Communication is imperative to any business. Although this seems like an obvious statement, scouring around online will find you limited examples of successful communication systems. Here we aim to provide case studies that show you how and why communication is important in business.
Speed, Accountability, Empathy and Clarity: The Four Pillars of Customer Support
One of the major communication channels of any business is with its customers. Customer Support is something every organisation does in some way, but few do right. Call centre staff in some distant land is almost a cliche. So how come so many companies get away with such shoddy customer support? Is quality communication necessary?
Well, in part this will be decided by your business model. There is a very good (although admittedly very old) article in Harvard Business Review charting how companies achieve market dominance. In a nutshell, they argue that there are 3 paths to market dominance 1) be the cheapest 2) have the best product and 3) be the best “overall solution”. If, like many, you want to have the best overall solution, an intimate relationship with your customers is imperative.
A good example of a company that has an “overall solution” is John Lewis. The UK retailer owns department stores up and down the country – alongside its food stores Waitrose. If you live in the UK, you’re probably pretty familiar with the John Lewis brand and what they are about. If not, John Lewis aim to provide exceptional customer service. If there is a problem with your product – you will get a refund or an exchange. No fighting, no hassle, their job is to make you comfortable. In that, they build a trust that can last years and often far outweighs the quick gains of rejecting a refund.
But John Lewis is a huge corporation with the time, effort and money to invest in painstakingly good customer service. Surely for small business, going above and beyond isn’t scalable. Think again. In fact, putting the customer as your number one priority can be the deciding factor for a small enterprise. Take the example of Wufoo. Wufoo is a site that provides an easy way to make forms for your website and were bought by SurveyMonkey in 2013 for $35 million. Their secret to success? Effective communication with customers. Working in a virtual team, the original founders dedicated one day a week each to customer support. In the first years of operation the average reply time to a customer support email was just 7 minutes.
Whilst speed of communication is the most obvious advantage Wufoo have over your own communications, their solution runs a lot deeper. By having the management team and engineers deal with customers they bred a culture of accountability in their product design. They restored the often lost feedback loop between product designers and customer satisfaction.
Another rule to learn from Wufoo is to add empathy to your customer communications. Email feedback forms engender far less empathy than talking face to face with a customer support assistant. As such, your users are more likely to be frustrated and irrational in their feedback. Wufoo found that adding a drop down box entitled “How does this issue make you feel?” dramatically decreased the number emails types in all caps – a clear marker of one not-so-happy customer.
Wufoo therefore installed speed, accountability and empathy into its communication channels. It also added clarity. By clarity, we mean how easy it is for the customer to use your service or product. If we think about the knowledge a customer needs to use a product as one value and the knowledge they currently have as another value, a major issue for companies is those customers that have a knowledge gap (i.e. they don’t have enough knowledge to use your product or service). If a user can’t use a service well, they probably won’t use the service. It is therefore imperative to help users help themselves. This includes detailed and exhaustive FAQ’s and How To guides (this is actually something the staff at UC&C are currently working on). Clarity in your digital communication channels can significantly decrease the strain on customer support. Going back to our Wufoo example, one FAQ update dropped customer technical issues by 30%.
The importance of communication in business is clear. It’s practical application or defining its performance is much harder. By making sure our communication with customers abides by these 4 pillars (speed, accountability, empathy and clarity) significant gains can be made in efficiency, product design and user turnover rates.
In summary, we have briefly touched upon 4 pillars of customer communication. These are:
- Speed – Slow response times to technical issues and complaints shows you don’t care. The best companies provide rapid responses to frustrated customers.
- Accountability – If you don’t learn from complaints andfeedback, your products or services will surely fall short.
- Empathy – Companies are faceless. Customers are more likely to be put up with faulty products if they feel like you empathise with their struggle.
- Clarity – Help users help themselves. There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for a customer service assistant to pick up the phone or reply to an email (this is actually another reason speed is so important).
Dependent on your business, some or maybe all of these principles will be applicable. If you have examples of the application of our pillars we’d love to hear! Give us a shout in the comment box or hit us up on twitter @UCandC_