By Paul Logan
Editor's Note: Paul Logan is Chief Executive Officer of Contact Solutions LLC, a provider of customer self-service solutions for the prepaid industry. For more than a decade he has improved the customer experience and reduced customer service expenses for hundreds of large enterprises and government agencies.In September 2012, the Pew Charitable Trusts published research that set the prepaid card industry abuzz. While the report noted prepaid cards are a better option than checking accounts for many consumers, the nonprofit organization and public policy think thank also pointed out that the industry is not regulated enough and lacks uniformity of standards, which makes it difficult for shoppers to comparison shop and figure out exactly what cards cost.
The criticisms are not new to the industry, and the Pew report, entitled Loaded with Uncertainty: Are Prepaid Cards a Smart Alternative to Checking Accounts?, will likely not be the last word on the subject. Prepaid insiders know that a uniform fee table is a tricky proposition fraught with logistical challenges, and talk about regulating the industry is passionate but has not yet led to action.
While there may be disagreement regarding the best way to address these challenges, prepaid card companies and critics alike agree on one goal: providing a great experience for consumers using the cards. So what can prepaid companies do to demonstrate the industry is earning customer trust? One option: take a fresh look at the customer experience, and allow data from satisfied consumers to inform how providers tailor programs.
First, consider what exactly the customer experience is. According to Forrester Research Inc., customer experience should be viewed as how customers perceive their interactions with a company. Interactions include all touch points, from a web chat, to an in-store purchase, to simply surfing a website. These experiences are where customers make judgments about a business across three areas:
Creating a customer experience that delivers high marks in these three areas will improve customer loyalty and present a satisfied customer base to critics keeping a watchful eye on the industry. When done right, top-notch prepaid customer service generates a first-rate customer experience, which results in benefits to the business and its bottom line.
Prepaid companies should employ key tactics to improve customer experience. First, consider that with competition in prepaid increasing, acquiring customers is more expensive and retention more critical than ever. Delivering a superlative customer experience is an integral piece of that puzzle. Although it sounds like a clichÃ©, making every customer feel like the most important customer is vital at this juncture in the industry's evolution.
Additionally, prepaid companies can deliver a more personalized experience through a cost-effective self-service channel that will simultaneously save money and boost customer satisfaction ratings. Self-service options, including interactive voice response systems, online or even short message service (SMS) solutions have proven to reduce cost of care delivery while increasing the customer experience.
Research shows that self service can lead to higher rates of satisfaction because customers can get what they need more quickly and with less effort. It also provides companies an ideal channel for communicating proactively with customers to reduce the cost of managing inbound calls â€“ perfect for the prepaid demographic well acquainted with these types of outbound communications. Reminders about bill payments and card balances and tips about using the cards or service updates can all be pushed out via SMS to consumers to improve brand building.
Lastly, and most importantly, continuous improvement of the customer experience is paramount. Too many organizations set their customer contact strategy and then forget about it. But the key to achieving and sustaining superior customer satisfaction is to always focus on making the service better. It is important to measure and analyze results on a continuous basis to ensure the solution is optimized. Customer service must be flexible and ever-adapting to be able to address the shifting trends in prepaid, as well as consumer preferences.
Today the prepaid industry has the opportunity to get in front of critics by building a solid reputation for strong consumer communications and stellar customer service. By doing so, prepaid companies can reap the competitive benefits of a better customer experience, and the entire industry can bolster how it is perceived, with empirical evidence demonstrating that it understands and delivers the kind of experiences prepaid customers really want.
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