Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last 15 years, it’s clear the way the world communicates has shifted greatly to depend on digital channels. More than 25 percent of the world’s population is now on Facebook, and Twitter has left an indelible mark on presidential politics. More than 70 percent of Americans have a smartphone in their pockets, and for most, a call is not the preferred way to communicate.
An evolution is occurring — maybe even a revolution — in what consumers want when it comes to customer service channels. A recent study reveals that 14 percent of consumers want to connect with customer service representatives through email, and 9 percent want to connect through a mobile app. While those figures aren’t earth-shattering, they do mark a definitive change.
Unsurprisingly, the channels and technologies people are using to interact with companies — especially social media — are the same ones they’re using to interact with the rest of the world: “It is totally reshaping the way organizations communicate,” says Andrea Goldberg, an industrial psychologist and president of a U.S. digital consulting agency. Thus, it’s the job of customer service teams to meet their customers on the channels most comfortable for them.
Unfortunately, many of these teams are playing catch-up with recent advances, thereby forcing customers to use outdated and unwanted channels to resolve complex issues. The teams that figure out how to smartly integrate tech into their customer service will have a powerful means to connect with customers and build brand loyalty.
The polite and helpful machines of the future
Consider Salesforce and its latest innovation: improving customer service with its recent creation of Einstein, artificial intelligence that lets developers add features (like image recognition and language processing) to its customer relationship management apps. Einstein is broken down into three components, two of which — “Sentiment” and “Intent” — help users better understand how their respective contacts are feeling “before even opening a message or reading a customer review by classifying the text in the messages.”
Salesforce is not alone in its movement: Customer service technologies are racing to maturity, and soon consumers will demand the speed, convenience, accuracy, and accommodation that real-life reps can’t offer. With that in mind, here are four strategies to shift customer service in a more digital direction:
1. Know how your customers communicate. According to an aforementioned study, 43 percent of Millennials want to connect over social media. If your company doesn’t offer customer service through that channel, you alienate a huge segment of consumers.
Consider using tools like Letsclap to help you connect online with customers through messaging apps like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. Ultimately, this allows for a more customized commerce and customer support. Letsclap co-founder Patrice Fleurquin said one of the company’s major clients, Careem (a unicorn startup in the Middle East), is a solid example of how to successfully utilize Letsclap’s platform at scale to handle thousands of conversations via messaging by day.
Your consumers are communicating differently, and it’s time to catch up — these tools make that a little easier.
2. Eliminate the need for service. The more your products meet the wants and needs of consumers, the less service they require. Start to think of service requests as evidence of product flaws. Then, use that data to tweak designs and delivery methods with the goal of reducing the overall volume of common complaints.
To do that in part, replace some of your more outdated communication methods with automation. By 2020, automation is projected to be the way that more than 85 percent of customers interact with businesses, human agents not included. It would seem, then, that now is the prime time to hop on that bandwagon. Maybe stop sending a string of often-unread emails and instead launch a live chat service where customers can get answers or support instantly. Automation doesn’t have to just service your customers. Weave it into your company for internal support and more efficient workflow — it allows for better communication, organization, and collaboration. Nix the watercooler chats or the Post-it note reminders on Frank’s desk; automate tasks and communication instead.
3. Create static forms of service. When you need information, you simply Google the answer, right? Think of your website as the same kind of resource. Stock it full of frequently asked questions, product guides, manuals, and other reference documents that empower consumers to get answers themselves without needing to reach out to customer service.
While these old standbys still do the trick, there’s a new sheriff in town: live chat. Its popularity — and benefits — continue to grow. Live chat can provide automatic routing, document sharing, real-time foreign language translation, agent monitoring, visitor analytics, and more.
A recent survey suggests that 55 percent of Americans who shop online will abandon a purchase if they can’t find quick responses to their questions or qualms. Furthermore, when it comes to superior online customer service, 77 percent of respondents say a company that values their time is of the utmost importance.
Thus, companies using live chat are really hitting the mark. One company, Canyon Bicycles, uses it to communicate with its customers across the globe: The company offers a multilingual chat service that immediately connects foreign customers with appropriate Canyon employees who can speak the respective language. Another company, U.S. Patriot Tactical, uses live chat in a fairly unique way, allowing customers to chat with its customer support reps via text message.
Finally, there’s in-app messaging — those little pop-up bubbles in the corner of your screen when you’re navigating a particular website — which directly responds to what users are doing on the site or in the app. These are incredibly useful service tools, as they’re easy to use and functional within the site.
4. Focus on the big picture. Customer service requests accumulate to reveal meaningful patterns. By tracking and analyzing the most common requests, it’s much easier to begin automating the response. Luckily, myriad apps and products exist to assist your analytics journey. From Kustomer to TeamSupport, use any of these tools to provide customer support, customer interactions, task automation, and more. All the big guns — like Amazon, Netflix, and AT&T, to name a few — recognize the necessity of data to better improve the customer journey. Furthermore, when it comes to analyzing big data, “We always start with the customer experience. That’s what matters most,” says Victor Nilson, AT&T’s senior VP.
It’s time to join the top dogs, who are not just analyzing their customers’ preferences, buying habits, and journeys — they’re also successfully communicating with and supporting their most valued assets.
The key feature of all these strategies is that they’re customer-centric. Rather than focusing on innovations, advances, and large enterprise systems, they focus on real human problems first. It’s only after the points of friction are understood that you can begin implementing technologies that offer seamless solutions.
Jaspar Weir is co-founder and president of TaskUs, the leading provider of customer care and back-office outsourcing to evolving businesses around the world. In 2016, Jaspar appeared on Inc.’s 30 Under 30 list and won the 2017 EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award.