Ask someone to describe themselves and they might start with their job. “I’m a doctor,” they might say, for instance. “I’m a Mom,” another might answer. Almost no one, however, wakes up in the morning, looks in the bathroom mirror and says, “I’m a customer.”
It’s a little strange, therefore, that many companies tend to treat the people who buy from them as though they all fall within the same, homogeneous category. In some cases it might be because there are so many of them; one of the challenges as companies grow is maintaining the kind of one-to-one personalization they had mastered as a small business.
The other potential cause is related to the rise of digital channels, where customers may be more likely to reach out through social media or chat than make a phone call, much less an in-person visit. In that sense, companies sometimes struggle to really get to know their customers in the way they might from a series of face-to-face encounters.
If you think about it, though, a lot of what really defines a relationship -- what transforms someone reaching out with a question or issue from just another “customer” to a person with whom you might be on a first-name basis -- is information. This could include what they bought from you in the past, of course, but there are lots of other details that could be collected and managed over time to help make conversations a little more natural and human.
This data-driven approach has already helped make customer service teams more productive and efficient, whether it’s eliminating wait times in contact centres to the speed at which problems can be solved. Personalization, however, should be considered just as important a goal. Why? Because when customers feel like you truly know about them and care about them, they might have a different level of understanding when things with a product or service go wrong, and they are much more likely to maintain the relationship all over again with another company. That’s what leads to the kind of repeat business that is key to any company’s long-term growth.
Here are some ways to get started:
In the physical world, there are two ways to get on a first-name basis with someone. You can ask their name, and you can offer yours.
Most customer service teams are pretty good about the former, but from a customer’s perspective, a company can sometimes seem like a group of anonymous worker bees. Agents can introduce themselves when someone calls in, of course, but think about the ways you can create the same effect across other digital channels.
Examples here include having some real names of key support leaders in company email communications, using initials in support-related posts and comments on social media, or even introducing the team in a compelling way on a video featured in the troubleshooting area of your website.
You may not be able to introduce everyone if you have a large customer service team, but even a series of quick one-liners about why some members love their jobs might help customers start to relate to the group as a whole.
You’ve managed to respond to a customer almost as soon as they’ve reached out. You’ve solved their issue almost as quickly. Great job! But you’re still not done.
Instead of wrapping up with the usual, “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” try asking a few other questions that will deepen the relationship. These questions can largely be based around customer preferences, such as their preferred channel of communication, their preferred times or frequency at which they want to be proactively contacted, or even preferences around particular products and services.
When a member of the team demonstrates the customer’s preferences were not only noted but adhered to the next time around, it’s almost as gratifying as hearing the sound of their own name.
Service teams have already started to get used to working with a customer’s account history to speed up their ability to address an incoming question or problem. To simply scan over a list of what they purchased isn’t good enough, however.
Where possible -- and when time permits -- look for data or ask questions around the particular needs or challenges that lead the customer to buy the product or service in the first place. See if there are any updates into how those needs have changed or progress they’ve made.
Convey that you are interested in learning why the use of the product or service is important, and how that makes you even more engaged in helping them have a great experience with it.
It’s easy to hate your toughest critics, but those who achieve excellence in customer service know there’s a better way.
You can thank someone for pointing out a flaw or mistake the company made, of course, but what about following up with details about how you applied the feedback? This can be accompanied by a reward like a discount or promotional offer, but don’t limit yourself to “make-goods.” Think about developing personalized content for a group of customers who are not categorized as critics but “VIPs.” This group can get early access to educational opportunities to maximize their future use of your products and services.
If you manage this kind of process successfully, you can turn those who vocally complain about your firm into some of your strongest ambassadors.
In the end, being on a first-name basis with customers is really shorthand for acting in a way that makes them feel as unique as they actually are.
Here’s a litmus test: Take a look at a typical customer file and the last two or three interactions they had with the customer service team. How would they describe that experience? To what extent would they have felt recognized versus going through process of essentially re-introducing themselves? How would they likely talk about such experiences to their family, friends and coworkers?
If the honest results of this assessment aren’t very positive, don’t worry. Just follow the steps above to start over -- and you learn more about who they are, they’ll be developing a completely different impression about who you are as a company, too.