of this fact by signaling to consumers upfront their commitment to excellent customer service. As if customers ready to spend more for great service isn’t enough, the study also found that people “spread the word willingly and widely when they experience good service”.
The Amex study was conducted in 12 countries (including the US) and produced some other interesting figures around customer expectations and the perception of customer service (to read the press release click here). To see the original STELLAService study click here.
Back in dark ages when you had to physically go into a store to get your problems solved or your questions answered, you were in the best possible position to be truly heard and understood by the company. Standing face-to-face with a CSR triggered that person’s need to completely understand you – your issues; your concerns; your demeanor; your nature; your personality; your needs; and the context of the situation – and then appropriately solve your problem in a way that best suited YOU, the individual. Since no two people are the same, it makes sense that no two customer service interactions were the same.
Fast-forward to 2010 and think about all the different mediums through which you can now engage a company for customer support: the store employees, phone, email, live chat, Twitter, Facebook, text/SMS, GetSatisfaction.com and other support forums. It doesn’t take much to see that there’s been a widening “understanding gap” between you (the individual customer) and the CSRs directed to serve you. When it would have been laughable to see a CSR try to repeat the exact same customer service interaction for multiple people that walked into his or her store in a given day, it’s now standard practice for e-mail and live chat support for many companies.
The test for today’s companies is whether or not they can stay committed to the concept of truly understanding the needs, wants, problems and required solutions for each individual customer. Technology can assist this process or work against it. It can be used to gain information about a customer’s likes, dislikes, preferred methods of communication, attitudes toward products or services, etc. – all of which will ultimately enhance the customer experience and the overall service quality. On other hand, technology can be leveraged to provide measly 140 character “answers” or stock email template “solutions” to problems that really call for in-depth conversations over the phone or in-person.
While the “face-to-face” age of customer service required companies to truly understand you (after all, you stood directly in front of their CSRs!), today’s technology-driven consumer marketplace has no such requirements.
Which companies in your world go the distance to integrate new technologies with exceptional live customer support to truly understand the people they call their customers?
Just the other day, I called eBags.com seeking advice on a popular handbag to purchase for my sister. For those who know my sense of style, it is not surprising that I am clueless about what’s “hot” in the handbag world right now. Needless to say, I was in need of some serious assistance. The customer service representative (CSR) answered the phone and asked me in a cheery voice “..how can I help you?” I actually chuckled a bit because I didn’t even know where to begin. I proceeded to tell her (Kate) my situation and every now and again she politely chimed in and asked me a question or two about where my sister lives, what she does, and what her style is. I answered her questions to the best of my ability (cross your fingers, sis!) and at the end of my rambling, she said “Ok, got it. I have two bags that I think you’re going to love…” I was shocked and relieved. It was only moments until I decided on one of the bags, submitted my credit card info, and went on my merry way. After the call I relished in the great service that I had just received and how easy it all was. I ultimately attributed it to the CSR’s ability to interpret my answer to her question, “how can I help you?” Customer service representatives need to realize that this question is not just a formality. It serves a deeper purpose and its answer needs to be understood (I mean, really understood) every time a customer contacts a company.
Have you ever spoken to a CSR who has an attitude and gives you the impression that you need him or her? In my opinion, this is a distinct difference from when a CSR genuinely wants to help you. Too often it feels like CSRs speak to customers in the context of the former. Utility companies are notorious for this because people really do need electricity or water or internet service, and there’s often just one company that can provide it. Recently, I called Verizon because I thought I was charged too much on my phone bill. After spending countless minutes on hold and being transferred three times, ultimately to a CSR who told me to simply wait for a call back, I was ticked. Not only am I still waiting for a call back (5 days and counting now), but I can’t help but sniff a scent of arrogance emanating from their customer support team. Sure, they asked me “how they could help me”, but it came across more like “why do you need me”? It has left a bad taste in my mouth.
Effectively helping someone is one of the most impressive gestures you can extend to another human being. And you can only help someone if you truly understand what their issue is. Remember Jerry MaGuire’s infamous plea to Rod Tidwell?
Well, Kate at eBags.com, helped me because she got me to help her. She did this by being proactive and asking questions about my situation. Not only did it enable her to give quality service, but it also allowed me to trust her opinion and ultimately her advice. Since Kate truly understood why I was calling and who I was buying for, she was equipped to pick the product for my specific needs. That’s a pretty powerful concept, and it’s the leading reason why CSRs are such an important piece of any business that genuinely wants to meet the needs of today’s highly demanding consumers.