In February, Forbes identified how 10 different start-ups are making their customer service strategies more responsive to their patrons’ needs. Blake Morgan noted how many of these companies are using big data and technology to make customer service more efficient, how they’re investing in keeping their employees trained and engaged, and how providing informational content can solve problems pre-emptively.
Why direct communication with customers is invaluable
Kara Freedman, the CEO of BakedbyNature, says her experience with farmer’s market broadened her insights on what her customers actually enjoy. She shared that when she started selling, she often included “wholesome” in the description of her healthy oat-bites. Unfortunately, her customers didn’t know what to do with “wholesome”.
“People didn’t ask about it, they didn’t know what it meant,” she explained. “Face-to-face is invaluable. I can assume what people want, I can ask a few friends and that’s great. But until I can talk to every single customer, I won’t really have a great sample size. And now that I do, I can come up with new product lines based on what people are interested in.”
Shaping a product line based on customer feedback is something thatfellow New Yorker Sasha Millstein shares. The CEO of Aunt Ethel’s Pot Pies personally interviews her customers whenever she can get a hold of them. And while still tweaking Aunt Ethel’s online engagement, Millstein does not underestimate how important customer engagement is to building up the company the right way.
“You can only create a product based on what you think you know. You have to listen to people so you can figure out what they really want.” Millstein pointed out, “Even after years of being a consumer and a seller, you won’t really know what the rest of the country wants until you ask.”
Both Kara and Millstein are part of the new blood of entrepreneurs launching their businesses in a fairly chaotic time. There’s a lot of talk about how the extreme situations of 2020 are actually helping make new businesses build strong.
How start-ups can benefit from tuning their customer service strategies to their organizational strengths
Likewise, the need for reduced contact during a pandemic and the reliance on an ecosystem of third-parties has concentrated many of the organizational responsibilities in the hands of founders. This can be transformative for businesses who know how to identify and take advantage of the oportunities.
Freedman, who is running everything herself with the support of her family, says that the insight she’s gaining from
“You know, one of the best things about being a one-woman show is that you gain a real appreciation for what each job entails.” She shared, “And as I grow and eventually bring in more people, my understanding is first-hand because I’ve done it.
The key realization we’ve drawn from our recent Mover’s Spotlight series is that customer relations isn’t a one-off thing. Rather, it is a long-term engagement. With genuine investment, it can benefit a business in a multitude of ways: retention, repeat purchases, loyal patronage, and word-of-mouth.
According to Zac Courtney, the COO of Aethyr, a brand and marketing agency based in Los Angeles, answering comments and direct messages is the “cheapest advertising” any brand can do to build trust and relationship with their customers.
“I can’t tell you how many people who don’t even live anywhere we even deliver to right now message me anytime that I post anything,” shared Courtney. Brands needs to capitalize on this interest.
“I look at it as customer service and trust-building, especially if you don’t have a brick-or-mortar spot, where people can come and see you. They will definitely want to feel that there are real people behind the Instagram pages and the website. I just try to make it feel human as humanly possible.”
4 Ways Make Your Customer Service More Responsive
In the effort to create a more responsive customer service experience, here are four rules to live by:
One: Keep A Variety Of Strategies
Customer behavior varies and so must your strategies of engaging them. Generational differences, for example, can indicate where and when you’re more likely to engage a customer.
It’s important suit your customer service strategy to the communication preferences of yourcustomers. Some will prefer to speak on the phone. Others will rely on social media engagement, particularly millennials, who prefer to find information on their own. Some of them seek thorough explanations, others just want to solve issues quickly. Some are gonna call you after work, others are more available during the day. Needless to say, generational differences are not the end-all and be all of determining how to approach customer service.
Shep Hyken suggests what many are aware of: to establish diverse communication channels between you and your customers. Millennials, for example, are going to to want to be able to find information about your product or your service. Creating relevant and helpful content is always a good look. Your customers, particularly you research-savvy customers, will know that you’re serious about providing real and meaningful service.
It’s also important to align and optimize the different channels and platforms you choose to use. Nowadays, customer service departments have omnichannels, multiple and integrated channels of communication that are built around customer experience. They use customer data to provide a more responsive service, solving customer issues any where and at any time.
Two: The Customer is Not Always Right
According to experts, the belief that customers are infallible can actually lead to several problems. The tendency would be to prioritize the word of the customer over that of the employee, which can be demoralizing.
When there’s a breakdown in the communication process and the situation escalates, emotions can run high. Customer service representatives by profession have to empathize with the customers. When they have to do that in emotional situations, it can lead to “empathy fatigue“. Thus, failing to protect your employee’s emotional well-being can lead to a hospitable working environment and a deterioration of company culture.
Jim Connolly says that the adage, “The customer is always right” harms both the customer and the business. At the end of the day, businesses and their employees ought to know the product and service best. At some point, businesses have to recognize when the customer becomes a drain on the resources, as well as on the energy and time of their customer service representatives.
Three: Support Your Support Team
Speaking of employee welfare, a responsive customer service is built on good company culture. Mindtools argues that in order to create this environment, company leaders have to care about their employees’ welfare. They are, after all, the company’s ambassadors.
You can support the workers who literally work on the frontlines to improve your brand by:
- Providing good training, sufficient resources, and responsive tools in dealing with customers
- Creating an environment and culture within your company where your customer representatives can practice patience, encourage respect, and build confidence
- Teaching service workers how to balance empathy and efficiency, and prioritize building a good relationship with your customers at the end of the day
- Debriefing your customer service representatives, encouraging them to relay customer feedback, and integrating their ideas on how to improve your product or service
Four: Do not sacrifice the human touch
Most importantly, remember that customer service is first and foremost about relationships. Companies are adopting technology, big data, and artifictial intelligence in order to scale-up customer service. The trend is rising in light of the global pandemic, as machine learning technology and AI replace people in many routinary service jobs.
Is there a place for human touch in customer service?
In recent years, many experts have argued that automation is here not to replace people. Rather, it’s being developed to assist them in doing their jobs, and augment their productivity. After a year of dealing with the chaos brought by COVID-19, however, the demand for AI and automation seems to have only gained momentum. Whether or not companies will be able to create more jobs in time to compensate for the ones dissolved by COVID-19 or replaced by automation is unclear.
But what is clear is that there are clear trends that map the expectations of customers going forward.
- People want to be able to find information about a product or service on their own. Search engines will oblige companies to invest in meaningful content to draw traffic to their business.
- Personalization and customization will help brands stay competitive and stand out as the online marketplace become sincreasingly crowded.
- Customers can be reached through different platforms, and companies that understand how to reach them (i.e. consolidating multi-channels) will have the edge
Customer relations is a long-term engagement. Businesses, big and small, will have to examine their customer service strategies against these trends, and decide the best way to tailor their services to match their customers’ needs.