Long ago, in the days before outsourced call centers and sophisticated phone trees, customer service was about actually servicing customers, thinking about customer experience and trying to make it better whenever possible. Today it seems to have become more about troubleshooting errors and placating irate buyers. To the average person, customer service staff is there primarily to unravel problems and address annoying hitches in the transaction. After the phone tree, of course.
In fact, the number of obstacles that customers face is growing. “A nerve-wracking separation now exists between customer expectations and the experiences most firms can deliver. These unmet customer expectations are resulting in increased churn,” states Carrie Johnson, SVP of research at Forrester, a market research firm. She points out that customers are interacting with brands more often, “providing more opportunities to create dissatisfied customers, which is what seems to be happening.”
The Forrester Predictions 2018 study shows that 30 percent of companies will see declines in customer experience performance this year, which will translate into a net loss of a point of growth.
A 2018 international survey “Experience is Everything” by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that unfriendly service would prompt 60 percent of consumers to stop doing business with a company, and 52 percent said they would pay more for greater speed and efficiency.
Start Making The First Move
By going out of your way to be proactive you can uncover, avoid, and prevent the problems that ensnare and exasperate your customers. You can provide answers for them before they become confused and solve irregularities before they become annoying.
Proactively talking with customers about potential problems also establishes a reputation for transparency and trustworthiness. Think of the customer rep who calls a buyer to let her know her shipment is delayed before she checks on it, and then explains the reason for the delay and when she can expect delivery. Communicating with customers proactively is what makes them loyal and eager to tell others about their good experiences with your brand.
Proactive customer service means weaving helpful assistance throughout the customer journey, without being intrusive, and having an early warning system for possible pain points. Key steps are:
Identify The Sticky Issues
- Become a scientist and start taking note of things that your customers don’t fully understand or concerns they have and devise ways to proactively address. They’re right there in your Amazon page comments, product review sites, social media channels, and your customer service team’s inbox. You can also conduct surveys either online or at the end of your customer service calls.
Create Helpful Content Along The Customer Journey
- While a single customer service rep can only handle one customer at a time, creating self-service materials can help thousands at any given time. Once you’ve identified the issues and challenges your customers face, you can provide useful and entertaining content that makes things easier for them. Well-organized, unbiased, easy-to-understand information can demonstrate that you respect their time. That can take the form of how-to guides, videos, tutorials, behind-the-scenes stories and step-by-step instructions. Consider serving these items up in your “welcome” campaigns via email. Additionally, you can go above and beyond and proactively serve your customers information about challenges you know they struggle with in life. For example, many companies in the financial, retail, telecommunications, insurance, and other industries have found that their customers welcome their help in the area of credit education and ID protection – issues related to their products and services. By offering clear information to them these companies are helping their customers have more peace of mind which helps engender more customer loyalty. Making the extra effort to help people navigate such complex, daunting issues demonstrates you care and you want to contribute to their well-being however you can.
Tap Social Media For Real-Time Service
- Customers today expect to have real-time conversations with your company through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels. “If an aggrieved customer posts something on your Facebook page or directs a tweet to your company, he expects your company will respond,” says customer service consultant and bestselling author Micah Soloman. Handled well, social media interactions drive loyalty. A full 96 percent of users who turned to Twitter for customer service and had a friendly experience with a brand would buy from that brand again, according to research commissioned by Twitter. Furthermore, when customers tweet at a business and receive a response, they’re willing to spend 3–20 percent more on an average-priced item from that business in the future, the research shows.
But again, it’s not enough to be reactive. The bulk of the customer commentary about your brand on social media isn’t directed at your company’s social handle. While about a third of messages on Twitter are customer service related, only three percent are directed at the brands themselves, according to Conversocial, a customer service software company. To fully tap into the potential of social media for customer service, you may need advanced search capabilities to find any early warnings and address them before a situation worsens.
All in all, moving customer service from reactive to proactive can be a powerful shift in your company’s thinking. By stepping out in front of service issues you have another opportunity to improve the all-important customer experience, boost positive word of mouth and cement brand loyalty.