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How to anticipate customer needs

Posted June 9, 2016 - Updated July 29, 2021
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Customer service has become much more than just fielding a phone call when a problem arises. Discourse about customer service — and its place and potential within a company — has evolved. It is now seen as one aspect of the customer experience (CX) and a point of differentiation that represents a genuine business opportunity. The leaders in this space know how to anticipate customers’ needs and are confident that doing so will pay dividends.

In an increasingly competitive and saturated commercial marketplace, businesses are feeling the pressure to foster ongoing relationships with their customers in an effort to promote brand and company loyalty. In order to accomplish this, their customer service teams need to be backed by technology and ready to provide customers with what they need — before the customer even knows that they need it.

Whether customers are looking for technical support, pre-sales information, to voice their concerns, companies need to be proactive in creating positive relationships with consumers. This is what turns one-time customers into loyal advocates. The following strategies can help companies sync with the needs of their current, and would-be, customer base:

1. Mobile-first support structure

Make mobile access a priority. When a customer encounters an issue or wants information they are more likely to have their mobile device with them than they are to be near a computer or landline phone. A study by PEW Research Center found that as of 2015, nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone, suggesting that a mobile app may be the preferred vehicle to establish connection.

It’s important that your app supports all current mobile platforms and offers options that include chat, voice connection, email and troubleshooting FAQs. Alternatively, make certain your support information is easily found through online search — and that once found, the support page displays properly on every type and size of device. Your contact information should also be prominently displayed at the top of the page so customers are not forced to scroll through multiple screens to make contact.

2. Omnichannel CX strategy

Let’s make this simple. You need to be where your customers are and maintain a consistent experience across all of your channels. In an omnichannel environment, support channels are integrated in terms of both data and experience to deliver an intelligent, effective and low-effort outcome for the customer. Since all channels are interconnected, a customer can enjoy a consistent experience when switching between support channels because the customer service team has all of the customer information from past engagements at their disposal. Frustration-free and impressive.

But what channels should you factor in?

It’s hard to be proactive when all customers have access to is a toll-free number. Companies that take CX to the next level embrace social media and put in the effort to listen and engage with their customers. Intelligent brands have sought out the spaces, or channels, that their customers frequent — amassing large social media followings by being present, maintaining a consistent brand voice and interacting with their followers.

And if social media isn’t your priority, your website has serious potential for proactive support. Take the time to learn about your customers and where the pain points are on your website, and be proactive in offering them support at key moments. Just be consistent — 75% of consumers expect a consistent experience wherever they engage, according to Salesforce.

Bringing omnichannel CX together is a great way to exceed customer expectations. According to market research firm Aberdeen, companies with the strongest omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain an average of 89% of their customers, as compared to 33% for companies with weak omnichannel strategies.

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3. Gamification and self-service

Gamification is a great way to create engagement with your customers. Consider adding elements of gaming to your support interaction, such as badges or points customers can earn as rewards for answering questions correctly on community boards or help forums. These could even be translated into discounts for future purchases. Critically, you need to be keeping an eye on the topics your community members are discussing or asking questions about — this material can lend itself to future proactive approaches, and self-service materials like Wikis and FAQs.

If developing a gamification model is too complex, creating an environment that uses an entertaining style is another strong option. Southwest Airlines has leveraged this tactic in their passenger-safety demonstrations, in which flight attendants are encouraged to present the federally mandated (read: typically dry) instructions in a fun, interactive way. They still present the mandatory information but in a much more entertaining style.

When applied to the contact center, agents can add their own personal touches to support encounters. The result can lead to a more positive and personal connection between the customer and the company.

4. Personalization

Linking a customer to their prior contact history gives them the impression you know who they are — and that you care — from the moment they connect. Having an institutional memory of your customers, the reasons they’ve contacted customer service in the past and how they use your product or service, helps to reinforce the idea that they matter to the company in the long run.

Personalization is no longer a nice little touch. Salesforce reports that 84% of consumers say being treated like a person, and not just a number, is very important to winning their business. There are countless similar findings, making it clear that personalization is now a customer expectation.

And if you took the above section on omnichannel CX to heart, you’ll know that your personalized experience should be applied across all of your channels. Giving your customers the opportunity to move from one channel to the next without losing track of them is a sure-fire way to delight your customers.

You don’t need a crystal ball to anticipate customer needs. You need to listen to them, learn from them and treat every interaction as an opportunity to delight them. Companies that do this will come out ahead.

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