Should customer support reduce costs or increase value?
While the question implies an “either/or” answer, world-class customer experience organizations equip their support teams to do both. With the proper training and resources, these organizations empower support professionals to:
- Expedite service resolution
- Reduce unnecessary service calls
- Mobilize service teams for needed service
- Anticipate future customer needs
- Enhance the overall customer experience
Customer Support Lessons from Zappos.com
Founded in 1999, Zappos is known for its unconventional culture, online retail excellence, and revolutionary customer support. From Zappos’ inception, leaders viewed the company’s call center as an extension of marketing and relationship development.
Rather than seeing support as a “cost center,” Zappos leaders believe every human interaction is a chance to strengthen customer relationships. Since 96 percent of all transactions occur online, Zappos leaders view the remaining four percent of direct customer contacts as “special opportunities.” Since a customer might reach out for support only once in their life, customer-initiated contact gives the retailer the chance to personalize the brand and “wow” the customer. To emphasize the functional importance of the contact center, that Zappos department is called the “customer loyalty team (CLT).”
Ever since Amazon purchased Zappos in 2009, CLT members have enjoyed state-of-the-art contact center technologies. Specifically, Zappos’ integrated customer relationship management (CRM) and ticketing systems produce an AI-enriched contact center platform that fuels empowerment, efficiency, and effectiveness. Zappos uses automation tools and bots to search for customer information in the CRM, provide optimally timed guidance, and reduce manual tasks.
Measuring Support Center Value
From a key performance indicator (KPI) perspective, Zappos CLT members target and consistently answer 80 percent of inbound calls within 20 seconds. During a conversation with Rob Siefker, head of customer service at Zappos, he noted, “I look at a lot of measures to evaluate customer and business success. These indicators include contact center volume, service levels, overall handle time, efficiency metrics, wrap-up codes, and conversion rates. However, for our teams, the most important measure is how customers feel. Do our customers feel they were helped by real people who were glad to hear from them, eager to serve them, and authentically interested in making them happy?”
In pursuit of customer happiness, Zappos leaders assess:
- Greetings: CLT members need to make a genuine offer of assistance and introduce themselves by name. They should present an upbeat tone and demonstrate a personal flair or creativity.
- Personal emotional connections: Interactions are measured based on CLT member helpfulness, patience, sincerity, genuineness, and the degree to which they engage the customer in conversations about Zappos products.
- Service: CLT members must provide multiple solutions for each customer’s need or inquiry, satisfy all the customer’s stated needs, follow through on all customer promises, and clearly and concisely document the customer interaction.
- Seeking and supplying information: CLT members should verify the customer’s full shipping address and provide accurate information.
- Conclusions: At the end of the call, CLT members need to review the customer’s entire order, attempt to wow the customer with an unexpected perk, and invite the customer into an ongoing relationship with Zappos.
In my book, The Zappos Experience, I highlight customer loyalty team senior representative Mary Testima, who describes her employee experience this way, “Coming from a world of retail since I was 15, I am used to being told to put the customer first, but in truth, that was mostly just words. I don’t think I knew what it meant until I came to Zappos. Unlike a normal call center, where policies would limit my customer calls to a minute or 90 seconds each, I am encouraged to take the time needed to connect with customers. I am also given the resources and authority to use my judgment to wow them.”
Reframing the Question
Rather than asking if customer support should reduce costs or increase value, maybe the better questions are: “How can customer support become an ambassador for your brand? How can you use effort-reducing technologies to empower your people to use their judgment to wow customers?”
Zappos leverages outstanding technologies and focuses on personal emotional connections made during customer support interactions. As such, the online retailer gets 75 percent of their orders from existing customers and continues to drive customer engagement, loyalty, and referrals through their superior customer support. How about you?
Joseph Michelli, Ph.D. is a certified customer experience professional, business consultant, and author of 10 books spotlighting brands like Starbucks, Mercedes-Benz, and Zappos. Connect with Joseph on LinkedIn.