By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
After our basement flooded and the insurance company said, “Sorry, you’re not covered,” I knew it was time to find a new insurer. As I scanned a website for an insurance agent’s phone number, I spotted an information request form. I filled it out, including the customer-centric option: “How should we contact you?”
The five choices were phone, email, text, fax, and mail. While the last three seemed highly unsuitable – text would become cumbersome and fax or mail would take too long – I vacillated between a phone call and an email. I selected email, largely because it would provide a documentation trail of our communication.
I clicked submit.
Soon my phone rang. It was an agent from my prospective insurance company. Normally a phone call would have been fine, even preferable. But why did they ask what I wanted if they weren’t going to do as I requested? We weren’t off to a good start.
I reminded the agent that I preferred email communication, and we switched to email for our subsequent interactions. To the company’s credit, the agent stuck with that channel. As we moved towards finalizing the policy, I had a series of questions more suited to the efficiency of a phone call. This caught the agent off guard, but she answered my questions and confirmed my understanding. I now have insurance through a new company.
This reminds me of the time I looked for a new auto mechanic. The one I picked allowed people to request an appointment online. I filled out the form. They, too, asked how I wanted to be contacted. I selected “text” since I assumed this was the ideal channel for a succinct confirmation message.
They emailed me.
The date I requested was full, and so was my second choice. Obviously their appointment module was a static form and not integrated with their actual schedule. I emailed them back with a third date, and I received a follow up email with a question. We went back and forth with email messages, taking most of the day to set an appointment. A phone call would have been so much more efficient.
Since then I’ve realized that email is their default mode. Though I’ve requested texts to confirm appointments, they’ve never once done so; it’s always email. And when I ask them to call me when my car is ready, they usually don’t bother to communicate at all. The only time they did call me was when they under-billed me. Apparently they thought a phone call was the best way to resolve that.
Considering this, a few thoughts come to mind:
Offering Options Is Good: Letting customers and prospects pick how they prefer to be contacted is a customer-friendly move and a great idea, especially given that customers usually have options of who to do business with and are quick to exercise those options.
Not Honoring Those Options Is Bad: Not using the channel a customer requests is worse than not offering the option in the first place. If you can’t (or won’t) contact customers by the method they request, don’t bother to ask.
Not Responding at All Is Worse: Making no effort to contact customers when they request it is the worst possible mistake. How hard would it be for my mechanic to let me know when my car is ready? He can call, email, or text. Instead I’m left to guess when I can pick up my car.
Know When to Switch Channels: Sometimes a preferred channel bogs down communication. When emails or texts go back and forth without resolution, it’s time to pick up the phone, but before doing so, make that suggestion through the customer’s channel of choice.
Asking how customers want you to contact them is great if you follow through, but if you don’t do as they request, you’re better off not providing this as an option. Conversely know when it’s appropriate to switch channels. Providing excellent customer service relies on excellent communication, whether it’s within the requested channel or outside of it.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.
[From Connection Magazine – November/December 2015]