By Chad Hendren
When it comes to customer service, a cookie-cutter approach won’t cut it. After all, a meaningful connection isn’t meaningful if it’s the same for everyone.
Depending on your industry, Harvard Business School reports that increasing a company’s customer retention rate by just 5 percent can increase profitability anywhere from 25 to 95 percent. Additionally, Walker Information predicts that by 2020, customer experience will overtake product and price as the key brand differentiator. This means that how you differentiate your brand depends on how you treat your customers.
Making customers wait on hold for lengthy periods of time, transferring them from agent to agent, and opening the conversation with a canned list of questions that may not relate to the reason they contacted you will leave customers frustrated and ready to hang up for good.
So how do you ensure that an experience is meaningful to each of your customers? Connect with context.
Acknowledge the Customer’s Journey: Smart watches, smart homes, and essentially the Internet of everything has put brands at a customer’s convenience. What they haven’t done is stop phones from being the number one support channel. According to a 2017 customer service trends report by Forrester, 67 percent of people contacted companies by phone for customer support in the last twelve months.
But ending up on the phone doesn’t negate the importance of the channels where customers started. With those channels in mind, think about the various pathways or touchpoints customers may have taken before placing a call. Did they go straight to the phone, log in to their account on a website, jump to social channels, or email the helpline? The effort customers take to reach a company should never go unnoticed.
Depending on the complexities of their journey, customers are likely to be scattered, rushed, and frustrated before they pick up the phone. Having a system in place that shows each customer’s route, where they have looked, and their history allows agents to acknowledge who the customer is and where they’ve already been. This shows a company cares about and understands how valuable the customer’s time is, which is a crucial component for making a positive first impression.
Personalize the Experience: When a customer connects with a company, context clarifies why. Without it, agents ask customers for additional information, put them on hold, or transfer them to another agent to repeat the cycle. If the customer wasn’t already frustrated when they first called, they will be after jumping through context-less hoops.
As customer service and retention rise to the top of company priorities, contact center staffing issues also take higher priority. Agent training should focus on improving overall communication through active listening skills, asking questions to unearth other relevant information, and using positive phrasing to help build positive relationships. To take it one step further, every customer should be routed to the most appropriate agent.
Context ensures that customers are given the service and attention they deserve on their first contact. Seek tools to reduce customer effort, automate warm transfers, and provide agents with informative screens that highlight the customer’s past and present journey, including recent channels they have navigated. This information not only arms agents with much-needed context, but it allows the contact center to provide the most relevant agent for the issue.
For example, a customer who looks at their bill online prior to picking up the phone is best matched with an agent well versed in billing. Additionally, that agent can acknowledge that the customer was checking their statement by asking if they have any questions about the bill. From the start, the agent addresses the issue before the customer even speaks.
Arming agents with this information empowers them to solve the customer’s issue quickly, eliminating repetitive, unrelated questions—thus decreasing the possibility of frustrated customers. Additionally, companies primed for future success are the ones that continue to create personalization out of context. Imagine all the opportunities to present customers with a product, idea, or service when they are most attentive and the solution is relevant to their immediate concerns.
Connect with Meaning: When customers connect with a company, a meaningful and personalized experience helps their interaction go off without a hitch. When done successfully, any frustration the customer initially had can—and most likely will—melt away. In fact, CEB reported that 65 percent of a customer’s perceived level of effort is driven by how the customer service representative made them feel during the service interaction. What the customer actually needed to do accounts for only 35 percent of their perceived effort.
What does this all mean? When customers come in with negative emotions and leave feeling more positive, they remember.
Chad Hendren is vice president and general manager of customer experience solutions for Virtual Hold Technology, providers of VHT Navigator, which addresses cross-channel customer experiences by connecting key moments as customers move across channels.