Customer Care Should be Automatic

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April 2010 | Volume 28 / Number 11
High Priority

Customer Care Should be Automatic

Erik Linask (News - Alert)

By Erik Linask,
Group Editorial Director, Technology Mareting Corp

We talk a lot about automation these days, particularly in an inbound capacity, as a means of creating more positive customer relationships, and for good reason. By automating processes, the guesswork, delay, and human error to which manual processes are subject, can be immediately removed from the equation, leading to more productive and satisfying relationships. But, automation, can play a key role is a successful outbound campaign as well, particularly as a means of disseminating information quickly.

Last week, parts of the East Coast – in particular, Fairfield (CT) and Westchester (NY) counties – were hit by a major wind and rain storm resulting in significant flooding, power outages, and downed trees. It also resulted in schools in the area being closed the entire week, as crews worked to remove branches, power lines, and other debris from sidewalks and roads that provided access through town and to schools.

Managing communications to a mass audience is always a challenge but, such situations are often those which define
the future of enterprises, because they have an impact on such a large constituency at once. Of course, there are questions: What’s the most effective medium? Should you utilize one or multiple forms of communication? What happens when you can’t reach someone? Is there a difference between an answering machine and a live response? How important is it that you reach a live person?

Though it’s not quite an enterprise call center, school systems, in so many ways, operate in parallel to the business world, with the student bodies and parents as their customer bases – and they certainly operate under tight (and shrinking) budgets. Also, I would suggest that their need to communicate quickly and effectively with their “customers” is at least as critical in order to ensure the safety and well-being of those customers.

For months now, I’ve heard frequent automated messages from the school system letting informing parents and students of PTO meetings and other functions that might be of interest, and I’ve wondered how effective the same system would be in an emergency situation. I now had my chance to find out first hand if automation could truly benefit customers.

What I found was that the system cycled through all the numbers on each student’s list (i.e., home, multiple cell phones, other alternate numbers) until it reached someone. For five nights, the purpose was to let families know that schools would be closed the following day. While this may have resulted in messages being left on multiple voice mail systems for the same household, it ensured maximum notification success, ensuring

Imagine having to use live agents to place these calls. Not only does it become time consuming and costly, the administrative aspect of tracking which calls were completed, which weren’t, which went into voice mail systems, which didn’t, and so forth, would be challenging, at best.

Naturally, similar systems can be used by any business looking to deliver important messaging to their customers…insurance firms, medical facilities, retail stores, banks, law firms, service providers, government agencies… nearly any entity, and phone numbers are the one piece of information they all have available. And of course, more complex IVR schemes can be developed to deliver more detailed information to customers as needed.

The point, of course, is that automation technology can be used in both inbound (see my column in the March issue)
and outbound campaigns to reduce costs while increasing success rates. And, in this case, the school system was able to communicate critical information by leveraging its communications technology – the same technology that can be used by any business to reach its customer base, regardless of how small or large.

It’s worth pointing out, however, that though automation can be make it easier to develop and maintain customer relationships, it is by no means a requirement. Ultimately, regardless of how much or how little technology has been deployed, every business must follow a simple guideline: put your customers first and take the steps to make each one feel important.

But, since you’ve got a communications solution in place, why not make the most of it – and your customer relationships as well. Most times, your customers won’t notice the extra steps you take to keep them happy, but when those special situations arise, if you are already practicing the art of communications, they will notice and they will spread the word, helping your business grow

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