Your customers are the lifeblood of your business. The question is, how do you keep them happy and coming back for more? Interestingly, the model of customer service and managing expectations has been flipped on its head with the global pandemic. Our customers’ expectations have shifted, and we need to pay attention.
First things first, we need to get our foundation right, and that means creating a culture within your business that puts customers first. If this is the driving force in your business, it will influence every aspect of how you operate, both on the front line and in the back office.
Even pre-COVID, customer expectations were shifting to a more personalised approach. The KPMG 2019 Customer Experience Excellence Report details that customers expect more from the brands they interact with than ever before. “They demand excellent experiences that consistently meet expectations, involve minimal time and effort, demonstrate integrity and authenticity, reach a resolution and are empathetic and personalised”. Pair this with a higher than ever level of consumer cynicism and a drastic change in consumer priorities due to COVID, and we have ourselves a whole new dynamic when considering how our business stacks up from a customer service point of view.
So, what do these expectations look like exactly? Well, based on our business (which, coincidently revolves around our customers) and the businesses of our clients whom we advise, we have noticed the following trends:
- More and more consumers want to know the face behind the brand
- Authenticity is increasingly important over and above product offering and quality. Consumers want to know the real stories behind the brand
- Personalisation is now a basic expectation; no longer can we send out mass-market e-news blasts
- For higher value products, consumers expect to speak to dedicated customer service representatives who understand their personal journey and problems
- The customer service experience is no longer only face-to-face but extends to online experience as well (also known as user experience)
We have some recommendations to best understand and adapt your business to these changes in consumer behaviour, no matter your industry. To start with, mapping every touchpoint with your customers will help to identify areas for improvement. The idea is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and to ask yourself how you would like to be treated if you were a customer of your own business.
Here are four areas you can focus on:
Include the customer experience in your value proposition
Consider how you want consumers to describe your business. Is it ‘professional’, ‘friendly’, ‘efficient’? Once we are clear on how we want to be perceived, we can delve into how we can influence this reputation through our service and offering and work on developing SOP’s (standard operating procedures) that act as guidelines for staff to facilitate this.
For example, if we want to be seen as ‘efficient’ then perhaps we have a 2-hour turn around between when a lead submits an enquiry to when we call or reach out to them. Perhaps we keep our documents and communication simple and to the point and perhaps we reduce the number of touchpoints in the customer journey to get them to their solution more quickly.
As your business grows, these operating procedures can be more difficult to maintain. To ensure and reinforce these procedures, consider your value proposition when developing new solutions, products, and marketing.
Furthermore, putting your processes down on paper may also help you to identify where they could be streamlined or improved. Often, we do a task a certain way out of habit and don’t stop to ask ourselves whether it’s the best way to do it. When you begin to lay it all out, you may discover more efficient ways of providing exceptional service to your customers.
Train your team, then train them some more
It is important for every person that works for you to go through an induction process so that they learn about your business culture and your way of doing things. There should also be on-the-job training with regular evaluations to ensure everyone is on track.
Training will ensure that your staff get to know your business inside out and give them the confidence to serve your customers professionally. An important caveat here is to ensure your team are empowered to make decisions when working with customers or stakeholders. If we go back to the example before using ‘efficiency’ as a core value proposition and we imagine staff are following our SOP’s to a T but then have to wait for any decisions to be approved and are unable to execute a solution, the entire value proposition goes out the window. So, train your team, but also empower them and reward smart and quick decision making. This way ‘efficiency’ truly becomes a part of your culture and will eventually integrate into everything you do.
Don’t forget that most human beings learn by mirroring (copying) and by doing. Lead by example and allow your staff to make mistakes without fear of retribution so they can continually improve. Part of training a team is providing feedback, so don’t forget to reinforce and reward staff behaviour that supports your value proposition. You may be surprised how your customer service standards naturally improve when you have a happy and fulfilled team who are empowered to offer solutions for their clients.
Do not just communicate, connect.
We all think we communicate well, but we can nearly guarantee that most business confrontations, and personal for that matter, are due to miscommunication. In our business, we try to not only communicate but to connect. Not just with our consumers, but with our partners, our team, and our stakeholders. This means appreciating people for what they are: human beings. Communication is not a tick list that you can cross off (speak, listen, respond) it’s about being empathetic, genuinely understanding and putting yourself in other’s shoes.
From a customer service point of view, we see businesses regularly incorporating initiatives like sales scripts to improve customer service. While these can be useful in terms of ensuring compliance and process is followed, or appropriate tactics are actioned, it can seem ungenuine if these scripts are too strict. Allow your team to connect with their customers and spend time building real rapport with the people they deal with. Encourage your team to view customers as people, rather than numbers or dollars on a spreadsheet.
This will assist with conflict resolution as well. Even if you are not able to solve a customer’s issue immediately, showing that you empathise with their situation and assuring them that you are on the case will usually put them at ease. Do not forget how important it is to keep customers informed so they know what to expect at each point and how long they should expect to wait between responses. There is nothing more frustrating than a business that does not get back to you when they promise that they will.
Ask for feedback
Asking your customers for feedback is another way to learn how to better serve them. You may discover pain points that you were not aware of, or in fact, find out that they are so happy that they have referred all their friends to you.
Make it easy for customers to share their experience with you, whether via an online questionnaire or text message. It’s better to find out they are unhappy before they tell everyone they know or post it on social media.
You will need to ensure someone is responsible for checking online reviews and responding to them, whether to express thanks for positive comments or to offer solutions for negative feedback to mitigate the negative impact.
Use the feedback to learn about your customers and to identify areas for improvement. You could even inform your customers of the changes you are making based on their feedback. It will show you have listened, and you care about what they think.
Operating a business and keeping your customers happy is both challenging and rewarding. We hope the insights provided above were enlightening and offer you some easy tactics to implement in your business.
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