Customer churn is a constant challenge for businesses. That’s an issue because it costs five times as much to acquire a new customer than retain one. Although attracting new customers is vital, it’s clear that businesses must not neglect their existing customer bases. This is particularly critical when you consider that meeting and exceeding customers’ expectations can really pay off; according to research by Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company (the inventor of the net promoter score) increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. But even in the most well-run of businesses, sometimes things can go wrong, and customers become unhappy with the service they’ve received. If this happens, how can a business rescue its reputation and re-build the relationship?

The Faster the Better

It goes without saying that the faster a business can respond to a customer issue, the better. In our multi-connected digital world, consumers expect a near instant response to their complaint. This is especially vital when it comes to an issue which affects a business’ whole customer base. Take British Airways (BA) as a recent example of how not to do things>  When its entire flight service was brought to its knees due to a technical issue, it wasn’t until nearly a week after the breakdown that Willie Walsh, Chief Executive, claimed it was down to “human error”.

Even now, BA’s ongoing reticence is causing confusion and unrest, as they have failed to explain why the back-up system didn’t kick into action at the first sign of trouble. In the face of criticism over the airline’s handling of the issue, Walsh has conceded, “I wouldn’t suggest for one minute we got communications right at BA, we didn’t.” This is surprising, when like most airlines, BA’s Twitter support team usually responds to customer complaints within a matter of minutes.

Let’s be realistic here: mistakes happen. Oversights are made. Crises flare. Although it is in nobody’s interest to dwell on these, there are often lessons to be learnt from the manner by which a company tries to limit the damage caused by a crisis in their brand. Experts in crisis management will tell you that there’s a ‘golden hour’ during which a business has the opportunity to seize control of an emerging problem and dictate its narrative.

However, in the era of instant communication, I’d suggest that this hour has been reduced to just a handful of ‘golden minutes’ and even then there’s little to stop a storm of customer outrage being whipped up across all networks.

Meet the Needs of Multi-Channel Customers

Today’s consumers move across multiple channels, so it’s crucial that businesses deliver a seamless experience across each and every one. Social media has become something of an obsession for many consumers, especially the coveted millennial demographic; so much so that new research from Qualtrics found this demographic can’t go more than five hours without checking social media, and check their phone up to 150 times a day.

Away from smartphones, consumers still value face-to-face customer service, particularly in industries such as banking where people  still want tailored advice and support. Research from Lexis Nexus found that, when it comes to opening an account 61% of UK millennials prefer to do it in person – rather than online.

Regardless of how customers choose to interact with a business, they need to keep sight of the entire customer journey, and understand what is expected from each channel. For example, a customer complaining about their bank on Twitter should receive a placatory message within minutes. But what people want from face-to-face meetings with customer service reps is to feel valued, unrushed and listened to – especially if they are unhappy about an experience – so they need to be given the time they deserve.

It sounds simple, but companies need to have the skill to adapt the service they offer according to the channel and customer, to ensure they are meeting the needs of their customers in the most appropriate and efficient way possible. Crucial to this is employees having a full record of the person’s details and previous interactions easily accessible, so they can deliver a seamless experience and begin to re-build bridges.

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Of course, the best way to avoid a customer crisis is by providing the right service in the first place.  Effective management of customer relationships needs to begin long before any potential crisis emerges. Simple pieces of information can lead to appropriate, damage-limiting decisions when and if something begins to go wrong. Technology exists today that can help customer service teams offer a personalised response, giving them the context when they need it.

For example, knowing how a customer likes to be contacted gives a company a massive advantage. If a customer has a poor record of reading your emails, then a text or even a phone call may be much more effective.

The length of a particular customer relationship is also a critical factor during the response. If a company has typically had a strong, positive relationship with a customer, it’s more likely they will be able to trade on the good will of the established relationship, rectify the error and rebuild trust. That’s why it’s imperative that brands develop true partnerships with their customer base.

It’s clear that continual investment in the multi-channel customer experience is vital. But, if a crisis does arise, a speedy, clear explanation of what has happened (or at least a reassuring placeholder) should be communicated instantly. Acquiring new customers is a costly exercise – so keeping your existing ones happy will help take care of the bottom line.

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