Customer service is key even in the digital age

The ability of businesses to retain customers while acquiring new ones requires an investment in response time and fulfilling promises

Passengers surround a customer service desk for Air India following a series of delays in the departure area of Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, U.S. January 7, 2018.  REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
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For many businesses, especially e-commerce platforms, a lot of the focus and investment goes toward building technology infrastructure. Businesses want to make sure that their websites are smooth, their pages load fast, their payment gateways are bug-free and their social media channels are inviting.

Though they may send newsletters, run blogs, and push out various content on social media platforms, what businesses need to account for most is that the heart of building and developing an enterprise requires an equal investment in customer service.

Take for instance this past Ramadan. A busy work schedule meant I barely had any time to get ready for the Eid when we customarily dress in new attire. Eid was days away, and I had not yet bought anything. I decided I would shop online through a new UAE-based e-commerce fashion platform.

I decided on this specific platform due its heavy emphasis on seamless and timely delivery in its advertisements and social media posts, which promised their customer service agents were available through WhatsApp. I also wanted to support a UAE-based start-up.

Placing the order was straightforward. The e-payment method provided many options, including payment on delivery, which I opted for. I was relieved that I did not have to go to the overcrowded shopping malls. An email confirmed my order and said delivery to my home would take place within 2 days.

The delivery date came, but I did not receive my package. I called the company’s customer service hotline. A representative noted my concern and said someone would get in touch. No one did. I called and e-mailed to follow up, but no one responded. The status of my shipment online read “processing”. I then contacted the company through its Instagram page, and still no one replied.

In the end, I went to the shopping malls I avoided all month, and did not find exactly what I was looking for, but had to make peace with my last-minute purchase.

Connecting with people and clients is not about a business being on all of the channels its customers are on. It is also not about advertising. The goal is to connect with the people you serve. When a business advertises that it is reachable through WhatsApp or a hotline, I would expect a quick response or even acknowledgment.

Some of my friends have moved on to the next retailer when a business did not respond to them within a day. At the end of the day, customers buy and deal with businesses they like and, more importantly, businesses that they can rely on and will deliver on their promise.

This means that a sales representative is not only on key platforms, but also on ones that are effective in reaching clients. A happy customer means good marketing for a business. The converse is that a bad experience can easily tarnish an existing business or aspiring enterprise.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi.