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customer service skills

[INFOGRAPHIC] The Top 10 Customer Service Skills You Need to Have

By | Customer Service, Guest Posts, Infographic | No Comments

 

This guest post is written by Matthew Olszewski, a Polish writer who covers topics surrounding personal development, psychology and business. 

If you want to stand out from your competition, it isn’t enough to have a high quality product. Many companies have realized the fact that the market isn’t as important as the customers. In addition, the present market is maturing, and acquiring new customers is getting harder. Therefore, it is more profitable to retain existing customers than to acquire new ones. According to experts, maintaining a loyal customer costs a company much less than acquire a new one. These costs are mainly related to marketing, selling and adapting to meet new customer needs. Losing customers means losing not only losing their profits from one transaction, but all purchases which he could make in the future.

Gaining customer loyalty is something very precious. Satisfied customers that are associated with the company for many years, should be the ultimate goal of any company’s activities. This approach is increasingly characterized by forward-thinking companies. Even small entrepreneurs see an opportunity for additional earnings the more they care about their customers.

Each employee should be able to create and satisfy customer needs. However, not every employee is fit to work with customers. The person who is responsible for the company’s relationships with customers, should have the appropriate knowledge, skills and a high work ethic. The following infographic made by mattsfactor.com represents the most basic customer service skills. This is obviously a small part of knowledge that as an entrepreneur you should know. I hope that the tips on presented infographic are so practical that you will be able to use them immediately.

customer service skillsCredit: Matthew Olszewski

Customer Service Infographic via Matt’s Factor

Why Digital Customer Service must Balance Automation & Human Connection

By | Automation, Bots, Customer Experience, Customer Service, Guest Posts, Miscellaneous | 2 Comments

This guest post is written by Stephan DelbosEditor & Content Manager at Brand Embassy.

The hype surrounding Facebook’s chatbot announcement made it seem like some people were envisioning a Transformers-like takeover of customer service by bots. The introduction of chatbots into digital customer service is great because bots are fast and very efficient. But humans still have a huge role to play in customer service and always will. It might be less dramatic than a chatbot coup d’état, but the future of customer service lies in the balance between automation and human connections. Knowing the undeniable advantages of chatbots and making use of them, while also giving human agents the freedom to connect with customers will be the key to providing responsive, personalized service that delights customers and inspires their loyalty.

Many commentators look back on pre-internet customer service as the good old days, with real people helping people and developing long-term relationships. The internet, the narrative goes, put up a wall between brands and customers, making digital customer service potentially faster, but far less personal. The solution to that conundrum certainly isn’t to stop using technology — chatbots and digital customer care can be key differentiators, because they allow brands to streamline and simplify customer service at scale.

But we’ve reached a tipping point, when everyone is starting to realize the importance of customer experience, and that brands need to step out from behind that digital wall. 83% of U.S. consumers prefer dealing with human beings over digital channels to solve customer services issues, according to new research from Accenture. It’s not that technology is suddenly useless. On the contrary, chatbots and advanced customer service technology are more important than ever before. In fact, the smartest brands will actually use automation to put the human back into the customer service equation.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

We love technology and we’re big fans of innovation. Anything that could possibly help brands serve their customers better sounds fantastic to us. But technology alone can’t provide excellent customer service, because customers want personalized human connections. That’s why 52% of consumers have switched brands in the past year due to poor customer service, which includes brands that made it difficult to get in touch with a human customer service agent. Bots are invaluable, especially when customers also have the opportunity to speak with an empathetic, responsive human.

Think of the popular stories you’ve heard about great customer service, from Zappos to Netflix or Hilton. It’s hard to imagine these being orchestrated by chatbots alone. But it’s also hard to imagine this extraordinary level of customer service being possible if agents didn’t have advanced technology at their fingertips.

The advantages of automation in customer service are too large to ignore. We have the technology, so why not use it? The key is knowing when to use automation and when to rely on humans. Doing so requires a clear-eyed consideration of what humans do best, and what should be left up to bots.

What should be automated?

Great customer service in the 21st century just isn’t possible without technology. Chatbots have all the advantages of computers: they’re fast and they’re rational. In the future, contact centers will take advantage of all that chatbots have to offer, but will only rely on them to do the things they’re best at, the 1st-level contacts for repetitive questions and issues that are easy to solve. There are exciting opportunities for brands who know how to make automation work for them.

As a basic bottom line, all brands should offer proactive live chat. Automated chatbots will seek out customers browsing the website and contact them based on what they are looking at. This kind of proactivity has positive effects on sales and customer satisfaction, but is often too much of a burden for human agents to take on, especially when there are many customers and a small team. Bots can free agents to do more important things.

Intelligent ticket routing is another vital feature of automated customer service. Intelligent routing, particularly in digital customer service where expectations for quick response and personalization are high, is a great way to utilize the best of both worlds. Brands have automation to select the best possible customer service agent, and a human touch to personalize the experience. It’s a question of using technology to lead customers to human agents if and when they need it.

What needs a human touch? 

In the future, human agents will focus on complex issues, and will use their emotional intelligence and instinct whenever they can. Essentially, technology will take care of the technical stuff, freeing up human agents to do what they do best. This will be a systematic change in the way we think about and execute digital customer service.

To cultivate the human touch in digital customer service, brands have to do three things:

  • Recognize the importance of empathy
  • Make personal connections
  • Provide repeat contact points

83% of American customers who have switched brands say that better live or in-person customer service would have inspired them to stay. Customer service should be less about “satisfying” customers and more about moving them smoothly through the service experience time after time. But even earlier, before making a sale, chatbots can get in touch with the customer and guide them along. Bots take care of the easily solvable problems, leading customers to qualified agents who can then develop and sustain relationships with customers over time, which means increased loyalty and distinguishing customer experience.

It’s time we brought humans back into customer service, but that doesn’t mean abandoning technology. Brands that achieve a balance between automation and human connections will succeed by utilizing the advantages of technology without neglecting age-old human contact.

About the Author

Stephan Delbos is Editor & Content Manager at Brand Embassy. He is inspired to bring emotional connections and real experience back into customer service.

 

business texting

Build Customer Retention through Business Texting

By | Customer Service, Guest Posts, Texting | No Comments

This guest post is written by Michael Janowski, Marketing & Brand Manager for Corporate Dynamics, Inc.

A few years ago, I finished my Masters study at Eastern Illinois University in the little town of Charleston, IL. Approaching Charleston from the West, you can see the outline of EIU’s signature building: Old Main Castle. It’s a beautiful site (as any Panther alum will attest). There’s only one thing on the main stretch of Lincoln Avenue that may draw your attention from it: a dancing slice of pizza.

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customer service failures

5 Lessons Learned from Customer Service Failures

By | Customer Experience, Customer Service, Gripes, Guest Posts, Miscellaneous, Self-Service | No Comments

This guest post is written by Erica Strother Marois, the Community Specialist at ICMI

We’ve all been on the receiving end of poor customer service. Long wait times, annoying IVRs, unforgiving return policies, and a lack of channel options can all be maddening. And inevitably, these frustrations spill over to the front line employees. Customer service is more complex and stressful than ever, and ICMI research indicates that the industry is only growing more complicated.

What can customer service leaders do to alleviate stress and improve the customer experience? To answer that, we turn to some of the most infamous customer service failures in recent history. (After all, some of the best insight comes from the biggest failures).

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Business Texting Etiquette: 6 Tips for Writing Great Texts to Customers

By | Guest Posts, Texting | 2 Comments

This post was co-written with Leslie O’Flahavan of E-Write.

Text messaging isn’t just for pushing parking meter reminders or announcing severe weather. Ahead-of-the-curve companies are using text for two-way communication with customers. At a Denver coffee shop, customers can place their orders and pay by text. A large Midwestern university uses a text messaging service to solicit data from people participating in a long-term study on smoking. A technology company enables customers to troubleshoot software problems via text messaging. Members of a trade association can text their questions about membership levels, how to reset their passwords, and more.

While it may be true that almost anyone can write a text – Just left work. I’ll B home by 6:30 – companies that exchange texts with customers must write great texts: clear, readable, and worthwhile. Follow these business texting etiquette tips, and your company will be able to deliver a great customer experience in under 160 characters.

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A Q&A with Ashley Verrill about Proactive Customer Service

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A couple weeks ago, I came across an article from Software Advice called How US Airways Delivers Proactive Customer Service Using Their IVR by Ashley Verrill. I thought that it is spot on with our belief that there has got to be a better way to build phone systems. It gives a lot of great practical tips for anyone who is trying to build out a smart IVR. So we called up Ashley to dig in a little further for our readers. Enjoy!

This was one of the most thorough and helpful “how-to” articles on IVRs that I have read in a long time. What stands out to me is how you detail the processes and measurements that any company can begin implementing now to improve their phone system. What inspired you to write this?

Thank you very much! This topic basically emerged out of a previous article I’d written on proactive customer service that resonated really well with my blog audience. It was really high-level, so with my next article I wanted to drill into one tactic really specifically. I’d read an article about what US Airways was doing with their IVR and thought it would make for an interesting how-to piece for those looking to provide more proactive customer service via their voice response system. It’s not truly proactive service in the sense that’s it’s solving the customer’s problem before they have to reach out to you (or in some cases, before they even know they have a problem), but it was an interesting take on the idea; not to mention just a really cool use of the technology. In general, I see more and more discussions about proactive customer service. I expect it to continue to be a hot topic among customer service / customer experience folks.

There have been companies like GetHuman that have risen up to help people bypass phone trees and get right to a human. Do you see proactive solutions being the answer to people screaming into their phone “operator!” in frustration?

Yes and no. Yes in the fact that systems like US Airways’ immediately recognize the caller by their phone number and suggest a solution based on where they are in the customer lifecycle; so, basically they never have to play around in the IVR, they immediately get the solution they most likely called for. I say most likely, because there are still cases, of course, where the customer deviates from the usual reason why they would call at that time. In these cases, the customer then will have to click through to another option to talk to a live agent, or they might abandon the call altogether, which is not proactive customer service. I said no because proactive customer service in the true sense, as I mentioned, involves reaching out to customers before they have to call you. To be truly proactive, you need more than new software. You need the initiative to look at your customer lifecycle and identify those places where customers are most likely to reach out to you for support, then find ways you can preempt their outreach. Until you do this, the technology will be completely useless to you.

This technology has been around for a couple decades, but it seems that only a handful of companies seem to really do it (like US Airways). For the few proactive IVRs that I have experienced, they have always delighted me as a customer. What do you see as some of the biggest reasons why more companies haven’t implemented this when the effect can be so positive for customer satisfaction?

A couple of reasons. It used to be that customer service was really just seen as a “have to have,” where the goal was to provide the minimal amount possible for solving the customer’s issue in the least costly way possible. Now, companies are realizing more and more the value in increasing customer satisfaction even one percentage point. We are entering the age of the customer experience, which means companies see this as an area of strategic growth, and as a result, investment. Finding ways to solve your customers issues faster is one way to increase their satisfaction. The second reason why I think more haven’t adopted this technology, or at least not in the way US Airways has, is because only recently has speech recognition and Natural Language Processing progressed to the degree to where this technology does really work well. People ask questions in lots of different ways — NLP technology has gotten progressively better by literally learning these variations in the way people talk. This prevents customers from having to repeat their question, or be transferred to an operator when the IVR can’t understand them, which is frustrating. So that’s another reason.

I used to consult with organizations who were focused on improving user experience. What struck me as strange was that marketing and UX departments almost always focused on apps or the web and ignored the phone system which can have as much if not more impact on the brand experience as other mediums. How can proactive phone systems help the brand experience?

I totally agree. Everyone talks about the increase of self service online, but phone is still the most important channel. Not only that, with so much business moving online, the phone experience might be your only chance to have a really personal connection with the customer, so you better make it a good one. These experiences can determine whether or not that person becomes a brand advocate or a detractor. And in the age of social media, word-of-mouth marketing is more important that ever. Customers are paying less and less attention to traditional forms of marketing, while paying more attention to what their friends, family, and social circles say about your brand. Proactive phone systems impact the brand experience in that they demonstrate to the customer how easy (or difficult) it is to do business with you. Another buzzword I hear thrown around a lot these days is “low-effort” customer service. There was a Harvard Business Review article that talked about “Stop trying to delight your customers.” They care more about you reducing the amount of effort it takes for them to get what they want from you. A system like US Airways says to customers that they are really easy to do business with. But again, I really think companies can even take it one step further by proactively pushing information to the customer. For example, one of the most common reasons customers call US Airways is to check on the status of their flight. When a customer calls, the system recognizes their phone number and sees in their purchase history that they have a flight that day, so it proactively suggests providing them an update on their flight to Atlanta that day, or whatever. What if instead, the system just sent them a text message with their flight information, before they even called? I see that as really going above and beyond.

Based on your customer lifecycle section, in our experience they may be calling in for reasons that span many departments (sales, technical support, hr). The person in charge of building the IVR may not be in a position to bring these departments together. What person or role within an organization can help to tie these departments together in order to provide a proactive IVR that becomes multi-departmental?

That’s a really good observation, and to be honest, I don’t think there is one position that launches these kind of initiatives. At US Airways, I talked to the vice president of reservations and customer planning. It made sense that he led the project because his department would be most impacted by customers using IVRs. In other organizations, it might be someone like an IT director or CIO. Or, as I mentioned, a lot of times these purchases come out a of a strategic customer experience project. So it might even be a project manager.

In your section on ROI, you mention some great measurements to determine if the system is doing its job. One that has been of primary concern to many of our customers is simply “have we addressed the needs of everyone who is trying to contact us.” In a proactive system it might be hard to distinguish “they hung up satisfied” vs “they hung up dissatisfied.” Are they any tricks or methods (like surveys) to distinguish between the two?

If someone hangs up before talking to someone, or responding to a proactive offer, this would be considered abandoning the call (I think I mentioned abandonment rate). That’s is bad. That means that the proactive solution you offered didn’t help them, or they just didn’t like the idea of using an automated system — they want to talk to someone. Some people are like that, they just want to talk to someone. As for calls where they do reach a solution, you can ask after the proactive answer is suggested, “Did this provide you what you are looking for?” Then you can easily see in your analytics the percentage of calls where the customer reached the right solution, or they had to be transferred to an agent. Then, of course, there’s always NPS surveys, although I would be really careful about who and how often you send these.

Over the past decade, there has been such a shift within organizations toward reducing the phone and increasing web self-service or web chat. You have effectively shown that there is still a lot of room to innovate on the phone. Is there a renewed trend in improving the phone experience rather than trying to get people away from it?

I don’t know if I’d say renewed, as much as continued. I think most companies recognize that phone will always be a fact of life. I still think there is a lot of companies out there that don’t realize there really is still innovation in this arena, which is another reason why I wanted to write this article.