“Customer expectations are at an all-time high. Every time someone goes to a coffee shop and gets a work of art drawn into the foam of their drink, it gets shared all over to the point where maybe it isn’t good enough to just make a decent latte anymore.”
-Dave Mason, PATLive
The ways customers engage with businesses today are more numerous and personalized than ever. In the past, small businesses stood apart from larger competitors by their ability to deliver a unique, human service experience. Since consumers’ preferred channels of communication have, rightfully, become almost entirely based in technology, that advantage has shifted to larger businesses who are able to provide omnichannel service. As a result, small businesses have adjusted their budgeting habits to account for a consumer base that now expects businesses to interact and provide service far beyond that of a phone call.
If you haven’t heard of LiveChat, Inc, you’ve almost certainly come across their service.
LiveChat, launched in 2002, was one of the first companies to offer a comprehensive way for businesses of all sizes to instantly communicate with customers online. You might’ve noticed more chat boxes popping up with a message like, “Have any questions? We’re here to help!” on the homepages of all kinds of websites. That might just be one of the Polish company’s 23,000 customers. I, for one, am all for it—I haven’t called my bank in at least two years and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Because communication preferences vary so drastically across age groups and industries, some small businesses hesitate to invest resources in developing an omnichannel customer service strategy like LiveChat. However, the cost of that reluctance increases as a younger generation of consumers expects an effortless service experience accessible entirely on their terms. I spoke to Olga Kolodynska, a writer and marketer at LiveChat, and Dave Mason, director of PATLive’s Answering Center, about customer service in 2018 and making a case for omnichannel support at all levels of business.
Optimize Service with an Omnichannel Approach
What do you find are the most harmful mistakes people consistently make when supporting a customer? If you had to give customer service agents one piece of advice, what would that be?
Olga: Remember that a customer can’t see you. That’s why you should maintain a fast first response time, so visitors know you’re there. Let them know up front that you’re working on their case and it might take a few minutes. Be transparent in your communication and don’t disappear without letting the customer know what you’re doing.
Work on positive communication. Adapt positive sentences that you will use daily. Try to be patient with customers. I know they can be irritated but it’s your job to do your best to help them.
Never forget that customers know only half of what you know. Try to explain them things step by step. Be patient.
Dave: Probably the most egregious is when we fail to remember that the customer we’re assisting is a real person too. We hear about these crazy scenarios where a man gets dragged off of an airplane even though he has a paid ticket, or someone spends an hour on the phone trying to cancel their cable service, and the thing first thing that always comes to mind for me in those situations is that somewhere along the way, someone for that company forgot that they were dealing with a real person. They were just following “policy” without ever putting themselves in the customer’s shoes.
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For those who think offering both phone and chat support is redundant: How would you explain the importance of offering omnichannel support?
Olga: It’s always important to offer a few communication channels, but only if you can provide great service through all of them. For example, some customers may hesitate to call you but they’re happy to write to you on chat.
If it wasn’t for a live chat option, many customers wouldn’t put forth the effort to do business. And it works the other way around. Some customers who have already talked to you on chat prefer to talk on the phone when it comes to sensitive information or specific details. From the customer’s perspective, it’s always good to have a choice.
Dave: As a consumer myself, I know that I like options. Some communication just works better over a different channel. For example, if I have a really complex question with a lot of contingent factors, I typically will prefer to speak with someone over the phone. On the other hand, if I have a really quick question sometimes it just feels more convenient to send a quick chat.
More importantly though, that preference is different for everyone. We have some customers who only want to talk to us on the phone, and others who would prefer to never call us. Communicating with customers on the channel of their preference always makes for a better experience.
Are there any specific situations or industries in which you’d advise against an all-encompassing approach to service? Meaning intentionally limiting the channels through which your business can be reached.
Dave: Customers like options. We joke around the office that there’s no way to call Google. So maybe there’s a threshold there you can achieve where you can make your own rules, but I think for most of us it makes sense to give our customers a choice if we can.
Olga: Definitely. It’s not wise to offer more channels for communication than you can confidently handle simply for the sake of having them. Think of the specific nature of your business and the types of interactions you frequently have with customers. The combination of live chat and telephone is generally a good starting point.
These can be your main communication channels. If you hire more employees, you can obviously maintain communication on email, Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram. But you need to have a designated person that’s responsible for these channels. Otherwise, inquiries on social media will be waiting for your reply for days, and that’s the worst-case scenario because it’s visible to others as well.
Consistency is key in the modern customer experience. How can businesses create an experience that is similar on all channels?
Olga: You need to treat your website as a whole. The design needs to reflect the content. And the content you create has to be consistent with your social media channels. For example, if you decide to use a fun tone in your organization, don’t be afraid to joke around on your Facebook, Twitter, Blog but also in your emails and on chat. That’s consistency. And that’s what customers will associate you with. Don’t let them down with official tone and oring messages.
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An agent’s tone can influence the service experience from the get-go, particularly in situations dealing with sensitive information or a customer that’s already disgruntled. How can a service agent that deals with dozens of customers ensure they’re projecting the right attitude every time without getting burned out?
Dave: It’s tough. It takes a certain type of person to answer 50+ calls or chats per day, and to give every single one the same care and consideration. I’m not sure that everyone can do it. That’s why we put so much emphasis on hiring the right people. We try to find people who are genuinely positive and enthusiastic, and who really care about the person on the other end of the line. Then we spend a lot of time training and monitoring to do the best job we possibly can.
It’s often said that trying to “delight” a customer with every interaction is a waste of time and money, and that the key to fostering loyalty in customers is simply consistency in delivering on promises and creating the easiest possible experience. Do you agree? Do you think there is ever a situation when putting forth the resources necessary to delight a customer is worth it?
Olga: I believe that what makes customers the happiest is flawless delivery of your product or service. That’s the best thing you can give your customers. Additionally, if the product is constantly improved, then the customers can rest assured knowing they’re safe with your company.
But at the same time, we can’t forget that the little things matter as well. People who are responsible for keeping a relationship with customers should try their best to make customers happy and deliver an amazing experience on a daily basis. I’m not saying we bend over backwards every day. Ideally, there will be a balance between delivering on basic promises and making each customer feel important. Customer service is not easy—that’s why I recommend to constantly work on it, especially from the psychological side.
Dave: There is no replacement for consistently delivering on your customers’ expectations. If you aren’t doing that, then it doesn’t matter how much you surprise or delight, you won’t have a happy customer.
Now with that said, I think customer expectations are at an all-time high. Every time someone goes to a coffee shop and gets a work of art drawn into the foam of their drink, it gets shared all over to the point where maybe it isn’t good enough to just make a decent latte anymore.
We’re all so connected now and information is shared so fast, that I’m not just competing with other companies in my industry. When a customer calls us, I’m competing with all of the customer service interactions they’ve had recently, and it absolutely is to my benefit to stand out.
Dave Mason is director of PATLive’s answering center. He manages all things customer service related and his dedication to giving every client an effortless experience is part of why PATLive’s service levels are among the best in the industry.
Olga Kołodyńska is a writer at LiveChat, Inc. She regularly contributes to their blog on the topics of customer experience, communication, and of course, all things LiveChat.