Well, you invested in the creation of a great product, earmarked a healthy budget for marketing, and made the sale. Now what? In today’s economic world it is entirely possible that even a company with moderately high sales revenue may have to consider one or all of the following: shrinking margins, loss of market share, customer attrition, or simple loss of profitability. Certain factors are completely out of the control of most businesses, things like government regulation, supplier price increases, or a drop in discretionary consumer spending. In such a world, it is ever more important to recoup the investment your business makes in acquiring a new customer or client – especially if your business is a niche market or involves large, infrequent purchases. But, in all cases, it is a truism that positive word-of-mouth and repeat business are the hallmark of most successful businesses.
Unfortunately, most companies adopt a ‘Field of Dreams’ philosophy, an "if we build it, they will come" model of customer satisfaction. The ‘it’ being, of course, a high-quality product or service. No one will argue that quality and value engender referrals and repeat buying, but what happens when you’ve engaged a fleet of six-sigma gurus, created layers of stringent QA processes, and then a third-party, like a distributor, dealer, or other channel partner drops the ball? Let’s face it, mistakes in manufacturing and services occur, businesses experience loss of talent pool, or partner vendors aren’t as quality oriented as they could be, so, knowing that even an unhappy customer can be saved by a quality follow-up process, what do you do? Even more critical, how do you even uncover if there are problems or obstacles to repeat business or referrals within your sales process?
Many organizations do sales follow-up, like customer satisfaction outreach, which is a laudable endeavor and exactly what this article intends to address. With that in mind, there are some important factors not to ignore when starting down this road. First factor, there are some new wiz-bang ways to reach out to people; email, tweets, and SMS. While these are viable methods, there is a catch with this kind of approach; not all consumers are connected or ‘tech-ready’, and you don’t just want to hear from a demographic slice of your market – you want as varied feedback from as many end users as possible. And, the telephone is still the most pervasive means of communication, because it has a more personal touch and more credibility with a larger segment of people.
The second factor to consider is to not just engage some existing staff members with a little extra bandwidth to make an outbound effort! There are a few serious problems with doing customer satisfaction research in-house. They include competency, bias, credibility, and expense. Believe it or not, making possibly hundreds or thousands of calls, asking the same questions over and over, without sounding like a drone or worse, like an antagonist, is a rare skill. Also, asking questions and recording responses without adding bias or ‘spin’ can be difficult – especially if you are, as you should be, invested in the success of the company or are friends with peers being criticized in the resulting commentary.
But let’s say you make the decision to handle the job within the company, and you’ve gone through an unbiased effort to reach out and capture experience satisfaction, and you uncover that there is a lot of positivity about your product or services that you should share with the world. How credible is it to toot your own horn, and will it be taken seriously if you do? After all, every criminal in prison is innocent, and every manufacturer’s product is the best on the market… just ask them! Additionally, one needs to consider that setting up the infrastructure, sourcing and training agents, capturing the data, and synthesizing and analyzing the results will be a considerable expense; especially if your sales volume is seasonal or you need a scalable solution.
One easy way to overcome these difficulties is to outsource the work. Outsourcing call center work means a company can worry about innovation in its goods and services, instead of call center technology. (Source: Mike Hasler, "3 Signs It’s Time to Write That Call Center RFP," Blue Ocean Contact Centers.) However, during the process of vetting and hiring a big call center company that does outbound calling or other out-reach processes, you find that this kind of outsourcing can also be very expensive, and the vendor’s agents, particularly non-native language speakers, may not be subject matter experts, have communication gaps, or may have a turn-over rate approaching 300%! So, what is the answer? Times are tough, competition is fierce, customer satisfaction and retention are even more important than ever, but you don’t want to possibly damage your customer or client relationship by putting too much distance between you and the end-user communications.
The answer is to enter a partnership with a smaller, more invested contact center that is more concerned with quality than volume and more committed to not only helping you deal with problems, but also helping you promote the good news. In short, you use a small contact center, because the benefits of a smaller, strategic service bureau are agility; a smaller provider has less bureaucracy and responds quicker. Less expense; a smaller firm has less overhead, less corporate governance to satisfy, and will take on smaller, strategic jobs and charge less. Even if a larger bureau is cheaper, there is focus; in order for a large firm to be so cost effective, they will generally pool your calls into a general call queue, or the agents they employ must utilize tens and possibly hundreds of scripts in a given shift, or may even be overseas and use English as a second language.
A smaller contact center group typically has five or less clients, so the agents can focus on your customers and quickly become subject matter experts. They usually also have Agents based in the US who won’t be as prone to miscommunication as ‘off-shore’ workers. A greater command of English and familiarity with American culture means greater satisfaction with customers and fewer complaints than foreign call center workers. (Source: NPR, "Outsourced Call Centers Return Home," August 25, 2010). Then there is responsiveness; managers of smaller centers generally have a more involved relationship with the entire Agent staff and are more personally involved in your business, meaning critical information flows outward to your consumers faster and more seamlessly.
Finally, and just as important, is motivation; generally speaking, a small vendor that loses an account feels a much deeper impact than a 200-seat house would, and is therefore more motivated to be an engaged partner in your customer retention efforts. A smaller, strategic contact center can be a true partner and can act as an extension of your customer service division or department.
In the end, what will best serve your sales channel is an easy, affordable means for unhappy and happy customers or clients to talk to you, so that the investments your business makes in talent, product quality, advertising, and sales don’t just mean the benefit of a single sale – you want a process creates repeat business, and even more importantly, referral business.
It is harder to turn a profit today, and you can lower costs until you are cutting into muscle, or you can find ways to increase your ROI by effectively listening to your current customers, generate a positive buzz about your brand, gain customer loyalty, and uncover what works and does work about your product lines as well.