Customer Service in a Time of Considerable Uncertainty

Posted on June 18, 2020October 1, 2020Categories Research1 Comment on Customer Service in a Time of Considerable Uncertainty

Don’t be the problem, be the solution!
By Tery Spataro, @tery

Customer Service in A Time of Considerable Uncertainty
Photo credit: Toa Heftiba

I studied the behavior of bank customers for over seven years. COVID-19 crisis created an unexpected future for all of us. The customers of financial institutes are facing economic challenges, and they will need help with recovery planning. Good customer service is more important than ever. There is much uncertainty, which is adding to the anxiety and vulnerability customers are experiencing. I explain the causes of customer anxiety and vulnerability using my studies and data from other sources of consumer behavior.

The economic ambiguity created by COVID-19 led to many misunderstandings about consumer behavior. Think about the negative opinions bestowed upon families that were trying to plan household needs while experiencing social distancing. There is a misunderstanding around the act of toilet paper hoarding, which reveals circumstances not considered. Think about the Pre-COVID-19:

  • Customers worked out the home.
  • Children were going to school.

Social distancing created the need to plan out toilet paper usage. Mayonnaise is another sought after product that consumers could not get enough. Pre-COVID-19 lunches were purchased by people working out of home and students attending school. COVID-19 caught consumers off guard with no crisis planning.

Your customer service needs to take these realities into account.

In a COVID-19 world, there are continually changing circumstances. Most customers are not prepared for change. Adding to change of circumstances and vulnerability is unemployment. As of May 29, 2020, there are more than forty million people in the U.S. that are unemployed. (N.Y. Times, 2020). Many people were unprepared for this tremendous financial upheaval.

Understanding Their Fears Creates Better Customer Service

Customer service has changed since the COVID-19 crisis
The COVID-19 crisis has changed how consumers interact with companies.

I wanted to understand coping during the COVID-19 crisis. I launched my survey from April 17-April 23, 2020, and gathered 383 responses from U.S. consumers. Respondents were asked about their financial outlook for the next six months. An 11-point scale was used so that they can indicate their feelings between poor and good. Fifty-one percent of the respondents felt their outlook is weak, and forty-nine percent felt good. They were asked to indicate their feeling about the overall economy six months from now, 70% felt less hopeful about the general economy.

In the PreCovid-19 world, consumers were ready to embark on higher purchases. In early 2019, the U.S. unemployment rate was 3.9%. At that time, I asked thousand U.S. consumers to identify their next big financial event, of which forty-three percent said they would buy a house or vehicle requiring a mortgage or auto loan. Consumers were beginning to feel secure about the economy. Even in these good times, customer service was something companies needed to improve.

The COVID-19 circumstances made life dire for everyone in the U.S. and the world. Social distancing and self-isolation measures put in place to protect each other from getting or giving the coronavirus.

In the COVID-19 coping study, there are many reasons that impacted 383 respondents’ ability to cope. The change to living circumstances had the most significant effect, such as adjusting to social distancing (66%) and modifying behaviors and habits (54%). There are many challenges respondents experienced in coping during the COVID-19 crisis. Forty-one percent of the respondents identified with having to accept the loss of physical connection, while twenty-nine percent acclimated to working from home, and twenty-eight percent transitioned to shopping online.

These impacts changed not only the number of interactions with customer service staff, but the critical nature of those connections. How does a company provide customer service when the customer is stressed?

Other Surveys Agree: Customers Are Stressed

Correlating findings from a recent poll conducted from May 12-17, 2020, two-thirds of Americans do not expect their daily lives to return to normal for at least six months. Three-quarters of those polled are concerned about the second wave of coronavirus cases. (Poll. 2020).

Vulnerability is a challenge to the recovery for the U.S. economy, which will take longer because of ambiguity about the future. Consumer Reports is tracking how consumers are faring during the pandemic. Survey results show that many Americans are delaying planned purchases or abandoning those plans altogether. Fifty-seven percent have delayed a large home improvement project, 18% have canceled it outright. Elective medical procedures — are being delayed by 70% for concerns of COVID-19. (Brancaccio. 2020).

The customer service functions of travel, hospitality, and even health care companies have been the “make or break” touch point for these consumers.

Banks should prepare for the shifts in behavior of Pre-COVID-19 customers who preferred location, convenience, availability of branches, low to no fees, and a safe place to keep their money. These needs were essential to delivering excellent customer service.  Most importantly, banks will need to shift as a source of trust to help customers through these difficult times. Banks need to be the solutions instead of creating more anxiety for already overwhelmed and frightened customers.

I am pleased to be working with Frank Bria on a new study examining the behavior, attitudes, and sentiment of bank customers who are experiencing the challenges from the COVID-19 crisis. We’re studying how banks should react to changing customer sentiment to provide on-boarding, customer service, retention and loss mitigation strategies. In the coming weeks, Frank and I will share our findings.

Sources:

Poll, Marist. (May 20, 2020). Americans Concerned about Second Coronavirus Wave… Nearly Two in Three Don’t Expect “Normalcy” Before, At Least, Six Months. NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll Results & Analysis.

Brancaccio, David. (May 22, 2020). The Consumer Reports CEO on fighting for protections in our online world. Market Place.


How Search Engine Optimization Really Works

Posted on June 11, 2020May 24, 2020Categories ArticleTags , , , , , , , ,   Leave a comment on How Search Engine Optimization Really Works

If you build your SaaS product with these goals in mind, you can reduce customer churn and create a much better program.

What is it and Why Should I Care?

Search engine optimization, simply put, is the process of growing the quality and quantity of website traffic by increasing the visibility of a website or a web page to users of a web search engine. The organic results (results that come from following rules the algorithm sets to get higher on the list), versus the paid search results (paying search engines for ad space at the top of all relevant searches), are the primary purpose of search engine optimization, but paid results are also included as a part of this almost 95 billion dollar industry.

This is important for a variety of reasons, but the most important use of mastering search engine optimization is the opportunity to grow your business and gain more traffic to your website and products. Statistics show that over 60 percent of all clicks are from the first five top results from search engines, meaning if your website is found in those first results it can drastically improve your website traffic and click-through rate, leaving those who do not prioritize search engine optimization behind.

How Search Engine Optimization Works

Agencies and service-based companies in this multi billion-dollar industry are notorious for leaving wakes of dissatisfied customers at every turn. They do not understand the fundamentals of search engine optimization, as the agencies employ marketers and advertisers to help businesses improve their click-through rates without even knowing the basics or how to. However, the solution to the problems that these agencies have caused lay with technology and software developers, people that are engineers who understand the search engines’ algorithms, which are the most important mechanism that determines top search results.

Where the Industry Fails

Companies within the search engine optimization industry have continually reinforced the belief that if a website just has “really good content” and uses a certain keyword over and over again, they can effectively ignore the search engine’s algorithms, leaving their clients’ success up to mere chance. However, Google and other search engines algorithms are much more sophisticated than just simple solutions, and they require software developers and computer engineers to explain and market how to understand and work with these algorithms.

Search engine optimization should not be about trying to escape or even “beat” these powerful algorithms, at its core it is about working with and developing tools to more effectively help businesses and customers understand and predict where their products and websites will end up in the results pages. Once you understand what you are up against, then you can more effectively shape and change your model and content to become more marketable. You do not need an advertiser or a marketing specialist to “spruce up” or “revamp” your products only to leave the most important way to grow your business–the click-through rate–to luck.

Solutions to Search Engine Optimization

Simply put, this industry can be saved by software-based tech developers like Geoff Atkinson and his company Huckabuy. As we talked with him, he let us in on some of the things that sets his company apart from all of the others who claim to do the same thing

One of the most important things is that his company relies on actual scalable products to improve their customers’ website optimization. They have two main software products: SEOCloud and Structured Data, which in an average of two weeks delivers their clients a fully optimized website that aligns with Google’s algorithm.

 Not only that, but Huckabuy’s products are also reliable as they are predictive, not reactive. Google and similar search engines’ algorithms have constant updates, which leaves many other agencies behind in how they understand what they are selling. However, Huckabuy predicts the macrotrends that Google follows, allowing themselves and their customers smooth transitions as the platforms constantly develop.

Customer-wise, Atkinson acknowledges the shortcomings of this industry, that countless agencies have left many clients feeling burned and dissatisfied with how they were treated. Huckabuy, however, pledges to be transparent and communicative throughout the process of helping their clients build optimized websites and grow their businesses.

We talk about search engine optimization and so much more in our episode of the SaaS CX podcast show, which you can listen to here. If interested you can also learn more about Geoff Atkinson and Huckabuy at Huckabuy.com.

Taking a Great Forward-Thinking Approach to Project Management

Posted on June 4, 2020May 18, 2020Categories ArticleTags , ,   Leave a comment on Taking a Great Forward-Thinking Approach to Project Management

All too often, businesses take a catch-up approach to project management and analysis. Rather than planning ahead and anticipating needs, these companies perform autopsies after the fact. Unfortunately, this method can lead to high customer churn rates.

Here’s the scenario – a major client just booked a profitable project with your company. You’re super excited to get started, and your teams are working hard to complete it on time. Unfortunately, midway through, you realize that you’re burning through staff-hours and not getting the results that your client wanted through the applied project management. Once the project is over, you look back and see what went wrong. However, before you have a chance to make changes, a new client signs up, and the cycle starts again.

Does this sound familiar? If you’re like most SaaS customer service companies, it should. All too often, businesses take a catch-up approach to project management and analysis. Rather than planning ahead and anticipating needs, these companies perform autopsies after the fact. Unfortunately, this method can lead to high customer churn rates.

Instead, it’s better to look forward, not backward. Instead of looking at the rearview mirror, start looking through the windshield. To help us understand the value of this approach, we’re talking with Mark Robinson, CEO of Kimble Applications. Kimble helps SaaS companies create automated processes to streamline operations and deliver better results. Here are some pointers.

Processes Dictate Systems, Not Vice Versa

Project Automation
Once you understand the steps each team member should be taking, you can find the right tools to accommodate them.

Because SaaS companies are all about technology, it’s tempting to want to use the latest and greatest programs and tools. However, while they may seem appealing at first, are they really solving a problem or a need? If not, then what’s the point?

Part of Mark’s work at Kimble is helping companies understand the movements behind each system. Yes, you have a high-tech CRM, but what good is it if the sales team doesn’t use it efficiently? So, rather than throwing technology at the problem, you have to take a process-focused approach first. Once you understand the steps each team member should be taking, you can find the right tools and project management to accommodate them.

Change Management Happens at the Top

Another reason so many SaaS companies experience high customer churn rates is that, even when adjustments are implemented, they don’t take hold for very long. This is because the people who champion these changes aren’t the ones influencing everyone else.

So, if you want your company to adopt better processes and streamlined operations, the management team has to be the first to onboard and activate. From there, it’s much easier to keep everyone else on track and avoid falling back into old habits.

Analysis and Adaptation Don’t Stop After Launch

Finally, too many SaaS companies view the going live date as the endpoint of a project management. However, that’s only one component of a much larger picture. If your churn rate is high after six months or a year, that’s an indication of low activation and something is wrong on the project management. Yes, you onboarded your clients and helped them master the software, but they’re still not achieving their goals.

One of the issues here is measuring the wrong metrics. Rather than focusing on user interactions, you want to get to the core of your delivery. For example, if your software is meant to save time on invoicing, how is that coming along? How many hours were your clients spending before compared to now? If the difference is negligible, you’ll need to adjust accordingly.

Overall, you should view each project management as an ongoing part of your business. By doing so, you can improve your customer service experience and reduce churn. If you want to find out more about these elements, check out the latest episode of the SaaS CX Show here. You can also learn more about Kimble Applications at www.kimbleapps.com.