Once upon a time, customers didn’t have a lot of choices. They bought their meat at the local butcher and their bread from the baker; tile from the ceramicist and wrought iron from the ferrier. Fast forward to 2020, and customers are up to their eyeballs in choices.
That means they’re, well, choosy. One of the best ways to guarantee a customer will choose your brand over the many competitors out there? Offer the best customer service and support. Zappos wins at shoes because of 365-day returns and top-notch customer care. Recently, they even launched a program to sell single shoes and mixed-size pairs, meeting the needs of a broader range of customers. Chewy.com sent pet parents 11 million handwritten cards in one year and offers zero-questions-asked returns (just donate that unwanted dog food to the local shelter.)
If that’s not convincing enough, let’s talk cold, hard cash. One study by the Qualtrics XM Institute discovered that even “modest” customer experience improvements could net companies earning $1 billion annually an additional $775 million on average within just three years.
Let’s take a look at six specific ways you (yes, you) can become the customer service-oriented brand in your category and win on the front that counts.
1. Be empathetic
The Qualtrics study mentioned above identified “emotion” as one of three key aspects of customer experience. In other words, empathy matters. One way to convey empathy is to consider relaxing the “rules” in certain circumstances. For example, the global pandemic has made it difficult for people to mail returns. You might consider relaxing your return window to 60 or even 90 days as a gesture of understanding for your customers. This demonstrates to customers that you care more about their well-being than your bottom line.
2. Speak their language
Of course, there will always be times when you can’t resolve a customer concern. This doesn’t mean you have to lose them forever. Train your customer service team to convey empathy even in less-than-ideal circumstances. One way to accomplish this is to speak the customer’s language, rather than expecting them to speak yours. If a German-speaking customer has a question, respond not just in German, but in the proper, formal tone. If a Portuguese-speaking customer raises a concern, an informal response (in the correct language) is appropriate. Humans speak 7,000 different languages, so we know this is no small feat. Technology to the rescue. AI-driven translation can empower your customer service team to communicate in the right language and tone, no matter their native tongue. Whether you can solve a problem immediately or not, you can maintain customer trust by conveying empathy through the written word.
3. Relocate customer service centers
This isn’t so much a “must” as a valid option worth considering. Whether relocation is a wise idea depends on your specific business. For example, many online gaming companies have seen major spikes in play time during the pandemic. This naturally leads to more customer service inquiries. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has made it increasingly difficult for call centers to operate as normal in many parts of the world. Some nimble companies have responded to this dynamic by opening customer service centers in places that have been less hard-hit by the virus. Technology-powered translation can make this possible, no matter what language(s) your agents or customers speak. Flexibility—including geographical flexibility—can help companies survive and thrive in unique conditions, without sacrificing customer experience.
4. Build contingency plans
No one saw all of 2020’s plot twists coming. And while we hope 2021 will come with smoother sailing, the waters will never be perfectly calm. Contingency planning is key to delivering high-quality customer service. Technology today makes it possible to run customer service centers under almost any circumstances, as long as contingency plans exist. Security teams write incident response playbooks that help them respond to a data breach, malware attack, or other unplanned event. Customer care centers can do the same. What will happen if employees need to work from home? What if there are layoffs? What if there’s a server outage in a certain region? Contingency plans ensure that customers don’t suffer a loss of service quality due to unforeseen circumstances.
5. Embrace disruption
Disruption has been the name of the game for many businesses this year—and not in the positive, Silicon Valley sense of the word. However, for savvy businesses, disruption can act much like a forest fire, clearing the way for new growth. As an example, many large enterprises find it difficult to undertake digital transformation activities. Even something as “simple” as swapping out one CRM for another can become a five-year (or longer) process at a big company. While downsizing staff or axing brick-and-mortar locations is unpleasant, this type of disruption can make implementing new technologies or systems easier in some ways. If your team has been considering investing in a new technology or process, now could be an ideal time for business innovation.
6. Deploy automation wisely
People value timeliness when it comes to customer service. Automation is one of the best ways to ensure you can respond to customers quickly. That said, it shouldn’t be deployed without careful consideration and thoughtful implementation. An automated response from a chatbot that doesn’t really understand what the customer needs will only make the matter worse. However, when intelligent automation platforms can sort out simple issues without the involvement of a human being, everyone benefits. Like Hemingway, we try not to overuse adverbs, but sometimes they help drive the point home. Deploy automation—just do it wisely.
7. How to prepare for the return to “normal”
Demand for customer service and support has decreased for some industries, like travel and tourism, and shot through the roof for others, like e-commerce and gaming. One way or another, we’ll eventually return to something resembling “normal.” Now is the time for businesses to start planning for that reality. For many, there will be a major surge in purchases and customer service requests when work-from-home and social distancing orders are fully lifted everywhere. Preparing customer service teams now—using the tips outlined in this blog—will help your business reap the benefits when that long-awaited moment arrives.