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Guy Stephens is the Knowledge and Online Help Manager for Carphone Warehouse, having joined the company in September last year.
I talked with Guy about how Carphone Warehouse provides help and support to its customers online, his plans to improve the service offered, as well as the company's attitude to Twitter and other social media.
What is Carphone Warehouse's general attitude to online customer service?
As a company we are looking to do more online, and recognize the role that online has to play in providing good customer service. My role at Carphone Warehouse is help and support so I came to it from that perspective. Customers are changing and many now want to receive help and support in different ways.
Is this partly about reducing pressure on call centres?
It’s about looking at providing a better service and meeting different customers’ needs. There will always be customers who want to call up and speak directly to someone about their issues, and some problems may be more suitable to be dealt with over the phone.
However, we can resolve many queries online now, and some customers are happier to do it this way.Do many customers use the online help section of the website?
I would say that it is a small percentage using online at the moment; though we do need to improve our metrics to get a true picture of what it looks like. Our idea is to ramp up the number of people using our website help section.
We need to tell people as they are buying out products that this is available and that they can go and find answers online, and will be trying to communicate this much more effectively than we are at the moment.
Is there more of a focus on retention at the moment?
From a business perspective, we are always looking at ways of improving retention, and just seeing where the budget works best, whether that is retention or acquisition.
You have been in the role since September. What have you changed or what do you plan to change?
I want us to be more pro-active, and not just react to customer problems as they arise, as well as being more sophisticated in our approach. Part of this is educating customers more about their mobile handsets, how to use different functions etc. Getting customers to learn more may help to pre-empt some problems. We want to engage with customers more in this way.
We are also looking to understand more about the help section and how customers are using it. Do they prefer contact by email? Text? By phone?
Some areas and customer issues are best suited to particular channels. For billing queries, which can often be more complex, customers are more likely to want to call in, while other issues can be more easily dealt with by directing customers to the website, or with an email.
We also want to learn about patterns of when customers might want different information. For example, a customer may have just bought a Blackberry and needs to know how to link it to Outlook, so they need to be directed to the relevant help.
We are about to launch an updated Carphone Warehouse website, and a new help section will be part of that. One thing we want to do in make it more in tune with what is happening in our call centres. This means we can alter the information on the help section of the site to deal with the current call drivers, which means being more flexible and able to change information within a couple of hours.
How do you ensure that customer contact is unified across different channels?
Like any business, we are all used to working in silos, but I think businesses are realising that we need to break these barriers down, and make contact with different areas of the business.
We are in constant contact with the call centres to find out what is driving calls and the kinds of problems that customers are experiencing, and so we can answer customers’ emails.
It isn’t just call centres though, we need to keep in touch with other areas of the business, and we need to know about new products that are coming, while talking to repair teams about the latest issues can help us anticipate the kinds of questions customers will be asking.
What are the challenges in achieving this?
It is mainly about meeting up with different departments and sitting in to find out what is going on there. Sometimes they may wonder why you are interested so you need to find some common ground to help them understand what it is you are trying to do. This kind of contact and co-operation makes a unified solution more possible to achieve.
Will you be asking users to contribute to the help section, as other sites like Halfords have done?
We are moving towards that approach and we have started off a Facebook group, as well as a Twitter account, which we see as the beginning of the process. It is about engaging more with customers, and we can look at pulling some of the output from this into the site, so we may add discussions or forums on the site.
Why have you decided to use Twitter?
I’m looking at it as a way to improve the help and support we can provide for customers. We are still feeling our way into it at the moment, and have been providing tips for mobiles and responding to a few queries.
I think there is value in it beyond just monitoring, but I think it’s up to every business to find its level on Twitter - for me, it will be connected to help and support.
I was skeptical about Twitter, but having made the plunge I do see a use for it, as it is another tool to engage with customers. However, there are other channels to achieve this, and Twitter is just one more tool to use and not exclusive to anything else.
There are limits to Twitter also, as you need a certain amount of information before you can help someone, and 140 characters isn’t necessarily suitable for a complicated problem, so the discussion may need to move elsewhere.
It is a useful contact point though, and does provide the opportunity
for real time help, but this has to be balanced with the practical
issues. I will be trying to integrate it into our customer service and support functions, and use it as part of a unified approach.
How much do you monitor what is being said about CPW online? Do you respond?
I’m aware of both positive and negative comments and content about Carphone Warehouse on blogs and elsewhere online.
Both present opportunities for us. Some negative comments we can’t do much about and just have to accept it, but there are valid issues which we can step in and deal with.
On one occasion, we came across a blog where someone had written about a bad experience they had in one of our stores. We contacted them about it and were able to resolve the problem. This blogger then wrote about how the issue was resolved, which demonstrates that there are positive opportunities to be had from such engagement.
This isn’t always the case though, and you do have to accept the fact that there will be some negative comments out there.