Evidence shows that consumers believe overall customer service is actually getting worse. Arizona State University found that customer complaints climbed from 45% to 50% between 2011 and 2013. And, according to a 2014 study by NewVoiceMedia, poor customer service costs businesses in the U.S. approximately $41 billion every year. More and more clients are having negative customer experiences, and those experiences are translating into a substantial dollar-loss for businesses throughout the nation.
With today’s competitive marketplace, fed-up customers are discovering they can simply take their business elsewhere. Gone are the days when customers were forced to endure poor service due to lack of available alternatives. The modern consumer has an almost limitless field of possibilities, all available at the click of a button. As a result, they are becoming much less forgiving of customer neglect. In fact, 65% of customers have completely cut ties with a brand over a single bad experience. And internet-based businesses aren’t immune to this new-found customer awareness, either: Roughly 60% of web users who encounter a problem (customer experience or otherwise) on a company’s website immediately leave the site and/or visit a competitor’s site. So, whether your company is B2B focused, business-to-customer oriented, web-based or brick-and-mortar, there’s no doubt that customer neglect can significantly reduce your profits.
What’s the cause of this decline in customer service? The answer depends on a variety of factors. For one thing, the modern customer is more aware of what good customer service is. Companies that are being consistently recognized as having superior customer service are taking advantage of the positive publicity a customer-focused business plan creates. They use transparency and social media communication to ensure potential customers around the world know exactly what kind of positive experiences they could be having. This puts a great deal of pressure on businesses to provide equally awe-inspiring customer service. Once clients realize top-quality service is a possibility, they begin to expect it from every business they encounter.
The almost infinite reach of the internet has made it possible for even the smallest of businesses to amass customers from all over the world. As this international customer base grows, business leaders are forced to reallocate more and more of their finite resources towards customer service. This becomes an even more difficult task to accomplish as your client base grows. Add to that the issues of providing customer service across multiple languages and cultural norms, and the cost and complication increases even more.
Virtually every issue associated with the decline of customer service results from the advancement of the digital age. Simply put, as our reach and abilities have increased, the one-on-one focus of pre-internet business has declined. This is unfortunate, because approximately 70% of buying decisions are made based upon how a customer feels that he or she is being treated.
The digital age doesn’t have to mark the end of the era of customer satisfaction. By recognizing and re-committing to some essential customer service skills that businesses around the world have been disregarding, you can ensure your customers remain happy.
Here are four customer service skills that many businesses need to re-learn:
If there’s one thing that has come to define the digital age, it’s speed. High-speed internet, instant video streaming, Wikipedia-style informational databases, online shopping with next-day delivery—all seem to promise customers everything, all without having to wait for it. Businesses believe that by rushing potential customers through the sales process, they’ll have more time to devote to acquiring new leads. However, there’s something to be said for taking a more leisurely approach. When companies and clients are able to move slowly through the sales funnel, the extra time allows for better mutual understanding. Of course, many customers may still insist on a quick resolution. It’s the responsibility of the business to ensure the customer fully understands what he or she is committing to. When necessary, explain to hurried customers that in order to provide the best customer service, there are important steps that can’t be rushed. Most customers would rather invest the time to ensure competent service, than be quickly rushed into something they may end up regretting.
Few things are more frustrating for a customer than having to deal with unknowledgeable company representatives. A nightmare situation many consumers have experienced happens when a customer is transferred from department to department, having to re-explain their situation again and again to representatives who either don’t have the authority or understanding to make things right. The majority of employees who work directly with customers are often situated at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder. It’s become even more prevalent as many businesses are now choosing to outsource customer service departments in answer to their growing customer base. But while it may make sense financially to spend less on customer-service specialists, it makes absolutely no sense at all when you consider the customer service implications.
Your customers are your company’s most important resource, and without them your business ceases to exist. So, spend necessary time, effort, and money to ensure that those within your organization who work directly with your customers have the training and authority necessary to give them a positive experience. Think of these added expenses as investments: 55% of customers would be willing to pay more for a better customer experience, so go ahead and charge a little bit more to make up for the added training.
When you have the opportunity to meet your customers directly and communicate with them face-to-face, it’s generally less difficult to understand them. But as more and more customer interactions are taking place on the virtual stage, the ability to accurately ‘read’ customers is diminishing.This is because there are many more layers to conversation than can be conveyed through words. Body language, voice inflection, and a thousand other details that are vital to communication are garbled when businesses and customers attempt to communicate through text, telephone, or video conferencing. These limitations can be circumvented, however. A 2013 Business Insider article provides a number of useful tips on how to read people, and many of those tips can be easily adapted for use in long-distance communication. That having been said, when it comes to accurately conveying intentions, feelings, and ideas, there is no substitute for honesty. If customers and representatives can communicate openly, they’ll be more likely to reach a favorable outcome.
Customers don’t simply want the best products or the best prices; they want the best people. Personality has always been an important aspect of the customer-business dichotomy. But with the necessary automation of sales processes, it’s becoming more difficult for customers to connect with businesses. As a result, businesses become faceless, uncaring entities in the eyes of the consumer. The remedy: A simple name tag. A name tag shows your customers that you welcome their questions, concerns and anything else. Of course, when operating over a digital medium, a physical name tag becomes somewhat ineffective. You can make up for that via social media pages that are well-maintained and give your customers a place to connect with your organization. The benefits of this kind of connection have been well documented: 77% of buyers are more likely to buy from a company if its CEO is active in social media, and 46% of web users visit a company’s social media pages before committing to a purchase. Also, organizations that deliver customer support through social media achieve gains of 7.5%, in comparison to the 2.9% gains seen by those organizations that do not.
The digital age has opened up an entirely new universe in which businesses are able to generate new leads and establish customer relationships. Unfortunately, it has also played a part in driving a wedge between consumers and organizations. However, by identifying the aspects of customer service that are routinely being neglected and training employees to focus their attention on repairing these breaches, your organization can take advantage of the increased speed and reach of the 21st century digital landscape.
Don’t let customer neglect separate your business from the people on whom it depends. Recommit to customer retention and satisfaction through building customer service skills, and you’ll find that as you make their happiness your priority, your customers will respond accordingly.