This era of instant contact and immediate responses has affected all aspects of our lives and it should surprise no one to realize that the bar for Customer Service has also been steadily getting higher. I see this so often that it still bears repeating.
A company’s success is not determined just by marketing and sales. A concerted effort on customer service which starts with your website and ends with several follow-up even after the product has been shipped counts as the full customer-service experience.
All of us entrepreneurs should have this consumer expectation level as a gauge for establishing appropriate Customer Service protocols in our organizations, big and small. The old adage that the ‘customer is always right’ has been the philosophical cornerstone of every successful business.
In these times, when the customer expects responses within hours, we need to be doubly aware of timely answers. The faster the better.
Evolving Industry Expectations
Look around at the way the ecommerce model is being influenced by the big player, Amazon. There is the guarantee of quick response and the idea of an advocate smoothing interaction in cases of 3rd party fulfillment. This expectation of Customer Service agent as an internal advocate is an interesting development – the agent is not just a company representative but a bridge in helping both parties reach a mutually satisfactory resolution.
Many big stores including Wal-Mart and Target understand the immediacy of customer expectations and so they are allowed to order online to pick up at store. Sometimes to facilitate long-distance gift giving they are allowed to place an order at the store and have it shipped to the recipient’s address.
Social Media and Customer Service
Consumers now expect brands and ecommerce business owners to be active on social media. When they tweet and Instagram the idea of waiting for an email response feels dated to them. To the generation that makes social plans via Snapchat, 24-hour response promise seems inadequate.
Here’s the tricky thing about ecommerce entrepreneurs adopting social media. Pick and choose your platforms but whichever you pick make sure you have the resources to monitor it constantly. To have an account in all platforms with nobody following up on any of it will be worse that just offering a phone number to call!
Be on the lookout for ways in which you can use new social media developments to enhance your Customer Service. For example, with all the hoopla around Facebook Live consumers may start expecting a live person to talk to rather than just get the online chat version of a representative.
Allowing your consumers to interface with your brand “via live” will not only enhance your customer service but get a tremendous boost your brand experience itself. A good live interaction can leave a very long positive impact and that is very likely to lead to word-of-mouth brand building too.
If your business is small and your product not consumer centric, you can still use simple texting and feedback or follow-up mechanisms to improve customer experience. Send a text message when you have customer information, give me an indication that you have my order and its being processed. This kind of prompt updating will always make a big impact on customers.
It is worth mentioning while talking about social media usage that responsiveness is key. In mobile design ensure that your website is mobile responsive not just mobile friendly. This may mean paying attention to details such as how the customer can reach you from their mobile phone; not just focusing on layout and formatting of text and images.
Using Customer Data to Customize Service
We all know now that a lot of customer data is aggregated by every site we visit. Consumers are starting to demand some usefulness from all this data collection. For instance, if brands have all the data on their history purchase, then the consumers want that to benefit them not just the brand.
Amazon’s model of reminding customers of what was bought in the past is attractive. They also appreciate suggestions such as subscription services which will allow them to order regularly purchased items at a cheaper price. Suggestions of what else customers with similar interests buys, competitive offers and improved products are all welcome inputs.
Given the amount of data collected about each individual button click, a great degree of customization is actually possible. There may be ways here for you to improve your sales and ensure customer loyalty.
A key element of Customer Service planning is figuring out the self-sufficiency bar of your customers. You have to determine the level of comfort of what you can ask them to handle on their own before you step in. You can offer concierge service at different levels and depending on your product and clientele you will have to determine this baseline.
If you’re setting up steps where a certain degree of self-help is needed make it simple. I used to enjoy the convenience of setting up an appointment and taking my devices to the Genius Bar at the Apple Store. Now the process has become so complicated, in that I have to describe the problem, that I almost prefer dropping by the mall to see if I can get an appointment. This is a development that is not good for the company or the customer and has to be tackled with more finesse.
Money Does Matter
While making the case for technology to be used innovatively in Customer Service, I have to make the point that you should not let technology become an unpleasant intruder either.
I recently purchase a online info product. As I was dissatisfied and returned it to get a refund on my 1st installment, the second installment got charged automatically. As I run around to get that returned, I worry that a third installment will also be charged automatically.
This experience is leaving me wary of any future transaction with this vendor. There have to be checks and balances in handling the transactions so that there are simple overrides for certain kinds of automation.
Similarly, make it smooth and easy to make payments. The number of buttons to click between deciding to press a button and order complete should be reasonable and logical. Several run-arounds between items-in-cart and completion will dampen the customer experience.
Above and Beyond
The personalized nature of Customer Service means that there’s always room to make a special impression on your customer. The best entrepreneurs are those who are able to anticipate customer needs and deliver on them even before it becomes a request.
I recently booked my travel ticket to travel overseas, and because I am traveling internationally with complicated domestic routes within China, I decide to use a travel agent. She was so awesome in anticipating my needs. I am traveling with a group of people including a colleague. Several days after the ticket has been issued, I call her and ask whether it is possible for her to seat me and my colleague close to or even next to each other.
I was very impressed when she said she’d already done this. Not only did she think of this request without me asking for it explicitly, she actually used her good judgment. She had put us on two aisle seats allowing us to talk to each other without being face-to-face for the entire trip. I was tremendously impressed with her ability to intuitively understand and anticipate customer needs.
Another recent instance of Customer Service that I thought of as exemplary is a Comcast technician. He came to replace the cable box and when he checked the wiring from the street poles he found the wires were old. He called in another group to deal with the old wires and made sure that he fixed the core issue instead of taking the band-aid approach. While this may be standard practice, I did feel that this was a technician thinking holistically of the customer experience.
These days all customers are smart. They have access to so much information whether it is product specs or other customer reviews. This means many of them do their research before any purchase. They have lots of choices as they are armed and well informed.
If customers choose you for their business, make it worth their while. Do everything possible to make the transaction exemplary. Give them the tools to feel good about their choice and to enhance their experience. This more than anything else can lead to repeat customers.