Customer Service as Customer Outreach

By , June 9, 2015

This year, I’ve had opportunity to experience customer service of varying quality. It caused me to consider more carefully the true importance of good communication in our interactions.

Most notably, I corresponded with two suppliers, negotiating what passes for a large purchase in our household. While one supplier offered several significant advantages over the other, either company could supply what I needed on almost exactly the same terms. However, I found one of them far easier to deal with and relate to. In the end, while I know I could have gotten comparable terms either way (through the more expensive company’s low price guarantee) I decided to do business with the one that seemed friendlier.

One company provided good customer service in several distinct ways. Some ways may not actually be better—which is to say, the other company did not offer poor customer service—but the company I chose struck a chord with me, made me feel comfortable. They “spoke my language.”

Specifically, they took the time to thoroughly read my emails, ensuring that they understood my concerns as I expressed them. They then responded to each and every one. No details got overlooked. No questions remained unanswered.

Moreover, they communicated with me in a conversational tone. They “chatted” with me about the project, taking the time and effort to couch the information in the same sort of language one would use if sitting together in a room. They even joked a bit, which those who read this blog know appeals to me very much. And, significantly, they replied to my messages in a very timely fashion. Most of the time, I heard back from them the same day I sent a message. If I did not, they briefly explained why they weren’t able to respond quickly. The company’s small staff prepared for an important convention while corresponding with me about the project. They were very busy with this, but still took the time to correspond with me in an unhurried manner.

In constrast, the other company took an average of a week to respond to each email. They never seemed to use the longer response time to read my messages very carefully, as their responses, while friendly, were often incomplete. I quickly realized that I needed to pare down my prose to the bare essentials to ensure that I didn’t distract from the information I sought. I could do that, but it didn’t make me feel good about the correspondence. I had to self edit, to guard against confusing them, to stick strictly to my point. I had to work to make myself understood.

The one company’s more conversational style proved particularly effective with me because I am basically a shy person. I also live an isolated life. They couldn’t know it, but each company’s spokesperson represented about 20% of my total human contact for the period. In other words, they were two of about 10 people I probably talked to or wrote (emails and letters) within that same time frame! I am a customer who likely has a slower speaking style, a more deliberate, leisurely way of expressing myself than many.

But, am I unique? I think not. While I’m physically isolated, often seeing no one but Michelle for weeks on end, am I any more alone than the millions of people who feel alone in crowds? So many people, no matter the populations surrounding them, feel isolated and alone. I could be more relaxed, less isolated than millions of big city dwellers.

So it behooves those who provide customer service to treat their customers as fellow human beings who may respond to more positive contact than just the bare minimum, just business as usual.

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