Every step of the purchase process needs to be easy and low effort for the customer to drive customer satisfaction. But is this easier said than done? Our guests discuss ways they serve their consumers well at the purchase stage on this episode of “Journey — Exploring the Customer Experience.”
Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Andy Johns: This is “Journey — Exploring the Customer Experience.” A special six-part StoryConnect miniseries hosted by Carrie Huckeby. Journey is a production of WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. And in partnership with our presenting sponsor, Calix, whose mission is to enable broadband service providers of all sizes to simplify, excite and grow. Email us at hello@WordSouth.com to continue this customer experience conversation.
Carrie Huckeby: We’ve talked so far about the customer experience in terms of awareness — knowing your product and the company exists. And then evaluation — learning what you offer and what it will be like to do business with your company. And it’s all leading towards a big moment. The next step on the customer journey for both the customer and the company is purchase. This is where the individual stops being a consumer and becomes a customer. They’re ready to make or have made the decision to trust your service, your employees and your company. Is it possible for us to mess it up at this point? Well, sure we can. The consumer may err on the side of caution, looking for reasons to question their buying decision. Often they are skeptical and may be looking for a sign. Although it’s important to get it right at all stages, this stop on the customer journey determines the future of the relationship. Here is where it’s determined if there is a relationship. And at this stop, it’s got to be low effort. It needs to be personalized by asking questions, listening, stepping into the consumer’s shoes. This stop is where you must remove any doubt that your company is the right choice. Kyle Randleman starts off our conversation about purchase with an example of how NOT to do customer service.
Kyle Randleman: We used to be horrible. I’ll just go ahead and tell you. We used to be so bad. It would take sometimes 40 or 50 minutes. The customer would always have to come into the office to sign the paperwork. They would blow an hour doing a new service order for a new customer because we’re sitting there having to repeat the same things over and over and over. And it was just bad. So over the last four or five years, we’ve made some big upgrades in the billing system, a coordinated plant software package that actually talks to the billing system. Imagine that. And just different things that we’ve gone out and improved has made it to where we can knock out a service order in five to ten minutes, and be done with the customer. And the customer can be thinking about things other than their Internet. We used to make an enemy every time a customer used to leave our office after sitting for 50 minutes to an hour doing a new service order. They hated our guts by the time we even started. I mean, we weren’t doing the James Brown and getting on the good foot. We were on the bad foot every time we had to do a new customer. So that was really key to me is getting that service time down and respecting the customers time and sales.
Carrie Huckeby: We certainly don’t want to make enemies out of our customers, but thankfully, Kyle and his team recognized their flaw. And instead of ignoring the problem and hoping it would get better on its own, they thought about it from the customer’s perspective. And improved not only the customer experience, but by streamlining the process and making it more efficient, they saved the company’s employees valuable time. We know employee time and the consumer’s time is valuable. To make things more effortless and to respect the customer’s schedule, many companies have or are moving to online ordering systems. When I asked Dee Dee Longenecker if that’s the direction Eastex is moving, she shared her thoughts about the importance of human conversation at the purchase stage.
Dee Dee Longenecker: We are pretty basic with that. When customers are ready to purchase, they can either call us and they can conduct that purchase over the phone, or they can come through our business office. Right now during Covid, it’s through our drive through. So we have a drive through at each of our three business offices, and they’re still fully operational during the pandemic. So that’s it. We’re not doing any online ordering at this time. I’m kind of glad for that, honestly, because I think it’s very helpful when our customer service representatives can talk to the customer and understand that customer — understand what their life looks like a little bit and what they really are trying to accomplish. You know, are they talking to a single mom with three kids, and she’s pulling her hair out because those kids are all doing virtual learning at home right now? Or is she talking to maybe a senior who isn’t very comfortable with using the Internet and maybe doesn’t do any streaming, and it’s an opportunity to try and help that senior cut the cord on cable and get some more streaming options, save some money? You know, things like that. So I think it’s very important. I think when you push customers more to online platforms for making online purchases, I think you lose your ability a little bit to really assist those customers. So while I would like to see us move more into some other tools, like a chat. I think it would be great to have a chat function so that customers who don’t necessarily want to talk to somebody, they could chat. But you’re still at least having that one-on-one interaction with a real person, a real customer service representative who wants to guide that customer through the experience and ensure that customer gets what they’re really going to be most happy with in the end.
Carrie Huckeby: Deb Lucht echoes Dee Dee about the importance of employee consumer conversation when it’s time to make the buying decision.
Deb Lucht: We are not fully integrated to do service online because we really feel that that is our point of being able to have that contact with that customer. And if we’re just driving them to sign up for services on the website, we miss that opportunity to have the conversation with them. But we have a lot of information about the products and services, and then encourage them then to call in. And then once we have had that opportunity to visit with the residential customer or the business customer, then we can do an application process electronically with them to get the services in place. But we really want to engage in that personal one-on-one conversation.
Carrie Huckeby: Dee Dee went on to explain how important listening is when it comes to personalizing service. It’s a skill that takes practice. And for Eastex, it’s about having employees in tune with their customers.
Dee Dee Longenecker: I’m constantly talking to various other staffers at Eastex. They call me, and they say that I was just talking to a customer, and they were talking to me about how they’d really like to have this option. Or they’d like to do this. Or they need this kind of system, or this type of solution. And so I would say, yes, many of our business development plans and projects are derived directly from customer communication, especially in the business side of the house. So where our business customers, you know, I mentioned earlier, we work with the tribe, the we have the Alabama–Coushatta Tribe of Texas as one of our largest business customers. And we talk with them continually about their needs, and we hear from them very honest feedback about, you know, they’re going to be opening a certain building or center, or they have a big gaming facility out in our area. And so when they talk to us about what they’d like or what kind of solutions they’re looking for, we will go the extra mile and try to develop customized solutions for customers like that. And oftentimes we can find a solution that works on a large scale for a large customer like that, but we can find a way to create different tiers so that we can have some solutions that work for smaller customers as well. One of my challenges is that we absolutely need to have some consistency in order to preserve the quality of the services that we offer. So it is hard when you want to please all of your customers, and you do have that heightened sense of caring for those customers experiences. But we are not able to customize the solution for each and every customer. And I know that we have a workforce that would love it if we could. I would love it if we could. But so managing the balance between trying to provide some customized solutions when you can, but then making sure that we’re creating consistencies.
Carrie Huckeby: Dee Dee talked about her employees listening and understanding customer pain points. Shannon Sears from WCTEL reminds us that asking the right questions and truly listening to the answers prevents the employees from making any assumptions about what the customer should buy.
Shannon Sears: We have to be prepared to be able to answer the calls that are coming in and have that conversation with them. And to be honest with you, we want to have that conversation with them because it gives us an opportunity to sell them other services. It gives us an opportunity to up sell, for instance, in Internet speeds or to ask the questions that get them to the point where we understand what they need, and this is what we can provide them in order for them to have a great experience. Because if they need a higher Internet speed and you sell them the lower Internet speed just because you didn’t ask enough questions, that’s not a good customer experience in the end. And so our customer service people have gone, like most companies, from an order taking the mentality to a salesman type mentality. And I think that’s important to realize that you can be a salesperson and still be providing a good quality experience for them. You know, you’re not just trying to push something on them, but you’re trying to meet a need and you’re doing it in a way that up sells customers. We don’t know. I try to tell our customer service people all the time don’t make assumptions about what people can afford or what people want. Because you might not need a good service, but that is the premium package that we offer, and you might be the kind of person that says I’m going to have the best that they have. So we tell them, talk to them, ask questions, find out what they have, and then it can help you help them make the best decision.
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Carrie Huckeby: And it’s not only employee assumptions that can get in the way at the purchase stage, Kurt Gruendling tells me that sometimes consumers come to this stage with preconceived ideas or misconceptions of how the technology works. They may not know exactly what they want, but they need the insight from the experts at WCVT.
Kurt Gruendling: The customer doesn’t always know exactly what they need. They know they need something. So that’s why it’s our job to really educate them and show them what the possibilities could look like. I think that the whole Covid shutdown really reinforced the need within the home as well. And we saw a great need for whether it’s a higher speed Internet services and upgrades, better Wi-Fi within homes. And so it presented some challenges, obviously, with technicians going out to customers. But it also forced us to relook at some of the equipment and processes that we were using to enable folks to do self-installations with some of that equipment. We all know that people are in the evenings spending more time streaming services, and that streaming service, that TV might be located upstairs in a bonus room above the garage. And that’s at the fringe of that Wi-Fi service. But the expectation is that that TV, even if it’s connected via Wi-Fi, they don’t want to see buffer, right? It should be working flawlessly. So, you know, I think there’s a lot of new equipment that has come out in the last couple of years, these mesh Wi-Fi solutions that we’re offering the customers. But oftentimes, we’re spending a lot of the upfront time educating the customer in terms of what the opportunity is and how it could fit within their home or their small business.
Carrie Huckeby: Greg Hunter is on the same page as Kurt. Greg echoed all the reasons his company and employees need to be ready to clear up any misinformation and educate the potential buyer. Like WCVT, the last thing Nemont wants is for the customer to be at the purchase stop, and the relationship to start on the wrong foot.
Gregg Hunter: I think a lot of people that are watching, you know, standard like safe TV programming and stuff like that, you always see the latest and greatest of everything that’s coming out. Let’s just take 5G, for example. Everyone talks about 5G. That’s all you hear about. And then you start getting all those questions in your retail offices about what’s 5G? When are you guys going to do 5G? And I can’t wait to get 5G. And yet a lot of people don’t understand the complexity and how it works in certain areas. So I think education is the best thing that we can do, in my opinion, to actually start educating the customer in the difference of what you’re seeing out there by watching television and seeing some of the other stuff that you see out there on social media that’s being brought to the front line of the people. But they don’t understand a lot of that stuff. So we have to be better at educating what the differences are, and why we do what we do, and why we haven’t grasped the hold of some of that technology yet and different things like that. We have to be better about that.
Carrie Huckeby: So much good information and honest conversation from my guests about what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t at the purchase stage. There’s another item we haven’t talked about, though, and that can cause a consumer to stop in their tracks. It’s not the fear of missing out. It’s the fear of a contract. If there’s one thing that potential customers are concerned about beyond price and speed, it may be the contract. What if the company doesn’t deliver? What if I have to move unexpectedly? What if? What if? What if? Shannon Sears alleviated these concerns from the customer with a very bold move. WCTEL decided to take all the risk upon themselves. They began offering a no-contract service. The process is simple for the consumer, and without the obligations of a signed document, the buyer has more confidence that they’ll be taken care of.
Shannon Sears: We will make this whole process very, very easy for you, and we’ll explain from beginning to end what that process is before we start. And I think that gave them a little bit of peace of mind. We made it where I mean, we took all the risk. We did not have them sign a contract. We did not charge them installation fees. And in most cases, they buy a product, we would allow them that 30 days service to evaluate it. What we knew would happen is if they got the customer experience that we were telling them, if the install went the way it was supposed to go, if the service worked the way we said it was going to go, there’s no way they would leave us. And in spite of taking all the risk up front, we have had zero churning out just to say they tried it.
Carrie Huckeby: WCTEL removed the fear contracts. They simplified the process and got the relationship started off on the best foot possible. They did exactly what they promised they would do. And that, my friends, is how you build trust in a relationship. To wrap up our purchase episode, I want to end with something that Kurt talked about. Kurt has always been a thought leader in the industry, and he’s not afraid to constantly evaluate his internal systems and processes on the customer journey. I’m confident that you will never hear Kurt say “we’ve always done it that way.”
Kyle Randleman: You know, it’s always important to look out into the future. I’m not asking how we’re doing something, but how we should be doing something. That’s not always popular or easy. But especially if you can’t tell me why we’re doing something a certain way. It’s been that way forever. Wrong answer. That’s a perfect opportunity to relook at that. I’m sure there’s more things and obviously the complexity of our business and our systems and sometimes integration, that’s constantly evolving. But I do think it’s important to always build those from the customer first. We need to work back from what that customer experience should be. And then just like I tell our software folks, it’s just software. It’s easy, right? So this is what we need it to do. It can do anything; you tell me all the time. So that is always a challenge. I think no matter what the industry or no matter what the business is right to constantly analyze and re-analyze those processes and make sure they’re working for the customer. And most importantly, we can back into it from there and do what’s right for our organizations. But that flow needs to start from the customer first. It’s not always easy, and it does take a lot of time. But I think it’s something that, again, it needs to be perpetual and constantly evolving.
Carrie Huckeby: Well, here we are at the end of the fourth episode of our special series about purchase. My guests have so much insight and expertise to share. It’s been such an honor for me to talk to them about customer experience and the stops on the customer journey. Our next episode is about retention. You’ve gained the customer. Now, how do you keep them? Stay tuned, and my guests will tell you how they do it.
Andy Johns: We hope that you have enjoyed this episode of Journey — Exploring the Customer Experience. A six-part StoryConnect miniseries hosted by Carrie Huckeby. A special thanks goes to our guests and to our presenting sponsor, Calix. Visit calix.com to learn how their cloud and software solutions can help you simplify your business, excite your subscribers and grow your value. Journey and StoryConnect are productions of WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources.