Consumers often dread customer service, whether it’s calling a “1-800” phone number, filling out an online service form, or chatting with an automated service bot. The advent of digital technology should have made customer service a seamless experience, but instead we’re left with impersonal and dissatisfying experiences when we need help most.
Let’s be real; it’s unlikely a consumer is contacting your customer service department because they are thrilled. More realistically, that customer is stressed, frustrated, and confused. Your representatives are likely dealing with a human ready to explode (or one that may have already vented over their social media channels).
Customer service is a necessary function for all businesses, no matter what product or service you offer. But instead of viewing your customer service function as a responsibility, look at it as a marketing opportunity. To understand how brands can use customer service to better their business in multiple ways, we must first understand its problems.
First, brands often disregard the time inequality of customer service experiences. Time inequality happens when one party spends more time on the issue than the other. While in-person interactions are typically equal (say finding help at a grocery or department store), online interactions usually require a lot more time spent by the customer. By the time a customer has reached a service representative, they’ve typically already attempted some level of DIY trouble-shooting, spent time navigating a robotic customer service line or webpage, and then waited on hold. While a customer spends an hour trying to solve their problem, the service rep can usually remedy the situation within minutes.
Second, companies don’t typically keep detailed records of customer services’ requests due to the volume of assistance provided. It’s obvious that it’s a large amount of data to retain and protect. However, when looking at it from the consumer perspective, that memory and documentation is key for solving and avoiding future problems.
Let’s say a customer is dealing with a persisting technical issue that will require multiple calls to customer service. Each time said problem arises, they must jump through the hoops of getting in touch with a real representative, who then has no history of their experience and must re-navigate the issue. In some cases, a warranty has expired, and companies will charge these customers a fee for the privilege of speaking to a representative. This lack of narrative accumulation is frustrating for customers and results in more time inequality, tipped in the favor of a company.
Finally, brands often forget that providing exemplary customer service should be a necessity, not a bonus, for consumers. Customers have the license to be picky when it comes to where they spend their money, and it’s no longer simply about the quality of the product or service – customer service has become a top factor in decision-making. If users have a bad experience with your brand, there are alternatives that might be more accessible to them in the future. Often, word-of-mouth and online reviews will alert them to bad customer service before they even engage with a brand.
Now that we’ve identified the culprits of poor customer service, what can brands do to raise the bar?
Brands should first invest in a good knowledge base by automating common and simple service requests, such as tracking shipments or recording business hours, and leaving more difficult trouble shooting to the real-life humans.
Develop a record-keeping system and protocol for service interactions so narrative accumulation occurs and is efficient for any team member to access in the future. Invest time and resources into creating fleshed-out troubleshooting guides that capture all common issues and some unique problems, which can be utilized during the DIY-troubleshooting phase of problem solving.
Deploy surveys and feedback forms to better understand user experience and where there is room for improvement. Create programs like automated emails to solicit customer feedback any time they interact with your customer service team.
If you’re in the business of trying to retain customers, consider the reality that neither you nor your customer wanted a problem to begin with. But if you put effort behind leveling out time inequality, implementing narrative accumulation, and ensuring your customer service is the best within your competitor pool (and we don’t mean best of the worst) you will find that good customer service acts as effective marketing for retaining customers and attracting new ones.