How to get ahead of your customers to build better long-term relationships with them.
Note from Len: This is a guest post from Josh Brown, Content and Community Manager at Fieldboom.
Any business owner worth his salt will tell you:
Your business lies in your customer’s hands.
Shep Hyken, customer service expert and NYT bestselling author, suggests thinking of your business as a house. In order for a house to last, a strong foundation is crucial, and consistently excellent customer service – not the products you make or the services you provide – needs to be that foundation.
You might be thinking “Well, I have a good customer service team in place, so I’m all set.” In reality, customer service isn’t just one department’s job; every area of your business should be focused on providing a consistently excellent customer experience.
Emerging data continually shows how important it is to provide a satisfactory experience to your customers. As reported by Smart Customer Service, U.S. brands are losing approximately $41 billion each year due to poor customer service. In other words, if you’re not providing satisfactory service to your customers, you’re ultimately losing money.
But it’s not enough to simply give your customers a satisfactory experience.
In order to set yourself apart from the competition, your business needs to go above and beyond. Smart, modern companies stay ahead of customer issues by providing proactive – not reactive – customer care that boosts brand loyalty.
There was a time when offering a good product at a decent price was enough to set a company apart from the competition. Nowadays, in addition to a great product at an affordable price, the modern consumer demands superb customer service. In other words, businesses can no longer afford to put customer service on the backburner.
And while you’re probably aware of the importance of providing high-quality customer service, understanding it and implementing it are two different things. So how can you set your business up to provide outstanding customer service without having to revamp entire departments? It’s just a matter of a simple culture shift: rather than taking a reactive approach to your customers’ needs, start taking a proactive one.
Anticipate the Needs of Your Customer to Provide Exceptional Customer Service
Reacting quickly and properly to customer needs plays a huge role in ensuring a satisfactory customer experience.
But remember, you don’t want your customers to have a merely satisfactory experience — you want to provide exceptional service. In order to bridge the gap between “Good” and “Great,” you should be as proactive as possible in anticipating your customers’ needs.
By demonstrating proactive customer service (rather than simply reacting to support issues), you’ll show that you are customer-focused, and are always striving to deliver an amazing customer experience. This maximizes customer loyalty and increases the long-term value of your customers as they continue to engage with your business instead of seeking competitors.
Still not convinced? Take a look at some of the follow statistics on customer loyalty:
- Companies lose 71% of consumers due to poor customer service
- A 5% increase in customer retention can lead to an increase in profits of 25%-95%
- 47% of customers would take their business to a competitor within a day of experiencing poor customer service
With these figures, it’s easy to see why it’s in your best interest to keep your existing customers happy and connected with your brand.
Of course, if your business is accustomed to addressing customer needs as they arise (rather than anticipating and mitigating those needs beforehand), it can be difficult to adopt a proactive approach. With that in mind, here are a few ways you can begin implementing proactive customer service strategies.
Record Support Issues and Watch for Emerging Problems
Ideally, your business should maintain a record of any customer interaction. At a bare minimum, you should have a recordkeeping system in place for any customer care issues that arise over time. Any time you see a spike in customer complaints in a particular area, it’s a safe bet that multiple customers are facing the same issue with your company.
There are a lot of great services that are a breeze to implement and easy to use. Trello, for example, allows you to organize the feedback you receive into “boards,” giving your whole team a big-picture view of the most common issues your customers are reporting and helping them figure out how best to attack those issues.
Another great option is Asana, which allows users to assign tasks to the right team members, ensuring that small customer issues won’t slip through the cracks and become big ones down the road.
It’s also crucial that your whole team – whether or not their job function is specifically focused on customer service – remains in communication to ensure that issues are being addressed as promptly as possible. (Slack, for example, is a great communication tool that can be used internally as well as externally to make clients a part of the team).
Studies have shown that only 4% of dissatisfied customers reach out to a company to voice their complaints; in other words, for every customer who tells you they’re unhappy, there are likely 24 others who are equally as unhappy – they just haven’t said anything about it. What’s worse, 91% of customers who have a bad experience with a company won’t want to do business with that company ever again.
Unless you have a system in place to record customer interactions, you could be losing untold amounts of business without even realizing it. And once those interactions are recorded, you need to be sure you have the right tools in place to address their concerns as quickly and efficiently as possible.
If your business is web- or computer-based and customers are having issues, you may want to consider using screen recording. Screen recording works both ways: customers can use it to show – rather than tell – your team the issues they’re encountering, and your team can use it to demonstrate to your customers what steps they need to take to make the most out of your product.
This helps your team members to provide thorough, comprehensive customer service while saving themselves – and your customers – a lot of time and frustration. Your customers will appreciate having their concerns addressed more quickly, and the less time your team members have to spend walking your customers through a process, the more time they can spend on what’s really important: proactive service.
A proactive approach helps put the odds in your favor. By seeking out customers to ask about their experience, you’ll be able to quickly detect potential problems affecting other customers. And when one of those issues arises, you’ll be in a position to contact your customers, acknowledging the problem and notifying them that the situation is being handled.
Never Stop Improving
It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you’re providing your customers with a great product or service that makes them happy.
But that doesn’t mean you should rest on your laurels after you receive a kind word from a satisfied customer.
There’s a key difference between the companies that simply survive and the ones that thrive:
A willingness to find new ways to make their customers happy.
While it’s crucial to anticipate and mitigate any customer issues ahead of time, it’s also important to anticipate their “nice-to-haves”: the things that they’d like to see from your product or service that you may not yet provide.
Look to Your Best Customers for Guidance
Take a look at your top 3 user groups and brainstorm how to improve your service or product for them. For example, Freshbooks recently updated their product to include automatic reminders for invoices (a long-awaited feature for freelancers). And while Freshbooks users were still happy with their experience without this update, they’re even happier that the company proactively offered a solution.
Ask yourself what features or issues your customers would utilize to better meet their needs; otherwise, it’s just a matter of time before a competitor comes along with all the features your customers didn’t know they wanted.
Schedule Important Dates for Your Customers
Depending on your industry, there are likely certain dates or times of year that are busier than others. For example:
- Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas are important dates for flower shops.
- April is a peak time of year for tax preparation services, CPAs and Accountants.
- Certain conference dates are important for marketing companies.
Show that you’re anticipating your customers’ needs by letting them know weeks in advance that you’ll be available when they need you most.
Most importantly, make sure you provide additional support during peak times; keeping customers waiting when things are most stressful for them is a surefire way to disappoint them – and to lose them.
Always Have Enough Staff Scheduled
Your company might be well-known for having the friendliest employees in your industry.
But no matter how friendly those employees are, your customers won’t be happy if they have to wait ages for service. Can you blame them?
No one wants to stand in long lines, wait more than a few minutes for service, or spend time trying to find a salesperson that can assist them with a purchase. If your business is understaffed, it’s almost guaranteed that your customers won’t be completely satisfied.
And when customers aren’t completely satisfied, your company loses both today’s business and tomorrow’s. In a 2014 survey by Parature, 65% of consumers said they’ve cut ties with a brand over a single poor customer service experience.
Of course, you also have to make sure you’re not overstaffed; otherwise, you’re wasting money that could be better spent elsewhere. Again, take a proactive approach: review your business data to determine your busiest weekends and holidays and make sure you have enough team members available for those peak dates. If your peak times are too unpredictable to put together a solid schedule you may want to consider leveling customer service interactions by requesting that customers make an appointment for support (think Apple’s Genius Bar). By leveling the interactions, you can control how many customer service interactions your team will take on at any given time. This reduces stress for your team and your customers and allows your team to provide each customer with the top-notch service they expect.65% of consumers have cut ties with a brand over a single poor customer service experience. Click To Tweet
The Benefits of Proactive Customer Care
Above all else, customers want to feel cared for – they want to feel that they matter… In fact, a McKinsey survey found that 70% of buying experiences are based on how customers feel they’re being treated. When you go out of your way to provide special care to your customers, they’ll remember it – and they’ll respond by giving you their business and remaining loyal in the future.
Proactive customer care leads to happy and loyal customers. It’s the reason a customer will drive 20 minutes to an ice cream shop where the staff is friendly and great with their children instead of going to the one right down the street that’s run by an old curmudgeon. It’s the difference between a customer choosing a groomer who gives their pet treats and one that is cheaper and easier to get to. It’s worth repeating: incredible customer service and care is the new differentiator.
By offering proactive customer care, you’ll also enjoy the following benefits:
It doesn’t feel great to let a customer down, and no one is more aware of that than your support staff.After all, these employees are on the front lines of every customer interaction.
Plus, studies have shown that customer service employees are happier when they’re able to spend more time on meaningful interactions with customers (for example, proactively preempting a problem rather than resolving it after it has already negatively affected the customer.)
Fewer Support Requests
The modern customer wants control. They want to be able to choose where they sit on a flight, or how much data they have on their cell phone plan per month. And a lot of this control comes from the amount of information you make available to your customers.
When you make it easy for your customers to access the information they need, you give them this feeling of control.
Best of all, by proactively providing this information, you give your customers the ability to troubleshoot and solve problems on their own, which frees up your support staff to handle more advanced customer issues.
Positive Reviews & Feedback
Customers who are happy with the service or product you provide are more likely to let you know than customers who aren’t – as long as you ask. A vital component of proactive customer care is a willingness to ask for feedback; not just when you’re solving a problem, but after positive interactions, as well.
The benefits of soliciting feedback are threefold: your customers will feel valued, your employees will be happy to know they’ve done a good job, and you can use the feedback you’ve received in future marketing initiatives.
Strategies for Implementing Proactive Customer Care
Focusing on customer care will definitely help your business in the long run.
But while it’s great to think about potential future strategies, many businesses get caught up between the planning and action stages, and the customer experience suffers as a result. Here are a few ways you can get started immediately:
Automate New Feedback by Requesting it Through Email
Sending surveys by email can be a great way of getting feedback. Not only is it a chance to get a massive amount of feedback from your customers at a low cost, but you can also get a feel for how engaged your customers are by tracking metrics like opens and click-through rates.
Requesting feedback after a purchase is always a smart idea. Due to what’s known as the endowment effect, people tend to value items more highly once they own them, which means that you’re more likely to receive positive feedback post-purchase (as long as your product works as advertised).
It’s also important to note that soliciting feedback doesn’t only have to come after a transaction is made. In fact, to demonstrate truly proactive customer service, you should consider requesting feedback after any interaction between your company and your customers. And in some cases, it’s also useful to periodically request feedback from your customers about how they feel your company can improve. By soliciting this additional, high-level feedback, you send a clear message to your customers that your company is always striving to improve; what’s more, you’ll show that you value your customers’ guidance in helping you do so.
When requesting feedback, you can also use the Ben Franklin effect to your advantage. In short, the Ben Franklin effect demonstrates that when you ask someone for a favor, they tend to like you more. In fact, the Ben Franklin effect also shows that people are more likely to help out (in this case, by offering feedback) when you’re not offering something in return. So rather than offer an incentive for their feedback (for example, by entering their name into a drawing for a free product or service), simply let your customers know how useful their input will be in helping your company grow and improve. In order for the Ben Franklin approach to be most effective, make sure you frame your feedback request as a favor. Not only will they be more likely to respond, but they’ll also think more favorably of your company because of the way you asked.
To maximize the number of people who respond to your request for feedback, there are a few simple things that you can do to optimize the process.
- Go to your email marketing tool, such as AWeber, Campaign Monitor or MailChimp.
- Add an additional email requesting feedback whenever a purchase is made or whenever someone has contacted your support center.
- Make use of tags to personalize your email subject line and message to improve your open and response rate.
- When asking for input, make sure to emphasize the benefit to your customers. In some cases, you can demonstrate you understand the value of their time by pointing out that their feedback will be used to improve their experience. (This is where the Ben Franklin effect comes into play.)
- Studies have shown that 41% of emails are opened on mobile devices; therefore, it’s crucial that your email and survey are mobile-optimized to ensure the highest response rate possible.
- Feel free to use the following text as a template for your feedback request (or take a look at the examples below for some additional ideas):
Thank you for your purchase — we really appreciate your business. We want to make sure you’re completely satisfied with your experience, and we’d love to hear from you on how we did. Please take a moment to fill out the survey; a positive customer experience is our goal, and any feedback you can provide will go a long way to ensuring that we continue to completely satisfy our customers.
Leave Feedback To Help Us Better Serve You
Thank you again and have a great day!
Get Your Whole Team on Board (and on the Same Page)
Every member of your team should understand the importance of proactive customer care; more importantly, your support team should have a uniform, consistent approach to customer interactions and customer service.
(Not sure where to get started? Groove has written an Ultimate Guide to Customer Service Training– feel free to use it with your team.)
Get Hands on With Social Media
The Pew Research Center found that 58% of Americans perform online research about the products and services they’re considering purchasing, and social media plays a huge role in that research. In order to stay on top of what your customer base is thinking, you need to engage with your customers on social media.
The easiest way to do this is by using a social media monitoring platform like Hootsuite. If you haven’t been monitoring social media, add two columns in your Hootsuite search: one for mentions of your company, and one for mentions of your products. Then, go back two full weeks and respond to every mention of your products, services, and your brand.
Once that’s done, assign a team member to check Hootsuite multiple times a day for mentions of your company or product so they can answer as quickly as possible. And while you’re in Hootsuite, be sure to schedule the next week’s worth of posts; social media offers a free way to connect with your customers, but you’ll only get out of it what you put into it.
Use Help Desk Software
If you aren’t already using software to track your online support and feedback, give Groove a shot. Groove’s helpdesk software is incredibly easy to use: it seamlessly integrates with your email accounts and gives you the ability to add tags, track individual team members’ customer success rates, and easily monitor open issues to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.
Take Action on Your Feedback
- Gather all of the feedback you already have and put it into a spreadsheet.
- Make a column labeled “Theme” in the spreadsheet; as you go through the feedback, note the general theme (for example, long wait times, slow response to customer inquiries, etc.) it falls under.
- When you’re done, identify the most common themes and write proactive solutions to handle these issues for all of your customers.
Putting your customers first means making a change in how you run your business, train your team, and handle support. The tips in this article are just the beginning of the journey to building a customer-centric company, but it’s an adventure you have to take to stay relevant to modern consumers’ needs.
Organize your team, and start asking “What’s best for the customer?”, and you’ll be well on your way.