Tips for great customer service in the digital age

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We do business and live in an age defined by an expectation of constant access, immediate responsiveness, and instant gratification.

Whether we text, call, or log in, the assumption is a fast reaction and a recognition within minutes; if it takes hours, we get annoyed; spending days waiting is utterly shocking.

The advent of automation, artificial intelligence, and, more broadly, the speed at which information flows across the globe presents a real challenge for what has always been and always will be a challenging task: providing great customer service and understanding what that means in the digital age.

On the one hand, new technologies empower businesses to be more responsive than ever before. Marketing and sales automation, complex search algorithms, and bots allow businesses to cater to this all-access, hyper-responsive environment.

But at what cost?

Automation and A.I. continue to speed up the pace (there’s no dialing it back), which increases consumer expectations while also diminishing person-to-person interactions. When customer service fails to meet consumer demand for all-access-all-the-time, frustration is immediate and the damage to your brand can be widespread.

25 years ago a bad service visit or a customer service call gone wrong was still a one-to-one event. Today, a faulty automated email or website crash can impact hundreds and in some cases, thousands of customers and clients in an instant.

We’re talking customer service gone wrong at scale and with little opportunity to pull it back.

It’s critical to remember that when customer service goes wrong in the digital age, the first place the consumer will turn is to a live person. And how that person handles that interaction can go a long way to making or breaking your business and brand.

It’s funny, though. As things change they also remain the same. While how customer services are rendered has been transformed, the basic tenets of great client service have remained the same.

Be honest. Be a good listener. And be helpful.

The environment has been transformed, for sure, and to help you navigate customer service in the digital age we offer up these tips for your reading pleasure:

Stratify Customer Service Interactions

Every time a customer or client chooses to interact with your brand is important. Treat it as such.

All customer service inquiries are not the same. A customer’s service needs change depending on the nature of the issue and their circumstances at any given moment. Are they in a rush? Are they on their phone in their car? Are they killing time and therefore have time to spare? Are they in dire need of person-person interaction?

All of these situations have their place and you need to build your customer service approach around meeting these diverse circumstances.

A tiered and balanced approach to customer service is critical in the digital age. Here are some ideas to consider if you’re looking to improve customer service:>

  • Tier One: A Resource Library and an FAQ.
    For customers looking for answers to basic questions about your industry or the services you provide, create a library of resources and a list of frequently asked questions they can access at any time without a required log-in.

A resource library replete with quick, one-page tips, case studies, white papers, recorded webinars, instructional videos, and the like is a great all-access, all-the-time customer service tool. A client can hop in, hop out or stay a while; it’s self directed, useful and convenient. Plus, it positions your brand as an industry expert and provides a reason for a customer to return to your website over time.

  • Tier Two: Chatbots.
    Again, when a customer has a more complex question and needs fast access to a live person, installing chatbots on your website is a great way to provide access to your team before they engage in a more involved phone call interaction.

This has to be done the right way, however, and provide access to a live person, ideally. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’re chatting with a live person only to discover the bot is automated and not answering your questions satisfactorily. A.I. has made remarkable strides in its ability to interact with people. And for large enterprises with the budgets for true A.I. capabilities, perhaps a live person chat is less necessary. For smaller businesses with a lower volume of customer service inquiries, live chat is the way to go.

  • Tier Three: Person-to-Person.
    It’s imperative to provide easy access to live client service staff members. When automation flops, and bots don’t do the trick, frustration will mount quickly and you need to provide access to real people to put out the fire and solve any issues that arise.

If you’ve ever gone on a website and had to search for 20 minutes to find an 800 number, you know what we’re talking about here.

Again, the scale and nature of customer service will vary greatly by industry and business size. But one thing doesn’t change: customers are people, and at some point they will need to deal with another person on the phone, via online video or in person.

If you master tiers 1 and 2, the volume and burden on tier three will be diminished naturally. Think about Amazon-their no questions asked return policy, amazing automation and user-friendly technology platform rarely push customers to tier 3 interactions.

When was the last time you spent time on the phone with an Amazon representative? Point is, probably a while ago, but you know they’re there if you need them.

Listen and Respond

Back in the day when all customer service was rendered in person or on the phone, the first thing a customer service rep learned was the importance of listening. An irate customer wants to be heard, and the more you make them feel heard, the better customer service you could provide.

Today, “listening” means something different, although the concept of being a good listener remains the same.

“Listening” might be better categorized today as monitoring. Social media has changed the very nature of customer service. For businesses, monitoring and responding to social media comments and engagement is imperative to the health of your bottom line and the management of your brand.

Don’t get us wrong-when in a live interaction, remaining calm and listening is still key to helping a customer solve a problem. That said, social media is a different animal altogether. Here are some items to consider when providing customer service on social media platforms:

  • Be Strategically Responsive.
    You created social media sites to engage your audience. Every interaction on social media is tantamount to a customer service engagement, and if you treat it as such, engagement will increase and your customer base will be satisfied. Respond to positive and negative commentary strategically.

Not every Tweet or comment needs a response, but some do require a thoughtful interaction. You want to be helpful, you want to indicate you’re listening but you also need to understand when to jump in and when to let sleeping dogs lie.

You’ll need to determine what merits a response on a case-by-case basis and also depending upon your industry.

Remember, in many cases, no response is a response that can hurt your brand.

  • Be Human and Be Consistent.
    When providing customer service on social media, be personable and helpful. Never argue or escalate tension. Remember, strong social media engagement is about making the commenter feel important and listened to. The more human the interaction, the better for the customer and the brand.

Now, being human could be misinterpreted as being individual or unique. While you want your humanity to be evident, customer service needs to be consistent; policies and procedures need to be in place so that customers get uniform answers and responses from your company. Inconsistency is bad customer service.

Stay Balanced

It’s easy to automate and lean on technology for essential tasks. We do this every day, sometimes without even thinking about it.

To provide great customer service in the digital age, a balanced approach is crucial.

Too much tech and automation at the expense of humanity and person-to-person accessibility and engagement is not effective just as a lack of tech and modern customer service platforms makes your organization look out of touch.

Chris Ward of had this to say about the state of customer service in the digital age: “The biggest customer service bugbear in the US, according to Consumer Reports, is…not being able to speak to a real person when we’ve got a problem that needs resolving. 75% of us are ‘highly annoyed’ by the growing trend of self-service as a mode of escalation in customer service departments, the Consumer Reports National Research Center states, while 74% find having disconnected phone calls placed to customer service lines a major issue too.”

When relied upon exclusively for communication, technology creates the illusion of connectivity and engagement. When used as a tool to enhance human, person-to-person connection technology, social media and A.I. provide amazing opportunities to forge and build relationships.

Customer service in the digital age is no different. A balanced approach that doesn’t forget the humanity of all businesses, brands and clients and taps into the amazing power of tech is where every brand and customer want to exist.

Be honest. Be a good listener. And be helpful.

These best practices have stood the test of time. Now, the question is, how will you leverage your resources to best deliver these brand promises to your customers?

If your business needs an online reputation overhaul, put these customer service tips in action.

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