The Conversational Age of Customer Engagement

July 6, 20208min

We all know customer service can create a real competitive advantage. Get it right, and your efforts will translate directly to your bottom line. Fall flat, and lose out on a valuable differentiator in today’s competitive marketplace.

In many respects, the gold standard of customer service today is characterised by the ‘friendships’ that brands create with customers through meaningful interactions. But, how do you shape these interactions? How do you ensure a customer inquiry becomes a meaningful conversation?

Whether a customer is buying a big-ticket item or a small, everyday convenience, their decision to invest in a brand or product requires a degree of trust. Trust which can be bolstered, or broken, in the customer experience (CX). So, how can this relationship be strengthened, and how can trust be cultivated?

Treat customers as more than data points

Many companies are failing to deliver ‘trustworthiness’ to shoppers. In fact, only 34 percent of consumers trust most of the brands they buy from. Companies can undoubtedly do better than this, but how? To solve this, organisations need to reconsider how they view their customers.

Brands need to move away from thinking of customers – people – as mere data fields in a CRM system. Sure, rely on the data, but use it to shape the conversation, ensuring customers never have to repeat themselves in a service interaction again. A friend wouldn’t forget that you had a phone call with them last week or they sent you an email just an hour ago, after all.

But what does a professional ‘friendship’ really look like?

Consider this, what would you do if a friend came to you because the gift you sent them went missing in the mail? You likely wouldn’t put them on hold for 20 minutes, awkwardly deflect, or needlessly pass them on to someone else. You would almost certainly respond to them in a supportive and helpful manner. You’d ask them the right questions, with an appropriate degree of empathy, helping to calm their nerves. Then, together, you could work towards a solution. After all, that’s what friends are for.

This approach should be no different in customer service. No matter if you’re helping trouble-shoot a complaint or answer a product related question, customer service agents should be able to communicate with shoppers on a human level. And that doesn’t just mean ‘service with a smile’ or a chatty tone of voice. It’s about ensuring processes are in place to streamline customer management and unify all communication channels to be able to deliver customer service that is more contextual, and as a result, better.

This has also become even more crucial because brands and customers increasingly share the same communication spaces daily.

In the past, a customer might have only encountered a brand once or twice in a magazine or on TV. Today, messages from companies are nestled next to their sister’s Facebook status update, or their neighbour’s cute new puppy on Instagram.

People can even use voice search to make a purchase while making dinner for their family or getting ready for bed. All these channels present an opportunity to build relationships.

Steps towards a more conversational age of customer engagement

Taking advantage of these opportunities means that brands must evolve customer service operations from beyond being purely ‘contact centre’ and ‘ticketing focused’, towards being ‘conversational’. This newer approach ensures communication and relationship building is more proactive, experience centric, brings together data and channels seamlessly, and recognises they are all important.

Further, customers are the centre of attention and prioritising their engagement is of the utmost importance.

Brands can embrace this approach in three key steps:

 1. Don’t use technology for technology’s sake

Companies should be wary of over automating because what may seem like a useful, time-saving customer service tool may end up feeling like deflection to the customer. The truth is, it’s better to leave a message unanswered for slightly longer, to provide the time to craft an authentic, meaningful and useful response, than firing back a quick response that doesn’t completely solve or even address a customer’s issue.

Instead, organisations should focus on implementing technology with intelligent features like smart routing, which automatically puts the customer in contact with the agent best suited to their inquiry without requiring any manual dispatching efforts from managers. Additionally, make sure customer service software supports customer recognition. This must display previously collected data the second a customer reaches out, so agents know who they are talking to, where they are in their customer journey and the potential context of why they are reaching out.

2. Every piece of communication needs to be genuine and useful

This means only having authentic, meaningful, and helpful conversations with customers. They’re incredibly savvy, and a friendly tone of voice can quickly backfire if it’s felt to be a disingenuous sales tactic. Interestingly, a customer survey found that 78 percent had a negative reaction to an overly casual tone, when the customer service agent was denying their request.

3. Prioritise friendship at every stage of the customer journey

Studies show that human friendships are reliant on a key set of criteria — similarity, attractiveness, love, support, problem solving and emotional intelligence. Keep in mind, these traits need to be developed over a long period of time.

Friendships aren’t forged overnight; in fact, it takes 200 hours on average for two individuals to become close friends. The same can be said for the relationship between a brand and their customer — the day-to-day CX needs to continually reinforce and build customer friendship.

As we usher in the next age of customer experience – focused on relationship building, conversation and friendship – brands have an opportunity to evolve their brand propositions to be more focused on using CX as a differentiator. Achieving this means treating customers like friends and begs the question: how are you unifying your channels to form friendships that yield results long-term?

Mads Fosselius

Mads Fosselius

Mads Fosselius is CEO and Founder of Dixa.

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