Six ways that digital customer service can be a competitive differentiator

7th Sep 2014

Running a business in the digital age poses new questions when it comes to customer service. The principles have stayed the same, but customers' appetites for a wider variety of support channels and responsiveness have grown significantly. Historically, with letters, customers would expect a response within 3-5 days but now that period has shrunk to a few hours, or less.

For many customers, the telephone is still the first port of call, but there is now an array of self-service and digital channels which could greatly assist you in providing first-class customer care. Starting with your website, each point of contact is important to your customer and dealing with queries and complaints is sometimes one of the only opportunities we get to differentiate ourselves. How we react to issues and resolve their questions is what could differentiate you from your competitors.

Here we look at some possible additions to further enhance your customer care procedures:

1. Well-structured website. Websites are usually the first place a customer will look, even if it's just to find information or to locate a phone number or email address. Your website should not only look smart and reflect your business' branding, it should be easy to navigate and simple to use.

How this can help: A well-structured website allows people to use self-service and also allows you to get feedback from customers on what you can do to improve and serve them better. As the start of a customer's experience with you company, its essential your website offers the information they need in an immediate and straightforward way.

2. Virtual assistant. Represented by a human figure or avatar, this is more than just a search engine box which pops up on your homepage. You can interact and guide customers to the right information.

How this can help: A virtual assistant helps customers to find the information they are looking for in an intelligent and user-friendly manner.  It can improve your customer experience, answering their queries as well as offering a more targeted, simpler to use approach than a standard FAQ. This real-time response can provide a more personalised service.

3. FAQ. Every business with a website should have a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page that includes simple responses to the most common questions. Start by analysing your customer service logs and list the main type of queries you deal with and update this as your business grows or changes.

How this can help: A well written FAQ can resolve a great deal of customer enquiries. Your customer receives efficient service and all they need do is click a few buttons to resolve their problem, regardless of the time of day.

4. Social media. From Twitter to Facebook, the rise of social media is unstoppable but you don't need to be a tech whizz to make use of these for your business.

How this can help: Bring people onto your social media page so they can engage with your brand, keep them informed and ask them for their feedback. By giving your customers the chance to interact with your company on a medium that is innately conversational, they'll benefit from a sense of personal connection - helping to bolster your relationship.

5. Live chat. An instant messenger box, accessed through your website with someone answering queries in real time.

How this can help: A live chat function is a brilliant way to give customers the help they need almost immediately with an advisor on hand when the customer needs them. Convenience messaging is of great benefit to your customers who'll walk away with a sense of a job done well and efficiency. This option may require more of an initial outlay in terms of time and money, but if you have the resources, it could prove to be a huge improvement to your customers' experience.

6. A combination of the above. 20 years ago it was easy. Customers contacted you by phone (or even post!) and that was that. In the digital age, people have become accustomed to having options when it comes to getting in touch with a business. The above routes, along with the ever popular email and telephone, can be combined to form a multichannel way of giving the customer what they need in a way that suits them. Depending on your size, offering all of these things may not be possible, but it's certainly worth looking into.

Adam Koffler is managing director customer experience at FedEx Express Northern Europe, Middle East and Africa.

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