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Uncovering the Secrets of a Successful Customer Service Experience

Here’s how to turn a tedious experience into an opportunity for enhancing customer relationships.

Adapted with permission from 1to1 Media.

It’s no secret that customer service greatly impacts brand perception, but this area is still often pegged as a cost center instead of a strategic investment in the customer experience. At the same time, customer expectations are rising as people demand quick solutions with little patience for delays or subpar customer support.

Companies that neglect customer support are missing an opportunity to win loyal customers. Additionally, making improvements at the associate level can yield meaningful gains for the organization in customer satisfaction as well as employee morale and retention. Here are five ways business leaders can transform their customer support into an avenue for deepening customer relationships.

1. Provide a “Human Touch”

By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator, according to Walker, a consulting firm. And while automated or self-service solutions play an important role in the quick resolution of issues, they are not enough. People are still needed to solve complex problems and provide that “human touch.”

There are times when customers prefer to speak with a live person or have a complicated question that’s beyond an IVR’s capabilities. Additionally, some are taking their live associate support an extra step and providing descriptions listing the associates’ areas of expertise along with a photo, making them more personable.

For example, BackCountry.com, which supplies outdoor gear, offers specialists who can provide detailed advice on the equipment people need for particular trips. Customers who want advice about packing for the Appalachian Trail, for instance, can contact an “Expert Gearhead” employee who has already completed that trip. This approach helps establish a relationship with customers and helps the brand stand out.

2. Make Data-Driven Decisions

Organizations have a mountain of data at their fingertips, the challenge is uncovering actionable insights from the data to drive better decisions. Carol Fink, director of executive relations at telecom provider Verizon Wireless, says the Six Sigma program (a set of techniques that emphasize the use of statistical methods for process improvement) has helped her team provide better customer experiences. Fink manages a team of 180 people and provides customer experience governance and oversight across all of Verizon Wireless’ lines of business.

“One of the things I learned [from the Six Sigma program] is a methodology called DMAIC,” Fink says. “DMAIC teaches you to define the issue, measure it, analyze it, put an improvement in place and then watch to make sure the control stays in place. It’s helped me and others move from using a gut reaction to a data-based decision-making process.” The program also helps executives approach issues from the customer’s perspective, according to Fink.

Fink demurred from providing a specific example of how the approach has affected customers, except to note that executives give the customer experience more weight in decision-making processes. “Our chairman regularly reads customer letters and I hear from him every week on individual customer issues,” she says. “We’re also working on a trial that lets our executives get more involved with our customers, [such as] for issues that get escalated, a vice president might be responding through chat or a phone call.”

3. Select Service Channels Wisely

The proliferation of devices has given people a multitude of ways to communicate, including email, phone, social media, chat, and video. It’s difficult for brands to keep up with all these communication channels. Instead of trying to do it all, companies should focus their resources on a few channels, but be very good at responding through them.

Indeed, most customer service departments have an active presence on certain channels, like email, but less so in newer areas, observes Kate Leggett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. “Besides email, web self-service is often the first point of contact for many customers, so companies are putting resources into that,” Leggett notes. “Chat is becoming more common, but mobile customer service is still deployed mainly as an afterthought and video is new but it’s showing value in certain scenarios.” Those scenarios include situations that require visual support, like installation instructions, or as a high-end, concierge-like service.

And, while having a comprehensive view of the customer is difficult across multiple channels, companies are getting closer to maintaining complete customer profiles by implementing processes for integrating their CRM systems with other platforms across departments like marketing, sales, and service, notes Steve Pollema, senior vice president, Technology, TeleTech.

“Companies are moving towards robust solutions that give them insight into core customer information like order history and the last time the customer called, but also the customer’s actions on the company’s website and details like her anniversary as a customer,” Pollema says. Armed with this information, associates can provide much more helpful and personalized services. “One of the core tenets of exceptional customer experience,” Pollema adds, “is differentiating the experience based on each customer’s needs and preferences.”

4. Explain What Makes a Great Customer Interaction

Associates understand that they need to provide customers with a positive experience, but can stumble without adequate training and preparation. A home manufacturing company, for example, revamped its associate training with data insights and examples. The company used recording and speech analytics tools to help it analyze customer feedback and share examples of customer interactions with associates. Doing so made it easier for the company to record and measure multiple calls and give associates a clearer idea of what’s expected from them. For instance, associates were encouraged to express excitement and congratulate customers on reaching significant milestones, such as closing on a house.

5. Measure What’s Important

A successful customer interaction means different things across departments, which is why organizations need a standardized set of metrics to ensure they’re meeting their goals. “Companies have a lot of goals to meet in terms of cost, compliance, conversion rates, and customer satisfaction, so business leaders must decide what their company is going to differentiate on, whether that’s cost, customer experience, or something else,” Forrester’s Leggett says.

When it comes to measuring the customer experience, companies may want to consider including the value of a shared experience, adds Brian Solis, a principal analyst at Altimeter Group. “Experiences today are not limited to the individual,” he notes. “If it’s a good or bad experience, people tend to share their experiences with others and this can affect other people’s decisions to do business with you.” Companies can measure their shared experience value through social listening, VOC feedback tools, and other channels and assign a metric to these insights.

At a time when most competitors are just a click or phone call away, companies are hard-pressed to differentiate themselves and customer service is an often overlooked asset. Providing a balance of automated solutions for quick questions and as well as associates who have the proper tools, training, and information to provide meaningful help will go a long way in increasing customer loyalty and advocacy and gaining a competitive advantage.