The United States has only lived under the shadow of the coronavirus for a little over a month now, but we have already seen tectonic changes in the way businesses work. As would-be customers follow the advice of health officials and shelter deeper into their homes, businesses have had to get creative with the ways they can continue to offer products and services remotely.
From landlords offering virtual apartment tours to neighborhood bars offering take-out cocktail kits, many businesses have done an excellent job of pivoting to maintain customers. But any time customers are required to build new habits, businesses should expect an influx of concerns and questions coming in.
As the rest of the world moves online, customer service will have to as well. And while most customers prefer human customer service, a lot of customers will have to seek digital solutions for the time being.
But digital doesn’t have to mean impersonal.
Happy Medium is built on the idea that digital products are at their best when created with heart, and your approach to customer care should be no different. Here are some tips to help customers feel cared for in the absence of face-to-face interaction.
Provide Answers Where Customers Can Find Them
The most effective way to reduce time spent on customer service is to answer common questions before they come up. But identifying common questions and presenting solutions isn’t the difficult part—the challenge is putting this information in a place where customers can find it.
A recent analysis by American Express found that 6 out of 10 of their U.S. consumers say that their go-to channel for simple inquiries is a digital self-serve tool such as a website, social media, or chat.
This shows that not only are customers willing to accept help digitally; they actually prefer to. Think about all of the frustration you could save yourself and your customers with a website that provides solutions for customers in need. The key, of course, is making sure your digital tools are in good working order and easy to use.
Don’t think, however, that good content alone will save you trouble. Site visitors take only 50 milliseconds to form an opinion about your website, so if you have a site that is outdated or overwhelming, you could be forcing customers to seek solutions elsewhere, no matter how good the content is.
Let Technology Make it Easy
Consumers have long bemoaned the presence of automation in customer service. Calling a telephone line for help and being met with a prerecorded voice on the other end is one of the ubiquitous frustrations of modern life. But the disdain that consumers feel towards robocalls doesn’t apply to digital technology used for customer service.
According to a report conducted by Software Advice, millennial’s preferred method of contacting a brand is live online chat, which indicates a shift in how much technology users can tolerate when seeking help.
It’s cliché to say it now, but each subsequent generation of consumers is going to increasingly prefer digital solutions to their real-life problems. And the generations of people (like myself) who choose to communicate via text rather than make a dreaded phone call would prefer to use technology when communicating with businesses as well.
The largest trend in digital customer service is the use of AI and chatbots. These technologies algorithmically match questions with answers using machine learning, which lets customers get answers effortlessly.
The trouble with this technology, however, is making it not sound like technology. The best chatbots are the ones that mimic human interaction, so take some tips on how to get the most from your chatbot by reading this excellent article from BigCommerce.
Social media has become such an important part of modern business that it hardly feels like technology anymore. It’s like writing an article titled, “Shopping Carts: The Future of Grocery Stores?” But businesses who only use social media to post about products and services are missing out on a lot of value.
According to the same American Express study referenced above, in 2017, 35% of customers reported reaching out in social channels for assistance, up from 23% in 2014 and 17% in 2012. This underscores the importance of keeping an eye on your social mentions and inboxes for customers in search of assistance.
Another reason for businesses to watch social media is that customers are talking about your company to their friends and family. 53% of Americans have posted about a positive experience with a brand on social media, while 35% have admitted to posting about a negative experience. And with the power of word of mouth to influence purchases, those numbers are hard to overlook.
It’s easy to read your mentions and check your inbox for negative reviews, but a customer with a bad experience may not contact you directly. Searching for your business name in the search bar of many social platforms will let you see what people are saying so you can put your customer service to work. Or, if you need help monitoring your social platforms, it turns out that Happy Medium has experts at that sort of thing…
Keep Your Customers in the Loop
Maintaining the relationship between a business and its customers is just like maintaining any other relationship: Communication is key.
In the midst of COVID chaos, it’s difficult to fault anybody for drowning in headlines and feeling completely lost in uncertainty. The line between opinion and fact was already starting to erode prior to the pandemic, but the unending stream of reports and articles from governments, news organizations, and friends and family have forced people deeper into bewilderment.
But this presents businesses with the unique opportunity to provide certainty to an audience that desperately needs it.
It seems like all businesses, from global companies to your favorite coffee shop on the corner, have issued statements regarding COVD-19 and many of them are saying the same thing: We’re still here.
It’s good to remind customers that, while everything around them seems to be different, the way things were isn’t too far away. Those lattes you used to get to brighten a bad day? They’re still available through carry-out or delivery. And Friday night pizza and movies can stay on the schedule with the help of your local pizza joint and video-on-demand.
Businesses should use digital tools, like social media or email newsletters, to connect with customers and let them know that even though nothing is “business as usual” they can still count on your business, as usual.