A major challenge for today’s providers of time & expense management software is customer service. The reason is the same as the reason why so many companies fail when it comes to the customer experience: customer service is not what they do first.
Why Does Poor Customer Service Happen?
Software providers are busy doing what they got into business to do: building software that provides a solution. The focus is on making a product to sell to a customer.
Thus, the goal of providing an excellent customer experience must be secondary or tertiary (or even dead last). This is true for businesses all around the world. When customer support is not built from the beginning as part of the product, the company is bound to fail when problems arise. In fact, an online reviewer of a major provider of expense management software wrote a recent review saying that “the most frustrating part is little to no technical support.”
Customer Service As The Product
When a customer says that the worst part of their experience is poor support, it becomes clear that customers are understanding of the fact that sometimes the software won’t work as expected, whether because of user error or a bug in the system. In other words, our customers are being realistic about their expectations and they will have patience for problems the first few times they occur. However, what’s unforgiveable is failing to provide a resource that helps users not only understand the problem, but solve it.
The solution is going back to the way we think about customer service. Tacking on a support team after the fact once problems have arisen is too late, requiring your team to work backwards in order to solve problems. That’s why we think that customer service should be the product itself, not a necessary by-product.
When the customer’s experience is made part of the product, whether that’s through a studied, carefully designed user interface, the product is inherently better. The next step is to make customer service is a priority, part of the company’s culture, making it easy for the everyday employee to solve problems and answer questions. That means going all the way back to the company’s employee handbook. Often, company policies hold employees back from doing what’s best for the customer. When employees have the power to take action to solve problems, they aren’t going to be called upon to break rules or become heroes to solve problems. Employees shouldn’t have to be rock stars to deliver excellent customer service.
Yes, software providers should still be providing excellent software, but that doesn’t matter when the customer experience hasn’t been accounted for at all stages of the product, from initial training with the software to what to do when things go wrong. And things will go wrong. Problems will arise. Mistakes (by you or the customer) will happen. It’s how you deal with those mistakes that differentiates you from your competitors, especially when software within the same industry can often be the same (which is particularly true in terms of time & expense software).
“Extremely Unhelpful” Impressions
As an example, another customer of that same major provider of expense management software recently posted on a major software comparison website that, among complaints about the program, the company’s support team was “extremely unhelpful” and that they were left without a solution.
Granted, bad reviews happen. Whether these bad reviews stem from miscommunication or just the fact that it’s difficult to please everyone, these bad reviews matter and they often tell more than the good reviews. In this particular situation, it might be that the customer misunderstood how to use the software or the customer service agent was having a bad day or they genuinely could not provide a solution because their hands were tied by rules or regulations.
In particular, larger companies struggle to provide even mediocre customer service because their concern is their bottom line and not their customers. When it’s more important to pad their bottom line, it’s not efficient to spend money and time on building a trained customer service team. Instead, their customer support team is encouraged to quickly get through a conversation with one customer so that they can get to the next one. That system will leave customers with a poor impression, poor enough that they will take the time to tell the world about that experience.
That experience will stay on the Internet, which is bad news for that large software provider. According to a February 2017 article from Business.com,
“77 percent of people take the time to read product
reviews before they make any purchases online.”
That means that when other potential customers look to compare this software against its competitors, this review can make or break that deal.
What we’re not saying here is that this company should hurry to get this review taken down. Instead, we say that this company should have made it right in the first place. If the customer had posted a review without contacting customer service, then it’s the job of the customer service team to reach out and solve this problem. However, this reviewer specifically did attempt to get help and, still, the company failed to assist her.
Every Customer Is A Person
In reality, this company probably doesn’t realize how important this single review is. For years, it will float out there in the online world, whispering the word “unhelpful” into the ear of potential clients. This is not because they aren’t aware of its existence (because they’re a big enough company to have a brilliant marketing team); this is because the company doesn’t care about one person’s poor experience among the hundreds or thousands they do business with. To them, this person is a number, not a name. Chasing down every person to make it right isn’t worth it in their eyes.
This is the wrong stance to take. This customer’s problem matters, even if they are one in a thousand or hundred thousand end users. In fact, if they are one of a lot of users, their problem might represent the same problem of a dozen or more others. In a classroom, for example, teachers encourage their students to ask questions because one might speak for others not brave enough to raise their hand. The same is true of this problem; one brave reviewer might speak for others having the same problem without the time to write about it online.
This also speaks to the need for software providers to actively search for problems. Listening actively and taking complaints seriously will help the company anticipate future problems and solve them before they become widespread.
Back To The Basics
In the time & expense industry, employees just want to do their timesheets and expense reports and move on. They want to get back to their real jobs without hassle or confusion or frustration. The software itself is a failure if the customer cannot use it, whether it’s because they are confused or because of legitimate problems in the system.
That’s why it’s essential to go back to the basics when we think about the customer’s experience, from beginning to end. Even the process of getting to the customer service agent can be agonizing. We know too well that feeling of waiting, waiting, waiting, listening to the automated voice promise that your call is important. That feeling of helplessness is so frustrating, creating an even more negative beginning to the interaction with the customer service agent. What can your company do to shorten the path, for example, from the customer to the support team?
Today, positive customer experiences are a basic requirement left unfulfilled throughout the industry, which means that if your company actually has done the work of prioritizing the customer experience, you’ll be ahead of the competition. Plus, according to Forrester Research, “Few companies are innovating how they manage [customer experiences], creating a huge opportunity for you to breakaway from competitors.” This innovation begins with choosing a path that intentionally and thoughtfully does what it takes to prioritize the customer’s experience.
In the end, customer support is about people and those people deserve to be and expect to be treated like people, like individuals. We’ve definitely been in that situation when something we paid a lot of money for just doesn’t work, so we appeal to the customer help line, hoping to talk to someone who is not only respectful and polite, but who can actually solve the problem.
Your customers are not only customers. They are people with full lives, with families, hobbies, likes, dislikes, jobs, and problems outside of the reason why they’re calling you. Making a commitment to honor them as whole people will create a positive relationship and will earn your company a positive reputation online and through word of mouth.
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