Use Web Self-Service or ELSE: Walmart.com Customer Service Line Goes Unlisted
When the tech industry took a dive in 2001 and companies began making huge cuts to their service operations, I was quoted in a press interview calling this “the death of the service industry.” The line was picked up by a wire service, and complaints starting rolling in from companies saying I was far too harsh. I stand by my assessment, and in retrospect, the amazing advancements we are seeing today in customer support, such as more highly personalized and differentiated service, more intelligent approaches to outsourcing (involving partnering—not cutting a check and forgetting about it), and the birth of the entire ‘customer experience’ concept, are the end result of these dark days of service. When service organizations lost their clout and their budgets, and service levels began tanking, companies soon found out what a huge impact the service organization had on customer satisfaction and loyalty. I’m sorry it took such dire conditions to bring about this realization—which some of us in the industry have been spouting about for years—but thank God it happened.
The death of service starts inside a company with a shift from viewing customers as the lifeblood of the company to treating them as an inconvenient and expensive interruption. When a news item crossed my desk this week, I felt I was living 2001 all over again. Here’s the deal: According to the New York Times, Walmart.com has decided to stop offering phone support, saying their online self-service tools are so great that phone assistance is no longer necessary. There are holes in this argument big enough to drive a NAFTA truck full of cheap goods through, including:
· Phone remains the primary channel for every age group in America except the under 18 set. In a survey I am working on with Lithium, we surveyed consumers of all age groups for their attitudes towards service from many aspects (and you will see some white papers emerging from this project later this year), and one of those finding is how reliant Senior, Baby Boomer, Gen-X and Gen-Y consumers still are on the phone channel. I suspect, though I admittedly don’t have data for this, that Wal-Mart’s core customer base is in regions of the country where there is less technology saturation, so their customer’s propensity for phone support is likely higher than the average.
· Service should be easy to access when you are trying to sell something. I published a report at Forrester that outlined the different role service plays in B2C eCommerce and retail companies: instead of the traditional B2B customer lifecycle of “Marketing>Sales>Service,” online retail leverages contact centers to close deals, so the lifecycle is more accurately “Marketing>Service>Sales.” If you don’t offer the best possible service for your online retail site, customers shop elsewhere.
· As good as self-service is, it doesn’t answer everything. According to the SSPA Benchmark, self-service is only successful 44% of the time. Yes, I realize that the average question posed by a Walmart.com customer is likely less complex than the average question posed to a Cisco or Symantec tech support agent. However, I had an alarming problem with Walmart.com not that long ago (a duplicate order with no duplicate receipt so I didn’t know they made a mistake till the order arrived—twice) that clearly is not addressed in their self-service system.
I applaud companies who encourage customers to use self-service. I’m a believer in the Pareto Principle, and yes, likely 80% of questions can be addressed via self-service. But to propose that self-service is the only avenue for support is a problem. We see this happening everywhere, with fewer (if any) options available for free support on devices after a 30 day warranty period, but these are after-sales service. To eliminate service options for before-sales service doesn’t sit right with me.
With the holiday shopping season right around the corner, I hope other retailers don’t follow Walmart.com’s lead. It could make for an even more frustrating shopping season than usual, and that, my friends, is a terrifying thought.
Thoughts? Questions? Please post a comment or send an email and I’ll be sure to respond. Thanks for reading!