At the first peak of the pandemic in spring 2020, it seemed universally understood that everyone needed some extra grace and room to figure things out – from individuals to small businesses. At the same time, we saw massive shifts in retail, e-commerce trends, and customer relations in response to the fact that many more people were shopping online. If customer service teams figured out how to keep up with demand, customers were a little more forgiving than they normally might have been.
By now, that phase is in the rearview mirror. The grace period has expired and customers are once again expecting white glove treatment. Most of this has been a return to normal expectations – timely responses and resourceful CS reps. In the most extreme instances, customers are fed up after years of rules and restrictions – and now supply chain issues – that are causing delays in their shopping habits, and the result can be downright demoralizing or even dangerous.
This is a recent example of the challenges that companies and customer service teams have in connecting with their customers as technologies evolve. However, companies should be looking to keep pace and meet expectations of customers’ communications preferences on a near-constant basis. We all know that speed is essential and can be supported by quality technology and intuitive and empowering CS protocols. But equally important is the channel.
While this might sound absurd to some CS managers, they should be asking questions like, “How does TikTok fit into our response protocol?” Learning to meet customers where they are – rather than funneling them into the company’s preferred channel – can pay off when it comes to increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Why it’s important to adjust to the customer
It’s all about fulfilling – and hopefully exceeding – customer expectations. The Amazon Age, instant gratification, hyper-personalization … whatever you want to call it, is fundamentally impacting the way that customers want to communicate with brands. For brands that aren’t already familiar with the social landscape, the first hurdle is recognizing social media as a legitimate support channel. Rather than trying to funnel your customers back to your Contact Us webpage, lean into the trend. Make sure your teams are comfortable with the different platforms your customers use.
In addition, the rules of conducting customer service through social media are different than those for email or phone. If a customer sends you a direct message on Instagram, they’ll expect a response from you the same way they would a friend: quickly. Meaning that a day or two of back and forth emails that start with a Contact Us form won’t live up to their expectations. As another example, if a customer tweets about your company to complain about a damaged good, your CS script that was designed for the phone won’t work. The language just isn’t the same.
The growth and nuances of hyper-personalization
As we learn to meet customers where they are, we’re also learning the increased importance of personalization. Today, everything is hyper-personalized. That’s why we have different profiles within a family Netflix account or why on-demand streaming that lets people view shows on their own time is now the norm. It’s also why targeted social media advertising is a $132 billion industry. If something isn’t personalized, it’s easy to ignore or abandon for an alternative.
This includes customer service. If you answer a phone call and direct a customer to a helpful resource on the website, they’ll probably leave the conversation satisfied but unimpressed. If you quickly respond on Instagram to a message about how to make a custom order, and then also proceed to work with a customer and take the order there on Instagram, that will make a much bigger impression because the entire experience was more convenient and personalized.
The downside of not keeping up with customer’s preferred communication channels
I don’t anticipate that your customers will become physically violent if you aren’t able to perfectly accommodate their expectations – and certainly hope that’s not the case. But, there are still real downsides to not meeting them on their preferred channel or matching the standards of speed they are used to.
Move too slow to respond, and they may find another company to do business with in the meantime. Funnel them through different platforms or representatives, and they will become frustrated at having to jump through hoops.
The downsides to not adjusting to customers’ preferences are in line with the CS best practices that you already know. You want to create a sense of loyalty to your brand, to make your customers feel cared for and that they belong to your community. Keeping up with the technology they use and the methods by with they communicate is all a part of this.
Making the shift without losing ground on KPIs
The biggest risk in making changes to your customer service progresses is letting things fall through the cracks. This can happen by either setting up a new platform and going live before you’re ready to fully take it on, which could lead to incoming requests with no one to staff them. Conversely, this could happen after you’ve migrated your team to a new system without turning off the public side of your previously used platforms.
To help make the transition as seamless as possible, keep your old systems up and running until the new one – whether that’s a newly activated Instagram account or software like Sprout that lets you catch any mentions of your brand online – is fully capable of handling the inbound inquiries.
And most importantly, make sure your team is ready for the transition. Provide training on the nuances of each platform, talk through how this will change any back-end protocols that are in place, and level-set that there might be a transition period of re-learning how to resolve and/or escalate issues that arise. It’s also possible that branching your CS into new platforms will increase the amount of inquiries, or require you to hire for new skill sets. If so, you might consider working with an outsourcing partner who can help bring a new team up to speed.
If you have a team of customer service representatives that you trust to represent your brand, you should have full faith that they are capable of meeting your customers’ changing expectations.