With the boom of the online era, customers in many sectors have become spoilt for choice when it comes to both products and services.
With more options than ever and the ability to quickly compare offerings between companies, decisions can often come down to one key factor: Customer Service. This hasn’t gone unnoticed – and in fact, customer service is becoming a key pillar in more and more business strategies.
The financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has left businesses doing everything they can to retain their customers, so delivering excellent customer service is now more important than ever. While businesses are currently facing a multitude of challenges, those that are genuinely customer centric, maximise the use of data and invest the time and energy to build a culture where the customer is king, will be the ones that come out on top.
Key elements of excellent customer service
I believe there are five key elements that contribute towards excellent customer service. These apply not only to front line customer service staff but the entire organisation.
- Customer First: it is crucial that businesses consistently demonstrate a real desire to help and solve problems for customers.
- Be available: customers should be able to get in touch with the right person in a timely manner or where appropriate self-serve.
- Listen to your customers: businesses should always employ active listening when speaking/interacting with customers.
- Action feedback: Either in real time via customer services or through customer experience programs. Businesses should create a strategic plan that resolves pain points for customers.
- Take responsibility: customers want to feel that someone is taking responsibility for their problems following the issue through from start to finish.
Demonstrating the five principles of excellent customer service during Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic presented new challenges to businesses, with the shift towards remote working and many businesses having to tighten budgets. Making cuts in customer service can have a detrimental impact on a business during a time when maintaining customer satisfaction is vital and businesses should be doing everything in their power to avoid this.
An opportunity given to us by the pandemic has been time to think and re-evaluate practices, as was the case for the business energy sector. Many customers were focusing on more immediate priorities, giving suppliers time to take a pro-active customer first approach to their customers.
Managing customer call volumes is a challenge in any sector, particularly during a pandemic when customers have been left feeling anxious and require additional support. Predicting unexpected fluctuations is an art form in itself and getting it wrong can lead to either unnecessary costs or understaffed customer service teams. Business should ensure that they are always available when customers need them either through self-serve facilities online or via a dedicated customer services team. It is essential that businesses become more proficient at streamlining how they route and manage traffic, diverting customers where possible to self-serve digital channels and allowing customer service teams to manage more complex queries.
At the start of the pandemic, businesses that pro-actively supported customers, who were struggling to manage the financial difficulties, found they had a stronger relationship with their customers as a result. If a customer cancels their direct debit this can often be seen as a warning sign, however, sometimes customers will cancel a direct debit so they can have greater control over their cash flow. By taking responsibility, contacting customers and advising them on payment options, customers should feel more confident that they’re able to stay up to date and in control of their outgoings.
Following my ‘customer first’ rule, this demonstrates to the customer that they are important to the business and allows any problems to be dealt with quickly and efficiently. This method also shows that support is available, and the customer service team is there to listen.
Reacting to Covid-19 has not been straight forward and the rules are constantly changing. It is important that businesses pay attention to localised lockdowns and tier systems when delivering services that require face to face contact and ensure Covid-safe standards are met, such as social distancing and PPE. Being clear in their communications to customers around the precautions that have been taken to keep them and their employees safe has been key and demonstrates that businesses have been taking their responsibilities seriously.
Customer call centres have also had to adapt and offer flexible working to call centre staff. This can benefit both the employees and the customers. It gives staff the opportunity to work around any childcare needs during the day, particularly when homeschooling is required, while also offering availability to the customer beyond the usual nine to five.
Embracing a digital environment
The significant shift towards digital maturity in almost every sector, accelerated by remote working and social distancing measures, has meant that data is becoming increasingly important when delivering excellent customer service. Having good quality data allows businesses to streamline communications, allowing for consistency and availability across all customer touchpoints. It is important that if a customer has made contact through one channel, this data is fed back into other channels to allow seamless service wherever or whenever the customer might choose to interact.
The introduction of new technology and channels, such as mobile, self-service web, live chat, chatbots and APP, means there are now a multitude of ways for customers to communicate with brands. Although multi-channel customer service provides a myriad of opportunities, it has brought with it new and complex challenges. Working with out of date technology, inaccurate data and historic processes can often hinder customer service. The way we deliver customer service has had to adapt to our digital-savvy customers, who are used to instant gratification. This makes it especially important to ensure customer queries are dealt with as soon as possible, showing the customer that support is available whatever the point of contact, as well as providing a consistent customer experience across channels.
Good quality data can help businesses to gain a holistic understanding of their customers’ needs and action feedback. This is something that is particularly helpful during these unprecedented times. Using robust data analytics tools, businesses can compile insights on how customers’ needs have shifted in a short space of time. By recognising trends and patterns in customer behaviour, customer service teams can maintain high standards, and feel confident they are offering the correct support.
While it may be challenging to deliver the best possible customer service right now, it should be a priority for every business. Ensuring customers are seen and heard can often be delivered through something as simple as making a phone call or replying promptly to an email. These small actions can go a long way in securing future loyalty. Using data intelligently makes enhancements to customer service significantly easier and allows businesses to tailor their services to ever-changing customer demands, helping them to retain their customers, grow value and hopefully thrive for years to come.