If you ask anyone what the key to successful customer service is, the answer will often be some form of ‘treat your customer how you would like to be treated.’ However, this statement fails to recognize the importance of a personalized customer experience—each individual customer has a preferred form of interaction and treatment.
In the direct response world, marketers invest time and money to persuade potential customers to respond to a call-to-action by dialing an 800-number or to visit a website. A great advantage of the DR model is that we accelerate the connection and bypass the traditional middleman (distributors, retail, etc.) to initialize direct contact. This allows an immediate sales path, either through the Internet or by telephone, to take form.
A big struggle, though, still lies in having contact center agents who value the opportunity and are capable of providing an exceptional customer experience because call center agents are the face and voice of the brand. To help put this into perspective, consider customers at a restaurant and what their experience is like. The server is the agent who helps get the food (or the product) from the cook (the marketer) to the end customer.
Think of it this way:
Let’s Do Lunch
The first step is the first impression. Imagine looking at the exterior and the signage of a restaurant, you wait to be seated or you seat yourself, then you browse the menu. These first key moments affect your long-term impression of the restaurant or brand and set expectations of the type of experience you will have. In the case of direct response, this is the media for the product—long form, short form, website, and online customer reviews. What the customer sees FIRST.
How Do You Do
Next is the customer’s initial interaction with the brand. This is when the server (or the agent) discovers customers’ style of communication, their motivations, and their expectations. This sets the tone for the meal, also known as the customer experience. The server is your gatekeeper to the cook since he or she has the product you want: food. The server is a physical representation of the restaurant, everything it has to offer and everything it is capable of providing. Sales agents are the same for their client’s campaign.
I Think We’re Ready
So the customers have finally decided what they want. They’ve browsed the selection, weighed the pros and cons of each decision, and have possibly asked some questions regarding their options. Reading customers’ cues is key in this stage of the process. Just like in a restaurant, timing is vital. It is awkward when the server rushes you or takes a long time to place your order. And for call center agents, they need to know when the best time to close a sale is.
How Was Everything?
Nine times out of 10, servers will ask this question and nine times out of 10 they’ll be genuinely interested in a response. How many times have you been out to eat and from the moment the plate arrives you’re disappointed because they either forgot to take the mayonnaise off your BLT or the anchovies off your Caesar salad? It’s hard to bounce back from a disappointment, but usually, you say it’s fine, take out the anchovies, and eat your lunch; but you definitely do not enjoy the meal. As a brand, you would never want your customer to feel like this; sometimes too many upsells or added features make the sales call so long that it annoys the callers instead of closing the sale. Be sure to anticipate the customer’s reaction to the sales process and evaluate the best balance between a positive customer experience and a maximized sales opportunity.
The Importance of Complaints
Sometimes people feel generous enough to make the effort and fill out the survey or give feedback to the restaurant. It’s hard to keep in mind, but complaints offer an opportunity to improve the customer experience. Whether it’s face-to-face, online or on a call, deescalating any tense situation starts first by listening. Customers who feel they are listened to, feel more at ease and are able to convey precisely what is bothering them to facilitate a resolution to their issues. Even for the most unreasonable customers, it is extremely important to create the best possible experience when they reach out to make a complaint. In today’s social media sharing world, how we handle the unhappiest of customers greatly impacts and sets the tone for the reputation and value of a brand.
In the direct response model, call center agents are like the server at a restaurant, a brand’s direct connection to the consumer who helps create and maintain a positive and personalized customer experience. Contact center service providers need to be aware of the responsibility and the trust brands place in them to be the gatekeepers of their product and the face and voice of their customers’ experience. That is why it’s imperative that contact centers make it their highest priority to have talented and highly trained agents who are not just pegs in the direct response model, but truly an asset to gain the trust of their clients’ customers.
Photo by stockimages/FreeDigitalImage.net
Craig Handley is the CEO and one of the Founders of ListenTrust (formerly Listen Up Español), a leading bilingual call center for English and Spanish multichannel services. Craig is an 18-year direct response veteran and an expert in Hispanic marketing, DR sales maximization, and brand expansion.