In customer service, as in many other areas of life, as technology becomes more sophisticated, relationships get more complex. While technology makes it easier for customers to interact with businesses, an action as simple as finding an auto repair shop can quickly overwhelm consumers with multiple channels, opinions, advertisers and behind-the-scenes engagement systems.
What was once a straightforward sales and marketing funnel has become a cycle, with customers consistently in the evaluation stage and customer service reps having to convince current customers over and over of the value they're providing. Customers expect excellent, fast and personalized service when interacting with businesses, and that puts a lot of pressure on your customer experience team.
"In a world that has become increasingly technology-focused - even more so as a result of the massive move to working from home during the pandemic - the personal, human touch is so valuable for companies seeking to make important connections with their customers and partners," said Kate Winkler, CEO of Ruby, a premier provider of live virtual receptionist and chat services for small businesses. "Every phone call or website visit is crucial to the survival of a business, so the demands on customer support teams have increased exponentially."
To help you succeed and grow in today's business environment, here are a few best practices you can implement to build loyalty and win new business.
1. Invest in your customer service infrastructure.
It's essential to serve your customers where they are, not where they used to be, which means investing in a multichannel (or omnichannel) strategy:
* In-store presence (if applicable)
* Live call answering rather than a directory or voicemail only
* Website chat to interact with customers looking for information in real time
* Social media support and proactive updates about your business
Even if your business isn't a 24-hour operation, some form of customer support may need to be available 24/7, 365 days a year. Recent developments have redefined the "typical workday," as more customers are doing business during the evenings and weekends. For many companies, it isn't feasible or cost-effective to manage this expanded support in-house, so outsourced communication solutions such as a virtual receptionist service can ensure the needs of your customers and prospective customers are met.
2. Train team members in active listening.
Handling customer concerns is more than providing solutions - it's making sure customers feel heard. Being present in customer conversations is key to showing you care. Never assume you know what a customer wants or needs, even if you've heard the problem 100 times. Practice active listening by offering small verbal cues ("yep," "that's right," "mm-hmm"), taking notes, reiterating what you've heard, and responding in ways that indicate you've been paying close attention. It's an art, but one that's easy to master.
3. Encourage personalized customer interactions.
To build trust with your customers, focus on creating and nurturing relationships. Companies that prioritize customer interactions and provide access to valuable resources and information are more likely to weather economic stress and even thrive through word-of-mouth referrals. A few suggestions:
* Use the customer's name
* Establish a customer response goal (e.g., all calls/emails/messages responded to within 24 hours)
* Send communications that are not issue- or sales-related, such as interesting articles relevant to the customer's business, or congratulations on a recent office move
* Celebrate important milestones such as birthdays, marriages, births, etc.
Alongside (and in some cases in place of) sales and marketing efforts, investing in your customer experience can have a dramatic effect on customer acquisition and retention. Small businesses without a dedicated support team should consider investing in tools and services - like virtual receptionists and live chat - that can provide a professional, compassionate voice focused on delivering a consistent experience that will make your business stand out from the competition.