Winning and retaining customers is a big deal – brands want to paint their company in the best possible light to attract customers, and it shows.

Christmas ads are a significant part of large retailers’ marketing efforts. John Lewis has become synonymous with this time of year, and allegedly the Christmas ad this year cost the retailers around the £7m mark.

And yet, what do these adverts actually have to do with the brand, other than building awareness? Are they providing the right message to customers, or are they breeding unrealistic expectations, ultimately setting themselves up for their own downfall?

Elton John and grand gifts

Take the John Lewis advert as an example, the stylish advert takes us through the journey of superstar Elton John’s rise to stardom; from childhood to present day and all the fantastical moments in between. The production finishes with a picturesque shot of Elton’s family on Christmas Day as he opens the extraordinary (and likely expensive present) of a grand piano. The tagline simply reads ‘some gifts are more than a gift’.

There’s no doubt that the advert evokes an emotional response from the viewer, but by building up the significance of the experience and painting a picture of perfection, are they going too far? If the message to customers is that some gifts are worth more than just a gift, what will be the customer’s reactions should their experience fall short of what they’d hoped?

With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of customer service best practices, to help retailers identify customer’s needs and manage their expectations, in order to deliver a positive customer experience.

Empower your frontline staff

If customers are dissatisfied with their service, the call centre will likely be their first point of contact, which is an important responsibility for the agents to take on. These members of staff set the tone in terms of how the customer views the brand. A friendly and empathetic attitude is a great thing for an agent to have, but without the knowledge to back it up, customers will quickly become frustrated.

From a customer emotion standpoint, the person making the complaint will likely become frustrated if nobody has the knowledge to answer their question. If there’s a problem with a product or a delivery hasn’t arrived on schedule, the customer will rightly want to know how this has happened and what can be done to resolve the issue.

Call centre agents are always going to have to deal with problems they can’t solve, but with the right knowledge and training, there shouldn’t really be questions they can’t answer – brands have to make sure agents are given the resources to answer complicated questions. Providing they implement them thoughtfully, brands can even consider using technologies like Virtual Assistants to ease the burden of handling low-level queries, meaning agents can focus on the more challenging tasks.

Delivering on promises

Modern customers are savvy to the customer service process – they understand that when they phone a call centre, the member of staff on the end of the line isn’t going to be the one to come out and physically fix their problem. What they do know is that the agent should listen carefully to their issue and follow through with the resolution they offer (like arranging for a next-day delivery of a customer’s late order) because if they don’t, frustration is bound to follow.

Of course, follow through isn’t just for promises. If customers give feedback at the end of the process, this should be followed up too, so they know their input is making a difference. Engagement at every stage of the journey lets your customers know you’re not just listening, you’re reacting, which is definitely the right way to manage customer expectations.

Going the extra mile

If a brand can deliver value in every interaction, they will develop that trust, and if a brand can offer smooth communications, easy-to-use processes, and a frictionless customer experience, they will start to build brand advocates.  

Brands should make life easy for their customers, and employees have a huge role to play in this. While this seems like an obvious statement to make, when you start to dig into some fairly common situations, it’s amazing how many brand interactions require serious effort from the consumer – like repeatedly having to chase up a problem despite being promised a call back.

Instead, brands should always be thinking about what they can do to meet and exceed customer expectations. At a business level, this requires taking a hard look at processes to refine and improve them. But from an employee perspective, this means giving agents the tools to measure customer emotion, understand their own performance, and becoming great representatives for the company, so that they can truly go that extra mile.

Don’t give your customers reasons to leave

Brands wondering how to identify customer needs and expectations don’t have to tie themselves in knots to find solutions. They simply need to be honest in what they can deliver and attentive to customer’s needs.

Whilst some retailers may feel that one sub-standard interaction won’t cause a customer to take their business elsewhere, Accenture found that 61 percent of customers stopped doing business with at least one organisation last year due to a poor customer experience. One negative experience, is one too many.

The John Lewis advert sets the bar very high in terms of customer expectations, which leaves them – and other brands implementing similar marketing techniques – open to criticism. As such, it’s important that the customer experience that brands offer match up to expectations they’ve set, so that they’re not overpromising and underdelivering. By empowering workers to be knowledgeable, and giving them the tools they need to go the extra mile, brands can manage and even exceed customer expectations.

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