2020 has completely turned the way we live our lives and do business on its head. Almost every sector has been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic in one way or another, and while there is light at the end of the tunnel in the shape of vaccines, it could be a long time before things are back to anything resembling the old normal.
In terms of business, however, the new ways in which we have learnt to adapt and do things is not necessarily a bad thing. In some cases, it has made business operations more streamlined and more productive and helped you to focus on what is important.
As we move forward towards our second year of dealing with COVID, organizations all over the world have to think about how the crisis will continue to affect social, personal and business interactions, events and the products and services that will work well in a post COVID era. The pandemic has continued to be a huge catalyst for change. There is a much greater need than ever before for innovation and fast action.
The changes in customer behaviour will require new or different services and products. There will be the emergence of new markets and businesses, and others, who were once the top of the game, will struggle and falter.
Businesses who want to be successful will need to take a proactive approach and really delve into what it is that their customers want or need. They need to be ready to make these changes quickly and efficiently and to do that requires preparation and planning. Here, we are going to look at some of the things that you should be thinking about when it comes to guaranteeing the very best customer service in a post COVID era.
Up your tech game
We all knew that technology was important in business, and indeed our everyday lives, but the pandemic has really helped to hit home just how lost most of us would be without tech.
Now is the time to look at what we know about how people use technology and how we can use this to our advantage in business.
Start to look at whether your team and your clients have the digital tools that are needed to progress and thrive.
Customers now want to feel like another order or another number in the system. A lack of personalization leaves them feeling out of control in a world that already leaves us feeling out of control. Businesses have to look at ways of incorporating the customer into much more than just the payment of the goods or services, giving them a much greater sense of agency.
This takes many forms. It involves knowing what customers want and giving it to them as soon as possible, while retiring anything redundant or outdated. Keeping your website up to date is one of the most simple ways of doing this, and asking for customer feedback in the forms of email surveys with incentives.
Another thing to consider is the use of Artificial Intelligence, or AI.
Artificial intelligence is rising to the challenge in almost all industries and sectors. With AI, firms from a variety of industries are improving customer experience by accelerating the handling of tasks, gaining more insights into consumer behavior and expectations, and providing new user interfaces to make transactions more comfortable for customers.
Another way of offering outstanding customer service is by using customer relationship management software, or CRM. This enables staff, whether they are all working in the same building, or as is so common now, remotely, to access all of the interactions that a customer has had with a company. This prevents them from having to repeat everything to every person they speak to, which can be incredibly frustrating for the customer, and allows the service agent to see what steps have already been taken and how far the issues have been escalated.
Of course, implementing all of these requires having a quality, reliable IT system and network. If it is experiencing huge periods of downtime or data is not being transferred as it should, you cannot possibly offer the levels of service that your customers demand. The problem is that many companies, especially at the moment when budgets are stretched to breaking point, do not have the human resources that they need to maintain a complicated network, Sure, they might have a bloke on the third floor who can sort out the printers, but are they able to keep up to date with all the technical demands? Probably not. Hiring someone in-house to take care of it all can be expensive, and not always necessary. An alternative to this is outsourcing – having a company that specialised in managed IT services dealing with any issues for you. The benefits of this is that you have access to a highly skilled team of people, usually around the clock, at a much lower cost than it would be to take someone on full-time, in-house.
Create a positive emotional connection
Emotional connections are at the very forefront of society at the moment. With people being forced into long periods of isolation, every interaction needs to be positive, whether that is face to face, on the phone or digitally. Make sure that your business is offering these good experiences.
There is the old customer service saying: ‘the customer is always right’. It is not true; in many cases the customer can be very wrong, but if you act professionally and positively, whether they are right or wrong, you will leave a lasting impression.
A poll showed that almost 85 per cent of people will do business with a brand with whom they have built up a positive emotional connection with. They want their needs to be fulfilled, their problems solved and personalised interactions. Do not be afraid to be informal if appropriate, or use humor.
You could also take it a step further by offering personal touches – sending your best customers or clients a bunch of flowers or a card on their birthday, or offering them a free gift. Give loyal customers a dedicated phone line where they get to ‘jump the queue’. Remember, customer interactions are one of the most powerful forms of marketing. If a customer has a good experience with you, they are going to tell people. If they have a bad experience with you – they are going to tell people.
Move with the times
If you are only offering customer service 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, you need to think about upping your game. We no longer operate in those times – we are a 24/7, 365 world, and you need to be providing around the clock customer service. If people are at work in their own jobs, or are busy caring for their families, they may not have the opportunity to get in touch with you during set times, and this can be frustrating.
We are not saying that you personally need to be on the end of a phone or an email 24 hours a day, or have a team on standby waiting for the odd call or email. However, you can implement tools such as chatbots who can provide automated responses to common questions or problems, or who can direct them to the appropriate channels of support.
It is also something that you could consider outsourcing. Look at remotely hiring a customer service agent from overseas, on a different time scale to you. They can operate an out of office phone line, respond to urgent emails and respond on live chat functions.
Ensure your team are working collaboratively and cohesively
Remote working is set to be a big thing from now on, and while this can be hugely beneficial, it can also make it harder for staff to know what each other are doing and be up to date. Ensuring your team are all ‘singing from the same hymn book’, means you can provide cohesive and consistently good customer service.
It is much more difficult, but far from impossible. Replace your weekly face to face meetings with Zoom or Microsoft Teams meetings, use a workflow management platform or messaging system to deliver news and tasks and check in with your remote staff where possible to see how they are getting on and if there are any problems. However, while it is a good idea to have a flowchart system showing how to escalate queries, it is important to make sure that each query and interaction is seen as individual and is treated as such.
When it comes to business, the customer is always king – or queen. They are literally what drive your business. Without them, there is no business. Whether they are right or wrong, treat them as individuals, give them a consistent level of service and most of all, understand what it is that they need.