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The importance of support when transacting online

The world we live in today is far from perfect or ideal. The online commercial arena is no different. Things go wrong, with new problems arising on a daily (if not hourly) basis. Online businesses exist for the purpose of solving as many of these problems faster and more efficiently than ever before - provided that doing so is commercially viable.

Not everyone goes about solving problems in the same way. Thus, a variety of strategies are utilised by various companies to reach their respective goals. This is especially true when it comes to the aspect of online client support. What’s the preferred way? Should online companies employ the same thinking as brick-and-mortar businesses that have ‘feedback cards’ that clients can complete or managers that they can speak to? What do clients want? What is enough? What does excellence look like?

When it comes to providing an online product or service, there are typically two schools of thought with regards to client support. The first is to provide as little support as possible by building, what developers at least believe to be, a ‘very intuitive’ process. Support is normally addressed by adding an FAQ section and, in some cases, an email or ticket system. (It is, however, shocking to notice how badly some companies handle these emails and tickets.) The rule of thumb, which is sadly disregarded for the most part, should really be to answer these queries within 24 hours at least. Failure to do so will almost certainly lead to the loss of the sale and, more importantly, the client to a competitor offering the same product or service.

Unfortunately, for clients, this option, being much quicker and cheaper than the other more labour-intensive alternatives, is the most popular and prevalent today.

The second school of thought is to provide an option for clients to contact you directly – whether that be by means of a traditional telephone call or an online chat – while still having FAQs for clients who’d prefer to help themselves.

While not having ever had an option available for clients to phone us directly, Prepaid24 implemented our ‘Live Chat’ facility in 2012. It is this ‘Live Chat’ facility that has, more than anything else, been directly and indirectly responsible for our #1 Ranking on HelloPeter for client support in South Africa.

Yes, this option is most certainly more expensive and very human-resource intensive; but the questions each entrepreneur have to answer at some point in time are:

“What is my client worth?”

“What am I prepared to pay to retain my client?”

We like to think of Prepaid24 as being a client-centred company. We ask ourselves the following simple question daily:

“What would a client ideally like to see and experience when transacting on our platform?”

To us, the business’s ideals, processes and agendas are secondary to customer needs and expectations.

In an online market, it is vital to understand that challenges do not keep office hours – so neither should we. It is for this reason that Prepaid24’s experienced team of online support consultants is available 365 days of the year, from 7am – 11pm. It is our firm belief that, if we are there when our clients need us, they will be there when we need them. This has proven to be true during the troubling months that now lie behind us.

Does all this infrastructure for support cost money and cut into profits? Yes, it absolutely does – into short-term profits. But, if your goal is to establish your company and brand in the market for the long run – not for short- or medium-term gains – loyalty, trust and exceeding the expectations of clients need to be the air that you breath. Prepaid24 has made the commitment to do exactly that, regardless of the additional short-term costs, and we are now reaping the benefits of this strategy in the form of loyal and satisfied clients.

While this certainly is ‘the road less travelled’ for a reason and can feel impossible to follow at times, you need to constantly remind yourself of what your end-goal is. Keep at it and stay committed – it will be worth it at the end.

With our client support centre situated in Mossel Bay, we boast a multilingual team of caring and professional individuals who can provide personal support in up to seven of the nation’s official languages, with top-class English and Afrikaans support always guaranteed.

The importance of support when transacting online

Should you decide to go with this more personal and sustainable client support strategy, you need to understand the importance of consistency – not so much in terms of consultant manner, but in terms of ‘heart’.

As crazy as this may sound, when Prepaid24 started off, 10 years ago, each client interaction was handled by one of the business’ three employees. This made consistency rather easy, as everyone was crystal clear about what the company’s goal and mission was. With a much larger support team in 2020 and a group of 40 employees, getting the ’heart’ of your company across to each of your team members is an entirely different ball game. Regardless of the added difficulty, it still must be done. Otherwise, having a live support facility, with staff who just ‘don’t get it’, could end up achieving exactly the opposite of what you intended.

At 10pm on a Sunday night, when you’re battling to load your prepaid electricity token onto your meter, the last thing any ‘slightly frustrated’ client needs is a support consultant who doesn’t have the skills or the care to relate to the challenge that the client is facing. The irony is that ‘support’ like this may even be worse than having none at all.

Another price-saving option many companies are employing today is the use of artificial intelligence (AI), where ‘bots’ answer client questions by following a unique algorithm. This could work when selling simple merchandise, with limited parameters for client questions and challenges; but at Prepaid24, where we vendor for over 300 municipalities, offer multiple products, and service multiple banks, client queries can be multi-layered and complex. We have come to understand that clients have the desire to speak to a ‘real’ expert and do not want to go through the frustration of ‘speaking’ with a robot that can maybe only answer 60% of their question correctly. This just leaves them frustrated and asking themselves: “Why am I doing this online?”

During Covid-19 and the national lockdown, the sincere and expert care of consultants on our ’Live Chat’ had the unintended benefit of not only serving as support for client’s challenges, but also as much-needed social interaction in a time of relative isolation and seclusion. The average duration of our interactions increased by 18%, not because there were more or ‘bigger’ issues, but simply because our clients were more inquisitive as to where our staff were sitting and how they were coping with what the coronavirus was throwing at all of us.

Customer journeys will change and improve and AI will come into the mix more and more. These facts are to be accepted and embraced. That said, we remain resolute in our belief that clients will always appreciate a friendly voice that gives competent and accurate advice, especially when buying prepaid electricity online. If clients receive this, they will reward companies with their patronage, support and loyalty. Companies that can secure these elements from their clients will have a solid foundation and stand the greatest chance of chartering the uncertain waters that the future holds successfully.

The profits you sacrificed initially will return exponentially, all because you understood and applied the undeniable truths that ‘people buy from people’ and that clients appreciate it when they are listened to attentively.

2 Sep 2020 11:58


About the author

Ben Lindeque, Business Architect at Prepaid24, has been at the helm of various businesses since 1997. Listening to clients and striving to gain a deeper understanding of their challenges are what Ben believes to be 'square one' in building a brand that's not only utilized but loved by all of its clients and users.

Ben and his long-time partner, Corné du Toit, were the first in SA to conceptualize the idea of purchasing prepaid electricity online by means of an EFT payment.

Ben lives and works from Mossel Bay, where Prepaid24's national support centre is situated. He is a devout Christian and is married with three sons.