Customer expectations are rising nearly as fast as new technology is being developed that promises to raise them even further. Forbes is calling 2016 the year of the customer and predicting that customer service will be the most important factor in competitive success for businesses for the next five years. Rather than getting easier as the result of big data, many report that the challenges of providing excellent customer service have grown more difficult. That may be because the definition of excellent customer service has expanded as the result of high-tech, high-speed communication.
1) The Customer Service Challenge
In a Harris poll taken in May of 2015, 82% of US corporate executives said that their customers’ expectations were higher than they were three years ago. 47% said that they were “somewhat” higher, while 35% said that they were “much” higher. 60% said it was somewhat difficult to please customers, and 9% said that it was “very” difficult. 77% were in agreement that the internet and consumer apps were responsible for setting a new bar in customer service.
2) The Right Channels
Investing in customizing consumer experiences according to the type of product or service a business provides is the key to ensuring long-term dividends. Today’s consumers can be reached through a number of channels, including telephone, email, instant messaging, and social media. Increasingly, smartphones are replacing desktop computers as the most common internet channel.
One of the most important ways to build and maintain relationships with your customers is by knowing which channel they prefer using. This can be tricky, since 60% of consumers switch channels frequently, depending upon where they are and what else they are doing at the time.
To provide seamless customer service, it’s necessary to consolidate all the communication that has taken place over several channels. A customer service agent on the telephone needs to have the information contained in a previous text or email between the customer and a different agent.
Customized experiences using the channels that customers most prefer help create long-term connections and unleash the power of word-of-mouth marketing. With social media and online review sites such as Yelp, that power is considerable. It’s estimated that the average consumer is connected to 150 people on Facebook and 140 on Twitter. That means that any company’s target audience also has an audience of their own. Those audiences are eager for information about which companies provide the best customer service experiences.
3) The Right Tools
One of the newest tools for elevating customer relationship management to a higher level is cognitive analytics. Companies have access to more data than ever before, but the key is determining which data to utilize and how best to utilize it. Software programs and other technologies analyze data in-depth to provide a view of business processes, customer preferences and other valuable information necessary to improve every aspect of business operations. The benefits of CRM software, such as the ability to automate many time-consuming repetitive tasks, are so numerous that industry-specific software has already been developed (example here). While automation may seem impersonal, in reality, it frees agents’ time, which can then be spent communicating with customers on a more in-depth personal level. While the right software, your business can streamline all communications into one database.
While customers have become less patient and more demanding, the good news is that they have also become more independent. That’s why one of the best customer service tools is a good FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section on any business website. Most people prefer to be able to quickly find the answer to a question themselves than to have to make a phone call that might result in being placed on hold.
Many companies have also begun utilizing YouTube to add another element to their customer service. DIY is extremely popular and for the average do-it-yourselfer, there is nothing better than a step-by-step instructional video. Video can also be used to announce special sales and promotions.
Whatever tools and strategies you employ, nothing takes the place of human interaction with talented customer service representatives. Any investment in improving customer service should include investing in the right people to represent your company, which will always result in consistent, long-term dividends.