By Micah Solomon
There are plenty of ways in which your business shouldn’t Amazon-ize its customer experience–because there’s only one Amazon, and if you’re reading this article, it’s probably not you. Your business is likely to have more color, flavor, local relevance and story than Amazon does; these are powerful advantages, what Seth Godin might call “the edges that matter,” that you need to do everything in your power to preserve and enhance. Yet what Amazon does well, in terms of its customer experience, it does extremely well. Here are three moves that, if I were your customer experience consultant, I’d advise you to take toward emulating that extraordinary Amazon customer experience.
1. Streamline the beginning(s) of your customer experience.
This means different things for different types of businesses. With Amazon, this generally means connecting the curious customer to the right product immediately: for example, via the search term-optimized pages–optimized to the customers’ needs, not just the company’s. (Try searching the Amazon site for brown men’s short-sleeve shirts. Impressively, the search result will turn up dozens of results that not only have brown as a hypothetical option (to be then chosen by you via the color/size/fit wheel), they will have brown pre-selected and every shirt the search turns up will be in stock in that color, at least in some sizes.) In the case of your own business, it’s as likely the “beginning” will be an initial search for information or an initial query of your organization in the hope of ultimately doing business with you.
Some of the ways to ensure a great first interaction and impression are totally old school, such as answering the phone faster than the other guys do. PURE Insurance, an insurer specializing in high net worth individuals (HNWI) as clients [here’s my article on customer service for HNWI], commits itself to answering the phone within an astonishingly short 8 seconds or less, and sets its staffing levels high enough to ensure that this happens. And some solutions on the latest technology, such as the deployment of AI and chatbots to make sure there is zero lag in answering a customer inquiry, even if you’re not able to staff to the level of a company like PURE and even if the majority of your inquiries come via digital means rather than over the telephone. Ryan Lester, Director of Customer Engagement Technologies at LogMeIn, developers of Bold360, an AI-powered customer engagement solution, tells me, “First impressions mean a lot when it comes to the customer journey. According to research we conducted with Ovum, 82% of customers said they would stop doing business with a company following one bad experience—and it stands to reason that if that “bad experience” happens immediately, a prospective customer may never trust you enough to even start doing business with you in the first place. Emerging technologies like AI-powered chatbots are helping companies provide 24/7 support without overburdening call centers or leaving customers on hold,” although, Lester cautions, “AI today is not designed to solve all customer problems and should not replace or impersonate human agents” and such a mis-deployment could end up sabotaging first impressions rather than enhancing them.
2. Provide a good, easy-to-reach human response when self-service fails to satisfy your customer.
Although they didn’t quite get this right in the early days of the company, Amazon is now quite good at ensuring that a customer will get a satisfactory human response when self-service fails to satisfy them. There are two aspects involved in pulling this off: a) making sure that customers in such a situation are actually able to get to a human being; b) making sure that this human being is well trained in, and well-suited to, the art of customer service recovery. For item a), staffing levels and site design are the essentials. Once you’re confident that you’ve got enough human support at the ready, I suggest that, rather than you choosing for your customers who is worthy of human assistance and who you’re going to punish for their unwillingness to continue to try your company’s attempts to provide a self-service solution, you let each customer decide for themselves whether or not they need human assistance, and then give it to them. (This is how Amazon does it; if you the customer aren’t satisfied with the automated or pre-scripted options, you’re invited to contact a human being without delay, via your choice of live chat or email.) For item b), ensuring the humans providing service are well suited to and well trained for the position, I encourage you to consider your hiring practices for customer-facing positions [I discuss how to hire the best customer-focused employees here] and I suggest that everyone who will be providing customer service recovery bone up on a methodology such as my 5-step AWARE system for customer service recovery; let me know if you’d like a formatted printable version of this for your office use.
3. Strive for frictionless resolution of common customer requests.
One of the great things about being an Amazon customer is how frictionless the return-and-refund process is. It’s not just that you know you can, without an argument, get a refund when something goes wrong—although that’s a pretty big deal in itself. It’s that the process of resolving the issue is so extraordinarily easy: You generate the shipping label on your own; your choice of carriers will take the package; in some cases you’ll even receive your refund as soon as the package is scanned without having to wait for the product to get all the way back to Kentucky or Las Vegas or wherever Amazon has directed you to send it.
In most any kind of business, emulating Amazon’s lead here is valuable, both because it’s so pleasant for the customer and because it saves resources for your business to not have to hand-hold and manually process the most common kind of issues that customers have, such as the need for a refund. Pradeep (Paddy) Rathinam, CEO of AnswerIQ, a Seattle-based company that helps companies such as Groupon provide service to their end users, says that AI-informed solutions such as his offer an automated way of issuing a refund for unused services or returned products to deserving customers without the need to involve an agent. The AnswerIQ solution “involves validating that the customer in question has paid for the product/service and applying business-specific rules as needed, and then (if the rules are met) issuing a refund. The overall process takes, at most, minutes and costs under $1 per ticket.” Whether or not this is the type of solution that makes sense for your style of business, the concept here of triaging what can be handled automatically and then providing a frictionless solution for your customer will set you ahead with your customers and streamline life within your company as well.