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Insights / Blog / Business

Bet on display-to-display propaganda in your service and support

March 23, 2016
Alain VeuveAlain VeuveManaging Director, AOE Switzerland

You know the drill: A company has good offerings or products, terrific advertising and delivers quickly – so that is where you buy. Several days or months later there’s a problem with the product and you need help. What occurs then fundamentally changes your attitude toward company and product in 95 percent of the cases. Either positively or negatively. As a consumer, you are well aware of this. But, most companies apparently haven’t got a clue, as they consider service and support to be a cost factor. They therefore treat the issue accordingly, thus ignoring one of the most effective tools for nurturing their image and creating positive advertising.

Customer Experience

Most people simply have no idea about the customer experience. Unfortunately, this is especially true in the digital industry. The term is often confused with user experience. Or it’s reduced to the product; or transposed onto (often shopworn) marketing measures, which is totally misdirected. In truth, it’s really quite simple.

The customer experience is the sum of all experiences that the customer has when interacting with a company. From the first contact with the firm until the last second when using the company’s product. Sometimes even further than that; for example, when recycling recycling services are offered.

To consciously design something like this from start to finish, while staying within tightly defined economic borders, is difficult. It becomes downright impossible in traditional companies, where operating in a corporate culture defined by silos is prevalent. Usually, a degenerated controlling- and reporting culture systematically creates the wrong incentives and thus prevents companies from doing what is good for the customer. But, because this is exactly the point, many companies aren’t doing as well as they were during the time of saturation growth. All things digital and technological progress usually are nothing more than fire accelerants to start with. We don’t even have to start talking about the “threats” that disruptive business models pose for such companies.

Support as a cost factor

And thus support is regarded as a cost factor. Some sort of necessary evil – similar to, e.g., taxes. And just as with taxes one attempts to outsource the support and reduce costs – sometimes using methods that seem adventurous in a negative way.

I think I can spare you the experiences with catastrophic support. I know that all of you have had some at one time or another. You know exactly what I mean. Just take a moment to go through some of them in your mind’s eye.

Differentiation trait number 1

What these companies fail to understand is that service and support are by far the best and least costly way to advertise as well as to nurture a positive image and customer relationships. By far.

Because it is quite simple: The better you help a customer in solving a problem, the better his or her attitude toward your company will become. And – and this is the kicker – given that the general level of support is so disastrous, you don’t even have to be especially outstanding.

" The customer doesn’t expect no mistakes to happen, he just expects you to troubleshoot constructively and that you aren’t too stupid in doing so."

For, when the customer visits your support website or calls you, he has this expectation: “I guess it’s time to be annoyed again.” Information isn’t available, processes are provided with numbers and who knows what else and I’m going to have to wait endlessly until it’s my turn.

If you structure your support in such a way as to counter this typical expectation mindset, then you’ve already won in most cases.

Display-to-display propaganda

You’ve seen what happens then, too: Customers gain trust in your company. More trust leads to more purchases and, most of all, it causes your product to be recommended. You know the statements – one colleague to another: “You might pay a little bit more at [company xyz], but once you’ve purchased something, they’ll help you, too.”

This is the winner-takes-all customer support that separates really good companies from the mediocre. Just think about the list of those companies you consider to be truly outstanding. I’ll bet that 99 percent of these companies offer excellent service and support.

We used to call this effect word-of-mouth propaganda. I now call it display-to-display propaganda, because we communicate via displays much more today. The greatly expanded networking circles multiply this effect. This happens on Facebook, in forums and in messenger services. Recommendations in forums are particularly invaluable.

The reason for this simple: Whenever we research products (prior to purchasing decisions), personal, private reviews usually carry more weight than those in blogs, let alone commercial, journalistic offerings.

Our small margin doesn’t allow for really good support

I hear this statement quite a lot when discussing the topic with colleagues. With all due respect, this is nonsense. It might be that more support isn’t possible when considering current mindsets and structure. But, even though it seems to be a coherent logic of sorts, taken as a whole it’s wrong.

Just make support part of your marketing budget. And stop with dinosaur advertising you can’t really control: boring print ads, mediocre TV spots (that is, all those things average companies can afford), trade fair booths without a real sales concept, etc. – the list goes on and on.

As easily and pleasantly as possible

Now, take the money you’ve saved and invest it in redesigning service and support. And be mindful of actually doing those things that the customer really wants. This is usually not a simple rock-star telephone hotline, but rather a balanced concept, which also contains self-service elements.

And radically automate. But don’t just do this for automation’s sake, to the disadvantage of the customer. You can do this pretty well, especially in downstream processes. And this will help you lower costs, too.