Align Service With Demographics

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Where would you advertise to sell mascara: Sports Illustrated or Cosmo? Easy question, right? Everyone understands the principles of target marketing: Promotion dollars are best spent on the media and communication channels that reach the highest number of potential buyers.


But what many companies fail to realize is that customer-care channels and methods must be equally tailored to customer demographics to build relationships and maximize return on service expenditures. Can your company afford to support customers via every possible channel?


The storefront, the Web, online self-help, IVR, mail, voice recognition, chat, service bots, telephone, instant messaging, VoIP and e-mail: Companies have more options than ever for interacting with customers. But just because dozens of service options exist doesn't mean they make sense for every company and every type of customer.


The optimum service channels for your business are found at the intersection of customer use patterns, service preferences and behavioral psychology.


Most products and services exhibit distinct demographic purchasing patterns. Who buys the most video games? Teens. Who purchases the most luxury travel? Seniors. The most lingerie? Women. So when companies determine the means by which to offer service, they are wise to consider their customer demographics. Far too many companies target only acquisition methods, not the service channels and methods that deepen and sustain customer relationships.


If your core customers are tweens, teens and young adults, put a preponderance of resources toward online service options.


Generation Y grew up around PCs, cell phones, TV and other advanced technologies. These youngsters feel at ease with online options. Adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s are equally Web-savvy. If your core audience is young consumers, you should offer service via the channels that delight them: chat, IM, e-mail, online account management and automated Web self-help. The more you empower your young customers to serve themselves online, the more they'll embrace your company and refer their peers.


If your core customers are baby boomers, balance offline and online service options.


Boomers have a significant level of comfort with Web service, but seem to prefer some human interaction. The National Technology Readiness Survey discovered that boomers are less interested in using automated Web help, online chat and VoIP than customers in their 30s and 40s.


If your core customers are seniors, put a preponderance of resources toward offline service options that involve human interaction.


Senior citizens place high priority on the presence of courteous and friendly employees in store locations. This carries over to their expectations of human service interactions elsewhere. Research on seniors reveals a reluctance to use self-service options: Fewer than half of consumers 55 and older regularly use ATMs and only 2.6 percent pay bills via the Internet. Service automation is less familiar to seniors, so these options often frustrate, bewilder and disappoint.


If your core customers are women, service speed, cross-channel consistency and ample communication are paramount.


Women overall place a greater priority on service personalization and consistency. According to research by Primus, women have higher expectations of the online customer service experience than men. They also place a higher priority on cross-channel consistency: 51 percent of women thought it was very important that online products be comparable to those listed in catalogs and stores, compared with 32 percent of men.


If your core customers are men, self-service options and plentiful information upfront are essential.


Men prefer simple and straightforward shopping and service experiences where convenience is paramount. According to advertising firm Foote, Cone & Belding, just as most men don't like to ask for directions, they also don't like to ask for service. Men prefer to research purchases online instead of asking friends for advice, and they exhibit a great propensity to use self-service options.


If your customers have a unique lifestyle or life stage in common, remember to recognize its effect on service preferences.


This tip is general for a reason. Customer lifestyles run the gamut, with thousands of niche products tailored accordingly; service also must be tailored. For instance, makers of cutting-edge handheld computers should recognize that their core consumers are "first adopters," a population that Data Development Corp. says prefers to use Web resources over telephone support by a 2-to-1 margin.


Any psychographic factor - life changes, careers, hobbies and more - can affect the type of service options that appeal to your customers. Only your company knows the set of characteristics that describes its core customer base. If you keep these unique behavioral qualities in mind when establishing service channels, your customers will be delighted.


Offer service options for the exceptions to the rule.


The purpose of this data is to understand overall customer service preferences by demographic, with complete respect and understanding that individuals within a segment exhibit tremendous variation. The best service channels are those that delight the majority, yet remember and serve the minority.


Choosing service channels is no easy task. That's where surveys, focus groups and other customer base analyses enter the picture. The rewards of successful channel selection are significant:


Reduce costs. By tailoring channels to customer wants and needs, your company can dazzle customers and avoid superfluous expenditures. The same goes for establishing hours of operation - college students have different body clocks than most senior citizens.


Drive revenue. Serving customers in their preferred channels will impress them and encourage repeat purchases, cross-sales and referrals.


Develop deeper relationships with customers. Choosing the right channels puts your company on the path to delivering increasingly personal and rewarding experiences and products.


Don't use technology that your customers won't accept or force users into service arrangements that ignore their expectations and preferences. Maybe then we'll stop hearing our grandparents complain about endless IVR menus and our nephews grousing about being forced to log off and to pick up a phone to resolve their tech support issue. In the eyes of your customers, all channels were not created equal.


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