A study of more than 75,000 people reveals that striving to provide "over-the-top service" isn't what clients want. Stop Trying To Delight Your Customers, conducted by the Customer Contact Council and published in the July-August 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review, offers significant food for thought for IT consultants.
Customer satisfaction disconnect
Consultants should pay attention to two key findings from the study:
- Delighting customers with service doesn't build loyalty. Instead, reducing the effort customers must invest when attempting to resolve a problem does.
- Changing customer service efforts to focus on reducing barriers to problem resolution increases customer satisfaction and retention.
Consider that 89 of 100 customer service heads surveyed claimed their main strategy was to exceed customer expectations, but 84% of customers surveyed said their expectations had not been exceeded. The disconnect is due to the gulf that exists between the perception of what companies believe customers want and the reality of what customers actually want.
How to fix it
Fortunately, the study provides recommendations for closing the gap. The study's authors state that, "when it comes to service, companies create loyal customers primarily by helping them solve their problems quickly and easily."
How do you do that as an IT consultant? You should eliminate obstacles to problem resolution, and make it easy for clients to contact engineers and PMs who possess the knowledge to solve problems quickly.
The study reveals that a common customer complaint is having to contact a company repeatedly to solve a problem. So don't require clients to repeatedly explain a problem; the first time a customer calls with an issue, empower your staff to take notes and escalate issues quickly.
For example, a client calls about an email problem that arose a week ago when they changed Internet service providers. The client won't understand that the failure to update a reverse DNS entry may be causing the trouble. Instead, the client is going to become frustrated if they have to repeatedly explain the problem to each member of your staff. The first staff member who discusses the issue with the client should get as much information as possible — including when the problem started, what changed immediately prior to the trouble arising, and what attempts have been made to correct the issue — and share those details with the consultancy via email, a trouble-ticketing system, or other documented process.
Eliminate predictable errors
The study showed that "22% of repeat calls involve downstream issues related to the problem that prompted the original call, even if that problem was adequately addressed the first time around." If the study would have targeted only small and medium businesses served by IT consultants, I bet the number would prove exponentially higher. So many technology issues can be predicted.
Using my previous example, it's easy to see that, if an ISP change is made for a client maintaining an email server, outbound email is going to fail if reverse DNS entries are updated accordingly. Because technology systems are so interconnected, predicting the number of potential incompatibilities or secondary errors due to an installation, update, migration, or service change can be impossible. In an attempt to curtail predictable errors and help minimize client callbacks, consultancies should implement checklists whenever replacing desktops, migrating servers, deploying new routers, and performing other common service tasks.
Remove obstacles to customer service
When secondary issues do arise, you can reduce the effort clients must invest in solving the problem. You should ensure it's easy for clients to reach decision makers by phone, and eliminate the need for clients to repeat themselves.
You can also help clients avoid additional frustration by training staff to stop using the words "can't" or "won't." Instead of saying you can't perform a repair today because your office must order the part, inform the customer you understand the issue, you're ordering the part, you're going to have it overnighted, and you'll bring it on site tomorrow to perform the repair.
Subtle changes make the difference
It costs your consultancy virtually nothing to remove obstacles to customer satisfaction. You should consider these recommendations for improving client satisfaction:
- Ensure customers have your phone numbers and email addresses.
- Minimize the number of staff members a client must speak to and the number of times they must explain an issue when reporting a problem.
- Prevent as many foreseeable issues as possible (using checklists when appropriate)
More survey data and recommendations are featured in the Harvard Business Review article. You can order a copy of the survey, authored by Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman, and Nicholas Toman (reprint number R1007L).
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.