There's no question about it - today's customers are more demanding than ever. With an ever-increasing number of channels becoming available to research, compare prices, find deals, purchase, receive and return products and services, retailers must not only deploy the technologies to support an omnichannel world, but deliver the best customer service possible.
Yet, making the digital transformation to meet new customer service demands can be a significant challenge, especially because the landscape is constantly changing, whether that's for consumers or the wholesale and distribution businesses you work with.
Before the Internet, customers had little control over the service experience. Now, with customer review websites like Yelp and other social media platforms, customers can voice their grievances publicly, which could be detrimental to your business's brand. On the other hand, good reviews can be a powerful tool for your ongoing success.
In addition, customers expect a more personalized experience today from whatever channel they choose. Whether that's through newer technologies like online chat, social media, mobile applications, texting or your own website, you need to be prepared to provide personalized customer service from whatever platform they choose and in the time that they expect, otherwise they will move on to a competitor in the blink of an eye.
To effectively do this, you would need to deploy a customer analytics platform that gives you data-driven insight into each customer's personal profile. Customer service representatives should be provided with a detailed view of each customer's: purchasing and return history, product preferences, past customer service interactions, which channels they tend to use most often, as well as real-time information about what inventory is available and where purchases are in the fulfillment process. Many businesses today lack the technology and data to easily provide this information to its staff.
Recently, I was incorrectly charged a $5 cancellation fee from Uber, and found that it was extremely difficult to resolve the issue. While the amount was not significant, the principal (to me) was, and with every click and page view, I became more and more frustrated. I felt that the charge should be refunded, and searched for an easier way to resolve the charge than through the online application, only to find that there was no easy way to resolve it online, and there was no one to call. Long story short, if Uber did have a customer service agent available by phone, I would have been a much more satisfied customer. (Note: Uber, if you are reading this, I submitted an email requesting a credit and have never gotten a response.)
The fact is that your customers in many cases still prefer human interaction as it's often easier to resolve issues that way. And, they want it whenever and wherever they are. However, many customers still complain - often on social media - that they receive inconsistent customer service via the phone because different representatives have varying degrees of knowledge about how to resolve problems, or simply don't put in the effort to provide quality customer service. All too often, customers have to call back multiple times, or end up in the seemingly endless loop of call transfers before they actually find the right representative that understands how to help.
To mitigate this, you should implement intelligent call routing systems that use predictive analytics based on individual customer profiles to guide customers to the representative or department that is most qualified to resolve any issues in a timely manner.
And, you should empower Customer Service Representatives with more latitude to resolve an issue. Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than having to spend 15-30 minutes on the phone, working through an issue with a Customer Service Representative, only to end up having his or her Supervisor, resolve the matter in a matter of seconds.
In short, customers are no longer willing to wait in lines, either literally or on the phone, to get a reasonable solution to a problem. If they have to, they will move on.
While ecommerce continues to grow, some customers do still like to go into brick-and-mortar stores, so you need to provide your Sales and Customer Service Associates with all of the same data and technologies that your online Customer Service Representatives or Call Center Associates have. By providing mobile devices or kiosks that can access each customer's personal profile, and real-time visibility into available inventory and the supply chain, you can provide customers with the same experience as they have come to expect online.
With so many options literally at your customers' fingertips, you must modernize your customer service processes and the technologies that underpin a successful omnichannel strategy. However, this can require a significant up-front investment that is a major challenge for many businesses with limited budgets.
Another option that you should consider is partnering with a consulting and outsourcing firm that is steeped in the industry and has the required technical expertise and human resources in order to remain competitive in the increasingly fast-paced and rapidly evolving world of retail and CPG.
The Customer Service Experience is a critical part of your sales and revenue capture processes. New technologies have made it much easier to reach out and touch customers in a variety of ways. But some companies have gone too far into the technology world, and have essentially dropped the human experience part of it. And others remain mired in an old-fashioned world of Customer Support, lacking the tools, technologies and data analysis to effectively reach the consumers who want to touch and be touched electronically. There is a “happy medium”, where you provide the tools and resources that new generation consumers prefer, while still providing an option for interpersonal communication. Finding the right balance is the key.
The bottom line is that companies need to understand who their target customers are and how they prefer to be interacted with. Then they need to define the correct strategy to interact with them, and make the appropriate investments to get them there. The strategy you establish for your Customer Service Experience will define who you are to the consumer market. And that definition translates into sales and profits, and a brand reputation that lasts well beyond the clicking and calling that customers do.