Customer service should be a top priority for any company. Customers keep your business going, and making them happy is the best way to ensure that they'll continue to come back. In today's world of social media and 24/7 connectivity, it's easier than ever to keep the lines of communication open between you and your customers.
"We live in an age when everyone is constantly connected to each other via the digital universe across email, Twitter, chat, etc.," said John Joseph, co-founder of data solutions provider DataGravity. "Technology gives [businesses] the ability to correspond with customers more efficiently, and companies — especially startups — need to take advantage of the tools they have to communicate with customers."
While modern communication tools do help businesses with their customer service efforts, the expectation of instantaneous, around-the-clock responses can also present some difficulties, particularly for smaller businesses whose resources are already stretched thin. Customer service experts weighed in on some of today's most pressing customer-related challenges, and how businesses can live up to consumers' ever-increasing standards. [How to Use Social Media for Customer Service]
Filtering customer complaints
Social media has given consumers a much more amplified voice than ever before. This can give brands a huge advantage if the customer has something good to say, but the effects of a negative review or comment can be disastrous to a company's reputation.
Gabriel Bristol, president and CEO of customer service solutions company Intelicare Direct, noted that while many customer complaints are legitimate and must be addressed, there are some consumers out there who just want to make a company look bad.
"Some customers want to not only have a voice, but magnify that voice and revel in the notoriety they can gain [from being] vindictive," Bristol told Business News Daily. "Companies need a comprehensive social media strategy that ensures all customers are truly heard, regardless of the channel they use, but they also need a strategy for customers who simply want to discredit the company at any cost."
But the worst thing you can do is ignore customers, no matter what they're saying about you, experts say.
"Social media acts as a soundboard for virtually anybody who has something to say about your organization, whether it's good or bad," saidSheena Sujan, founder and creative director of Sheena Sujan handbags. "Businesses need to focus their attention on social media instead of ignoring it. Take the time to interact with the customers, and listen to what they have to say in order to create a genuine, long-term relationship with them."
If your budget allows for it, Bristol advised hiring a dedicated social media manager who is in charge of and accountable for social media. This person should look at all of your brand's channels every single day and communicate with customers — even the "vindictive" ones — in a consistent, timely and professional manner, Bristol said. This kind of high-quality service will speak for itself, and quickly disprove those customers' comments.
Your brand favorites, likes, shares and retweets positive customer mentions, and is quick to respond to any complaints. You've mastered the art of customer engagement, right? Not necessarily.
"Too many businesses wait for an alert or third-party notification to know when a customer is unhappy," Joseph said. "Once this happens, it is often too late to save the customer relationship, because customers may already be looking for new vendors. For that reason, I make sure I connect with our customers on a regular basis. I am often picking up the phone to talk to a customer or partner, to get their take on how things are progressing. Waiting for a report about an unsatisfied customer isn't going to cut it in today's market."
The customer's point of view should be top-of-mind for everyone in your company, even at the executive level, Joseph said.
"I encourage executives to put themselves in the customers' shoes," he said. "One of the best exercises I go through as a founder is to ask myself, 'Would I buy a product from my company? Do I think this fits my needs? What other products might I consider?'"
A "social-only" strategy
There's no question that social media has become a must-have in companies' customer service tool kits. But it shouldn't replace the traditional modes of communication, such as phone, email or, when appropriate, face-to-face meetings.
"Enlightened companies have integrated social media channels and tools into their service mix, but not at the expense of high-touch personal interactions," said Alex Bäcker, CEO and co-founder of queue management solution QLess."I've seen companies use social and virtual approaches as a way to reduce the cost of supporting customers. This is usually a flawed strategy."
Bäcker said that smart companies take an organic approach to identifying key points in the customer engagement process, and then align them with appropriate social tools. Instead of overwhelming yourself with data from various social channels, use real, qualitative human insights about your customers to guide your service strategies.
"Achieving a higher customer service standard starts and ends with customers — not technology, not cute social apps and not endless stockpiles of data," Bäcker said. "Recognizing this and staying true to a service mission is challenging for companies of all sizes."
At first glance, the "revolving door" at some companies may not seem like a customer service issue, but turnover rates can severely affect a business's ability to provide the quality and level of service consumers want.
"Turnover is like a contagious bug — other pastures look greener to one employee, and several others follow," said Joy Karp, author of "The Power of Service" (Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, 2014). "A dissatisfied employee is not usually a caring one, and with businesspeople now working harder than ever, they have less time to think about morale in their workplace — the very thing they should be thinking about in order to boost sales and profits."
The question, Karp said, becomes how to elevate service to the standard the customer both deserves and expects when a business is faced with existing employees leaving while having to hire and train new ones. Perhaps unsurprisingly, satisfying customers go hand-in-hand with satisfying and retaining your employees.
"Treating employees well is of vital importance if you are serious about delivering great service — or great anything, for that matter," Karp said. "Recognize effort, show that you care about your employees' problems. Be as generous with benefits as you can, like vacation time and employee discounts. You cannot have authentic service if you do not show your people that you authentically care about them."
Originally published on Business News Daily.