April 27, 2012
The more complex the product and the greater the gap between customers’ prior experiences and the way in which the new product or service is used or consumed, the more likely help will be needed.
Organizations need to make a greater effort to anticipate such needs and provide help in various forms to assist customers. This might be as simple as user instructions, a user manual or instruction videos. More complex situations might require a training class, consulting support, a guide or mentoring.
All of this is necessary because the lack of help or assistance can quickly lead to a highly unsatisfied customer. I’ll pull an example from my own life, when I worked with my young son to assemble a remote-controlled car.
For some reason, all his friends suddenly became passionate about these, and as a parent, the pressure was on me to step up to the mark and satisfy the actual need and the social status of having one. I was also informed by my wife that this was a “bonding session” and therefore a necessary dad task.
But this bonding exercise became a disaster as I failed to understand, based on the instructions provided, how to install the battery and put the wheels on. The happy experience resulted in tears from my son as I pushed and prodded. According to my son, I was in grave danger of breaking his car.
I took the partly assembled car back to the shop and, containing my anger, explained the problem. “Easily solved,” the shop assistant explained. “You just cut away the battery cover and file down the wheel posts. Everyone knows to do that!” Pity the instructions didn’t explain that, as it would have saved a good deal of pain.
What’s surprising is that my experience is not uncommon. How many times have you heard of people complaining about the lack of direction, poor instructions, misleading information, unintelligible manuals, poor instructors or unrealistic examples?
Many times, I’ve resorted to friends to help understand how something worked or to YouTube tutorials to work out how to undertake an activity. Every time this happens, however, it indicates a failure on the part of the vendor. I shouldn’t need to go through a painful experience to discover through trial and error how to use something.
If I found the experience frustrating, wasteful, stressful, annoying or painful, why would I consider recommending the product to someone else? I might be willing to buy it again after I work out the secret of how to use it, but would I wish the initial experience on anyone else?
Often, vendors will have a help desk or online request facility. But these can be somewhat suboptimal if their use results in a negative experience. If I send you an email with a question, will it take a month to get an answer? Will I be directed to a Q&A webpage without any access to further clarification?
Organizations need to understand the support required for customers to use the product or service properly, satisfy their need or solve their problem. When these situations occur, ask your customer these questions:
- What information was missing, misleading or incorrect?
- What further information did you need to search for to complete the user experience?
- Was the information provided in instructions, user manuals or videos adequate to allow you to use the product or consume the service satisfactorily?
- What non-vendor information or activities did you utilize to work out how to use the product or to overcome problems you experienced?
- What information or activity was the most valuable in getting the most out of the product or service experience?
- What further information could we have provided that would have made your experience more optimal?
The fix is in
My request for help may also relate to having an item repaired or upgraded. If I have spent considerable money on buying something, I may have an expectation that I can easily have it repaired or upgraded.
I need to know what’s available, how I access the service and the process I use to make the arrangements for the service. If the item is essential to the tasks I am undertaking, the speed with which the repair or upgrade is undertaken will also influence my satisfaction.
Of course, not everything can be repaired or upgraded. If I understand this at the time of purchase, I would have a lower expectation of this being available and would not be overly disappointed if that was the case, excluding problems that would be covered by a replacement under warranty.
A poor experience relating to repair or upgrade can seriously impact customer satisfaction, especially if they feel the service should be available, accessible and reasonably priced.
I would also be upset if an item had an unreasonable level of failures or breakages through normal and anticipated use. If, outside of warranty, an item was not able to be repaired or was cost-prohibitive to be repaired, the vendor should make this information clearly available so the right expectation is set.
In situations in which items can be repaired, the vendor should state where they can be repaired, what can be repaired, what the likely cost of repair is, how long the repair is likely to take and whether a replacement, loan or rental service is available (and at what cost).
Organizations need to anticipate the life-cycle needs of the customer, not just the initial purchase event. By making sure the customer has support throughout the life of the product or service, the vendor ensures a continued satisfactory experience.
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