“Customer service is what happens when the experience breaks.”
That broken experience could be as a result of a variety of actions a customer has taken as they use a product or consumes a service: unclear directions; a problem with setup or use; a billing issue. The list is long.
When the experience breaks–and the unfortunate truth is it will at some point during the customer's journey–customer service takes over. Customer service's goal is then to right the customer's situation, getting them back on-track and happy with the product or service.
I'm stating the obvious here, but customers aren't happy when they encounter a problem. Beyond the fact they can't use the product or service, now they must take time to find a solution–preferably in the fastest and easiest manner possible. Can you say you're doing your part to connect customers to solutions in the most effortless way possible?
As 2017 comes to a close, look ahead to ways in which you can reduce customer work to provide service faster in the coming year. I offer the following thoughts for your consideration.
Offer Channels Of Choice
Effortless service for the customer starts with providing them more than one channel of engagement. While some might always reach for the telephone, others might prefer email, chat, or social media. Periodically validate with customers their preferred contact channels. Provide them with the channels they desire and you've made it easier and more comfortable for them to interact. With several channels, though, comes an important question: are you providing multi- or omnichannel service?
While both offer multiple options for customers to connect with customer service, one key difference with multichannel is that the channels are typically disconnected silos: telephone interactions are recorded in one system, whereas chat transcripts live in another. This creates a problem when a customer chooses to initiate service over one channel and continue it over another: that conversation might be challenging for customer service agents to follow.
With omnichannel service, agents aren't required to "swivel seat" to reference other systems. All interactions occur in a single system. This saves the agent time and frustration because any future dialog that occurs after the initial contact is available from a single source, eliminating the need for the customer service agent to consult multiple locations. More importantly, it's not necessary for the customer to start their story over (saving them effort) because the history of all interactions is readily available for the agent to review. The conversation seamlessly continues without interruption.
Automate Common Solutions
Studies have shown that customers often start at your website when seeking answers, primarily because they prefer to self-serve. Your customer service website is there to serve them anytime and anywhere and offers many forms of self-service, right?
There are probably many common requests your business receives that could be solved through automation. Common solutions might include changing an address or billing method, requesting replacement parts or documentation, or providing feedback on your product or service. Automation typically is powered by some kind of input or selection by the customer, which is then routed by workflow to the appropriate department, system, etc.
Automation is really one of the most beneficial forms of self-service, both for customers and the customer service organization. With common requests automated through self-service actions, online customer service is effectively directly tied into backend systems and processes, which saves the customer time as well as reducing the chance of error. In addition, by routing requests directly to the area or department that can address the issue, customer service is bypassed, reducing the burden on live staff.
While automating as many common issues as possible creates a very frictionless experience, a solution can't always be addressed in this manner. Perhaps the customer must perform some steps on their side to address the problem. Perhaps new or improved information, beyond what was originally available in a manual, is now available. In these cases, a knowledge article (served up by a knowledge base) is an excellent alternative to automation.
The key with a knowledge base, like a good library, is to keep the content interesting, timely, and relevant. While it's obvious to create articles for topics customers are searching for or calling in about, it's important to continually review and edit high-traffic articles. In addition, offer customers the opportunity to "vote" on articles and provide feedback to further refine and improve content. If articles no longer apply, remove them; keep your knowledge base tight and nimble, as this will increase customers' chances of finding the most useful and appropriate articles.
One of, if not the primary, goals of online communities is to provide an additional service channel. A key benefit of communities is that they offer a public forum to respond to problems that might not already be addressed in a knowledge article, and these publicly-posted solutions can assist multiple customers suffering from the same problem. Plus, additional service agents are added for free. Wait, what?
With communities, you are effectively deputizing other knowledgeable and passionate customers to assist in solving problems. They might do this because they earn points, gain notoriety, or simply out of the goodness of their heart. Regardless of their motivation, supportive customers will quickly rise to the occasion to help solve problems. As a result, solutions become available faster as customers pounce on problems to assist fellow customers.
Make More Service Effortless
When things break, customers are seeking a solution as quickly and easily as possible. Are you providing the most effortless means for your customers to receive service? Ask yourself:
- Do you offer the appropriate service channels, or should they be expanded or contracted? In addition, are you providing an omnichannel experience for your customers, offering a single interaction regardless of where the conversation takes place?
- Have you automated solutions to common problems? If not, what are some typical problems that could be solved with automation?
- Are you keeping knowledge base content dynamic and relevant?
- Is an online community one of your service channels? Would points and incentives encourage greater participation?
As the end of the year approaches, review your customer service offerings. Resolve to make 2018 the year you reduce the barriers and offer an effortless service experience for your customers!