In the past, most customer self-service in teractions have focused on placing and tracking customer orders. The next gen eration will focus on service resolution issues as well. A recent study by Honda North America found that 85 percent of its customers had conducted research on the Internet before entering a dealership. Not only are more customers taking charge of their service interactions, more companies are switching to self-service as a way to reduce costs while increasing efficiency and productivity.
Yet we regularly read articles on the reduction of quality of service or on stating that companies should focus on improving relationships between staff and customer interaction. The challenge is that while creating a self-service environment, the company may be at risk of losing contact with the customer, thus reducing customer loyalty. Remember, all changes in service that reduce costs must create an equal increase in servicing the customer in the way they prefer. This is key to maintaining customer loyalty. The use of the web has made self-service a positive step in building customer loyalty. No longer is it acceptable to just have the FAQ link on your website. Web services must be able to handle not only transactions, but to answer specific questions that customers ask. Customers want to search at their own pace and at their own time.
The key to customer loyalty is how to do that with an enhanced customer experience. Recreation Equipment Inc (REI) has placed computers in its stores to allow for improved information access to products and choices. They also allow for free shipping when the item is shipped to their stores rather than directly to the customer. Since many of their customers enjoy the REI store experience as entertainment as well as a way to shop, they have found that add-on sales occur more than 35 percent of the time when the item is picked up at the store. Kiosks have been used for years as a way to immediately reach one’s hotel and secure an airport shuttle. Borrowing that idea, numerous airlines now provide self check-in at airport kiosks.
Combining this service with the use of lobby agents, more and more customers use this kiosk service as a way to speed their trip to the boarding gate. Yet kiosks are expanding to fast-food restaurants for order entry, to highway travelers checking road conditions, and to grocery stores providing food and health information. Customers are now expecting that when they cannot find a clerk while in a store, they should be able to find a kiosk to gather their answer. Through the use of technology, words and phrases can be matched to the customer’s intent and then provide a matching answer to the question. Imagine a customer searching for assistance on a website for a government-sponsored children’s medical facility. The search may pull up numerous options. Navigating through the website becomes a challenge at best.
Customers may be so confused they end up picking up the phone and calling in. The end result is money spent on technology that does not provide the depth of interaction the customer wants—so they default to the telephone. The city of Santa Clara uses technology that allows the customer’s input choice to be “having a baby.” That input choice leads to the appropriate link that a young mother-to-be is looking for. The next generation has grown up with technology, using it to manage both work and play. To maintain a competitive advantage, companies must also use it to manage customers’ experiences and to build and maintain loyal customers.
Jim Kress is on the faculty at COCC where he works with businesses on management and marketing issues. He can be reached at 383-7712.