SanDisk's Winning Customer Service Focus

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Increased sales made it essential for the technology company to invest in a sound global customer service strategy.
Customer Service
Gold: Customer Service

Business Boost: A customer-centric service strategy is leading to improved customer satisfaction and an increase in sales.

Sales successes are important achievements for organizations. But savvy business leaders understand that unless their winning sales strategies are accompanied by first-class customer service, the success will be short-lived. These leaders, like Urvashi Sheth, senior director for global customer support at SanDisk Corporation, have made it their mission to ensure their brand excels at customer service.

Increased demand for flash memory based storage products was positively impacting SanDisk. In fact, between 2011 and 2013, the high-tech manufacturer saw an increase in products sold globally. "Higher sales meant increased need for support," Sheth explains.

In order to make the most of the booming global market, SanDisk's leadership decided to embark on a four-pronged strategy geared towards providing extremely high quality, quick, and efficient pre- and post-sales services. The first step was to improve integration across previously fragmented customer service channels to deliver a personalized and seamless experience across all channels, including the Web, social media, mobile, the contact center, and on the field.

Cognizant that one-size-fits-all customer service is no longer sufficient, next SanDisk wanted to invest in support systems that cater to the diverse cultural needs of a global customer base. SanDisk's business leaders were cognizant of the need to customize processes to suit diverse local and regional requirements. Despite rapid growth in emerging markets like China, Brazil, India, and Africa, this was not supported by the necessary customer service infrastructure. For example, in India and China it was normal for customers to have to wait up to 20 days for a warranty replacement since SanDisk has limited depots. The organization addressed this problem by opening new depots that helped it transform the warranty replacement process and allow customers to get served on the same day in the same city.

The third goal was to manage rising service costs, and this included leveraging technologies that are most popular in a particular region. In India and China, SanDisk started providing return merchandize authorization and warranty replacement numbers via SMS, allowing customers to show the SMS at the counter to get their replacement. More than 500 such texts are sent everyday and SanDisk has expanded the use of SMS to keep customers informed of the status of a mailed or couriered replacement. Apart from providing a good experience, this strategy has helped SanDisk reduce customer service costs since the cost to send an SMS is 95 percent less than a phone or chat contact as it takes less time. SMS is also being used for authentication purposes, allowing SanDisk to closely monitor its inventory and avoid business issues, like gray market or product duplication that may lead to brand erosion. Sheth explains that customers can text the unique 16-digit product code and be automatically informed whether the item is authentic, allowing them to return it if there's a problem.

Sales were not the only increase SanDisk was experiencing. The cost of success was additional customer support requests, also due to more complex products. While business leaders wanted to manage costs, they also wanted to ensure they continued to deliver excellent customer service. This required automating parts of the service operations. Sheth explains that although a knowledgebase existed, it was very basic. "We redesigned it and focused on being media-rich," she says. Last year SanDisk added an assistance feature that guides customers in the use of more complex products. Further, the knowledgebase, which is available in 13 languages, was integrated with online forums and communities, helping customers make informed decisions before buying products. Sheth notes that the use of both the knowledgebase and forums has increased by about 17 percent since 2011 as opposed to the projected 10 percent.

The final step in the strategy revolved around taking advantage of social media and e-commerce channels. "We're seeing a huge shift from brick-and-mortar retail to ecommerce," Sheth says. SanDisk wanted to tap into the growing popularity of new digital and social media channels by extending its customer service delivery to areas where customers were located. This includes interacting with customers on social channels, like Facebook and Twitter, and being active on technical communities and forums where the company responds to queries and engages in conversations with customers. Further, it was imperative not to forget e-commerce channels, like Amazon, NewEgg.com, and Walmart.com, and instead use them to engage with customers, including responding to any customer that gives fewer than three stars. "We want to respond to customers and let them know we're listening to them and ready to help," Sheth says.

Additionally, SanDisk wanted to educate its customers not only on its own products but also related technologies. Sheth notes that since most customers use SanDisk products to store photographs, the company wanted to share information on taking great images, and started creating educational materials, for example informative webinars by professional photographers. The company also provided customers with a way to share their own SanDisk stories, for example by uploading content like personal pictures and videos.

Collecting data from across different channels and tracking customer communications is allowing SanDisk to proactively help customers by identifying and monitoring trends, for example the top drivers of calls to the contact center and leveraging online forum conversations to identify what customers like and dislike about products and services.

Overall, the whole strategy has led to an improvement in customer satisfaction for call center services of up to 97 percent, up from 91 percent in 2011 while reducing the customer service budget by 7 percent. The improvements have also helped SanDisk's retail business unit increase market share in the United States by 5 percent year over year. The company has gained market share in both India and China.

Executing such a revolutionary strategy required commitment from more than one department, and Sheth sought the support of the entire organization by creating awareness about the project through corporate-wide events to promote the importance of a customer-centric culture. During Retail Demo Day in 2013 the customer service and product marketing teams demonstrated all of SanDisk's products and their accompanying support services. Other initiatives included a Customer Awareness Day to educate employees on SanDisk customers and a customer appreciation day where various customers, including one of the SanDisk Forum gurus, were recognized for their contributions. Another initiation brought employees and customers together by volunteering to build playhouses for the Habitat for Humanity Foundation.

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