Mobile Customer Service: Getting to the Right Level of “Whelming”

This post was originally published on Digby’s Mobile Retail Blog.

Over the past decade, many businesses have become much more focused on customer satisfaction. This has been driven by recent insights into the economic power of loyalty (it costs a lot less to keep a customer than to earn one), and an increased need for differentiation in a world full of more powerful Internet-educated and smart-phone-armed buyers.

Most brands trying to elevate their customer satisfaction and differentiate themselves have resorted to amping up their customer service. Take the case of Enterprise Rental Cars. They are loyalty innovators, and are a case study for any marketer trying to understand the dynamics of net promotor score and the power of one happy customer recommending something to a friend. But just as you can underwhelm your customer with the physical brand experience, you can also easily overwhelm them.

My most recent experience renting a car from Enterprise is a case and point. In Denver on business, I was on a day trip from Austin and had scheduled my itinerary pretty tightly. I needed to get my rental car as quickly as possible and get going. I’m familiar with Denver and with the rental process. But the Enterprise staff seemed dead set on engaging me in personal conversation about my trip, offering me lots of help that I didn’t need, and even walking me out to my car and giving me a demo of it. I was patient with them, they were well-trained, well-meaning, and clearly executing on a new service approach that probably came down from a well-intentioned marketer at corporate.

But it took me a good 15 minutes extra to navigate this new experience, to the point where I felt compelled to let the parking exit booth agent know that they needed to do something about it. I was patient but I was not happy.

I’ve had similar experiences at certain hotels on business trips, where every employee was trained to greet me every time I entered the lobby. Sometimes 5-6 of these greetings from bell desk to concierge to reservation to cleaning staff would descend upon me in a single crossing from one side of the lobby to the other. There’s friendly, then there’s a little too friendly. I’ve also encountered customer service gang tackles in certain retailers, restaurants . . . almost any place where people are there to serve customers.

But I’m not every traveler, or shopper, or customer. I’m certain there are some folks who are on a leisurely vacation, or don’t travel that often, or are unfamiliar with Denver who love the fact that Enterprise is more helpful now. There are extroverted bed-and-breakfast types who probably love the more personable approach that certain hotels are working on. But there are probably folks who are more introverted than me (who would never write a blog post!) who are even more estranged by these new practices than I am.

The fact is no customer is alike, and what would underwhelm one customer might overwhelm another. And depending on their changing situation (I’m traveling on vacation vs. business, for example), one person might change from one visit to the next. How does a physical brand experience account for this?

I believe the answer is to design multiple pathways of service, and listen to cues from your customer that tell you what path they are interested in. Mobile can be a big part of this, because it is an unobtrusive way to kick-off the customer experience.

If I am a loyal rental car customer, I could download an app that detects when I am in an airport and marry that up with an upcoming reservation. Based on my proximity to the rental car center, I could be messaged by the app if I want to check in through the app or check in with an agent. I make the choice. On business, I might check in, decline insurance, decline gas, be told which stall my car is in (all on mobile) and have the car waiting with the keys in it when I get there. Wow! On vacation, I might want to talk to a friendly agent to get directions, help with the vehicle, or to make a change to my reservation. Mobile might have notified the agent of my imminent arrival and they greet me by name and have all my paperwork ready. Wow! Multiple paths through the rental car lot have been provided and I have been allowed to choose.

Of course, these scenarios require a high level of integration between the physical experience and the digital/mobile experience. This is a multi-channel symphony. Executed poorly, it could be a real mess. But it can absolutely be done – and with contextually aware mobile experiences that work in harmony with physical service experiences, you can avoid doing too little or too much.

When you don’t overwhelm or underwhelm, you leave your customers “whelmed.” Which is to mean they are happy and satisfied, every time.