Why Your Customers Don’t Like You

And What to Do About It

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate ZabriskieIt’s Any Airport, USA at 2:00 am, and someone makes the announcement that the delayed 6:00 pm flight will finally begin boarding.

The catatonic crowd in the packed waiting area begins to form a line. They’re tired and relieved to be getting on their way.

In a super-perky voice, the gate agent then welcomes the titanium, topaz, and Teflon flyers and makes a big deal about them standing to the right of the rest of the crowd so that they may cross over a red bath mat before showing their boarding passes.

Once that collection of special status holders is taken care of, the agent starts loading passengers by boarding group and ceremoniously blocks off access to the all-important two-by-four-foot carpet square.

As she checks boarding passes, she half-heartedly asks people to stow their smaller items under the seat to leave room for larger bags in the overhead bins.

Onboard, the flight attendants don’t seem to care too much about bags either. Consequently, plenty of coats and small items fill the only storage area that can accommodate a suitcase.

It doesn’t take a mind reader to know what happens next. There’s no room left, and the remaining passengers have just had another forty minutes or so added to an already miserable excursion. Thanks airline! With a modicum of effort, everyone’s bag could have fit, but not tonight.

While great customers certainly deserve an organization’s appreciation, in this instance, the airline’s focus should have been on accommodating all customers’ carry-ons.

By wasting people’s time, the airline managed to make the skies and the ground anything but friendly. Oddly, that same company will spend millions on marketing in an attempt to build relationships with the customers.

For a company to have anything but a dysfunctional relationship with its customers, however, it must show them respect. Without it, the rest means nothing.

At the heart of disrespectful service are three errors: Taking actions that charge customers money they don’t expect to spend, costing customers time they don’t have to give, and failing to deliver on promises. Be transparent with your fees. Click To Tweet

Fatal Error One: You Cost Your Customers Money They Don’t Expect to Spend: If you’ve ever made a reservation at a hotel with a plan of arriving late, sleeping, and checking out first thing, you’re like many business travelers. If you’ve also had that in-and-out plan along with the experience of unexpectedly encountering a property with a hefty resort fee charged to all guests regardless of use, you know what it is like to part with money and not feel good about it—even if that money isn’t yours.

While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with having a resort fee, what is wrong is leaving off the total when the reservation is booked. It’s dishonest. If the fee isn’t optional, it is part of the cost of the room and should be listed as such.

Be transparent with your fees. Customers have a right to know what things cost. When they don’t they don’t like you very much.

If you happen to be in a business where fees depend on what you encounter, be upfront in the beginning. Better still, offer a range. If your kitchen remodel is relatively straightforward, you’re looking at XYZ dollars. On the other hand, if we find water damage, asbestos, pipes we have to move, or structural problems, you can expect costs to go up substantially. Worst case, you’re looking at XYZ dollars + ABC dollars.

For organizations that primarily serve internal customers, currency may be something other than money. Even so, an implicit obligation to be transparent still exists. If people feel you’re taking advantage of them, you’ve failed.

Think about how you communicate money to your customers. Do you do all you can to make costs easy to understand? 

Fatal Error Two: You Cost Your Customers Time They Don’t Need to Spend: If you’ve ever been to a well-run theme park on a busy day, you’ve witnessed staff who are exceptional at safely moving huge numbers of people through the gates, on and off rides, and in and out of restaurants. Sure, the lines are long, but nobody is waiting one second longer than absolutely necessary.

If you’re working in a venue where long lines exist and guests can see obvious inefficiencies, watch out. The most tolerant bunch of people will transform into loud and impatient customers who channel annoyance into intense anger right before your eyes.

Nobody enjoys having their time wasted. Great service providers walk in their customers’ shoes. They see the customer experience through the customer’s eyes. They know that it’s important for staff to be responsive and do what they can to avoid wasting a customer’s time.

Look at your customers’ interactions with you. Are there places where inefficiencies exist that could be eliminated without sacrificing safety or something else your organization values? If so, show your customers some respect by becoming more efficient. If you are not sure where you could make improvements, ask your customers. They probably know. They’ve certainly had enough time to think about it while waiting for you to get your act together.

Fatal Error Three: You Fail to Deliver on Your Promises: Companies that fail to deliver on their promises erode customer trust. Don’t believe it? Think about toy commercials from your childhood. How about the one that showed a toy doing something amazing, and caused you to develop an obsession. You wanted it. You told everyone. It was on the top of your wish list. Then, finally someone finally bought it for you.

Weren’t you a little disappointed when it didn’t behave as advertised? It didn’t fly on its own or drive on its own. You felt crushed, and misled. Your customers experience those same emotions when you don’t come through, and guess what? They don’t like you very much when you fail to deliver.

Take an inventory of your promises. Where are you living up to your word, and where are you falling down? Start fixing those areas that are bound to cause disappointment or worse.

Guiding Principle: Don’t Make Customers Feel Devalued: Being opaque about costs, making customers wait, and failing to deliver on promises all indicate disrespect. Each of those actions shows people you don’t value them, and you don’t think they are worthy of receiving better treatment.

In other words, you just don’t like them enough to do better. Is it any wonder they don’t like you back?

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

 

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How to Succeed as a Small Business

Beat the Big Box Store and Succeed When You Make it SPECIAL For Customers

By Dr. Kevin Coughlin

Most people are aware that the real economic engine in the United States is small business. In fact, most would agree that small businesses are the foundation of the economy.

Very little provides more satisfaction than building and running a successful small business, but many small businesses make a fatal mistake at the outset: they don’t understand what their customers really want. As a small business owner, to put your best foot forward for success you must create a dialogue with your customer base, and ensure that your customers and clientele understand that you’re looking out for their wants and needs. Small businesses are the foundation of the economy. Click To Tweet

But building a customer-driven small business can be a bit different from competing with the big box store on the corner. How do you fight a company or business that almost has an unlimited supply of money and expertise? In all truth, it can be extremely difficult and takes a lot of effort; but it can be done and is being done all across the country. Your customers want to feel connected, they want to feel special, and they don’t want to be just a number or another transaction.

Your customers are all looking for products and services that they believe in, like, and trust. That is the winning combination in competition, and you and your team will be on the way to beating The Big Box by making the experience S.P.E.C.I.A.L. for your customers.

S – Superior Service: What is it, and how do you attain it? You must put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Experiment with each type of interaction that will occur between your company and the customer. A great starting point is to assess the quality of phone etiquette and your employees’ ability to address your customers’ questions. Ensure that you are receiving really good information that is timely and accurate. Really evaluate your website and email responses. Take an honest look at your products and services to make sure they are the best they can be.

P – Products: Evaluate your products and or services to see how they stand up against the competition. Take a hard look at the processes and procedures you can implement to make those products and or services most appealing and cost-effective to your customer base.

E – Education: This means training, training and more training with everyone from your sales people through your HR department; and perhaps most importantly, training for yourself. Many times as CEO or business owner you are the last to recognize that you may need and benefit from training more than anyone else. Success starts at the top, and without positive business training you and your company along with your customers will suffer.

C – Consistency: Constantly evaluate and re-evaluate your processes and procedures to make sure they are simple, repeatable, and trainable. Delivering consistent products and services are paramount to successful long-term success. Anyone can do something well once or twice, but when you can do it consistently you know your company is running well.

I – Ideal Customer Experience: You must look at and review to see if your customers are repeating purchases. Are they coming back to your company for additional products and services? If not, it’s imperative that you ascertain why.

A – Approachable: Do your employees and customers have access to you? If not, why? Determine how to create an environment that allows information to reach leadership so team members and customers know that their concerns will be addressed and not overlooked.

L – Lighthearted: When it stops being fun for you, your team, or your customers, you have started your company in a downward direction and action steps must be taken to change that culture. When your customers and team members have an enjoyable experience there is no better marketing plan available.

Most business wants to and dreams of becoming larger. The reasons are many, but the main reasons are that success is equated many times with more or bigger; however, more doesn’t always mean better; it simply means more.

If your desire is to make your company or business larger, be careful what you wish for. The vast majority of small business entrepreneurs like the risks, controls, and the building of their business many times more than the results. As has been stated many times, it is the journey more than the destination that brings real satisfaction.

For those who are wise enough to realize this, you must understand that all the things that can make the big box stores great are also the things that can be seen as negatives. This provides business owners an opportunity to compete and win over a customer base that eventually is overlooked by so many big box stores.

In the end, all business owners are unique but most entrepreneurs have common traits. They are competitive; they like the action and want to win. They are motivated, work hard, and have an undeniable desire to succeed and make sacrifices to accomplish their goals.

Whatever your goals and aspirations are, stick with them. There is plenty of room for the small, medium, and large companies. The market place needs all three groups. Find out what motivates you and what you really love about your business; pursue that passion with all your heart and you will receive much more than financial reward, but self-satisfaction that what you set out to do you accomplished.

Kevin Coughlin, DMD, MBA, MAGD is an accomplished dentist, author and speaker. With his unique and powerful message, Kevin provides small businesses with actionable solutions when considering strategic change, as well as keys to compete in an expansive market. For more information on bringing Kevin Coughlin in for your next event, please visit www.ascent-dental-solutions.com.

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Understand the True Meaning Behind What Customers Tell Us

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate ZabriskieIn the world of sales and customer service, what people say and what they mean are not always the same thing. Unfortunately, many of us are listening impaired when it comes to getting to the heart of our customers’ messages:

“Maybe in six months.”

“I’m just looking.”

“I can get it on sale somewhere else.”

Sound familiar? Probably. Do you understand what people mean when they use these objections? On the surface, sure, but do you really get your customer’s or prospect’s intended meaning? If you don’t, you could be losing business.

The good news is there’s hope. With some practice and a little bit of discipline, you can tune up your service ears and grow your relationships.

Slowing down and focusing on what others need versus what you can provide is the first step. The second is to listen for a few key phrases and appropriately respond. The following are some of the most common red flags to which you should pay attention.

Maybe: When customers say “maybe,” they often mean “no,” such as in “Maybe we’ll place an order in six months.” Maybe may mean never. When you hear that word, keep asking questions. Don’t wait six months and then act surprised when no order is forthcoming. You have your customer or prospect’s attention now and a chance both to clear up some misconceptions and make a sale or at a minimum to understand why he or she is resistant.

Try one of the following statement in response to a “maybe”:

  • “I understand that you’re on the fence and ordering now isn’t in your plan. Between now and the time when you might order, how will you get ABC done?”
  • “When you place an order six months from now, tell me a little about how you will use XYZ product in your business.”
  • “What other solutions have you considered to accomplish ABC?”

Listen for a few key phrases and appropriately respond. Click To TweetAny of those follow-ups will give you some insight into the other person’s needs and decision process. Notice too that those questions aren’t salesy. Your follow-up—and you for that matter—should show a genuine interest in your customer and his or her concerns. The better you understand people and what motivates them, the more likely you’ll be able to help if there is a fit or to get a straightforward answer if there isn’t. The point is, when you hear “maybe,” investigate.

Fine: In the same lane of the vagueness “maybe” occupies, is another phrase that communicates very little. You’ve heard it before and probably used it yourself, and that’s the word “fine.”

For example, “How is everything?” results in an answer of “Fine.”

Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. You can’t know unless you do a little more digging. People will often say “everything is fine” in lieu of “go away” or a more blunt “totally horrible, but I don’t feel like engaging in conversation about it.”

If you find yourself getting a lot of “everything’s fine,” make subsequent inquiries.

At the same time, try to determine if you’re setting yourself up to hear this “tell-nothing” response. By that, I mean “How is everything?” is a C-minus question to begin with. If you ask something specific, you’ll learn more.

For example, “Which part of the meal was your favorite?” is hard to answer with “fine.” Instead, you’ll most likely discover what your customers liked and what they didn’t.

Instead try “Which part of the meal did you like best?” which might garner a response of “I loved the salmon. The beans were a little spicy for me but still good.”

Isn’t that better? The takeaway to remember is, “fine” doesn’t mean “fabulous,” “fantastic,” or “flawless.” Respond to “fine” with a follow-up question.

Why: When customers ask “why,” they are usually expressing displeasure of some sort, as in “Why is only one register open?” “Why is this so expensive?” or “Why is this offered only in Nebraska?”

Too often, service and salespeople miss the real meaning behind these inquiries. “Why is only one register open?” means to open another register or two! Whereas “Why is this so expensive” translates to “this costs too much.” You get the idea.

Listen for “why,” and respond with something better than “I don’t know” or “you’ll have to ask my manager.” Although your customers aren’t jumping up and down with steam coming out of their ears or carrying gigantic flags with the word “why” emblazoned across them, somewhere lurking behind the question are people on their way to unhappy.

Imagine a busy traveler on a tight schedule in a city unfamiliar to him. He hasn’t seen his own bed in two weeks, few of his flights have followed their published schedules, and he’s missing another one of his kid’s ball games. It’s 11:30 at night and he’s just entered the door of his hotel where you work at the front desk. You exchange pleasantries, take his credit card, and give him the Wi-Fi code.

Just before you send him on his way, you explain that you have a wonderful breakfast waiting for him the next day. He then reacts to you with a “why” question: “Why is breakfast only served between 6:00 and 9:00 in the morning?”

At first you might be thinking, “Because that’s when people eat breakfast.” Fair enough, but the minute that three-letter word passes the traveler’s lips, your internal radar should pop up, and you brain should realize danger is in the air. The traveler’s “why” is a complaint and one that—if handled correctly—can offer you an opportunity to shine. Let’s look at a few possible responses.

“That’s a great question. We’ve found most of our guests prefer that window and…” one of the following:

  • “We do have to go bags here at the desk. If those times don’t work for you, just see the person back here, and he or she will gladly give you breakfast for the road.”
  • “We have a mini-store with a few breakfast items you can purchase if those hours don’t work out. There’s also always fresh coffee and fruit in the lobby.”
  • “If those times don’t work for you, I have a list of restaurants that serve breakfast outside those hours. I would be happy to give you a copy.”

Any of those is sure better than, “I don’t know. My manager decides that, and he isn’t here.”

Whether you’re uncovering the details behind “maybe” and “fine” or recognizing that “why” is often a complaint, better listening can help you build your relationships with people, improve your sales, and enhance the service experience. Take the time to slow down, ask questions, and get to the core of a customer’s message.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

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Be a Customer Service Contender

Why Most Customer Service Isn’t as Good as It Could (or Should) Be and What You Can Do About It

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie“We need to improve our customer service. Get someone in here for an afternoon to fix these people.”

“We’re busy. I may be able to spare a couple of people for a few hours. Beyond that, we don’t have time for training.”

“I don’t get it. I send them to training with an expert consultant, and they seem as if they’re learning something. Then, after a few days, it’s back to the same old stuff. I want to scream.”

Too often, organizations recognize they have a service issue, yet their efforts to address shortcomings fail to solve the problem. In the worst cases, customer service initiatives backfire and motivate people to do less.

So, what’s going on? Usually, a few things. Typically, there’s an organizational mindset misalignment, a lack of commitment from the top, an absence of recognition for giving great service, or a combination of all three. In contrast, legendary service organizations have a service mindset, commitment, and reward great performance. Great service companies involve everyone in their service culture. Click To Tweet

Service Mindset: Great service companies eat, sleep, and breathe extraordinary service. They don’t pull people off the phones for a few hours and expect magic.

  • They have a service mission, and it does more than sit in a frame on a wall in some conference room. It’s top-of-mind throughout the organization. People know it and live it through their daily interactions with customers and each other.
  • They design processes with the customer’s best interest in mind. Think about that well-known airline, so full of love for its customers, it allows them to cancel flights for full credit on a future trip. Clearly they believe most their customers won’t book travel they don’t need, and those who must make a change will eventually choose to fly with them again.
  • They hire people who genuinely love service and are proud to live the brand.
  • They constantly retool the customer experience because they know what worked well in earlier years is long overdue for a makeover.
  • They educate, educate, and then they educate some more. They want to make sure that the people who represent the brand understand what the brand experience is and how to deliver it.

Commitment: Great service companies involve everyone in their service culture and improvement efforts. They invest in their employees and trust them to do what’s right.

  • Their management team models service-centric behavior and holds others accountable for doing the same.
  • Their leaders participate in education efforts, often introducing workshops, wrapping them up, and actively taking part during sessions.
  • They commit to and believe in their staff. Because they’ve chosen their employees well and trained them appropriately, they treat staff members as the adults they are and give them latitude when solving service problems.

Reward: Great service companies reward service-centric behavior. They don’t ignore great work or punish people for taking initiative.

  • They value their employees and recognize that without them there is no customer service.
  • They reward employees by trusting them to do what’s right.
  • They encourage people to find new ways of solving problems.
  • They recognize that a paycheck alone is not enough.

When thinking about everything that the greats do, it’s easy to get discouraged or think your business or department will never achieve true service success. The good news is you’re wrong. While it won’t happen overnight, you can take a page or two from the masters to elevate your approach.

What to Do When You Realize You’re Not Great:

  • Start by thinking about your purpose. What is it that your organization does? Articulate your purpose. Everyone needs to understand your core reason for existing and how the actions he or she takes related to service support that mission.
  • Next, think about your processes and how customers interact with you. Do you have your customers’ best interests at heart? If not, what changes can you make to remedy those shortcomings? This step has an added benefit. When your organization’s and your customers’ goals are in harmony, you will have happier customers. Furthermore, it is less likely your people will find themselves dealing with the unhappy, disappointed, or disgruntled.
  • Model what you want to see. People work for people. If you supervise others, they are watching and learning from you. If you are disengaged, they probably are too. On the other hand, if you embody the spirit of service, you probably see elements of yourself in their performance.
  • Teach your staff what to do and how to do it. You can’t expect people to deliver great service if they don’t know how. Furthermore, you can’t expect them to care if no one at the top does. Take employee development seriously. This means being a champion for training, participating in education, and coaching for new skills after the fact. Eventually, your people will be able to do more, will make better choices, and solve problems more imaginatively.
  • Hire for service skills. The next time you have an opening, think about what makes someone great at service in your organization and seek those attributes. Don’t settle. You’ll be sorry later.
  • Even if you have no budget, you can reward employees for giving great service. Start with a sincere “Thank you.” Heartfelt appreciation can work wonders.
  • Finally, put your continuous-improvement hat on. Systematically evaluate where you’ve been, where you are, and where you are going.

None of these steps is necessarily hard. The trick is to take them. In other words, to win the service game, you have to be in it. What will you do better today?

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

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The Myth of Self-Service

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaanThe idea of self-service has existed in many industries for years and even decades. This includes self-serve gas pumps, checking your own groceries, buying airline tickets online, and banking.

Gas: First, let’s consider gas stations. Unless you are a 30-something driver or younger, you probably remember the days of full-service gas stations. In fact, they were called service stations, because service was what they were all about. These service stations almost always had one mechanic – or more – on duty. For smaller stations, the mechanic was often the one who filled your car with gas.

Here’s how it worked: When you pulled into the station, a strategically placed air hose pneumatically activated a mechanical bell. This alerted the attendant that a customer had arrived, and he would scurry out to greet you.

Staying in your car, you would roll down your window and make your request, “Fill it up, please.” Often you and the attendant were on a first name basis. As he was filling your tank, he would wash your front windshield and sometimes the back. Next, he would offer to check your oil. (Unless it had just been changed or recently checked – which he remembered.) That’s not all. He would glance at your tires, and if one appeared under inflated, he would whisk a tire gauge out of his pocket and check the pressure, putting in more air if it was warranted. He would also make recommendations based on other observations, such as, “Looks like you’re ready for new front tires,” “That muffler doesn’t sound too good,” or “We better at a look at those brakes soon.”

Yes, this was a full-service operation, deftly suggesting up-sells (“Do you want to try Premium today”) and cross-sell opportunities (“When do you want your oil changed”) – though this wasn’t what it was called; it was just good customer service. Today, with self-service, we are left on our own to keep our car in good operating condition and we only see our mechanic when something is wrong.

In an apparent effort to save on labor or cut overhead, some stations began offering “self-service” pumps. In order to entice the public to pump their own fuel, the self-serve gas was priced lower. Most people weren’t too interested, at least until the price of gas jumped and the discount increased along with it. Still some people swore they would never fill their own tanks, but over time they were forced to do so as full-service pumps became scarcer. The truth is, most people didn’t want self-serve, but they reluctantly did so to save money or were forced to when it became the only option. Today, self-serve gas pumps are an expected way of life, but that merely happened because it became the only option.

Food: Then there is the grocery store. I’ll admit that I don’t often find myself there – and when I do, it’s only to buy a couple of things – but I do gravitate towards the self-checkout. For a few items it can be faster – providing everything works correctly. Self-checkout can also be irritating, repeatedly barking out annoying instructions and getting obstinate if it thinks you did something wrong.

Given a choice between a next-in-line cashier and self-service, I will always opt for a person. I find it to be faster and less frustrating. I can’t imagine the time-consuming task of doing a large order via self-checkout. However, when the cashier lines are long, which can often be the case, I gladly duck into the self-checkout and hope for the best. In this case, self-service wins out when full-service lines (that is, queues) grow too long. It’s not that it’s preferred, but merely the least objectionable.

Travel: Nowadays, everyone books airline tickets online. It doesn’t save me time, but it does afford the opportunity to check every conceivable option, finding the ideal balance between cost and convenience. Maybe I scrutinize my options too closely, but I would gladly spend an hour researching flights, times, and airports if it will save me from a long layover, an extra night in a hotel, or a couple hundred dollars on a fare. Still, the days of calling a travel agent, giving her my travel itinerary in a few seconds, and having tickets arrive the next day provide an appealing invitation to return to full-service.

Banking: The banking industry is full of choices. I can select from two full-service options and three self-serve options. For transactions warranting full-service, I can go to the nearest branch or phone their call center. For self-serve, I can use an ATM, bank-by-phone (using an IVR system), or access my account via the Internet. The option I select is primarily a result of what I need to accomplish, but my focus is on speed and convenience. It’s nice to have options: self-service for some things, full-service for others.

The Self-Serve Bust: The dot-com boom in the late 1990s brought the prospect of self-service to an unwise conclusion. In simplistic terms, their generic business plan (aside from burning through mass quantities of investor cash) was that they would create a scalable website, which could be quickly ramped up as demand for their product or service grew.

Customer service would not be an issue (or so they thought) as they would offer self-service options that were likewise scalable. There would be no massive call centers to build and no agents to hire. Basically there would be no people to help their customers; computers would do all that via the Internet. It didn’t work. The few dot-coms that survived did so because they realized they needed to offer more options than just self-service.

Call Centers to the Rescue: Even with this history and varying degrees of success, it doesn’t imply that self-service is the way to go, especially when responsive call centers can surpass the generally mediocre effectiveness of self-service. Yes, there are times when self-service is the answer; there are also times when it is not.

When properly implemented (which means it must be user-friendly, accessible, and reliable), people will opt for self-service only if it can increase timeliness, save money, be more effective, or is more available. If it can’t do at least one of these things, people will only do self-service if they have to – complaining about it all the while. In reality, most people don’t really prefer self-service. What they want is full-service that is friendly, accessible, and reliable. In our global economy, that often means they want a call center – a good call center.

Self-service is generally not selected because it is the superior option, but because it is the least objectionable one. So what is the ideal solution? It’s a full-service call center, not with self-service options, but with people. Think about it: who would prefer to spend an hour on the Internet, scrolling through FAQs or waiting for an automated response to an email query, if they could just pick up the phone and quickly get a response?

This means a call center done right. What does that look like? Ideally it is:

  • Calls answered quickly
  • No busy signals
  • First-call resolution
  • No transfer
  • No queue or short queue (or a creative, entertaining on-hold program with accurate traffic updates)
  • Trained, knowledgeable, personable, and polite representatives
  • Correct responses
  • Consistent experience

With that, why would anyone want self-service? Why would they ever switch to a different company? A call center, done right, will beat self-service every time.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

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