How Important is On-Demand Customer Service to Your Small Business

I am constantly amazed by the fact that some companies don't bother to respond to website information requests … acknowledge voice mails … reply to emails, etc. It's safe to say that being totally ignored represents the extreme end of the (bad) service spectrum and very few will argue that "indifference" is not a good customer service strategy. But what constitutes reasonable or excellent service in today's marketplace? When I research a product / service online, I find myself getting agitated if I don't get a reply acknowledging my interest within the same business day. Are consumers more demanding today than in the past?

Consumer Expectations

Deb Kolaras, Owner at Signet Consulting Inc. in Denver, Colorado, doesn't think that consumer expectations have changed. In her opinion, overall service delivery has declined and is failing in many cases. "Consumers expect that they should receive good service, but are actually surprised when it happens. They WANT great service, but instead of demanding it, they simply move on – most (consumers) are just too busy so they just go elsewhere."

Based on his experience, Rémi Chadel, a Professor of Marketing at Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne and a Managing Partner at Chadel & Cie Strategy & Execution in Geneva, Switzerland, feels there are good reasons to believe that customers are more demanding today. Chadel lists the following as factors that have had a great influence on consumer behavior and have contributed to making customers "more demanding than ever":

  • Globalization – Broadened consumers choice of goods and services
  • Internet – Infinite choice and unparalleled ability to compare products and services
  • Media – Virtually unlimited access has created an information-intensive society
  • Deregulation – More choice for staple services in various markets (Automotive, Insurance, Banking and Finance)
  • Progression of the economic value – Through branding, some companies are replacing service offerings with brand experiences, elevating consumer expectations

Michael Blakley, a Technical Support Manager at Ipswitch Inc., an innovative IT software development company in Augusta, Georgia, has a different view. He suggests that "customer expectations have been spreading in all directions, higher and lower, depending on the stake the customer has in the product; how much they've paid and how important it is to them." Blakley has a more pragmatic approach when assessing the value of customer service to an organization. He states that customers will complain, but questions how much those complaints really affect an organization. "If the complainers represent a good portion of your business, then they matter a lot. If they represent a tiny portion, then they don't matter. It all depends," says Blakely, "Good customer service doesn't necessarily pay for itself or drive profit and changing expectations don't necessarily matter. There is no general trend. Every business has to assess the costs and benefits of various levels of service to its own customers, and find a level that drives profitability. "

Service On-Demand

Deb Kolaras thinks it is critical for small business to provide on the spot customer service. "Nothing makes a consumer more angry and apt to move on than feeling as though their issue is either ignored or unimportant." In Kolaras' opinion, there needs to be some immediacy when it comes to serving customer needs, with issues being handled in as timely a manner as possible. Otherwise, she feels that consumers will quickly begin the search to replace you as their solution provider. She says that "until businesses grasp this, they are powerless to hold onto customers."

Service on-demand seems like a good solution when it comes to addressing the demands and expectations of the modern consumer. Rémi Chadel brings up an interesting point to consider before jumping to any conclusions with respect to the power of instant service. "My experience in marketing strategy projects shows that speed and instant service are a component of differentiation only when they trigger an emotional cue with the customer."

John Eichenlaub, a Sales Representative at Allied Tube & Conduit in Columbus, Ohio, wonders whether it is possible or practical for many businesses to resolve all customer concerns instantaneously. He feels it's far more important to "serve every customer quickly and professionally" and offers up the following advice when it comes to customer service:

  • Make it a point to take or return every call as soon as possible. While you may not be able to resolve all concerns immediately, you should be able to: ensure you understand the concern; summarize what you must accomplish internally to respond; give your best possible estimate for resolution
  • Follow through on service promises
  • Make all customers feel they have your undivided attention

"Without question, customer service has allowed our brand to remain dominate in the presence of stiff competition from sub-prime and foreign competition," says Eichenlaub. "Markets rise and fall based on many factors. As long as I'm in the ball park, I believe my customers will pick up the phone and dial the team they trust."

Commitment to Service

Think about how close your small business can / wants to get to delivering "on demand" service and weigh the costs vs. incremental benefits. The most important thing about service is understanding the impact it will have on your small business in today's business environment. Consumer expectations may or may not have changed in recent decades, but one thing has – proliferation of choice. If your small business does not meet whatever the service expectation is for your sector, product or service, consumers will be quick to seek out an alternative. Make the best commitment you can to customer service and use it as a platform to build your competitive advantage.

Source by [lakajira]

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