You know the old adage: a customer who has a bad experience with customer service does not need to be motivated to communicate with others about it. Quite to the contrary, that customer will be sure to tell as many people as they can get to listen to them on the subject.
It is why every marketplace — and every business, for that matter — needs to be critically and centrally worried about that customer service experience, Yapstone EVP of International Operations Peter Rowan told PYMNTS.
“That agent represents all of the functions of that company to that customer,” Rowan said, and when it goes sour it tends to sour the customer on all aspects of the business.
Conversely, a customer who has a good experience is not quite as rewarding as a bad one is costly. A customer who has a bad experience is good for at least 10 negative reviews, while the consumer who has a good experience might tell one person about it.
But, Rowan noted, customers will keep coming back if the experience is done right, and possibly even come back more often.
The goal, he said, is to give ownership of the interaction to the customer in terms of how they reach Yapstone’s customer service offerings, while Yapstone “owns the resolution.”
That means on the one side building up customer service offerings as robust, varied and personalized as they can be, he said, while at the same time continually leveling up the technological smoothness and usability of the platform so that customers have ever less reason to actually have to reach out for customer service help.
The Right Channel Is the Chosen Channel
The who, what, where and why of reaching out to customer service all matter — and all influence how exactly the customer is going to want to reach out. Older customers, for example, tend to favor phone conversations, while younger customers tend to favor chat interfaces. And, he noted, it depends very much on what the customer is actually trying to do.
In Yapstone’s case, because it powers real estate rental marketplaces, the transactions it handles are typically big ticket, infrequent purchases that mean a great deal to both the buyer and the supplier. When consumers make these very large, one-off purchases, they often want to reach out and tap a human being just so they feel they know where things stand.
“When it is a big financial transaction, customers will get concerned about their funds and they want to talk to a person who is knowledgeable about exactly where their money and who is able to pinpoint and resolve all their issues over the course of the conversation,” Rowan said.
And it has to be a “real person,” even if that contact happens on a chat interface. Many marketplaces, he noted, are investing in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to carry on those conversations with customers.
The problem of course, is that AI isn’t quite there yet conversation-wise, and customers catch on quickly to the fact that they are talking to a bot. That creates a less-than-great customer experience, particularly if said bot is not efficiently resolving their issue.
In a business where they are anticipating over a million interactions with consumers via customer service staff, he noted, it is important for the customer, when they are experiencing that uncertainty and anxiety over a big transaction, to be able to get reach that actual person as quickly as they want to, via whatever channel they prefer to use.
“When we are dealing with single transactions that can be in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, customers want to make sure those funds went through and that the property they are paying on is going to be available when they turn up,” he said. “They need a very quick method to take the uncertainty away.”
That is important when things run smoothly, Rowan noted — and even more important on the rare occasions when things don’t.
Making the Customer Whole
Yapstone, he noted, is a global platform operating in seven languages and dozens of currencies. Most of the transactions it manages go very smoothly. But, of course, most is not all — and things occasionally go wrong in a transaction.
And in marketplace businesses, things going wrong can be especially challenging because there are really two sets of customers to serve — the consumer and the seller. Often when there is a problem it is because those two stakeholders have a disagreement about whether the transaction has gone according to plan.
So how does customer service balance those disputes out — when it stands on the platform in the middle of two parties whose interests have forcefully come out of alignment?
The answer, Rowan said, is a bit complicated in that there is both a science and art in the approach. The science, he explained, is in the standards around chargebacks and the like put in place by the card networks the platform is more or less beholden to. When card payments are in play, he noted, there are a defined set of processes that take the marketplace out of the decision-maker role because it is bound by rules and regulations.
But the real issue the customer service agent in the middle needs to be asking isn’t just about resolution, but wholeness, Rowan said. How will both sides of the transaction walk away feeling like they haven’t lost anything?
What that generally means for Yapstone is a lot of training for the customer service staff, and being sure staff members “really mind our people.” That means knowing when to offer up a “gesture of support” and when to move the issue along to the complaint department when they don’t have enough tools at hand to solve the issue. And it means above all, Rowan said, is keeping focused on how to draw the drama and conflict out of the situation — which is what both sides of the transaction fundamentally want.
“For us, the goal is simple — how do we make this right on the front end for the customers so we can take them out of the equation. We can sit back and work it out behind the scenes afterward, but the goal for us is to reduce the customer effort, make it easier and allow them to step away from the marketplace satisfied while we sort the full issue afterwards.”
The Future of Customer Service
The goal for any good customer service-focused organization on some level, Rowan said, is to render the customer service department almost unnecessary. Yapstone, he noted, spent the better part of the last year redesigning its Transact platform to make it an easier, smoother and more transparent process for the customer, no matter what type of marketplace they happen to be on.
“If the platform is good enough, the customer should never need to contact us,” he said.
It’s a lofty goal, he conceded, and one that will not be achieved overnight. Which means in the meantime, Yapstone’s global staff will be working a lot of all-nighters. And all day, for that matter — Rowan noted Yapstone’s customer service staff is on and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Because what a customer with an issue needs more than anything, he told Webster, is access to whoever and whatever is going to solve that issue in as few steps as possible.
As he put it, “The biggest thing we can offer is to be available for the customer whenever they want to communicate with us, however they want to communicate with us.”