After the year we’ve lived through no one can deny the need for change. And nowhere is this more obvious than the need for better customer service.
That’s because the coronavirus pandemic has already changed how customers choose to interact with companies and brands.
Changes to customer behaviours demand changes to how you deliver customer service.
Indeed, through all the disruption of the last few months, one thing has stayed the same:
“All other things being equal, serving your customers better confers competitive advantage”
So, how do you change to unlock this competitive advantage?
There are 3 steps that you can take right now:
1. Engage with your customers to understand their evolving needs
2. Identify where these needs are no longer being met and why
3. Update your organisational structures and technology accordingly
Let’s look at each of these steps in turn.
Understanding Customer Service Needs
Customer service is about how your company helps your customers and potential customers to enjoy the best possible experience at all three stages of the contact cycle. That is to say, pre-sales, sales, and aftersales.
Every time your organisation touches a customer — even if they haven’t yet made a purchase — you’re delivering customer service.
As the pandemic shifts customer behaviour it has become increasingly clear that:
“Customers need digital, at-home, and low-touch options”McKinsey – Adapting customer experience in the time of coronavirus
In December 2020 Google commissioned Forrester Consulting to evaluate consumer preferences for brand communications and how well brands are meeting those expectations.
To do so, Forrester surveyed 1,027 US consumers and 441 US customer communication decision-makers at B2C brands.
The survey provides clear pointers to how you need to deliver customer service in 2021. The main findings are:
- Brands with advanced communications (as defined by the number of channels, first-contact resolutions rates, and channel investment) have significantly higher Net Promoter and Customer Satisfaction scores and revenue growth than other businesses.
- COVID-19 has accelerated digital use. More than a third of consumers say they’re buying more online than before the start of the pandemic.
- Consumers want speed in their preferred channel. And are increasingly turning to messaging and chat because they find these communication methods more convenient than voice. This is especially so for younger consumers and those seeking customer service.
- “Asynchronous” chat (defined as people using messaging platforms to contact each other without both parties needing to be concurrently active in the conversation) provides significant benefits over traditional ways of accessing customer service such as phone calls, emails, and live chat which require communication in real-time.
- Asynchronous chat also increases contact centre efficiency and improves customer loyalty.
Identifying why customer needs are not being met
Organisations have never before enjoyed so many channels in which to seek feedback from customers on the service that they provide. Examples include:
- Telephone, SMS and email surveys
- Analysing call recordings and chat messages
- Social listening
In addition, the platforms used to collect customer feedback continue to proliferate from Clarabridge to Qualtrics.
Moreover, the metrics of customer service keep on evolving. First came CSAT. Then NPS. And finally, CES.
So, there’s no shortage of voice of the customer information. Or ways, to decipher it.
The key task now is to understand those issues that are standing in the way of good customer experience. And to fix them without delay.
In so doing, you must recognise that what worked well pre-COVID-19 may no longer be what is needed now or in the “next normal”.
In their excellent recent blog , customer experience specialists Tethr state that service interactions are 4x more likely to drive disloyalty than any other touchpoint.
That’s a frightening statistic for any customer experience professional. The good news, however, is that there are number of actions that you can take to turn this around.
Tethr concludes that a focus on CES (Customer Effort Score) rather than simply on NPS alone will lead you to identify and remove friction thereby smoothing the customer journey.
In the final analysis, reducing customer effort is the best method for driving customer experience, satisfaction, and loyalty.
“Delivering a good, straightforward, frictionless, effortless customer experience is what our customers are really looking for”Matt Dixon, Thethr
Intuitively, this makes sense. When, we as individuals, think of great customer service, we tend to frame this in terms of low effort and rapid resolution.
Or, the ability to get help any time of day and anywhere. Ideally, in whatever channel we prefer to use.
Updating your organisation to deliver better customer service
Once you’ve clearly identified unmet customer needs and avoidable sources of friction, you’re in a position to make proactive and positive change.
Here are some customer service strategies to implement as you update your organisational structures and technology.
1. Clear customer communication
So much has changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This is the case not just for customers, but also for customer service teams.
Therefore, it pays to set out clearly how your organisation is responding to COVID-19. And how it is being changed by its impacts.
Where you’re opening new communication channels such as messaging or call back services, then publicise these new ways of connecting with customers.
It will help with uptake and take the load off real-time activities such as inbound call answering or live chat.
Equally, be clear with customers on opening times and response times.
Finally, if your service resolutions require visits to customers’ homes, do set out what they should expect and how you will keep them stay safe.
2. Online self-service options
The biggest single change in customer service has been the increase in customers going online to seek assistance.
Your organisation must therefore improve the self-help options you provide your customers. These may include FAQ pages, information downloads or online booking and payment systems.
Such web or app-enabled digital care allows customers to get help quickly even outside of normal working hours.
As a result of extending your digital support capabilities, you also reduce wait times in real-time channels. This in turn ensures that live advisors get to speak with those customers who most need telephone or live chat assistance.
3. Chatbots and messaging apps
Another way of freeing up time for your customer service advisors is to deploy artificial intelligence to handle routine enquiries.
Chatbots provide instant responses and a record of the customer conversation. They also identify keywords and where intervention from a human is required, you can program them to automatically route the customer to the best available customer service representative.
As noted above, customers, particularly younger customers, are increasingly happy to converse with a chatbot.
What’s more, older customers are now also migrating to mobile messaging. As an example of this trend, the Forrester survey highlights that about one in 10 consumers tried mobile chat for the first time last year.
In addition, more than half of those who previously used messaging apps have increased their reliance on this contact channel.
4. Improved tools for customer service employees working remotely
Companies made the transition to remote working at a breakneck speed.
By the end of March 2020 organisations from businesses to charities to whole Government departments were reporting that their contact centre employees were working 100% from home.
However, as time has gone on, it has become clear that this transformation has not always gone smoothly from the point of view of customer service.
As early as April 2020 a Harvard Business Review article highlighted that customer service advisors working from home were struggling to help customers as well as they did from the contact centre environment.
This was primarily due to equipment or infrastructure problems such as poor internet or phone connections.
Therefore, you may already have identified a need to update the hardware and/or software used by your remote customer service advisors to alleviate these issues.
Additionally, it may be necessary to provide failover solutions such as alternative VPNs or systems capable of running on 4G or 5G.
Finally, don’t ignore low-cost upgrades.
For example, deploying wireless headsets that allow customer advisors to move freely reduce advisor effort. Whilst pre-written email templates save time and minimise mistakes.
5. Empowerment and support for customer service employees
The same HBR article also made the case for more frequent coaching and increased empowerment of frontline customer service staff.
As a response, now may be the perfect time to invest in improved knowledge management tools that advisors can access without having to contact colleagues who are no longer available face to face.
Instead of sticking to the weekly or monthly one to one reviews, you should consider moving to daily group coaching sessions.
You can of course hold these short sessions each day remotely by Teams or Zoom before customer service advisors start their customer facing activities.
The benefits are twofold:
- Firstly, you get to understand better and respond to the day to day issues your teams face.
- Secondly, your remote workers feel more connected with their peers and their managers.
Finally, training that you previously delivered in a physical training room has become an online activity.
Whilst many companies are still using standard video conferencing for this training, you will achieve much better results using dedicated interactive learning platforms such as Absorb LMS, Lessonly, and Totara.
Better customer service means better business
Coronavirus has upended customer service in much the same way as it has transformed other areas of business
Changes that were already happening steadily before the pandemic struck such as remote service and digital care have accelerated.
The inexorable rise of customer expectations also continues to turn up the heat on customer experience teams.
However, by following the 3 step process outlined above you can get ahead of the curve and deliver better customer service, fit for 2021 and beyond.
In so doing, you will also achieve improved operational efficiencies and stronger revenue growth.
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