2018 was, for many businesses, a year of chaos.
A study conducted this year by Accenture found that two-thirds of large companies currently face high levels of industry disruption. We’ve already seen supporting evidence for this finding: Toys R Us, Homebase, Maplin and Mothercare all went into administration in the last twelve months after struggling to compete with more innovative online companies.
There are a number of reasons these companies found themselves in dire circumstances. Recent studies show that when it comes to making a purchase, 64% of people find customer experience more important than price (Gartner), and millennials are willing to spend up to 21% more to get great customer service (American Express).
Although competitive pricing will always remain a factor in a company’s success strategy, great service clearly matters more to today’s customers.
If you want your business to rise above the rest in 2019, you need to provide the best possible customer service. Here are five key ways you can harness technology and innovation to ensure your customer service stands out for the right reasons.
1. Make it easy for customers to get in touch
In 2018, businesses really started taking notice of messaging services. And it’s not hard to see why: research shows that chat is by far the preferred support channel of millennials, who are now the most important retail demographic (Com100). Facebook and Whatsapp even launched apps and integrations specifically designed to help businesses connect with their customers via instant messaging.
In 2019, businesses that don’t offer live chat services will be in the minority. They face losing a significant number of their customers who don’t want to wait on hold or watch their inbox for a resolution to their problem. Many newer companies and start-ups even offer in-app messaging to make getting in touch as easy as possible.
The good news is that live chat is now easier to implement than ever before. Take a look at the options available to you and consider how you can integrate it with your current customer satisfaction strategy.
2. Use AI to ease congestion
In 2018, it became commonplace to hear businesses talk about how they use machine learning to provide personalised deals and experiences for customers. Going into 2019, the next buzzword that’s on everyone’s lips is AI — and it’s going to become vital if you want to keep customers satisfied.
AI is so advanced now that it can be used to converse with customers to help identify their problem and provide customer service representatives with the information they need. That way, every second of the customer’s time is used properly.
That’s good news when you consider that the majority of people (66%) feel that the most important thing a company can do to provide a good online customer experience is valuing the customer’s time (Forrester).
Gemma Harding, head of client services at leading UK call outsourcing specialist CALLCARE, says that AI has become a foundational element in how her team provides customer service.
“As live chat has become a more and more important service for our clients, we now use AI to alleviate pressure on our operators while using a customer’s time more efficiently.
“By addressing a customer’s enquiry straight away with our AI systems, all important information is gathered for when our operators handle the enquiry at hand.
“Our operators can then step in and use their emotional intelligence to resolve the problem at heart.
“It’s better for everyone involved and has helped us deliver even better results for our clients.”
3. Focus on staff satisfaction
In the year when mindfulness apps and the four-day working week took centre stage, we learnt a lot about the importance of employee wellbeing.
Despite fears about how Brexit might hit the job economy, unemployment rates in the UK were the lowest they had been since 1975. That’s created a competitive job market that means employers have to step up to retain their best staff.
In 2019, businesses that invest in happier staff will reap the rewards of having happier customers. Peter Doczi, head of customer services at company formation agent Rapid Formations, highlights how healthy staff can boost your business. “Customer service can be a high-pressure environment for employees[.] Work-life balance, fresh-mindedness and good mental health are key to delivering excellent levels of customer service on a consistent basis… this leads to more positive reviews, which leads to more sales.”
4. Remove rigid business structures
One of the key reasons that so many big businesses went under in 2018 was their lack of flexibility. Companies like Toys R Us and Homebase struggled to keep up with the online market, burdened rather than empowered by their long-established internal hierarchy.
2019 will be the year where businesses that can’t adapt to evolving customer needs will be left behind. Successful businesses will be those that can seek customer feedback earlier rather than later and respond to it before a real problem arises.
To stay flexible enough to try new things, businesses will need to make some bold decisions about internal structure — for larger companies, that could even mean a complete reshuffle.
Markus Stripf, co-founder and CEO of Spoon Guru — a company that uses AI to provide dietary requirement advice to catering businesses — emphasised the need to keep up with consumer demands.
“Consumer needs are constantly evolving, so, in turn, your product or service should develop alongside this. Keep informed with incoming trends and the changing lifestyles of your customers so you can anticipate the services or products they will want.
“If you keep up and continue to offer what people want before they have to ask for it,” Markus says, “your customers trust in you will only strengthen.”
5. Co-innovate to improve customer experience
What’s been called the ‘sharing economy’ has continued to prosper in 2018 and shows no sign of stopping. By relinquishing the need to deliver all aspects of a product first-hand and opening up to third-party providers, apps like Uber, Airbnb and recently car-sharing app Turo have dominated the marketplace.
In 2019, co-innovation — whether it’s with vendors, logistics companies or even with your own customers — will become more important than ever before. By outsourcing some parts of your customer service to specialised professionals, you can focus on the core part of your business you know you’re good at. This way, all parts of your business can innovate at a rapid pace without impeding on one another’s progress.
Continuing to innovate is key to setting up healthy customer relationships. Alister Esam, CEO of Process Bliss, explains how ongoing tweaks to your onboarding process is key to meeting customer expectations. “Creating a great customer experience from the outset is essential to retaining that client longer term and that involves a smart and effective customer onboarding process,” Alister says. “Getting the onboarding process right at the outset creates the flexibility and freedom to delight that customer and give them a memorable experience.
“Get it wrong and you will always be on the back foot with that customer.”
2019 is the Year of the Customer
New technology is exciting, but it’ll be the businesses that use that technology to make customers’ lives easier that will really thrive in 2019. It’s about removing friction, using customer time efficiently, and going the extra mile to respond to customer needs.
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