Customer service used to be much simpler – it was all about your physical interaction with a customer in store or how a phone call was handled. With the rise of ecommerce, customers’ expectations have changed. You should no longer be focusing on the sale itself, but rather a customer engagement strategy that follows a consumer’s whole journey with your brand.
How easy to access is your website? Will they have trouble getting a business phone number from you? Are people available round the clock, or just 9-5? In this article we’ll cover everything you need to know about what makes good customer service.
Customer expectations aren’t all that have changed in recent years. The number of channels and methods by which you can deliver good customer service has also evolved. The following are some of the most prominent examples.
Even for fully online businesses, having an office telephone system still important. Lots of people prefer being able to ask questions in a verbal interaction, rather than through text. Work-from-home call centres can make these interactions easier, giving your team the ability to refer back to previous customer interactions and see notes that might have been made.
As you can see above, the three most annoying things for customers are related to their ability to get in touch with you. If they can’t speak to a person and have to wait a long time, they’ll end up frustrated.
Good customer service involves quick responses and a seamless experience, so your phone-based team should be aware of other interaction points, like social media or your website. It’s also important that the basic technology behind this is good – you want to avoid disconnections and poor lines.
A common phone system nowadays is a VoIP phone, which allows you to flexibly connect your work phone with your private phone, or auto-forward calls in case one employee is busy. You can tailor your phone system according to your needs—something you would discuss with your VoIP provider.
For many customers, your website will be their main point of contact. It’s where they’ll come to look through your products in advance of purchases, where they’ll revisit to check delivery status, and where they’ll end up if there are any problems. For this reason, it’s important to invest time in good web design. This could be something you do in-house, but it’s often easier to outsource it to experts.
Important things to consider here include how accessible it is (on both desktop and mobile), how easy to navigate it is, and whether all the right information is on there. Most customer interactions with your site will be one-sided—they will be looking at what you’ve already put there.
Finally, it’s crucial to implement great mobile website design in this day and age where people access your site from mobile phones.
You can leverage customer engagement by integrating chatbots on your website. Chatbots should be able to answer common questions, and if not, direct the customer to someone who can. For chatbots, good customer service involves being non-intrusive, whilst still being accessible. For example, if they’ve closed the window, it shouldn’t keep popping up on every new page, but it could stay minimised in the corner.
As seen in the example above, offering pre-scripted responses makes it easier for customers to engage and be led to the right place, reducing frustration.
Whether it’s a permanent storefront or a pop-up shop, you might still have a physical location. In a way, this is the easiest form of customer service to focus on, since it’s well established. However, the convenience of online shopping means customers now expect a physical location to offer something they can’t get otherwise, to make it worth their time.
Think about what you can offer that your online store can’t. You can offer samples and demonstrations of products, in-store exclusives, and offers or events. Customer service in a physical location should focus on the experience, and making it as easy, enjoyable – and worthwhile – as possible.
Whilst social media isn’t always a direct sales point (though it can be!), that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Social media is a great way to get across who and what your brand is, as well as provide more direct interaction without the pressure of sales.
Many people now actively seek out customer support on social media, often alongside email or another platform at the same time. You need to be as prepared to answer questions and deal with issues over social media as you are over the phone or through email.
While plenty of people do prefer the phone, not everyone is comfortable speaking to call representatives. Some people might not have the time, and for both of these groups, email tends to be better. However, email shouldn’t seem like an afterthought – customers still expect quick responses!
Most of your email interactions are likely to be specific questions — either before sale or after — and, like with your phone number, you’ll want to make the address as easy to find as possible.
Customer service, then, is no longer as simple as it used to be. However, it remains just as important. The following are just a few of the reasons it’s critical to deliver good customer service across the board.
At its simplest, lead generation is the act of enticing people to enter your sales funnel. There are many lead generations companies that can help boost your sales. Usually, people think of marketing as the main method of doing this, but your customer service has a huge impact too.
If your website is hard to access or there’s no-one that you can get in touch with, you will lose leads — and you won’t have any data on them to follow up.
Another aspect of customer service that can increase lead generation is to respond publicly to requests for assistance. If you’re a tech company, posting responses to tech questions shows that you’re knowledgeable and it increases the chances of those responses being linked to or shared around as solutions elsewhere.
If you’re a skincare brand, answering questions about skin types has much the same effect. This tactic can be leveraged by most brands, especially if you have a well-informed customer service team.
No amount of pretty images and exciting adverts can counteract a bad reputation. Having good customer service can go a long way to ensuring you have a positive brand image. In fact, many customers will overlook minor mistakes if they’re resolved in a pleasant and positive way. These reviews from Trustpilot are some helpful examples.
Both of these reviews are five stars despite mentioning missing and damaged products. Clearly, the excellent customer service received is enough to cancel out these issues and achieve a positive brand image overall.
If you have a positive brand image and satisfied customers, you’re going to see a huge boost to your word of mouth marketing. Whether it’s 5-star reviews, twitter posts, or personal recommendations, people who’ve had a good experience with a brand like talking about it!
People trust people — and that means that these positive comments will go a long way. You can even encourage responses by having a referral scheme or offering a small discount for any reviews left.
Now you know where you’ll be interacting with your customers and the benefits of good customer service, it’s time to take a look at what they want. Some of these things might seem to be in conflict — like wanting a quick response and a detailed resolution — but you can usually find a compromise. For instance, a quick acknowledgement and assurance before a later, more detailed response, will often resolve both of those desires.
Many customers with questions or problems will try to resolve them on their own before getting in touch with you. Making answers to common questions easily accessible is an often underrated part of good customer service. Not only does it leave your customers satisfied, but it also reduces the strain on your staff, allowing them to spend their time on more complex queries.
Common information that you should have in an easy to find location (like an FAQ page) includes:
If they do need to make contact with you, customers will expect a quick response. With small businesses, customers will often expect replies during your listed working hours — but the bigger the business, the more they’ll expect round-the-clock availability.
While some issues can’t be dealt with instantaneously, you can still respond quickly. Acknowledging a message and describing what steps are being taken, with an estimate on a further response, is far better service than waiting until you can respond fully. This way, the customer feels heard and knows their problem is being dealt with.
You can also help customers feel as though they’re being heard quickly by using chatbots. You can get a chatbot for WordPress, Shopify, or your own self-hosted website. Chatbots can answer common queries – and they can schedule calls or emails for ones they can’t resolve. Having a chatbot schedule a call with someone from your business communications team is a much better example of customer service than relying on the customer to look up your opening hours, call during them, and then wait for a response!
Customers expect consistency. If your team acts completely differently on social media to emails, and differently again on the phone, it can be confusing and stressful to deal with. Decide on a voice for your brand, and stick to it. Remember, even professional emails can reflect your tone and branding.
If you’re selling yourself as a high-end technology company, using very professional and scientific language on all your platforms, customers will find emails filled with emojis very disconcerting! But equally, if you have quite a friendly tone and use simple language on your social media, going over to your website to find it full of jargon can send customers running. It’s all about ensuring their experience is consistent.
A key part of customer service is having the know-how to answer their questions. Customers expect the staff they interact with to understand the products and services being sold. There are definitely some things that are unreasonable to expect your staff to know — for instance, which country certain ingredients in supermarket beauty products come from (and yes, people ask that kind of question). However, even in cases like, that your customer service team should know where to look for answers.
It’s vital to make sure your training doesn’t just involve the practical aspects of business communications, such as how to handle inbound calls, how to authorise refunds, and so on. Make sure you’ve dedicated some time to teaching your staff about what you sell, and where they can find information out. Having a central hub of knowledge that all staff can access can go a long way here!
Personalisation plays a huge role in how customers see your brand. With 44% of customers becoming repeat customers after a personalised interaction, it’s a real chance to build your reputation and keep people coming back. Some of this can come from increased data gathering – if you know what products tend to be bought together or what certain customer profiles expect, you can target appropriately.
That’s not to say customers expect you to know everything about them, but a certain level of anticipating their needs, empathising with their problems, and remembering past interactions can help. Obviously, some platforms – like SMS customer support — are limited in scope, but a bit of creative thinking can even personalise these! For instance, if you supply something your customer is likely to run out of, why not send custom reminders a week before so they can automatically reorder?
Even with B2B sales, you should try to prioritise personalisation. You may be selling to a business, but it’s a person who makes the decision. Encourage your sales reps to get to know the buyers, and check in with how they’re doing. If you know a certain new product fills a need they’ve mentioned, let them know personally, rather than just sending a mass email. These little touches are what help build a relationship between a customer and a brand, rather than just a one-off interaction.
All of the above points are what a customer expects — but meeting their expectations only goes so far. To really excel at customer service, you want to go above and beyond. Here are some ideas to get you thinking.
Don’t just wait for customers to approach you — meet them where they are. Even little things, like chatbots to improve customer experience by offering assistance when a customer has been on a page a long time, can make a real impression.
In terms of physical stores, Lush is a great example of proactive customer service. Every customer who enters the store is greeted, and asked what they’re looking for. They’re offered personal recommendations and assistance, as well as samples and demonstrations of products. It’s almost like having a personal shopper.
This proactive customer service means that people are never left looking around trying to find something to answer a question — and it gives you the opportunity to show off products they might be unaware of. Of course, an important part of this is knowing when to back off and let the customer browse by themselves, too.
Whilst it’s not as easy in ecommerce to emulate this experience, you can still anticipate needs. Having pop-ups offering batteries for things that need them or highlighting where a customer can save money through an offer can help them feel catered to, and avoid the frustration of missing out.
This one is especially relevant to software companies. Rather than waiting for customers to reach out and request help, make the information available in advance. Automatically offering to schedule an online meeting during checkout, or emailing copies of tutorial documents can help customers feel supported during the set-up process.
Even if you’re not a tech company, you can adapt this strategy to your customers. For example, a beauty company can offer exclusive tutorial videos, whilst a furniture company might offer an opt-in service to have the furniture built for you.
It can be frustrating to watch a company you’ve been loyal to provide lots of rewards to new sign-ups, while offering nothing to you. Bringing in new sales is important, but maintaining existing relationships is too. Loyalty plans — whether that’s a point system, or offers available to people who’ve been with you for a set amount of time – improve the customer experience and encourage them to stay with you.
Many phone companies provide great examples of this, offering reductions to upgrading your phone or benefits once you’ve paid off your plan. Rather than making existing customers feel left out and like they should look elsewhere, this encourages them to feel valued and stick around.
With all this in mind, you should have a good answer to the question of ‘what is good customer service?’ Now it’s time to start working towards it. Things to make sure you’ve invested in include:
Of course, these are just the start. The most important thing about good customer service is making sure it is consistent and fits with your brand. So, have a look at your current processes, and see what you can build on.
John Allen, Director, Global SEO at RingCentral, a global UCaaS, VoIP and contact centre solutions provider. He has over 14 years of experience and an extensive background in building and optimising digital marketing programmes. He has written for websites such as Codemotion and Toolbox.