Delivering excellent customer service relies on your ability to understand your customers, their relationship with you and your brand, and what they need from you.
You can’t do this without understanding how customer service fits into the customer’s lifecycle and buying process. A customer who has a few questions about your return policy prior to purchasing, for example, will have very different customer service needs than a long-term anchor client who had a uniquely horrible experience with your company.
Understanding the customer service lifecycle – because it’s not just about driving new sales, but delivering outstanding service on an ongoing basis – is key, and it’s important to have a good idea of how different mediums play into what your clients need.
And when it comes to customer service, there’s no medium quite as effective or commonly-used as phone service, so let’s take a look at the role of phone support when it comes to the customer service lifecycle.
Why the Phone?
When it comes to customer service, everyone is talking about instant chat options: social media direct messaging, live chat website tools, and chatbots that can be configured to recommend products and process orders for your customers.
While live chat is important (especially when it comes to answering quick, frequently asked questions), the phone still plays an integral role in customer service support that can never truly be replaced. 48% of customers still prefer to communicate with a business over the phone, and 40% of all customers prefer to talk to someone over the phone instead of digital communication methods if there are issues concerning sensitive or secure information.
The phone is still commonly used, and it’s the only method that really allows you to have a personal connection with the customer. Exclamation points only go so far to convey enthusiasm or sincerity online, for example, but hearing empathy or excitement in a customer service rep’s voice can help establish trust and rapport.
The Role of the Phone in the Customer Service Lifecycle
The customer service lifecycle aligns with the traditional buyer’s journey, and includes the following stages:
- Discovery, where they’re researching and considering purchasing from you
- Purchase, where they’re actively purchasing from your business
- Post-Purchase, where they’ve recently made the first purchase
- Loyalty, where the customer has purchased more than once and is considered a repeat client
Customer support will be slightly different for each individual stage. Let’s take a look at how phone calls play an important role in each.
1. Discovery Stage: Education & overcoming objections
Once customers are aware of your brand, product, or service and are considering doing business with you, they’ll likely have questions.
- What is your return policy?
- How exactly does the pricing structure work?
- What if I want something personalized?
- Can you explain what makes your product different?
It’s common for customers to reach out by phone to gain clarification when they’re actively considering purchasing. At this stage, it’s essential to have friendly, knowledgeable customer service reps who can answer these questions without hesitation.
Here’s why this is so important: An average of 1 in 3 people believe that the most important aspect of customer service is speaking promptly to an agent that is both knowledgeable and friendly. And since 64% of customers believe that customer service is even more important than the pricing of a product, you want to show them upfront during the consideration stage that the support piece of the equation is strong and a worthwhile investment.
2. Purchase Stage: Offering support & processing orders
Once customers are ready to purchase, they may call you for help.
This is particularly common in B2B and service-related businesses which often process orders manually and over the phone as opposed to online, but even eCommerce sites will sometimes process orders over the phone – especially if the site is acting up.
Speed is key here. No one wants to spend an hour trying to purchase something, and you don’t want to lose a sale because the call went unanswered. It’s unlikely, once a call is unanswered, that the customer will leave a voicemail or try calling back.
Customer service should be immediate and painless. Train your team – or your answering service – to stay up-to-speed on the quickest ways to process orders. Have them practice in advance so they’re familiar with the system, whether they’re taking a payment, registering callers for an event, or helping to process an order.
3. Post-Purchase Stage: Resolving issues & offering continued support
People are most likely to get in touch with customer service after the initial order. Maybe the package went missing, or the item arrived broken. Or the service failed to deliver on expectations, or they were somehow charged four times for something they purchased once.
These customers are often frustrated, but they’re giving you the opportunity to rectify the issue.
You want your team to be able to quickly pull up purchase history, past communications regarding any issues at hand, and to be able to offer more personalized customer service in order to find a solution that truly works for the caller. This can be key to salvaging a poor customer experience and set the stage for an even longer and happier working relationship.
4. Loyalty Stage: Follow up and receive feedback
Sometimes a proactive approach is best when it comes to customer service, and reaching out to your customers every so often is a great call.
A quick follow-up call can show your high-value customers that you care about their experience and want to hear what they have to say. Ask if they have a minute to chat about the product or service, and ask if there’s anything they need help with or if there’s feedback they’d like to provide.
In addition to keeping you at the forefront of your customers’ minds, and showing that you care, you may also glean some valuable insight that could help you to improve your business.
Keep in mind that an advantage to using the phone for these calls is that people will typically provide more in-depth answers than they would on an email survey, and you can ask qualifying questions based on the conversation with each individual customer.
The customer service lifecycle isn’t about simply picking up the phone and dealing with frustrated customers; it’s complex, and it requires ongoing support for brand new customers and brand loyalists alike.
Remember that the phone offers a personal touch that no other communication channel can match. You can make small talk that fosters a stronger rapport, and actually hear the customer’s voice to better gauge how they’re feeling. You can’t hear a flicker of hesitation over live chat, for example, or increasingly building frustration or excitement, but you can hear it all over the phone.