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The three customer service basics that are non-negotiable

Posted May 24, 2018
Customer service agents on calls

Bots, AI, IoT, RFID, machine learning — the list of customer service technology (and acronyms!) is growing at a rapid pace. It’s beginning to feel like new customer experience technologies are being introduced daily, accompanied by warnings to adopt them quickly in order to stay competitive.

It can be overwhelming from a consumer and brand perspective, but the reality is that at the heart of any great customer service experience, there are three core basics. Before your business tackles any new frontiers, it’s crucial that your support team has these core fundamentals mastered to ensure a positive customer experience.

1. Communicate with empathy

Mike Scelzo, head of pharmacy experience at healthcare technology company Capsule, believes that good customer service is the lynchpin of a good customer retention rate. “Whenever a customer needs to reach out to the company, it’s a tremendous gift — it’s a golden opportunity for the company to step up and demonstrate that they’re completely worthy of that customer’s continued business,” he explains.

From day one, businesses should emphasize not just what information is communicated to customers, but also_how_it’s communicated. This means staffing highly trained agents who are able to offer accurate solutions in a friendly, easy-to-understand manner.

“While extra tech bells and whistles can help, nothing trumps the personal and empathetic touch of a service agent who is willing to take [metaphorical] bullets to make and keep customers happy,” says Scelzo.

The data supports his claim. PwC’s recent Future of Customer Experience study found that nearly 80 percent of consumers cite friendly service as the most important element of their experience with a brand.

Meghan Brady, quality assurance and training specialist at the retail brand UNIQLO, suggests that agents consider the customer’s level of tech literacy and knowledge of the product. “Customers come from all walks of life, and some are more tech-savvy than others. Whenever training new employees, I always advise them to refrain from using company lingo, as that can be confusing and ultimately time consuming,” Brady explains.

Younger agents may have particular difficulty communicating complex scenarios to older customers. In these cases, Brady stresses an empathetic approach, “Try to think about how you would explain that scenario to your grandparents. Would they get it?”

2. Respond and resolve quickly

According to Salesforce’s 2017 State Of the Connected Customer report, 64 percent of consumers now expect companies to provide real-time responses and interactions. Furthermore, 80 percent say immediate responses will influence their loyalty to a brand. If you want to keep your best customers happy, your team needs to focus on delivering a quick and correct response.

A speedy customer service response time can be established by building an efficient team of universal agents, that are well-equipped to field any issue that comes their way. Once you’ve got your people, however, you need to know how to deploy them effectively.

Support inquiries can vary in the amount of time and manpower needed to address them. You don’t want to assign all your agents to one issue and leave other customers in the lurch. Organizing customer requests by topic, complexity and urgency can help managers determine which agents are best suited to tackle an issue.

Additionally, a solid knowledge base and FAQ system can benefit customers and agents alike; externally, customers can self-serve to resolve common issues, and internally, agents have easier access to answers.

Just make sure all this documentation is consistent and up-to-date. You don’t want customers to feel like important information is being withheld. “Companies should be honest with their customers and their employees. The same information you tell your employees should also be told to your customers, as it’s affecting everyone involved,” Brady says.

While consistency is important, it’s vital to strike the right balance between full autonomy and talk scripts. Canned language and elaborate protocols can drag an otherwise quick fix into a long ordeal. Scelzo suggests giving your agents more leeway to provide natural solutions. He says, “By giving your team the freedom and empowerment to fix issues, you can avoid bottlenecks. Let teams leverage what they’ve learned and let them think outside the box as needed for quick, creative solutions.”

3. Be accessible

Having friendly agents and rapid resolutions won’t mean much if your customers can’t reach you. In a 2017 Northridge Group survey of 1,000 U.S. respondents, more than half said they do not feel companies make it easy to contact them. This demand for convenience is so strong, in fact, that 43 percent of consumers are willing to pay a premium to get it, according to PwC’s Future Of CX study.

This shouldn’t be hard, says Brady: “The bare minimum a company should offer is an easy-to-use app and website, a phone number and an email address.” And yet, many companies fall short on delivering a strong Customer Effort Score (CES) because they put up walls when they should be paving roads.

Instead of expecting your customers to go out of their way to find you, you must go to where they are — which is, currently, everywhere. As Scelzo notes, the role of customer support is changing alongside evolving technology, and companies need to keep pace by developing an omnichannel strategy. “Customers must be able to reach the company via multiple methods. That means through calls, emails, chats, text messaging or even new technology like Alexa,” says Scelzo.

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From Multichannel to Omnichannel Customer Experience

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An easy way to gain insight into your customer base is to involve your agents in some of the decision-making. Afterall, they are the ones directly interacting with your customers and have a unique window into their common issues, complaints and suggestions.

To encourage their involvement, Scelzo believes support staff should be involved in strategy discussions as early and often as possible. “Businesses must ensure that frontline team members have a seat at the table for cross-functional meetings,” he explains. “This allows you to look upstream for customer friction points and solve them so they never trickle down to affect the customer experience.”

While an award-winning AI experience or an army of advanced chatbots can leave a great initial impression on your customers, they’ll quickly sour on your brand if you don’t also embrace the core virtues of support. By focusing first on kind, empathetic communications, speedy service and reliable avenues to get help, you will be primed for whatever new technology the future may bring.

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