How is the customer experience at your organsation? Why is customer service important?

Many of us don’t talk to our customers every day, so we do not really have a pulse on how our customer feels. We might also say that we understand why it’s important, but have you made decisions in your organisation that reflect otherwise?

Let’s look at the stats.

According to the American Express 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer, 66% of Americans are willing to spend an average of 13% more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service.

Also, in the past year, 55% of consumers have intended to conduct a business transaction or make a purchase, but decided not to based on a poor service experience.

So good customer service can translate into a higher revenue per customer and be the decision point of someone purchasing our product. Again, these are probably obvious conclusions to many of us, but the problem is: We aren’t listening.

When I started in Tacoma this past March, the first thing I wanted to do was get a pulse of why our customers were leaving the newspaper. So I asked them.

We mailed 10,000 letters to former subscribers, asking them why they had stopped. We also gave them a special offer to re-subscribe and told them to call or e-mail ... me.

That was an eye-opening experience.

After more than 400 e-mails and 250 phone conversations (and 350 paid subscriptions), I became convinced of one thing: We needed to improve the way we communicate with our customers.

So we took on the task of reinventing our customer experience.

We manage three different paid publications through our customer service team, so we had about 16 different customer service e-mail addresses. Our team had to check each of these 16 inboxes multiple times a day, which led to two problems: delayed response time and potential duplication of responses by various team members.

So we quickly merged these into three e-mail addresses, one for each product. Then we began working with the help desk start-up, Freshdesk, which offers a superb solution to manage customer response flow. Freshdesk enabled our managers to establish deadlines for how soon they wanted resolutions on customer issues.

The system also allows us to integrate our Facebook and Twitter feeds into the flow, so we know immediately if we have a customer problem on one of our many social media outlets.

Another issue we tackled was new or returning customers calling our regular customer service lines. We worked with an inbound-sales solution firm, Biscayne Marketing, to handle all sales calls for our multiple products.

All sales pieces in the field — including single-copy inserts, direct mail, and e-mail marketing — began featuring one of Biscayne’s toll-free in-bound lines. And our customers each reached a sales representatives on the phone, rather than a customer service rep who knew little to nothing about sales.

What happened next? Our closings from these sources tripled, and they are all paid-in-advance now. And this was with the same volume of sales pieces we had put out before.

In addition to the steps already mentioned, we established a mantra in our department that the customer is No. 1. Customers come first, regardless of whatever other projects or deadlines we might be facing.

If the publisher walks into our audience department, he can ask any of our employees about the No. 1 goal of our department. And they always answer: “Satisfying the customer.”

After all of this, are our customers chanting our names in the streets? No. But these measures have had a positive impact on getting their problems resolved in a more timely and efficient manner.

Customer service is critical to any audience-division growing, and these are just the first steps in our department to making sure customers are the No. 1 priority for all of our employees.

A key takeaway is this: It has to start somewhere — and soon — or there won’t be any customers left.