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5 Feb 2013 / Julie

on building relationships

I received a bill in the mail last week; an early termination fee for something I had not terminated early. I made a phone call tonight to the company and surprisingly, a familiar voice was waiting for me when I was done rocking out to the hold music. But why was the voice familiar?

I explained my situation and was put on hold while my rep looked into the situation.

When he came back on the phone with my answer (error, I don’t need to pay anything, sorry about that) he also told me that he’s helped me every time I’ve called since September 2011. By the tone of his voice I think he was as amused by the coincidence as I was. Clearly this wasn’t company policy (how could it be, i dialed a general number!) I should have asked how many people work there, but seriously, what are the odds?

So this got me thinking – How much more valuable would a company be to me if I was assigned a specific rep that I would deal with throughout my whole experience with that company? (Short answer? A LOT more valuable.)

I felt confident that he could help because he sounded familiar. In other areas of life and business, familiarity usually helps my confidence in a company or service. I know that my financial guy is going to take good care of me because we’ve built a rapport, I know my questions will get answered, and we know how the other one works. My loyalty is also given more freely to businesses where I am not just a number because the people I deal with aren’t just numbers.

Imagine, if you will, what your opinion of, or experience with Verizon (or Comcast, etc) would be if you had a specific person assigned to your “case” – your business, your relationship for the time you were with that company?

You’d have reps who knew your case, understood the nuances of your issue(s), and had a more vested interest in getting things right. Alternatively, I would feel less stressed, annoyed, and less like I was wasting my money when I am passed around to different reps, never to speak to the same one twice, some even giving differing information.

Now, when we talk libraries – this is easy when you are at a local branch, say, and you see the same folks working when you go in. But what kind of member loyalty things do you experience? Does the librarian say, “hey, how’d your project go?” or do they treat you like they’ve never seen you before? (Are they trained to try to remember their customers and make a personal connection? What kinds of other customer loyalty things do they do, if anything?)

With virtual services this is a whole other ball of wax. We have repeat customers, sure – and some come in multiple times in the same hour so the same librarians help them – but there’s really no option for relationship building. Even fake relationship building – our software doesn’t show you the questions previously asked by that customer (if they’re not anonymous) so you can’t pretend like you’ve seen this customer before (“I see that you asked about a paper last week – did you get your grade back yet?”).

It is super important to build relationships with your customers. I, for one, would LOVE IT if I knew that every time I had to call Verizon for billing I could talk to Jen (names made up), or if I needed tech support I’d call Rick. I’d know that I wouldn’t have to explain my situation over and over again (sometimes multiple times to multiple people on the same call) and that they’d pay attention to the notes in my file and remember they had spoken with me before, “Hi Julie! Let’s see if we can fix this for you.”

Another benefit (in the long run) is that if your assigned rep sucked or you had a bad rapport with them, in theory, you’d request a new rep. This would make it VERY EASY for a company to weed out the worst of their folks and make sure that all their reps were providing phenomenal service. Sure, takes some time, requires good hiring and good training, but I think in the long run, we’d all benefit. (And it might go a long way in fixing some seriously damaged corporate customer service images. I’m looking at you, Verizon and Comcast.)

Now, at this rate, I’d be amused but not surprised if when I call this particular company again at renewal time that I get the same rep I’ve been getting since Sept 2011, but if I did, I know I’d get quality service and a good laugh or two.

So… relationship building and “assigned” reps – what’s your take?

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