Let's be honest – given the choice, would you prefer to use using the self-service checkout in your local store? Would you choose to interact with the computer which scans your shopping and insists that there’s an “unexpected item in the bagging area”? Thought not. We'd probably all prefer to use a checkout with a real, live, human being, who can make some friendly small talk and will also pack your bags.
It’s difficult to argue that technology hasn’t improved so many different aspects of our lives. But when big corporations turn to technology to help with customer interactions, their main motivation is usually cost reduction. Often, this can make it harder – not easier – for customers to get what they want.
But small and medium businesses (SMBs), face slightly different challenges. The new wave of customer support means that businesses, no matter the size, are moving away from cutting corners on support costs. Instead, businesses are seeking to provide personalized, low-barrier support that makes customers successful. For SMBs, whose resources are often more limited, increased investment in support must be considered carefully in order to achieve the best value for the business and improve customer experience.
So can technology actually improve customer relationships for both SMBs, and their customers?
Understand customer context
It’s almost impossible to understand why your customer is interacting with you before the conversation starts. But being armed with the relevant contextual information makes this conundrum much easier to solve. Have they shopped with you before? Which make and model of product did they buy? Is it still under warranty?
By placing all of this information at your team’s fingertips, they can save time collecting basic details from customers, and get straight to solving their problems. By the same token, not every customer inquiry can be resolved with just one call or one email. Technology can make interactions feel more seamless by saving customers from explaining their story again every time they get in touch.
Think about what you need to achieve with each customer interaction, and look for technology that can help you do this. Some considerations might be:
- Are you collecting information on the context of your customers’ inquiries?
- Do your customer service agents have fast, easy access to information that can help them resolve customer inquiries?
- Can they update and share that information with other business departments?
Deliver personal service at scale
The main problem with self-service checkouts and automated phone lines (apart from the fact that they often don’t work as expected), is that they treat customers like numbers. Nobody wants to feel like a statistic, and often this is why customers choose to shop with SMBs rather than big corporations.
Using technology to support customer relations doesn’t have to mean standardization and automation. For example, you can take inspiration from Apple’s customer support. To save customers hassle and reduce the number of incoming calls, Apple has a simple form for customers to complete to request a callback at a time that suits them. Set up your customer database to remember key events and dates, and personalize customer communications based upon what they have browsed or bought in the past.
Consider how you might be able to delve deeper into your customer’s activities. For instance:
- Are you using technology to understand how the same customers interact with your website and contact points across computer, mobile, tablet, and other channels?
- Are you using interactions to find out more about what your customers are interested in and how they prefer to interact with you? Clever widgets mean you can conduct micro-surveys and continue to tailor your customer experience.
Stop firefighting, start anticipating
They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. It’s easy to assume that customers who don’t contact you are satisfied with the products or services they are receiving – until they suddenly start shopping elsewhere. We’re all familiar with the statistic that it’s 5 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one, so the key is in anticipating what your customers expect from you.
As an SMB, there are only a limited number of hours in the day, and it can be easy to get sucked into the trap of spending the most time on the customers who shout the loudest. But not all customers will tell you where you are going wrong. Technology can help reduce churn by letting you proactively engage with customers who haven’t spoken to you in a while, or that send off warning flags.
There are many tools that can help you stay connected with your customer in various ways; for example:
- Clever CRM tools enable your team to set up filters to stop customers falling off the radar. Automatically nudge customers who haven’t logged in or used your product in a while to find out where you’re going wrong.
- If customers are searching through your support documentation, but don’t contact a support agent, you can automatically send them a follow-up message to check that they were able to get their issue resolved.
Customers want to help themselves
Technology has already changed how your customer shops. Customers search online, make buying decisions, solve problems, look for self-service options and get to know businesses they want to shop with online. Post-purchase, they will often search Google, read forums, and review support information that you have posted online before even considering getting in touch for help with an issue they’re experiencing.
If your company serves an older customer demographic, this is becoming even more relevant – self-service is not just being driven by younger consumers. A Forrester study showed that consumers aged between 59-69, and the over 70s were the two groups with the highest growth in self-service usage.
Make sure you understand your customer and give them the tools to help themselves. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are your FAQs complete and up to date? Honestly?
- Does your customer team have search filters set up to help them identify forums or other online channels where your customers are seeking help with your products and services?
- Do you have tutorial videos or walkthroughs to help customers resolve common issues themselves?
The increasingly “always on” nature of consumer culture is changing the way that customers want to interact with companies, and creating new opportunities for companies to be more responsive. But ultimately, technology alone won’t improve your customer service. It’s critical that companies look to combine logic, feedback, training, and their own in-depth knowledge of their business with technology in order to build a lasting customer relationship.