In the past companies have left the customer relationship building to marketing. However today with shifting customer behavior the responsibility of nurturing customer relationships often sits with customer service. It make sense that the continuous nurturing of the customer experience should be left to the people who support the customer before, during and after the purchase of the product. We’re seeing a small amount of large companies reflect some of the more attractive attributes of agile small businesses. They’re doing this by focusing on creating meaningful customer experiences.
Let’s talk about what it means to have a transactional customer relationship versus a meaningful one. How would those experiences differ? According to the Oxford English Dictionary a transaction synonym is:
An input message to a computer system that must be dealt with as a single unit of work.
Now doesn’t that sound like how many of us think about customer support? A computer “system” and a “single unit of work.” In the past this is how we processed customer transactions. They were one off events with little favorable experience around that event. But with the many reported benefits of creating an “experience” for the customer we’re seeing more investment dollars go toward creating meaningful customer relationships. In fact a recent survey shows that only 8 percent of companies currently provide a “very integrated” customer experience. At the same time 58 percent of companies are now developing a strategy for delivering an integrated customer experience in the future.
So how can we create meaningful experiences in a digital world, when we are “processing” millions of customers on communities, in self-service channels and on Twitter or Facebook? This is precisely why–as stated above–only eight percent of companies feel they provide a very integrated customer experience. It can be quite hard to move a big ship with many layers and silos. That’s generally every big global corporation today.
Some of you might argue that the longer the customer “lingers” the higher company costs are. However contrary to these claims are the many reported benefits of brand advocacy, a result of meaningful customer service experiences. There are many examples of companies who are reaping the benefits of community engagement. Cisco saves 200 million dollars annually in case deflection through their support communities. This includes a large super user retention program. Companies like Cisco really understand the long-term benefits of meaningful customer relationships.
If companies are to create meaningful relationships that can outlast one customer service hiccup they need to start doing things with a long-term view.
We’ve established as an industry that it only takes one unfortunate interaction to destroy a relationship. In fact a study shows that 65 percent of 1000 consumers surveyed said they would cut ties with a brand over a single poor customer experience. So as you continue on your journey to develop long-term customer engagement strategies consider these five tips to help you create meaningful customer relationships and steer clear of transactional customer engagement.
1. Don’t forget what it feels like to be in the customer’s shoes when you are planning your customer journey
In my recent post about making life easier on your customers I talked about how companies often make the mistake of putting the burden on the customer rather than on the company. When we’re making decisions at work in today’s fast paced competitive economy it’s still absolutely critical to do what is best for the customer. In today’s era of transparency and lightening fast word of mouth via social short cuts will destroy your company’s reputation. Companies need customer advocates at the executive level who are going to pull for decisions that benefit the customer.
2. Allow the customer to define the terms of their relationship with you.
Not all of us are phone people. In fact 40 percent of 3,000 consumers in a global survey said they prefer self-service to human contact. Some customers don’t want to disclose their identity on social media or your community. You might not have full information about them before you try and assist them. Perhaps they don’t want you to call them, but prefer text message. Customers are in control of the channels on which they contact you, they’re in charge of when and how. You must make every effort to reach them on their preferred channel without forgetting privacy and the limits of particular social channels. It’s almost like how a friend would contact a friend. They might email you, they might call or text, tweet, send you a Facebook message, or knock on your physical door (if you have one). Wherever your guest shows up you need to be there with a smile. Please do not hide behind a corporate logo. No one likes that.
3. Personalization whenever possible.
Personalization takes the content and history of the customer and shows new content based on contextual information the company has about that same customer. According to research commissioned by SAP most of the personalization happening today utilizes stated customer preferences and purchase history but in the future, marketers will look to social sentiment, contextual behaviors and inferred emotional states in addition to time of day/week and location information. The same research showed only 17 percent of marketing leaders are going beyond basic transaction data to deliver personalized customer experiences. While personalization is important to marketing executives it should be valuable to support too. Personalization will allow support to proactively send content to a customer given specific past behavior. Call deflection brings a huge cost savings to companies. Imagine if customer service could proactively send the right community thread, article or even text message before the customer picks up the phone.
4. Never automate social support and hire agents who are seasoned communicators.
Call centers bring customer frustration. In fact 75 percent of customers believe it takes too long to reach a live agent. In addition 67 percent of customers have hung up the phone because they could not reach a real person. That being said social support is gaining a reputation as one of the faster ways to get a response. Just take a look at the wild success of the Verizon Wireless support twitter handle (open 24/7). Customers often prefer engaging on social support. In fact 65 percent of consumers who have communicated with companies through social networks believe this is a better way to interact with a company rather than through call centers (Echo Research and Fishburn Hedges). Social support when done right makes for very happy and loyal customers. However if you put the wrong person in charge of your Twitter account, one who wants to be the corporate comedic genius of the internet, your company can easily be the laughing-stock of the internet.
5. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Culture is something you can’t buy. Culture must be organic to the company, and it’s hard to teach to outsourced agents, but it’s possible. Any major company that wants a meaningful customer experience must maintain an emphasis on tone–a tone that reflects their culture and values. It’s also not just about an older demographic that values tone. If you care about millennials, then this topic is even more important. A recent survey by SDL asked more than 1800 millennials about their purchasing behavior during the first quarter of 2014. The most important findings, from the perspective of customer service, is that these consumers naturally hop from one channel to the next in dealing with a company and that they expect a consistent “voice” across those channels. In another study 60 percent of customers felt there should be a consistent voice across multiple channels. It’s important that you work together with the marketing, brand and PR teams to create a persona for your brand and understand what that is.
In conclusion, there are many ways you can create lasting relationships with your customers. Don’t allow the anonymity of the web to hinder your customer engagement programs. Have you implemented any of this at your company? What are your tips? Please share them in the comments section below.
This article was written by Blake Morgan from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.