Customers are more demanding than ever. They have more power than they used to. They are smarter and have higher expectations than ever before. After all, we taught them!
Consumer expectations for deep knowledge are on the rise also. Buyers increasingly expect frontline staff to have comprehensive answers to questions about rates, terms, and follow-up support.
They also want to be directed to content resources that probe the big questions surrounding their purchase—even if they don’t actually read any of the studies or white papers you supply.
So, what does this mean for the sales and support people who encounter prospects? They’d better be ready to predict customer questions and discuss the big issues in their field. They will need to be following the social media chatter in their product area and reading the latest content.
Because even if entrepreneurs and small business staff don’t have all the answers, the one thing that will be expected of them is that they are plugged in, their knowledge is relevant, and they can supply the background information that buyers want.
No longer does a customer compare you only to your direct competitor. You may be in the manufacturing business, but your customer service is now being compared to your customer’s recent experience at a hotel or a restaurant, or maybe an employee at a local retail store who was so helpful.
And, when it comes to support…well, your company better have some of the basics. Great companies don’t put customers on hold for extended periods of time. They don’t take hours, or even days, to respond to emails and social media posts. No, the best companies have knowledgeable and helpful people who have been trained to not only answer questions and solve problems but to also create confidence with the customer.
The bottom line is that customers have the power. They are more in control and more up-to-date on the latest and greatest ways to conduct business – sometimes even more so than the companies, they are doing business with. Mike Burkland, CEO, and president of Five9, a cloud-based contact center software company, confirms this. He says, “Consumers’ power is on the rise and modern consumers expect to engage with a service or support center on their terms, using a variety of channels that include voice, web, chat, email, video, and social media.”
Smart customers – empowered customers – know what options they want. What channels should we use for customer service?
The answer is simple: all of the channels that your customers are using. You must have a presence or at least be able to respond on any of the typical channels.
The most typical, because it’s been around the longest, is the phone. Customers still call, but many of them are moving to self-service options. Depending on the type of business, you should consider having a robust question-and-answer section on your website. A video is a strong way to deliver customer support. Done well, a good video may be almost as good as having a consultant standing behind you and telling you exactly what to do. People still email questions as well, and hopefully, you are responding quickly. Then there are social media. When clients ask me which channel to be on, many times they are referring to social channels.
Customers are communicating on Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, review sites and more. There are programs that are available to help monitor all of these sites. The key is to respond quickly to all posts, good and bad.
The phone used to be the primary mode of support communication, other than face-to-face. While still popular, it is fading, becoming one of the least used support options. When the recording comes on and says, “Your call is very important to us,” and then the customer is put on hold for an unreasonable amount of time, they may say they were put on hold for “an eternity.” An exaggeration, of course, but the message on that recording is the exact opposite of what the customer is experiencing.
The quantity may have gone down (as far as total support calls), but the complexity has gone up. The kinds of calls that go to a live agent are reserved for those complicated or urgent issues that are not handled by self-service. Communicating with the customer how long the wait is going to be is comforting. Having the call returned at a specific time, even a time that the customer designates, turns the frustration of being put on hold into a refreshingly positive experience.
Customer demand used to be about meeting inventory and service demands. Today, customer demand is about meeting and exceeding customers’ expectations. You must meet customers on their terms, when and where they want. All things being equal, customer service and CX will tip the scale in a competitive marketplace. Are your service and experience tipping the scale in your favor?