Fail. Fail. Fail. That's what plenty of customers had to say about their shopping experiences this past holiday season. And, poor customer service is just as big a problem in the B2B world of business-to-business, where even more dollars can be at stake with each interaction.
How often have you tried to get help and couldn't? How often have sales and service people been too busy to answer your call or assist you in person? How often have you been disconnected in the middle of a service call, leaving you frustrated and needing to call back and start the whole loop again?
Outstanding customer service doesn't just happen. It requires firm policy at the top, starting in the C-Suite, followed by clear procedures for management and staff. And, above all else -- it requires careful, consistent, and ongoing training and monitoring.
There's a great reality TV series running in the U.S. and U.K. called Undercover Boss, where CEOs of nation-wide corporations are filmed going undercover as entry-level employees to see what's working and what's not in their own companies.
Time and time again, they find front-line staffers quoting "company policy" as the reason they can't give better service or accommodate customer requests. Outstanding customer service and a true dedication to customer care starts at the top, but can't stop there.
Salespeople as well as customer service reps and contact center staffers need to always remember that customer care and providing a positive customer experience are their top priorities. Aside from that basic understanding, they need to be given the tools and authority to get the job done right.
Managing the Customer Experience
In 2013, we started to see a major shift toward focusing on "customer experience management" (CEM) along with "customer relationship management" (CRM). "Customer engagement" also became a key focus for marketers and salespeople alike.
Indeed, social media has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for engaging customers, building customer loyalty, and ultimately, boosting sales through repeat business and referrals.
But even the most sophisticated marketing and engagement programs can be undermined by one bad experience with a customer service rep or sales person. And when a disgruntled customer takes his or her complaints to social media, it can set off a firestorm of negative consequences and a PR nightmare.
Staying Customer Centric
The good news is that your team, and really any company at all, can provide top-rated customer service. It's not rocket science, but it does require a customer-centric approach. Some of the keys to success are ongoing training, analysis of trends, really listening to your customers, and the ability to adapt to changes quickly and efficiently.
All of that is needed, plus a good dose of common sense -- asking yourself and your team how you all like to be treated when the tables are turned and you're in the role of customer.
To help keep your team stay fresh and focused on the customer, we've gathered customer service advice from several tech gurus who specialize in customer service solutions.
Get Closer to Your Customers
Monica Norton, senior director of content marketing at ZenDesk, recently shared three of her favorite tips for top service: Get closer to your customers; build good will; and, have a plan.
"Just like in your personal life, the best way to develop close, long-lasting relationships with your customers is to devote your time and energy to the process," she advised. "Ask your customers for their input, listen to what they say, and act on what you learn."
Build Good Will and Plan Ahead
In terms of building good will, she says, if you focus on the customer experience when everything is going well, your customers are more likely to forgive and forget when something goes awry. Then, there's planning.
"Decide in advance how you'll respond when a problem erupts," Norton advises. "You won't have to waste time deciding what to do in the heat of the moment if you already have your playbook ready to go."
Another set of three handy tips for customer care comes from Oracle: know your customers; empower your customers; and adapt to changing behaviors.
The enterprise tech giant points out that quickly connecting customers with the information they need has become more important than ever. Providing quality resources for self-service -- from FAQs to online manuals and searchable databases -- can help cut your customer service costs while also boosting customer satisfaction.
Consider these two related facts: Forrester Research has found that seventy-two percent of customers prefer using companies' websites to answer their questions. But TSIA Technology Insight reports that only 52 percent actually find the information they need.
Know Your Customers
"Choose a knowledge management tool that will: identify customers' current and downstream needs, deliver personalized online content and answers, and accelerate their service journey with smarter searches," Oracle suggests.
As for empowering customers, Oracle is big on leveraging social media and collaborative service tools to help businesses share information socially. Social sharing also enables rapid, low-cost content development, and can help reduce contact-center workloads.
Be Ready for Change
The final bit of advice from Oracle for providing great customer service is to always be ready to adapt to changing behaviors. Oracle advises that customer service teams, as well as their sales and marketing counterparts, need to harness the power of social monitoring, analytics, and customer feedback.
Careful monitoring -- keeping tabs on customer satisfaction and customer reactions -- helps identify support issues and knowledge gaps early. It can help guide training and also help your team deliver consistently high-quality service over mobile, social, and web self-service channels.
Monitoring customer feedback can also provide much-needed input for improving products in the future, as well as boosting sales and customer satisfaction each day.
Leverage the Community
Another three tips, especially relevant for customer service in the B2B world, come from CRM expert .com: leverage a community of experts; share helpful resources; and go mobile.
"Encourage [your sales and customer service] agents to collaborate with external experts in your industry," advise the pros at Salesforce.com. "Use their feedback to determine which areas of your products and processes need improvement."
Also keep in mind, Salesforce says, that, "Customers are less likely to post egregiously negative comments when interacting with an individual rather than a brand."
Share the Knowledge
Salesforce also suggests helping your customers become sources of knowledge. That means sharing useful content, such as a blog post, webinar, or YouTube video to help solve their issues, and equipping them to share this information with others.
Share the knowledge and you'll build your own army of loyal customers, fans, and brand evangelists.
Mobilize Your Service
Mobilizing your service offerings is becoming increasingly important. While many businesses are beginning to provide in-app and text SMS support, Salesforce estimates that only 25 percent of businesses currently have mobile customer service strategies. Yet, another estimate suggests sixty percent of consumers have the customer support apps from companies they do business with and whose products and services they buy.
That means that many businesses can still benefit by developing new service options geared toward use on mobile phones. On the consumer side, for example, many stores are now offering smartphone coupons, special shopping apps, and store maps to help customers find want they want and take advantage of special promotions.
Make Customer Care Job #1
To sum it all up, whether your company serves consumers (B2C) or other business professionals (B2B), providing customer care and a positive customer experience need to be top priorities.
Start with a focus on customer experience at the top. Give your contact center staff, service reps, and salespeople the tools they need. Then keep on training and monitoring to ensure ongoing success.