From the Trenches: Customer Service

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We're going to start a new feature here at Consumer Corner, From the Trenches. Every now and then we'll talk to real consumers, face-to-face, and find out what drives them to visit certain websites, abandon them, convert, and so on. This is completely unscientific and reflects just a few opinions, but it should give us some insight to the consumer mind, from many different angles. We start with my Dad, 65 years old, retired.

My Dad uses his laptop every day, mostly to find news. So he's moderately savvy even though he still double-clicks absolutely everything and doesn't yet realize that a browser will auto-fill an address, so he types in each address in its entirety while fixated on the keyboard. Yet, when his new GE dishwasher stopped working, he turned to the Internet.

First, it's significant to note that he decided to go online for help. In the past, he may have turned to the phone book to find a repair person - something of the "We repair GE" variety, as he's done so many times in the past. Why did he go online? Because he figured a solid brand like GE would have a solid Web presence. And when he went to GE's website he had no trouble finding the service section.

The steps he needed to take were clear. They asked for details, including make and model number, when it was installed, what warranty it was under, nature of the problem and more. After all this, he was able to schedule an appointment for service. He then got a phone call, confirming the appointment. And another automated phone call, informing him that his technician was on the way, about 30 minutes until arrival. When the technician arrived (on time), he had all of the information previously provided, so he had a diagnosis, the proper parts and warranty information. The dishwasher was seemingly fixed. When it broke again that same day, another appointment was scheduled and another service call was made. The technician arrived (on time again) and had a full list of the previous visit, and fixed the problem.

Takeaways:

GE knows their industry. Dishwashers are essential household items, they sometimes break and need to be immediately repaired. And GE is prepared. The website has a clear path to "service," and they gather detailed information. Perhaps the repair person from the phone book would need to go back to the shop to find the right parts. What type of customer service is most important to your consumers? If you're a hosting provider, speed is critical. If you're a retailer, perhaps it's the availability of online user manuals or detailed FAQ's. How are you addressing those concerns? Make sure they turn to you for help first, not a third party.

GE delivered. It's one thing to put a good face forward, but you must follow through. An appointment was scheduled and upheld, and the automated phone system kept the information flowing. In service situations, nobody wants to wait "between the hours of 8am and 5pm." For your website, this means responding to consumer questions promptly. Even if you don't have the answer, make sure they know you're working on it, and you will get back to them as soon as you have an answer.

Even when they got it wrong, GE got it right. The first service call didn't fix the problem. But the second time they were prepared again with all the previous information so that the problem could be addressed properly and quickly - no explanations were necessary. Make sure you keep detailed records of customer complaints. And if you mess up the first time, own up to your mistake, and have quick access to the original problem so your consumers don't need to go through the entire process again.

GE's systems are integrated. The website is perfectly synced with the repair team and the customer. When dealing with multiple facets of your business and your customers, communication and information accessibility is key.

So what's the result of all this? GE had one chance to make an impression, and it worked. According to Dan Phillips, "Next time, I'll buy another GE." This is despite a dishwasher that broke and a failed first repair. All because the website made things easy and promises were made and kept; good customer service.

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