Customer service has an interesting role in many organizations. Everyone agrees on the importance of great customer service to build customer loyalty, yet managers of customer service departments are constantly confronted with cost-reductions. Especially in the after-sales stage of a customer’s life cycle organizations try to keep a tight grip on costs.
There is tremendous opportunity for organizations that understand the strategic opportunity of remarkable customer service with the consequence that better customer service does not necessarily mean to increase headcounts.
Several trends and changes in consumer behavior create new opportunities to redefine customer service and find ways to deliver better customer service at reduced costs. Based on my experience of setting up and scaling the customer service for some of my own ventures I would like to share my insights.
No customer service is the best service
When customers are contacting your customer service department it is already too late. The ultimate goal is that your customers never need to contact your customer service department because either they don’t have questions or they are answered already somewhere else.
The best customer service is no customer service but this also requires that this is kept in mind already from the moment a new product or service is created. Analyzing the current call center statistics will give the first starting points to understand where the biggest areas for improvement are and with the discipline to incorporate improvements the calls to the customer care center can be dramatically improved.
Nobody denies that this is the most difficult opportunity, but it is also the one with the highest potential.
Ignoring service recovery is unacceptable
Sometimes things just go wrong. Maybe there is a sudden problem problem with a your car due to a mistake made during maintenance, or an outage due to human errors with your Internet connection or you just bought a new computer and it just wont boot due to a glitch during production.
Situations like these are extremely annoying to consumers but these are the essential “moments of truth” that can break or strengthen a customer’s relationship with a brand. The service recovery paradox states that even in situations where customer loyalty is negatively impacted, the right service recovery activities can restore customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. It can even be increased to levels higher than they where before the incident if the service recovery is done fast, honestly and really aims to solve the customers problems.
As a consequence businesses need to ensure that if these events happen, they need to be frank and admit that this is a problem and apologize to customers. Consumers don’t just accept that a problem is solved, they also want to taken serious and be reassured that this will not happen again in the future. If that is not the case, customers will just start to look for other companies that offer the same service. Especially in mature markets there is always another competitor with a new and better offer to win over customers from companies who don’t take their customers serious.
Ask happy customer to spread the word
The goal of customer service is to have satisfied customers and we try all kinds of things to achieve that. If this has been achieved, very often companies stop and do not leverage the moment when customers are happy and satisfied. A sentence: “Thank you, I really appreciate your great service.” should not go unnoticed. The standard reply should be “It was our pleasure and we hope you tell your friends and family about it!”
If it is something very specific and you are corresponding via E-Mail, you can just add a sentence and ask “If you liked our service it would be great if you could leave a comment on our website or become our friend on Facebook. Here is the link: Have a great day!”. If you don’t believe me, just try a small scale experiment in your customer service department and see for yourself what impact this will have.
Surprise customers with innovative customer service tools
It’s the little secret of early-stage startups to connect with customers, surprise them and instantly connect with them: Integrating a live chat on your website and allowing customer to quickly reach out to you and also to pro-actively reach out them and ask them if they have any questions. I have used live chat software myself on several of my websites and I am doing it whenever I would like to quickly connect with customers. This way you can not only deliver a very responsive customer service but you will realize that calls and emails to the customer care center will be significantly reduced while in many situations an agent can handle multiple interactions at the same time.
Customer service from customers for customers
Outsourcing customer service to customers? A few years ago people would have thought this is a crazy idea but with the rise of online forums the internet has become an important place for customer service. In online customer support forums passionate customers help other customers with their problems and therefore reduce the inbound calls to customer care departments. The “helping customers” certainly need to be passionate about a product or brand but passion alone is not enough. These forums also need to communicate “helper status” through the form of leaderboards, kudos points or other incentives that reward customers who help other customers. Of course you don’t want people to do it for the money but you want it to be fair for everyone involved.
Customer communities can work but they need moderation. Just setting up a forum and hoping that users will go there will backfire, especially in critical situations when there is a major problem. A long term view on the support forums is essential as well, because products will change and information in the forum will be outdated. If it is not possible to exclude this information from searches, customers will find outdated information and will be left without help as well.
Customer Service Anywhere
Social Media has given a voice to consumers that can be broadcasted in real time on the internet and the right messages will be picked up and will spread like wild fire. Got a bad customer experience with an Airline? Just create a song and millions of people might see it on YouTube. Do you think you have been treated unfair at the hotline? You can find out in real-time what customers are saying about your brand on Twitter.
The most important rule when developing a social media strategy is that it is not a one-way channel but a two-way channel. This means that companies need to listen and they need to listen not just to the praise and “Likes” on Facebook but also to the questions and complaints that customers have.
Does this mean you have to solve peoples problems with 140 characters through Twitter? No. You can guide them to your hotline (maybe you even have a special hotline for contacts through social media) and they will take care of it. But you have to listen and guide them, not ignore them and just send them marketing messages.
These trends will further influence customer service and how it is organized and delivered. There will certainly be companies that will keep struggling with low-quality products and will not make up lost ground with better customer service. But many companies are in situations where they have great products and with the right strategy these companies are able to deliver not just average service experiences but indeed remarkable service experiences.
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