Cover Story Extra - More Best Practices
In the September cover story, Greg Gianforte, CEO and founder of RightNow Technologies, shared six best practices for providing top-notch customer service on the Web. Here are eight more to apply to your online customer service programs, followed by three big insights from Liz Kislik, founder of Liz Kislik Associates, on the future of effective telemarketing
Best Practices: Web-supported customer Service
1. Coordination between channel strategies.
Companies need a "champion" who will "own" the Web channel and ensure that it is well integrated with their overall business objectives.
"Much of the Web channel's value stems from its ability to constantly adapt to the changing needs of the company and its customers as new products and services are introduced, markets and technologies evolve, and use of the site grows," says Gianforte.
A champion represents the needs of the Web site, making sure that it remains dynamic and current, and that all channel managers support its contribution to the company's goals.
2. More links in more places.
Prominent customer service links need to be placed in a variety of locations throughout the site. This ensures that as browsers and buyers develop questions in their visit/transaction, they don't have to go hunting for the customer service area of the site.
3. Don't forget visuals.
One of the big advantages of a Web site is it's ability to deliver dynamic content. The more interactive you make your site, the more easily customers can find the information they want without the need for assistance.
For example, instead of forcing browsers to wander around your site, trying to gather enough detail to determine which product is best for them, create a menu-driven tool that allows them to choose from a list of variables to pinpoint their search. Once their selection has been made, connect them directly to the specified product page.
Many options exist for providing visual support. You could put user manuals on your site, or offer streaming video to demonstrate how a product should be assembled.
4. Add more links.
The need for customer service tends to occur once the visitor is several pages deeper into your site—not when he or she first starts browsing.
To make sure visitors can find your customer service information at any point during their user session, be sure to place prominent customer service links in a variety of locations throughout the site.
You might even consider using a customer service link that is consistent in placement and graphic treatment to establish a constant reminder that help is just a click away at all times.
5. Don't trap customers.
While you want to make it as easy as possible for customers to use your Web customer service offerings before calling or sending an e-mail, you also want them to be able to seek personal attention if they're getting frustrated. Be sure to provide options to contact a customer service representative (CSR)—by phone, e-mail or real-time chat.
6. Show customers how to find the answers to their questions.
If you provide an e-mail form for customers to fill out and send to ask questions, consider using an e-mail management system that scans the e-mail message for keywords and then identifies relevant content on your Web site. Customers are immediately directed to the section of the site that contains the answer to their question.
Not only will this process weed out e-mails that don't need personal attention, but it also will show customers that there is information already provided on the site that can be helpful to them.
7. Use reports and feedback.
Analyzing the activity on your site can give you pointers on how to improve your level of service. Keyword reports, for example, can zero in on the search terms customers use most often, says Gianforte. If customers use search terms that don't match up with how you have your knowledge base structured, you are missing out on opportunities to better serve content to visitors. Either reorganize your content, or add more terms to your knowledge items.
8. Consider workflow rules.
To consistently meet established service levels, use workflow rules to match the situation with the proper response.
For example, says Gianforte, if you promise to respond to inquiries within 24 hours, you can set up workflow rules to "alert managers when messages remain unanswered after 18 hours."
Or, you can automatically route e-mails on particular subjects to CSRs who have the most expertise in that category.
Workflow rules also can help identify textual cues in an e-mail message that signal emotional distress, and then route these customers to more experienced CSRs who are trained to handle delicate situations with finesse.
Best Practices: Outbound Telemarketing
Best practices in this discipline have become more important than ever, with the emergence of a national Do-Not-Call Registry, various state do-not-call lists still in effect, and stiffer requirements in the Telephone Sales Rule and Telemarketing Consumer Protection Act.
Companies using this channel should be focused on what works for the customer, says Liz Kislik, founder of consultancy Liz Kislik Associates, in Rockville Center, NY.
The crux of this customer focus is finding a perceived need or triggered need, and presenting it in a professional manner that helps the target understand the value of both the message and the contact method, Kislik explains.
She identified three big strategic issues for direct marketers planning on keeping telemarketing as part of their media mix:
1. Targeting is the key.
Targeting encompasses more than developing the right package of offer, message and timing, but truly must consider if the target audience displays a willingness to be contacted and make purchases via telemarketing. If target audience members are listed on the Do-Not-Call Registry or the Direct Marketing Association's Telephone Preference Service (TPS), then it's imperative for marketers to determine if they have an existing business relationship with these members that is recognized by the Federal Trade Commission before picking up the phone.
2. Contact people in the manner that they've indicated is their preference.
Beyond making sure you run your lists against the Do-Not-Call Registry, TPS file and your internal suppression files, you have to consider any insight you might have into a prospect's or customer's preferences. For instance, if in the course of a prior sales call to a customer, your telephone sales representative learned that the customer does not wish to be called during morning hours, note that in the database and tailor your contact plan accordingly.
3. Don't stop improving your process.
You wouldn't think of dropping the same direct mail campaign for years with no testing or revisions. Telemarketing programs go stale at a much faster rate than direct mail programs. Your key areas of investment here are the scripts/call guides, staff development and the tools they use. By actively assessing and refining your telemarketing efforts, you make them more relevant to your customers and more effective for your company.