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How to Improve Your Customer Service

Drew Hendricks

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Let's start by stating the obvious. Customers are the heart of a business, and customer service is important. But how important is customer service in the digital age?

Consider this: In 2017, businesses lost $75 billion due to bad customer service. Read that again. Seventy-five billion dollars were lost all because of poor customer service experiences.

How much can a business stand to lose? Take a moment to think about how many customers could be lost before a business would start feeling the pinch. This puts things in stark perspective, doesn't it?

There Is a Solution

Luckily, there are plenty of steps that can be taken to improve customer service. But there's something that should be known up front: Because every business is different, every customer service experience is bound to be different. What works for Amazon or Target may not work for a smaller business, and that's okay.

There are things that can be done now to improve a customer's experience.

Know the Customer

Seems pretty simple, right? Knowing the customer is the first step in providing the best service and support. But the importance of this concept is often overlooked in the quest to improve customer service.

Consider the customer base. What's the customers' average age? Average income? Gender? Location? These demographic details are great when targeting marketing efforts, but they're also indispensable when creating a customer service strategy.

How Do Customers Communicate?

New technology is enticing. It's natural to think implementing new and improved tech solutions will help improve customer service. But before the new chatbot or AI interface is deployed, think about the benefit (or lack of) for the customer. One might be surprised to realize current communication channels aren't a great fit for the customer.

The customers' communication preferences can depend on any number of variables. Here are a couple of examples:

The Product or Service

If the business is dealing in high-value goods or services (think auto, travel, investments) studies have shown customers want actual voice contact during the purchase cycle. No real explanation needed here; it's logical. No one wants to drop a lot of money until they're comfortable with their purchase. It's probably a good idea to implement a highly skilled call center team to improve customer service.

Customers making lower value purchases (clothing or household items, for example) are more likely to make use of live chat, chatbots, or email communication. In this case, robust technical solutions should be put in place to offer great service without the need to make a phone call.

The Customer's Age Bracket

Age can also play a big part in customers' communication preferences. It's no secret; baby boomers generally prefer a phone call when reaching out to a business. And boomers are still the majority demographic (though barely) when it comes to consumers. This majority accounts for a whopping 61% of all consumers who prefer voice communications when conducting business. If a business is difficult to reach by phone, it may be damaging it's reputation and worse yet, losing customers.

On the flip side, businesses who cater to millennials and younger generations should focus more on non-voice communications. Sixty percent of millennials say they prefer two-way engagement with businesses via text message. If a business is forcing its younger consumers to make a phone call each time they need support, it might be losing them.

Tailor Communication Channels

When a business needs to improve customer service, the first step should be tailoring communication channels. Consider what's being sold, who it's being sold to, and how those specific consumers want to communicate. If the communication channels don't match up with buyer demographic, it might be time for a change.

Want to build a customer-base full of happy, repeat buyers? Make it easy for them to reach the business—when they want and how they want.

Automation

What comes to mind when thinking about automation? Henry Ford? Artificial intelligence? Probably something in between, right? There's no doubt about it . . . automation touches many parts of our lives, from the programmable thermostat on our wall to the automatic ice machine in our freezer. And devices like Amazon's Alexa are making automation an even bigger part of our everyday existence.

So why do we, as humans, like automation? Lots of reasons.

First, we don't like doing boring and menial tasks.

Turning the thermostat down before work and turning it up again when getting home? Who can be bothered?

Second, we're forgetful. Who can remember to mess with the thermostat, anyway?

And third, we make mistakes. Accidentally turning the thermostat down too low when rushing out the door will make for a miserable arrival back home.

Automation can handle mundane tasks for us. Automated systems don't forget, and they (usually) don't make mistakes. Automation can also help improve customer service.

Automation Baby Steps

I recently read about a medical office whose staff had to manually send faxes anytime a request came in from another physician or an insurance provider. Their front office staff's day looked something like this:

Answer call, print document, walk across the office, send fax. Answer another call, send fax. Read email request, send fax. And so on.

From a practical standpoint, the process didn't make sense. The front office was in chaos with staff constantly away from their desks. The risk of misplacing or misdirecting physical documents was high, so there were compliance issues. And let's not even think about the amount of paper they were plowing through in a given month.

Imagine the effect this was having on the practice's customer satisfaction. While the staff was up faxing, their phones were ringing with calls from patients, physicians, and labs. Hold times were high, callers were angry, emails went unanswered, and eventually, the practice suffered financially because they were losing patients.

Think of the difference a small automation would've made to this medical office. In this case, a simple application for online faxing would've kept the front office staff in their seats and would have been a game changer for the entire practice.

Customer service can be improved without investing in expensive technology or overhauling procedures. Do a waste walk through the customer's journey. Identify the small steps taken first and then build out a strategy to improve customer service from there.

Automating the Customer Service Team

Anyone who has worked in customer service will tell you it's not always an easy job. A CSR's attention is often spread thin. Keep the team focused on what's important—your customer—instead of routine daily tasks. (Hint: happy CSR's = happy customers)
Improve customer service by automating in these areas.

Outgoing Communication

As with the example above, automating outgoing communication can make a big difference. If a business requires a great amount of outgoing customer communications, like faxes, emails, or even postal mail, standardize those documents as much as possible, then implement a hands-off solution to get those documents out the door.

There are several benefits to automating outgoing communication. First, valuable time will be saved by the customer service team. Also, with standardized communication, the risk of customers receiving misinformation or wrong documents is eliminated. And finally, "I forgot to email this receipt," or "I forgot to mail this form," is a thing of the past. Automated communication removes the human risk for error.

Phone System

Is the business utilizing its phone system's bells and whistles? If not, look into the system's available features, and learn how call handling might benefit from some automation.

Check out how IVR (interactive voice response) can help direct callers to the best person for their needs. I know customers don't want to deal with phone trees, but trust me. Today's IVR technology is incredibly intuitive and user friendly. The fewer transfers, the happier the caller.

If the phone system has an IVR, there's a good chance it also offers ACD (automatic call distribution). Simply put, ACD's are the various call queues within a call center. IVR's and ACD's can work hand in hand to first identify why a customer is calling and then subsequently direct them to the correct ACD or queue. This is another small step that can save customers time and frustration by preventing multiple call transfers.

CRM System

CRM's can automate everything from follow-up emails to scheduling meetings. A good CRM system will keep notes on each customer's communication with the company. A great system will not only keep track of communications, it'll maintain a record of the customer's journey with a company—purchases, service tickets, phone calls, emails, chats, repeat purchases.

This type of automation, where the system (instead of a human) adds notes to the customer's record as things happen, can send productivity—and customer satisfaction—through the roof.

Customers can call, email, or chat, and their information is at the CSR's fingertips.

There are a ton of benefits to implementing a CRM system, and their features extend beyond just customer service into sales and marketing. More information can be found about CRM's here.

Speed

This is obvious, but one shouldn't underestimate its importance.

In the digital age, people want things fast. Customers don't want to wait 24 hours for an email response. They definitely don't want to wait three business days for a callback.

If a company needs to improve customer service, take a look at the turnaround time for your standard support functions. If things are moving too slow, work on improving efficiency (hint: Automation.)

Self-service

We could argue that self-service falls under the same umbrella as automation. And in many ways, it does. But in addition to automating customer support functions, consider implementing self-service options so customers never need to contact the business at all.

One industry has made self-service a cornerstone of its business model—auto insurance. Consumers can get quotes, add or remove coverage, add additional vehicles or drivers, pay their premiums, and even file a claim completely through self-service portals. In many cases, the customer never has to deal with a person.

While the insurance industry has its own set of challenges when it comes to customer service, there is an overwhelmingly positive consumer response to their use of self-service portals.

Where could consumers effectively help themselves? Maybe it's in making a repeat purchase, setting up a recurring subscription, or with initiating a product return. Whenever there is a standard process, there is the chance to improve customer service by making the process available directly to the consumer through a self-service application.

Surveys

Peter Drucker, management consultant and author, famously said, "If you can't measure it, you can't improve it."
This is true especially when it comes time to improve customer service.

Customer satisfaction surveys can measure, in a tangible way, the level of customers' satisfaction with a company. One can learn what's working, where there are pain points, and what customers want.

Deploying a customer satisfaction survey can seem daunting and expensive, but it doesn't have to be. Surveys can be simple or complex, but what is done with the survey results is the most important piece of the process.

Use survey results to map out a plan to address the pain points and improve customer service. Start with major trends, and work down to the minor or one-off issues.

Here's some great information on how to structure a survey and how to get the best results.

It's Not a One-and-Done Affair

Improving a company's customer service practices takes time, energy, and investment. There's no one-and-done fix and no one-size-fits-all solution.

If the ultimate goal is to improve customer service, start by truly understanding the customer. Learn about their wants, their complaints, and their habits. Only then can a well-founded strategy be implemented for improving interactions with consumers, turning one-time buyers into lifelong customers.

Improving customer service is the goal of every business, and there's no shortage of information out there to help. If you're ready to learn more, check out even more tips here.

Drew Hendricks covers startups, business and environmental topics. He's also the Organic Growth Marketing Manager at Nextiva.

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