Table of contents
This quote by Wufoo’s founder Kevin Hale really sums up how important customer service is:
“There are three types of companies that do well: one with the highest quality product—one with the cheapest deals—and one with the best customer service.”
Businesses that have outstanding customer service are advantaged in several ways. For one thing, they have better customer retention (one of the most important factors in stabilizing profit and growth).
And then, even if your prices are higher (86% of customers say they are willing to pay more for good service)—you’re still likely to bring in new customers by virtue of your support staff.
But while it may be clear that great customer service pays for itself, how to deliver great experiences may be less apparent.
And that’s why we wrote this post: to suggest super practical ways to improve customer experiences.
Table of Contents
- What is customer experience?
- What factors negatively impact customer experience?
Nine Ways to improve customer experiences
- 1. Humanize the conversation
- 2. Say “Yes” as often as possible
- 3. Ditch the clichés (and actually help)
- 4. Be honest (even when you screw up)
- 5. Surprise them
- 6. Be “extremely” good at social media
- 7. Create an omnichannel customer experience strategy
- 8. Empower and engage your employees
- 9. Remove your biggest enemy – Data silos!
- Closing Remarks
What is customer experience?
Your customers interact with your brand multiple times through different channels – your website, social media, emails – before and after making a purchase. Customer experience is the holistic perception customers form about their interactions with your brand.
According to Hiver’s Customer Support Through The Eyes of Consumers survey report, 60% of consumers would switch to an alternate brand after two or three bad experiences, and roughly 30% would switch to an alternate brand right after a single bad customer experience.
There’s absolutely no doubt that the quality of your customer service can make or break your customer experience. But customer service comes in much later in the journey.
Delivering great customer experiences isn’t just about resolving queries or fixing customer issues, and it isn’t just the job of your service agents. A big part of the CX puzzle is also knowing what caused customers to reach out to your reps in the first place. To achieve this, you need to cultivate a customer-centric culture in your organization – where every team, right from engineering to marketing, works to delight customers.
What factors negatively impact customer experience?
Proactive customer experience management will help you multi-fold – it will not just build a loyal customer base but would also help you gain new customers through positive word-of-mouth.
But, before we explore how to improve customer experience, let’s look at what dampens customer experiences.
- Long response times: According to research by Hotjar, one in five customers dislike long response times from companies the most. While 46% of customers expect a reply within 4 hours, the average response time for most companies is 12 hours! There is clearly a huge gap here.
- Not understanding customer needs – Understanding queries and being able to resolve them are two significant factors impacting your customer experience. 71% of consumers think a company’s employees have a significant impact on their experience. But only 44% believe that support reps understand their needs well.
- Not enough human touch – Two-third of respondents of this survey conducted by PwC feel that companies have lost touch with the human element of customer experience. Over three in four want more human interaction in the future.
- No personalized experience – Personalization is the best way to delight customers. Not just that, more than half of all buyers say they would pay more for products if they get a personalized experience. But, very few companies use it as a top CX strategy.
Let’s now dig deeper into nine ways in which you can improve customer experiences so that they keep coming back to you.
Nine Ways to improve customer experiences
1. Humanize the conversation
Customer service often feels extremely transactional: robotic customer service inundated with impersonal messages, and emails coming from “customer support,” as opposed to real people.
In fact, according to a study by Invoca, 87% of respondents said talking to a person on the phone to answer questions made them feel more confident in making high-consideration purchases, versus purchasing directly online.
Well, the good thing is that business relationships can be humanized with the right technique.
First off the list, let people behind the agent tag shine through:
- Encourage them to use their first names in emails (as opposed to “we” or “customer support”)
- Provide pictures of your staff in email signatures
- Include links to their social profiles
Of course, making the people on your team feel real is only a first step.
You also need to personalize your processes. Here are a few techniques with a well-established track record:
- Don’t rush: You must empower your staff to take a little extra time every now and then while helping customers. What you lose in efficiency—you will more than make up for by building relationships.
- Empathize: Your reps need to show your customers that they are there to help them. This means acknowledging pain and frustration.
Always say things like: “That stinks,” “don’t worry, here’s what I’m going to do for you,” or “I completely understand what you must be going through.”
- Ask casual questions: Where there is time, consider allowing your staff to ask extra questions.
For example, if the customer has purchased several products—but has an issue with only one of them—you can always ask how the others are faring.
This easy and extra step will help the customer feel like they are being genuinely cared for.
- Encourage follow-ups like you mean it: It’s also good to make your customers feel welcome to follow up once again if their issue persists—but you have to really mean it. For example, you can encourage employees to sign off on their emails with something like:
“Thank you so much for reaching out with your concerns. Once again, my name is David, if you need anything else, please don’t hesitate to reach me.”
When customers know that your staff is made up of real humans, they feel at ease and are more interested in productive conversations.
2. Say “Yes” as often as possible
Naturally, “yes” is the answer customers who email in are hoping to receive. All other things being equal, when they get that answer, they will usually view the experience positively.
The most obvious way to say “yes” is to grant the customer’s request, or (in some other way) resolve the issue through a means that they will view favorably.
Q. Can you lower the price?
A. While that’s not possible at this time, here is a similar product that may be better suited to your needs, and it also fits right into your budget. I’d suggest giving it a shot. I am positive it will work for you. Want to try it out?
Q. I shouldn’t have to pay for a product with these many problems. Can you make this item free?
A. Unfortunately, I am not authorized to give this product away for free. But hey, I can always offer future discounts. Here’s a discount coupon that will hopefully compensate for your inconvenience.
Where the above is not possible, at least maintain a positive tone. For example, customers do not want to hear something like the following:
“We cannot replace your part at this time”.
Though potentially still disappointing, they’d likely prefer to hear:
“We will be able to assist you with your problem next week. Let me email you the coming Monday with a solution.”
Even very unreasonable customers have something to offer, both financially, and as a learning experience—so handle all complaints with care.
Here are a few suggestions from Micah Solomon (a renowned customer service consultant) on how you can instill the spirit of saying “yes” into your employees:
- Become a role model for them. As a leader, never use words like “I am sorry but we won’t be able to accommodate this request.” When you are the yes-person, your employees will follow suit.
- Tell the right stories. Even when you have casual conversations with your team, tell them how you felt great going the extra mile for the customer. Never indulge them with stories of how X customer was unreasonable, or how they took advantage of you.
- Reinforce the spirit of saying “yes.” In every team meeting, or at the start of the shift, celebrate times when employees made things work for the customer. Make people feel like heroes when they go the extra mile to solve a customer’s problem.
3. Ditch the clichés (and actually help)
Just about everyone is well-acquainted with the customer support jargon.
Please visit our help center instead..
We’ve never had this issue before..
Let me check and get back to you..
Chances are, most customers don’t really like it. Rather than sticking to played-out platitudes, it’s better to allow your customer service staff to ditch the script—and instead, let general ideas guide their language.
In any case, your support staff should:
- Be conversational: The closer the phrases sound the way humans talk in real life, the better the experience for customers.
- Use the customer’s first name—they will like you more.
- Say “I” instead of “we”—tells customers that you’re taking ownership
- An emoji every now and then makes you look more expressive 🙂
- Use conditionals instead of imperatives: So an imperative sentence is one that gives commands such as “do this,” “finish this,” or “go there.”
When talking to customers, it’s always a better idea to use conditionals such as “Could you” or “Would you”—when sending instructions.
Instead of saying “Go to the homepage,”
go with a friendlier “Could you please try going to the homepage?”
- Always be as specific as possible: Use crystal clear language, and try formatting your information in a way that is easy to read. This could include both short paragraphs and bullet points. For example:
- Avoid redirecting people to the resource page: You probably have articles and videos that serve to answer most potential customer questions.
While it may be tempting to direct all questions to the resource page, customers will generally be more pleased if they can get their concerns answered directly. For example:
4. Be honest (even when you screw up)
Needless to say, even the best customer service representative can’t know everything. By empowering them to acknowledge this, you may open the door to more successful conflict resolution.
The key is to be as transparent as it gets. For example, a statement like “I don’t know the answer to that question, but I think my colleague might. Can I have her give you a call in a few minutes?” comes across as honest and helpful.
- I have realized that this is a common complaint and worried about how the problem crept into the product. My team is reviewing everything as we talk. I’ll be more than happy to replace your item.
- I am not 100% sure if this can be done. May I speak with my manager to see if I am allowed to authorize your request? I will be back in touch in a few minutes.
- I will email you back in about 30 minutes. I need to do a little research about your problem. I’ll check with my teammates as well. Please hang on for just a little bit.
- Unfortunately, I do not know how to assist you with your situation. However, I have forwarded your message to my manager. I will be in touch with you the moment I hear back. Sorry for the delay here.
Just make sure that admissions of ignorance are always accompanied by a plan for problem resolution.
McDonald’s is a great example of how problem resolution can be handled with transparency. In 2015 when they identified that their perception wasn’t everything it could be, they created the “Our food. Your question” campaign to answer any customer question honestly and publicly.
McDonald’s invited consumers to ask anything they wanted and vowed to give them full and speedy replies. They built out a team just to answer questions in a timely manner.
The end result? Food perception and brand measurement gradually improved. Monthly store visits went up by 50%. Customers do value honesty.
5. Surprise them
Let’s begin with a startling fact: A vast majority of people strongly dislike seeking customer support—and 59% will avoid it at all costs.
The reason for this is simple: they have been trained to expect a bad experience, and, most of the time, they are probably right (to brace themselves for this possibility).
Naturally so, companies that are able to pleasantly surprise the customer—will be significantly advantaged over those that treat them to the usual experience.
Zappos is famous for its customer service surprises. Their representatives are encouraged to chat like friends and be friendly. One customer service phone call went on for ten hours, demonstrating the company’s dedication to friendly, personalized communication.
They now have a “call us for anything” approach in which representatives are known for helping not just with problems relating to shoes, but just about anything. In the past, they have also been known to send flowers, pizzas, and more to customers.
And they make sure to empathize with the customer:
Admittedly, it will be hard to outperform Zappos in the realm of customer service surprises, but by emulating their example, you can always spread a little joy among customers.
Here are a few easier ways to surprise your customers:
- Occasionally mention specific customers (positively) on your social media accounts.
- Send them a follow-up a few days after solving their problem, asking if everything is working fine. (Be sure that the message feels conversational rather than a template.) Check in after say a month to see if everything’s fine.
- Send them a box of cookies—completely out of the blue!
- Have the CEO write a handwritten note to thank them for the trust they place in your business.
- Provide custom discounts or money saving recommendations based on what you learn about a customer during their complaint.
The more creative you can get, the better you will stand out!
6. Be “extremely” good at social media
About 95% of adults aged 18-34 follow the brands they like on social media. I am sure you have a social presence but are you making the most out of it?
Great brands don’t just use their social media accounts for only marketing and branding. Rather, with a little bit of creativity, they are able to create memorable interactions that leave customers happy.
Take T-Mobile as an example. The cell service provider is very active on social media, and responds publicly to almost all the comments, both good and bad.
JetBlue does an awesome job of replying to customers in as little time as possible. Unlike many other airline companies, they don’t ask you to call them. The social handle makes sure you get help right away.
While you’ll need to allocate significant time and resources to your social media presence, the investment may ultimately pay off by way of public perception.
Here are a few tips you can use to truly take your social media game to the next level:
- Respond super quickly: The social media attention span is incredibly brief. This means that you should respond to queries as quickly as possible to ensure that you maximize the impact. And that’s why you must have a few reps with the freedom to handle social comments on top priority.
- Use your “mentions” for insights: The mention section of your social media account is a great way to find out how your brand is being received in real-time. Do customers have a lot of service complaints? If so, what’s the most common reason? Figuring out how your customer service is being perceived online is an extremely useful insight.
7. Create an omnichannel customer experience strategy
Today, there’s a wide range of channels for your customers to reach out to you. They could be shopping through a mobile app, going through your social media, using your website chatbot, or interacting with a salesperson in a brick-and-mortar store. If you are just using one or two channels to serve your customers, you are losing out.
That said, omnichannel experience is not just about being available across multiple channels. You could be present on every possible channel and your customers may still be having poor experiences.
Why, you ask? Because modern customers expect a consistent brand experience through their entire journey with you. If they want to switch channels, they should be able to do so seamlessly. An omnichannel customer experience is all about offering customers an integrated experience across multiple channels.
Beauty giant, Sephora, is a great example of a company that’s executed its omnichannel customer experience strategy wonderfully. By integrating their customers’ online purchases with in-store visits, they provide them with a consistent experience across different channels.
Whenever customers want to purchase anything, they can try products using virtual reality (VR) and add them to their wishlist. They can complete the checkout process either through the app or during an in-store visit.
Not just this, by integrating customer account information with in-store communication channels, Sephora is able to provide their customers with a more personalized experience.
Here is a four-step process to build an excellent omnichannel customer engagement strategy:
- Carefully assess your customers: Create detailed buyer personas, identify their pain points, and how your product or service can best solve them.
- Identify customer touchpoints: This step will help you understand where your customers spend their time, how to best engage with them, and create personalized experiences.
- Create customer journey maps: A customer journey is a timeline of a customer’s history with a company. Identify the first customer touchpoint and follow through with their journey with you till the point of sale and beyond. 4.
- Analyze and optimize: Make good use of customer feedback to continuously find gaps and optimize your omnichannel experience.
8. Empower and engage your employees
According to research by Gartner, 38% of customer service reps feel disengaged at work. Disengagement often translates to delivering a poor service experience or being impatient with customers.
Poor employee experience can be one major reason your reps feel disengaged. They might lack clarity on their goals and how their work contributes to the business or there might be a general lack of support for their well-being.
Here are three tips that will help you motivate your employees:
- Help your team express (happy reps = happy customers) : Create an environment where reps can approach senior management with their thoughts and concerns. Thank them for their honest feedback, and follow up with them on their concerns.
- Gamify incentives (make work “less boring”): Performance leaderboards and real-time employee recognition are just few ways you can gamify performance management. Some friendly competition adds an element of fun to high-pressure customer service jobs.
- Work on your team members’ EQ: Ensure that empathy is modeled into the highest levels of your company, even in casual conversations. It will help members develop the right mindset to help customers.
Additionally, equip your customer success team with the right support material like knowledge base, product training, and customer service skills training so that they can live up to and exceed customer expectations.
9. Remove your biggest enemy – Data silos!
Many organizations track metrics such as Customer Satisfaction Scores (CSAT), or Net Promoter Score (NPS), but fail to use them correctly.
As per research by Bain and Co.,80% of companies surveyed believed they provided exceptional customer experience. According to customers, however, only 8% of companies crossed the bar.
This is a huge disparity! It can only be reduced if every member of your organization, not just your customer service team, works towards delivering great experiences.
Great customer service never exists in a silo!
Your teams need to have a unified customer experience vision driven by the research and data collected from your customers. Distributing findings across all teams would help them improve internal processes like product development, customer support workflows, and hiring and training.
Additionally, such cross-functional collaboration can help:
- Address customer issues quickly: With information at your fingertips, you will no longer be blindsided by unexpected issues. In case something goes wrong, you’ll be able to assure your customers that you’re aware of the issue and are already working on it.
- Improve your product or service: Your product team can be up-to-date with your customers’ wants and needs and plan to improve the product based on customer feedback data.
- Identify revenue opportunities: By using the customer journey data, your sales team will easily be able to identify cross-selling and up-selling opportunities and reach out to your customers. This will help increase your overall revenue over time.
Customer relationship management is a difficult task. People often reach out to customer service expecting to have an awful time. But, you can prove them wrong, and give your brand a competitive edge against the other players in the market.
The right technique will help you increase your customer lifetime value and satisfaction scores. Use these powerful methods mentioned in the article to delight your customers and keep them coming back!