Picture this: Groceries being ordered through an app that will (almost magically) appear on your doorstep or in the trunk of your car hours later. Now stop picturing it, because we all know this isn’t a fantasy anymore. This is reality.
Today, Alexa can predict when you're running low on coffee pods and place an order for you. Drones are dropping Amazon packages on your doorstep. Heck, even new cars can be purchased with a matter of clicks, to arrive in your driveway hours later.
In fact, most of the transitions we make on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis are now done through some sort of digital space.
We’ve seen an extraordinary growth of the digital marketplace in a relatively short time. As recent as the mid-1990s, e-commerce barely existed. Today, it’s a $2.9 trillion industry, growing 24 percent annually.
Also, consider that U.S. companies lose more than $62 billion annually due to poor customer service and experience.
That’s a lot of money.
As business moves more to the digital world, excellent customer service needs to follow it. Here are some rules to deliver amazing digital service.
Understand That Customer Service is Evolving to Customer Experience
There is no shortage of other brands or businesses doing what you’re doing, and offering the exact same products you are offering. That’s why differentiation needs to be more than just slapping your logo on something and calling it yours. You need to offer something at a deeper level, by creating a connection between your brand and your customer, to spark loyalty.
Enter: the digital customer experience.
The digital customer experience is the combination of all digital interactions a customer has with a brand. What starts with an interaction on a social media platform, can quickly become browsing a website FAQ or placing an order through an online checkout system. Having consistency across all digital touch points is absolutely in a brand’s best interest.
Meet Your Customers
If a consumer complains and no one is around to hear it, does it still impact your business? Very much yes. The first step in providing exceptional digital service is to make sure that you have systems in place to be alerted to any comments about your brand. What makes listening so challenging is that consumers use a range of channels: social media, forums, email, websites, and live chat. Searching the internet every day is a difficult task, so we recommend that you create automated alerts and make use of 3rd party tools.
Create Google Alerts for mentions of your brand.
Save searches on social media for mentions of your brand, products, and broad services.
Consider using Mention.com and Hootsuite.com for automated listening.
Create a dedicated customer support email address that is accessible to multiple users.
Claim your listings on review sites like Yelp and Google My Business.
Only 3% of complaints use a brand’s social handle, so when you create your searches and alerts, remember to include common misspellings of your brand, products, and mentions of your services in your geographic area.
It’s also important to put your support email address and telephone number in obvious places across your profiles. A consumer might come to your Facebook page, but prefer to contact you by phone, so you want to make sure that it is easy for them to find that information. It should be easy for the consumer to connect with a real person at any point and on any channel. Don’t forget to also include your operating hours alongside this contact information, as there is nothing more infuriating to a customer than not being able to reach in their time of need. If you are closed on nights and weekends, make it abundantly clear to the customer that they will be a top priority come the following business day.
Create Rules of Engagement
Now that you have identified a customer complaint, you need to have guidelines in place detailing how to respond. Best practices include:
Respond to the complaint within 24 hours
Did you know that the majority (66%) of adults feel that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with a good online customer experience?
The first rule you should implement across your business is an internal SLA (service level agreement) that defines the maximum amount of time a consumer will have to wait in order to receive a response from your institution.
A second SLA to consider is a “last word” policy. If a consumer takes the time to send you a message or leave a comment, even if it is nice, you should always respond. Your response might be something as simple as “Thank you so much!” Doing so will send the message that you are active on these platforms, welcome the communication, and appreciate the time your consumers have taken to reach out.
If you’re unconvinced that this kind of responsiveness is important, scroll through the Google Business reviews of some shops in your area. A business that allows complaints (and praise) to go unacknowledged appears out of touch and oblivious — not something you want to be associated with your brand.
We know that customers sometimes misunderstand policies or terms. Pointing that out publicly doesn’t do anything to endear an audience. Instead, it makes consumers feel like you have complicated rules and are more interested in being right than resolving the issue.
Remind yourself that when customers share their stories, they’re not just sharing pain points. They’re actually teaching you how to make your product, service, and business better.
Even when the consumer is wrong, you should approach their claim with empathy and understanding. Some good response starters for this type of situation are:
“That’s certainly not the experience we want…”
“My apologies for this misunderstanding…”
“It sounds like something went wrong, I would love to look into this for you…”
Don’t be afraid to take the conversation to a private channel, which brings us to the next point.
Public v.s. Private
There are times when it is best to answer the consumer publicly in the forum where the question/complaint was submitted; Perhaps it is a common question, it’s tame, or it is easy to resolve in one message. This demonstrates a strong commitment to the consumer and adds to the community.
However, there are times when you should try and move the conversation offline or to another channel (typically phone). If you answer yes to any of these questions, you might want to move the conversation.
Does this complaint have personally identifiable or private information?
Does this complaint have the potential to trigger a PR crisis?
Will this complaint take multiple messages to resolve? Long back-and-forths are easier to resolve over the phone.
Is this message for a specific person or department other than the team that manages digital?
Have you ever spoken to customer service representatives who contradict each other? It’s an infuriating experience for a customer, and makes the company look disorganized. To avoid this, consider developing a central repository for your support staff that houses common questions, your rules of engagement, and any new corporate announcements they should be aware of.
It may also be worthwhile to pop-quiz your employees on best practices. You could turn it into a game, with rewards for correct answers, or answers that go above and beyond.
There will always be new problems. There will always be new channels. The best way to ensure your service is always top-notch is to regularly iterate on your systems.
Publish your FAQs
Consumers will typically try to solve their problems themselves before reaching out to you. Part of great service is making the self-help process simple and obvious. The best way to do that is with a robust FAQ. As new questions come up, take note of them and observe how often people are asking them. If you see some level of frequency, consider adding it to your FAQ.
Usability is also a concern. No one wants to read a technical manual on how to log in to their mobile banking. A more effective way to communicate the solution is by using a video. One free and easy tool to create these videos is UseLoom.com.
At least once a year, you should audit the FAQ to ensure that the answers, screenshots, and videos are still accurate. Even something as small as a color scheme change on a page can make the resource seem out-of-date and confusing. Be generous in your updates.
Templatize with Variables
The majority of complaints/questions won’t be unique. If you can, you should solve whatever is triggering these issues (like a bad design or confusing process), but if you can’t, then create a template to answer the problem. Doing so ensures that the problem can be answered quickly, thoroughly, and in a consistent way.
Of course, templates feel cold and you want your service to feel warm. The compromise? Variables. When you create your templates, do so with plenty of variable placeholders that allow your customer support staff to personalize the response. Consider this example:
Hi [First Name] -
I’m sorry to hear you are experiences issues with [product, process or general issue]. I’ve forwarded your message to [name], [position], and together we are working on a [solution, temporary fix, resolution] for you. You can expect to hear back from us before [insert date, timeframe]. If you have any questions before then, please don’t hesitate to reply back, and I’ll be happy to help.
Have a great day and [enjoy your weekend, have a good week, happy holidays]!
[Rep’s first name]
Refine Your Listening Strategy
As you begin to field consumer issues, you may start to notice trends. Perhaps it is a common phrase or issue. Whenever you notice these, create a new alert for mentions. It could reveal new conversations. You should also refine your listening strategy as new social media channels become popular.
Have Rock Star Staff
There are some basic traits and skills you should look for when finding the right person to handle digital customer support:
Social Savvy: They should understand and be avid users of social media.
Strong writer: A majority of digital queries will still be resolved with text.
Empathetic: This person should genuinely understand where consumers are coming from and be passionate about finding a happy resolution for all parties.
Positive: Let’s face it, people can be mean. A good quality to look for in your staff is an enduring positive attitude for dealing with the day-to-day of handling customer complaints.
Beyond hiring the right people, you need to set them up for success. Check out these two brands known for their support and how they empower their employees.
Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, said on customer support:
“I think the main thing is just trust [the customer service reps] and let them make their own decisions. Most call centers are set up by policies and so the actual person that’s answering the phone doesn’t really have the ability to do anything. If you […] call most customer service places, if you ask for anything that’s not normal they have to talk to a supervisor or just say ‘oh our policy doesn’t allow that’ and whatever. So we generally try to stay away from policies, we just ask our reps to do whatever they feel is the right thing to do for the customer and the company. And that’s actually really uncomfortable for a lot of reps that come from other call centers. We kind of have to untrain their bad habits.”
The result is a business that has turned their service into their most powerful marketing tool.
Likewise, Trader Joe’s, the grocery chain, has made their service a core part of their marketing (in fact, they don’t do any of the traditional marketing like ads or sales). Employees are empowered to make decisions on their own, which often results in stories of them going above and beyond.
Measure What Matters
People will perform based on how they are measured. This can be a great thing, or it can blow up in your face. It all depends on what you choose to measure.
Pretend you adopt a “best practice” metric of response time. On the surface, it makes sense; You want to know how quickly your team is responding to complaints. However, in isolation, that metric might not actually get your closer to delivering the value you intend. A fast response doesn’t equal a fast resolution.
Instead, you might want to measure “time-til-close.” How long does it take for the support staff to resolve an issue from the time the complaint was received. This consumer-centric metric looks at what goal the consumer is subconsciously measuring. Similar metrics are:
Number of touches: How many back-and-forths are required to resolve an issue?
Volume of complaints: If the number of complaints is going up, then you need to look at what is triggering the problems and revamp your systems.
Net promoter score: Do you have more happy customers than neutral and negative?
Unsolicited compliments: How often do people say “I love this business” or something else positive? If this activity is going up in frequency, you’re doing something right.
Stick with Principles
While this guide is meant to help you tackle customer service in the digital age, you might have noticed that many of the principles are ones you are already familiar with because you’re already delivering great service in a brick-and-mortar store. You’re responsive, you’re caring, and you’re helpful. Providing great service today doesn’t mean revamping your approach, it just means translating those skills onto digital platforms?
Tips or tricks for providing 5-star digital customer experience? We’d love to hear about it. Drop us a line, firstname.lastname@example.org.