For businesses, customer support is on the cost side of the ledger, not the revenue side.
This does not have to be so, especially not now, when so many digital options are available – digital options that not only resolve customer issues and needs but also serve to increase customer satisfaction.
Satisfied customers return. And, so with the right strategies in place, customer service can actually lower costs and boost revenue at the same time.
A multi-faceted approach is still necessary
There are four generational groups that are consuming products and services today – baby boomers, Gen X’ers, millennials, with Generation Z just coming into the consumer market.
Of these four groups, three are so digitally wired that everything they do involves their devices. Baby boomers use devices, of course, but they also expect more face-to-face or voice-to-voice customer service. For this group, and for issues that cannot be resolved digitally, you want to use live customer service representatives. And if you're a small company that wants to look big, use a mail forwarding address in promiment cities where you do not have a physical office. For Gen X’ers, there is a combination of digital and live person demands.
But for millennials, who now number 80 million in the U.S. alone, and who are forecast to spend about $200 billion by 2017, the picture is very different. This generation, and those that follow, will not tolerate slow phone calling, multiple prompts, and the need to re-explain the issue with each new communication. In a recent survey, 77% of millennials stated that they want their issues to be carried over across channels, and almost 50% want online solutions.
Ultimately, the need for live customer service reps will gradually decline, as technology provides more and more customer service solutions.
As that happens, here are four strategies that can get customer service out of that “cost side.”
Employ the right people
Customer service representatives have to be seen as an asset that can increase revenue.
Good ones have been trained, are knowledgeable about all facets of the company and its products and services. They are able to give the customer precise information in a way in which that customer can understand and then act.
If you have ever had to call tech support and follow the instructions of a live person, you understand the importance of well-trained individuals who can explain things in lay language.
Ultimately, productivity improves and customer service costs decline.
An additional aspect of customer service is the concept that customer service personnel also become salesmen of sorts. They are trained to offer additional products/services based upon the customer issue or interest. Time Warner Cable is a prime example. When engaged with a customer on a live chat feature, the rep can push web pages to a customer’s browser to offer suggestions for additional purchases. The rep is thus in control of what the customers are seeing on their screen.
Move to a self-service model as much as possible to reduce costs
Even baby boomers will use self-service solutions if they are effective, easy-to-use, and successful.
Obviously, over time, self-service customer service reduces costs. Unlike employees, digital solutions do not demand a regular paycheck and benefits. There may be costs related to refining, updating, etc., but these are pretty minimal in comparison. And when customer service reps don’t have to respond to the same questions over and over again, fewer of them are needed. According to this post here, in the real estate industry for instance, further cost reduction occurs when a company opts for cloud technology, as costs of hardware are eliminated.
In 2004, Humana Military (branch of Humana, Inc. Health Care) launched the beginning of self-service by routing customer calls to digital solutions via voice activation of specific keywords. This was successful enough that it continued to expand self-service options to its huge array today. In performing an analysis of its savings, the company has estimated that the average customer service call to a live agent averages $5.25. The self-service approach, costs about $0.20.
Employ multi-channel support
Most large companies today have a system for receiving a customer support ticket and beginning a digital history of the incident, so that ensuing contacts from a customer regarding the same problem do not require starting from the beginning again.
These systems continue to need improvement, however, and are only as good as the representative who is adding the notes for each contact.
The other aspect, as we move toward more self-service, is that customers who begin a self-service solution on one device, should be able to continue that endeavor on any device.
Again, this is simple and easy by assigning a ticket number to each incident that customers can use to re-access and take up where they left off.
Dump a tiered support system as much as possible
One of the biggest complaints of customers is that their customer service experience is a bit like being placed on a loop that never ends.
They are passed along a line of agents and departments, in the hopes that the solution may be found in the next department. This is bad business, results in a high level of dissatisfaction, and can get a business trashed on social media quite quickly. According to consumers, customer service agents fail to resolve their issues 50% of the time.
Most people would rather have a root canal than call customer support. You need to do whatever possible to at least turn it into a small filling.
It may be worth to cross-train their reps so that no matter where a customer lands, there is a better shot for an issue to be resolved by a single interaction.
Two goals of customer service
The top priority is obviously customer satisfaction.
This mean no long waits on a phone and no being passed around to multiple agents/departments. More important, it means that customers can increase their ability to get self-service solutions that are available to them around the clock and through easily understandable instructions and steps.
Again, video will increasingly become the answer.
The second goal is to reduce the costs of customer service and, in fact, to turn customer service into a revenue-producing operation. This will obviously be an outgrowth of the first goal.
Moving to self-service solutions means a smaller customer support department. And greater customer satisfaction translates into greater customer loyalty.