Get a Better Backend the Multichannel Way
After a decade or so during which direct commerce sales channels and technology have undergone revolutionary changes and e-commerce has become mainstream, consumers are no longer excited by direct marketing. They're just as likely these days to be either blasé or discouraged, attitudes that signal a real challenge for merchants. In fact, says Debra Ellis, president of Barnardsville, N.C.-based Wilson & Ellis Consulting, the fourth quarter of 2004 marked the lowest customer satisfaction levels since the 1993 baseline customer satisfaction index started off at a rate of 75 percent. Seventy-five percent, as Ellis is quick to point out, is nothing more than a passing grade. "Customers are very disillusioned," Ellis says. "I see it in the call centers. Customers are so much quicker to respond negatively, because they've become accustomed to poor service."
If customer service is acknowledged to be so crucial to business success, then how has customer satisfaction fallen to such low levels? Part of the answer may lie in a commonly perceived need for businesses to cut costs. David Bolotsky, founder and CEO of online and catalog gift merchant Uncommon Goods, sees that sort of decision as part of a business' philosophy. "A lot of us fall into the trap of thinking of customer service as a cost center," he says. Bolotsky explains that Uncommon Goods follows a model that responds instead to the question, "How do I like to be treated as a customer? Let's treat our customer in that manner."
Kirk Etten, divisional vice president of database marketing for business products marketer Deluxe Small Business Services in Groton, Mass.—which includes brands New England Business Service, Safeguard and RapidForms—also points to a customer-centric business philosophy as the bedrock of good customer service. "Deluxe Corporation has been around for 90 years, and NEBS has been around over 50 years, and both businesses have developed on the kind of service that they give their customers," he says.