As direct mail marketers we don’t always think of customer service in the conventional retail store clerk sense. In fact, for catalogers customer service is much more subjective of a topic. Nonetheless, it is an important part of your business.

An article published this past week on Multichannel Merchant explains that “48% of respondents [in the third annual Customer Service Report] say they have stopped doing business with a company due to negative customer service experiences in the past year.” Did you catch that? That’s 48% of 1,200 US consumers who stopped making purchases due to poor customer service. That’s almost 50% of consumers included in the study!

The question is how do you prevent this from happening to your company? Experience dictates that the best way to reach a solution is first to identify the problem.  Here are four ways that consumers often experience poor customer service while trying to make a mail order purchase.

Lost customers

Companies who are impossible to contact: As a member of the sales team at a printing company, you can imagine that I’ve contacted a lot of catalogers. I have spoken to many customer service reps from many different companies. The worse ones are always the ones where you cannot get through to a live person. These are the ones with general voicemail and phones that just ring and ring. They are the ones that bring you through automated voice systems that take you nowhere. My favorite, though, (and this happens more often than you might think) are the times when you wait to speak with someone and when finally you’re connected, the CSR will put you on hold again then accidentally disconnects you instead. Now you have to call back and wait all over again. This actually brings us to our next topic:

Long hold times: According to the same article published in Multichannel Merchant, “customer service wait times cost U.S. businesses $130 billion annually.” Here’s a question, how long are you willing to wait in order to make a purchase? Five, ten, fifteen minutes, maybe? For some consumers it all depends on what kind of mood they’re in and how much time they have to wait. Either way, one thing is for sure, once they hang up that phone, it’s quite probable that they’re gone for good.  Try calling in your own customer service department and see how long your hold time is. If you are on hold for five or more minutes, then you can bet your bottom dollar that you’re losing customers.

Scripted conversations: When you go into a retail store and the clerk uses a script at the register it can be a little annoying, but it’s not a make or break scenario. For one, we are face to face with that person, so we are able to communication in other ways, such as body language and facial expressions. When you are on the phone, however, scripted conversations seem impersonal and even mechanical. Consumers crave the human experience. They want to make connections with brands, products, and even customer service agents. This is how a scripted conversation really puts a damper on the customer experience.

Target marketing that is not verified or well thought out: Just as the consumer craves a personal experience on the phone, the same goes within your catalog or even your e-mail campaigns. People do not want to feel like they are being blasted at. They want to feel like they’re being courted and like your company cares about them personally.  In this way, it is possible to begin a good customer experience from the moment your catalog is received in the mail right through to the end of the purchase.

Think of the process as being like a river where your customer is led to their destination by a current set in motion by you. This is an intricate system and if just one piece of the system is off it will create a dam and prevent your customer from reaching their final destination.  Customer service frequently becomes this dam for many companies. Whenever you are dealing with real people, human error must be accounted for.  By looking at these four areas, we can cut back on these errors and preserve our customers.

Creating emotional connections with your consumer is more important now than it ever has been before. You put a lot of time and effort into your direct mail campaigns, so the thought of losing customers at the last step can be discouraging. The holiday is upon us, what better time than now to make sure you’re customer service team is performing to the best of their abilities.

Good luck and happy holidays!