How to Avoid Customer Debt?

Étienne Merineau
July 2, 2019

For years, software developers have dealt with technical debt, a concept that centers around the direct and indirect costs that come with choosing quick, band-aid solutions over more time-consuming but lasting ones. The DNA of this concept has since spread to the realm of customer experience, which is why we at Heyday came up with the concept of “customer debt.”

You accumulate customer debt each time your employees or, more globally, your brand offer up any kind of subpar customer experience. From waiting for what feels like forever on hold with a call center representative or being subjected to poorly retargeted online ads that try and sell you something you already have, we’ve all been on the receiving end of such lackluster exchanges.

The end result? You’ll get frustrated and, if there’s enough of a bad taste in your mouth, spread the kind of negative word-of-mouth (one-star online reviews count as such, by the way) that can harm a business’s reputation faster and more seriously than any other external force.

The most shocking truth about “customer debt” is that those kind of outdated, frustrating practices are still the norm. Too many brands simply don’t invest the time and energy into delivering a customer experience that’s anything more than average. That needs to change.

8 Different Ways You Can Accumulate Customer Debt

Before we can prescribe an antidote, let’s delve deeper into what ails many customer experiences by highlighting the most common (and preventable) ways your company can accumulate “customer debt.”

One of the major themes of this list is the value of someone’s time. As consumers, we’ve never been busier day-to-day and, as a result, how we choose to spend our time has never carried more weight. As a result, no one has any patience for a customer experience that wastes even just a few minutes of your day.

Frankly, with advanced online tools at basically every organization’s disposal these days (many of them are free to use), there’s no excuse for delivering inefficient, careless customer care. The best customer-centric businesses are the ones that carry that attitude out of the boardroom and make it part of every single interaction their brand has with consumers.

Here are just a handful of mistakes that will build up your customer debt in a hurry:

1. Making Customers Wait

No one likes waiting, plain and simple. I mean, do you enjoy sitting through 30 to 45 minutes of generic elevator music while a team of customer care representatives scrambles to find what should be a simple solution to your problem? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

This issue is magnified exponentially if you’ve waited for several hours (or days) just for someone to answer you on the other end of a phone, email or live chat conversation. This customer experience malpractice doesn’t just happen at giant corporations – oftentimes the smaller organizations are just as guilty of dropping the ball.

At the drive-thru, at your bank, at the movie theater, it’s the same story: Consumers crave and expect convenience in their commonplace customer care interactions. It’s up to brands to adjust to this new “pace of play,” not the other way around.

2. Making Customers Repeat Themselves

Let’s face it: Having to repeat yourself several times, in any context, is nothing short of excruciating. It’s a never-ending monologue that masquerades as a conversation.

If you’re trying to get your questions answered or problem fixed, being transferred between three or four different departments is never a good sign. Plus, with technology at every employee’s fingertips these days, we believe that a brand’s customer experience should take your history and past responses into consideration. Otherwise, your “customer debt” will start to add up in a hurry.

From the color or model of vehicle you leased for four years to the simple response you gave 15 seconds ago before being transferred to another call center agent, a brand’s ability to personalize the experience and cater to your unique purchasing preferences is crucial. It’s that kind of AI-assisted business intelligence that elevates important exchanges customers have with your brand and that make them delightful and memorable.

3. Making Yourself Unavailable

Similarly to making people wait, if your business isn’t making itself available to assist customers, what good does that do to your “customer debt” in the end?

What happens if someone work a night shift? What happens if an entrepreneur who, after a 14-hour workday, just needs a quick and easy solution to an issue? Does that mean their voices are meaningless to a brand? Even if that wasn’t your business’s intention, it will eventually become its reputation.

We’ve come back to the idea that brands should adjust to their customers, not the other way around. In an era where automated chat software is becoming ubiquitous, the balance of power has been put in the hands of consumers. As such, only being open during “standard business hours” (what does that even mean anymore?) or having limited tech infrastructure to compensate is an archaic approach to the customer experience.

4. Spamming Customers

You hear a lot about the impatience of consumers as we march toward 2020. The shrinking of attention spans has led to an epidemic of companies constantly trying to put their brand in front of as many eyes and ears as possible. In other words, spamming the consumer landscape.

We’ve all felt the burden of information overload. Organizations of all sizes use email, social media, streaming video and more to bombard with ads and messages all day, every day. That said, what most brands miss is how to bring value to those interaction starters. Polluting someone’s inbox with useless content will only add to your long-term “customer debt.”

As a brand, you need to focus less on spamming and more on being that “helpful friend” to consumers. From pre-roll YouTube ads to huge banners in the middle of blog articles, intrusive advertising is just that – intrusive. Instead of being interruptive, focus your energy on being assistive at every turn.

5. Not Personalizing Your Offering

Personalizing your customer experience means adding nuance to your product or service offerings. In other words, the ecommerce side of your operation shouldn’t feel like a generic catalog that assumes everyone wants to buy the same thing from you.

Let’s say I wanted to purchase a BBQ for my new apartment’s balcony – there’s no way I’m going to sit there and scroll through hundreds or even thousands of models on my tiny phone screen. Instead, I want to see 3 to 5 products curated for me based on my needs. The good news is that your organization likely already has the data needed to make that happen.

Tailoring the ecommerce experience to individual clients is one of the pillars of excellent customer care. By helping them cut through the clutter and find the right product at the right time, you’re minimizing your “customer debt” possibilities. Besides, no one really cares what you want to push as your hot item this month – they care about what fits their needs and budget. Assisted selling through technology is the key to meeting those expectations.

6. Retargeting poorly

Most businesses are quick to jump on the Google or Facebook advertising bandwagon and salivate over the opportunity to retarget customers with different products or services you assume they’ll like. The truth? Most retargeting ads suck.

Examples of this are not hard to come by. If you’ve just bought a mattress, let’s say, you’re usually just a few clicks away from being hit with online ads for similar models or makes, even though you probably don’t need another mattress. Or that matching pillow or nightstand a company’s trying to upsell you on. Retargeting only works when it’s, well, targeted.

To take your customer experience to the next level, your business needs to start treating customers like VIPs, not just another IP address. By taking into account past purchases and your customer’s conversation history with your brand, Conversational AI can help you tailor your retargeting strategy so every message is meaningful and relevant, not flat out annoying.

7. Asking for Personal Information Without Offering Something of Value

When consumers make an online purchase, there’s typically an exchange of personal information involved. Whether that’s an email, physical address, date of birth or another nugget of data, your business should be using that data to enhance the customer experience by adding value to their daily lives.

For example, if you collect dates of birth during the checkout or profile creation process, use them to send birthday discounts that are unique to each user. If you’ve got mailing addresses on file, you can recommend different products based on specific details (weather, local trends, etc.) of that city or community. However you add value, it needs to carry some personalization with it.

One look at weekly tech news articles will tell you that, now more than ever, consumers care about their digital privacy and security. With that in mind, obtaining a consumer’s personal information needs to be a two-way value exchange – otherwise, your “customer debt” total will rise.

Plus, you might want to do it inside a channel that customers are more responsive to. Messaging offers 3-4 times the open rates of email, simply because they feel more personal. By leveraging personal information only elevate the customer experience and act like a trusted advisor or friend, brands have a unique opportunity to build a long-lasting relationship focused around value exchange and personalization.

8. Making it About You, Not the Customer

One of the biggest reasons that online retailers like Amazon have grown to become global ecommerce behemoths is how they always make it about the customer instead of themselves. In the age of hassle-free Prime shipping, making the customer travel to you or do all the work to complete a transaction will just end up being another strike against your company’s name.

Building your business’s image as a truly customer-centric one involves asking the age-old question: “Would you be friends with your brand?” Objectively, if the answer is yes, then chances are you’re making consumers the focal point.

If the answer is no, you’re likely building up a huge pile of “customer debt” instead.

Winning brands are customer-obsessed. They leverage data and digital touchpoints to adjust their approach to a specific customer and cater to their journey. It’s all part of waving goodbye to old-fashioned mass media approaches as we enter an era of mass customization.

How to Eliminate Your Customer Debt Using Chatbots

Increased consumer expectations, especially on mobile, come with a hesitancy to blindly dole out one’s loyalty to a particular brand or online service. If another option comes along that reduces the friction felt by consumers, they’ll quickly jump ship to that better alternative instead of waiting for your brand to step up its game.

This means that your customer experience needs to be seamless from start to finish. Every interaction your brand has with a customer will be scrutinized more than ever and, if you don’t have a plan or the tools needed for consistent execution, you’ll accrue “customer debt” to the point where your brand’s reputation will crash and burn. Why be careless and allow that to happen?

Even the biggest, most globalized brands are taking notice of this movement and are investing more and more money into the development and integration of chatbots and conversational AI. They’ll help you provide instant, 24/7 service that leverages machine learning and your already-accumulated user to personalize and refine your customer experience. With that in place, customer relationships will be easier to nurture and manage over time.

In the end, the goal is to let your competitors accumulate “customer debt” while you, on the other hand, focus on fostering “customer love”. Rise above archaic, frustrating and unsatisfying customer experiences that dominate most marketplaces by minimizing your “customer debt” total across all your branding and business initiatives.