Customer Service in The Digital Age: How To Stay Ahead of The Competition (Guest Blog)

The digital age offer great opportunities as well as challenges for retailers. Find out how to stay ahead of the game with excellent customer service.

The way consumers shop and get in touch with retailers is changing, but the essential skills of customer service are the same. Whether you tweet, phone, email, live chat or simply browse a business’ FAQ page, you want to feel like you’re getting the same level of service. Just because customer service has moved online, does not mean it becomes impersonal.

Customer service is simply adapting to our changing culture – everything is moving online, or at least partly online. Customer service skills may need to be updated to meet this digitally connected world, but the principles are the same.

Why You Should Become a Customer-Focused Business

There is a compelling argument for putting more resources into customer experience. The statistics speak for themselves – a recent study has shown that (customer-focused organisations see 22% growth http://winthecustomer.com/customer-experience-technology-stats/).

Providing an excellent customer service is a great way to stay ahead of your competitors and it is much more rewarding than trying to compete on other factors, such as price.
How Multi-Channel Customer Service Works

The telephone still has a place in customer service, but just not in isolation. Similar to how the store still has a place in retail, the telephone is an important part of customer service, but the key here is that it’s only a part.

Customers are using more avenues to get in touch and as a result, they are using a greater number of different channels to communicate with businesses. As a retailer, you need to offer the multi-channel experience that customers expect and this means utilising email, live chat, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+.

Not only that, but you need to take these digital means of communication and provide the same personal touch and immediate response, as if they had picked up the phone.

The Benefits and Challenges of Digital Customer Service

The rise of digital communication offers businesses many opportunities, as well as challenges. As technology plays a larger role in the buying process, businesses can use this to their advantage or their own downfall.

Things are not as simple as they were and any business that hasn’t already, should think about their multi-channel customer service strategy. Communication has to be seamless across all channels and a badly coordinated customer experience can do more damage than good. Whereas a useful, friendly service which gives customers the choice in how they want to get in touch, can greatly improve customer satisfaction.

More specifically, social media is probably the biggest challenge/opportunity, depending on how you approach it. Social media gives you the power to speak to the world. You could see this as a customer service and marketing dream, or a nightmare of bad PR.

Provide a bad service and more people will know about it than before the days of Facebook, but equally, provide a good service and the news will reach more people than ever before.

What You Can do to Provide Excellent ‘Digital’ Service

In order to keep up with the high standard of customer service provided by leading customer-focused retailers, here are some ideas on how to boost your service:

Social Media

Social Media should definitely be a priority – (38% of businesses are planning to invest more in it this yearhttp://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/62116-38-of-companies-will-be-increasing-their-investment-in-social-media-management-systems-this-year-report). And there is good reason why. Here’s how you can utilise this platform:
• Do not solely use social media for marketing purposes – you need to strike a balance between customer service and marketing and allow it to become a two-way conversation.
• Use ‘social listening’ as a way to find out who is talking about your business or products. Send the positive responses to marketing, as this could be useful, and deal with negative comments swiftly.
• Use social media as a public record of a conversation and always make sure it is resolved. If a customer gets in touch via Twitter, but then calls you to resolve the problem, reply again on Twitter to say that you are happy the problem is now solved, so that anyone viewing it can see the issue was dealt with.

Mobile Shopping, Mobile Service

Ensure your website is optimised for mobile use. Browsing and comparing prices on a smart phone is an increasingly popular way to shop and optimising your website for mobile use (can increase customer satisfaction by 60%http://www.business2community.com/human-resources/5-jobs-for-tomorrows-customer-service-team-0485061).

Email and Live Chat

Customers do not want robotic messages which look like an automated response. You should aim to create the same personal touch whilst typing as you would if you were speaking – put a bit of personality into emails and tweets!

An easy way to see if you’re doing this is to think: If I couldn’t use an emoticon like smiley face, would the customer understand the tone of the message? Especially for live chat, your tone should gentle, friendly and informative, even if the customer doesn’t have the same tone.

Integrate IVR

IVR (interactive voice response(http://www.newvoicemedia.com/products/contactworld-for-ivr/) is both a self-service tool and an extremely efficient way of routing calls. An IVR system can deal with basic enquiries, meaning that your call centre can operate 24/7. During opening hours, IVR can become a valuable way to filter calls to the right agents based on previous conversations, purchases or selections made by the caller, putting an end to call transferring nightmares.

What’s on The Horizon For Customer Service?

This is just the beginning of the digital revolution – industry experts are already predicting new jobs which might become vital for customer service. Here are just a few:
• Natural language processing is predicted to be an area of huge growth. More research is on the cards to develop the highly efficient technology of IVR.
• With smartphone browsing on the rise, businesses are preparing to expand mobile sites.
• More emphasis will be placed on social service, with many agents employed just to monitor the social networks to find dissatisfied customers and deal with the problem before they even make a complaint.
• More people will be employed solely to develop self-service strategies. Customers are becoming increasingly happy with the no-fuss ‘self-service’ approach and many retailers will want to provide the answers on their site to any question a customer may have. This would involve analysing call centre notes, online discussions and conducting web analytics on your business’ website to see which pages get the most traffic. All of this to help businesses determine: what do our customers want to know?

With the methods of customer service rapidly changing, hopefully this article demonstrates why your business should try to keep up with the technology.

What do you think about the changing nature of customer service? Do you have any tips you’d like to share on providing excellent multi-channel service? Share your thoughts below.

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dellphotos/7447247434/

Bio: James Duval is a business and technology blogger with a passion for excellent customer service. He believes the rise of technology in customer service should not lead to an impersonal service, but instead a more efficient, personalised experience.