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Digital services free up time but require more technical support

September 29, 2020 By    
Photo: Chainarong Prasertthai/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images;

Most customers start by calling instead of watching the videos and instructions. Photo: Chainarong Prasertthai/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Our business embarked on a digital strategy that most recently aligned discount incentives with auto-fill/auto-pay and digital will-call ordering and payment.

The good news is the auto-fill segment of our residential business increased by more than 35 percent, and the digital will-call segment of our residential business increased by more than 720 percent (not a typo). More than 20 percent of the digital orders were made with our phone app.

This dramatic increase in digital orders frees up hundreds of customer service hours for other activities.

It turns out technical support will be one of those activities. Anybody who has used a smartphone and an app to place an order online has experienced difficulty downloading, installing, activating or using the app. Usually, the cherry on top of your technology issue sundae is trying to get technical support. Be honest. How often do you diligently work your way through the FAQs before deciding to reach out to customer support?

The story doesn’t change for propane marketers. We experienced a surge in technical challenges and customer requests for technical support as we scaled our customer portal and customer app activity.

While we have a long way to go on technical support, it’s worth noting what we learned in the trenches last year and what we are doing to improve the customer experience:

Create digital and print instructions. We mail them, hand them out and include them in invoices and statements. Your software provider should have these available, but you may want to customize the materials to fit how you use the technology in your business. We find the customized instructions more effective.

Create why and how-to videos. We created custom videos for our customers, available on YouTube and our website. The videos provide step-by-step visual instructions with explanations on how to complete a new customer application, download and install our apps, access our portal, order propane, pay bills, look up account history and more. We also created general informational videos, including an analysis of why customers should lease tanks and why they need gas checks. If you decide to do this, we strongly suggest you break up the videos into easily digested topics.

Make sure your customer service team knows your technology. Your team should practice setting up new accounts, downloading and installing your apps, and ordering and paying for propane. And they should do it periodically to keep the knowledge fresh. The most difficult part of technical support is the consistency of the experience. We try to achieve consistency by using the instructions and videos available to customers to guide telephone conversations. We’ve discovered most customers begin by calling you instead of starting with the videos and instructions. In those cases, customers usually find that videos or written instructions get them where they need to be, and even though they can find them online, we email them links anyway to add a personal touch.

Make sure your software provider knows when its support is needed. Even when it’s obvious, make sure support issues impacting your customers are identified as such when you seek help from your software provider. Have a list of customers handy to help your provider troubleshoot. What appears to be a technical issue often winds up being a user interface problem – a polite way of saying you (or the customer) did not know what you were doing. User issues are the best problems to have because they are most easily solved.

Final piece of advice: Don’t separate technical and customer service support. Most technical support calls ultimately have service or delivery questions embedded in them, and solving them without warm transfer or call-back will improve the customer experience.


Christopher Caywood is a co-owner of Caywood Propane Gas Inc. in Hudson, Michigan.

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