Brands presenting their products and services as single channel campaigns is as dated as Bebo and arguably as unprofitable. Customer engagement is no longer solely about the customer, but about the community – a very public, connected community that loves learning and sharing. Successful brands understand this cultural shift and pour significant resources into providing frameworks of customer-centric content that is shared and commented on worldwide.
Today’s consumer has been empowered by the egalitarian voice of social media and has created a dichotomy for brands. The upside; free advertising, engaged and vocal brand ambassadors and more data than you can shake an algorithm at. The downside; wildly increased customer expectations, vocal detractors and stretched resources.
Response turnarounds have accelerated enormously. The SSPA recommends that email response times should be two hours though this is not currently being achieved. And even quicker off the blocks, Initia8 Marketing found that 30% of Twitter users expect a response within 30 minutes!
But what does this mean for the future of customer service and brand management? Here are some top tips on how to be there for your customers and community in an efficient and effective way – whenever they need you.
- Facilitate 24/7 service provision – our 24/7 globalised culture renders consumer concerns more time-sensitive than ever, and the term “out of hours” died a death when Mark Zuckerberg was still in short trousers. If someone has a gripe about your brand or customer service and you aren’t there to manage the conversation, your morning inbox will be an unappetising site. Consumers are boldened by the anonymity proffered by social media and even the tallest poppies can be dead-headed by a negative social media campaign.
- Provide multi-channel access – if you want to stay ahead of your competitors you need to deliver to your customers in ways that suit them. If they can’t access your services swiftly they will simply return to Google and you can say goodbye to your sale. Despite the resounding social media hum, email is still up there as a preferred communication method, and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable. Consider your day and the transactions you complete; I imagine there are some that you wouldn’t want to carry out on social media, some that are far more appropriate by telephone or email. Make all available, where possible.
- Set realistic goals and stick to them – consider your overall objectives and how you intend to manage customer relationships and engagement into the future. What have you learnt from past endeavours? If your business doesn’t have the resources to go 24/7, consider outsourcing. Perhaps you already outsource customer service or out of hours order taking; if you trust your provider and they can meet your requirements consider passing the baton. If you do outsource ensure your provider is kept up to date on all your campaigns and company news (again, centralised software platforms will help this). What service levels can you offer your customers? Never promise what you can’t achieve. Automated responses will help; falsely managing customer expectations will not. Comprehensive FAQs and product information on your website will also help you manage query levels and provide swift, helpful customer service.
- Listen and learn – today’s customer service is not just a transaction, it’s a conversation. Brands shouldn’t feel they are slaves to their communities or bow to ridiculous expectations – get those service levels established and communicated. Utilise reputable and relevant monitoring and analytics tools that have full integration capabilities with your systems. These enable you to centralise customer and community interactions, respond efficiently and gauge and analyse sentiment. Research from the Altimeter Group shows that the biggest cause of a decade of social media crises was poor customer experiences shared online and customer experience analytics experts, Clickfox, report that just one negative public message can wipe out the effect of five positive ones. These horrors become far easier to manage if you are listening to and learning from your community.
- Pick the best people – when we recruit telephone agents the criteria is significantly different to agents who will be solely dealing with customer portals and online communication. Digital tone of voice is absolutely vital in email, as is the ability to understand the disposition of a customer and handle it appropriately. When recruiting always carry out a variety of live written tests to see how candidates respond to a variety of issues. Ensure you have optimum escalation and crisis response procedures in place to support staff and assign QC staff to monitor interactions.
- Review and revise – always check your web and customer contact analytics to see what times of day are busiest for specific areas of your business and adjust resources accordingly. Also check what methods people are using to access your site; perhaps six months ago you got very little traffic from mobile; I would wager that has changed and your website needs to be mobile friendly and responsive to different devices. Take time to review how campaigns correspond to online sentiment and check your content and tone of voice are working for each platform – set up A/B testing where possible. And finally, don’t get disheartened by negative feedback; continue to join the conversation, learn from it, and remember to celebrate the good stuff!