As technology has evolved, so have we--and so have consumer expectations. We don't stand in the rain to hail a taxi anymore; we request a Lyft. We don't settle for 9-5 business hours; we tweet, message and email businesses to voice praise or (more often) dissatisfaction in a 24-hour cycle. And we expect a response to our feedback in the time it takes to brew a cup of coffee.

If you want to deliver a delightful customer experience, you must understand these new rules of availability and accessibility in customer service. You must embrace the new and different platforms, entry points and tactics available to engage your users. Here are four key concepts to get you started:

1. Be as available (and engaging) as Netflix.

Growing up, my dad was an investment banker. When he left the office he was "offline," unreachable until he arrived home. Once home, clients could only reach him via the landline, or if he fired up the fax machine. Customers in those days accepted this as the norm. People didn't perceive their access to technology as limited or expect products to be available on the go. But now, the standard is round-the-clock accessibility. Employees respond to emails on the bus and listen to conference calls while cooking dinner--and we expect the same flexibility and availability from the businesses we engage with.

So, how do we make constant availability a reality for businesses? The most robust approach is to invest in a customer success team that can work across time zones and respond quickly to customer inquiries, armed with the knowledge to troubleshoot problems. Don't have international resources? There are tools for that. Identify reliable resources to update and manage customer experience--setting up an automatic callback system is one way to get ahead of customer frustration. Instead of waiting on hold, callers can be added to a queue, then hang up and receive a call when the customer team is ready. Chat bots or live chat features can also make for a better, quicker experience while ensuring that customers are answered promptly and accurately.

Netflix is a great example of a company that has incorporated constant availability into its customer experience. The site has the standard features like live chat and a comprehensive FAQ section (to help manage customer feedback and questions), but its customer support team is lively and engaged--even quirky! They are "encouraged" to drop the script and adopt TV and movie character personas. There's plenty of research to show that consumers move on from a product if they experience insensitive or unresponsive support. Netflix recognizes that need and exceeds expectations in meeting those demands.

2. Be surprisingly convenient, and lose the friction.

Everyone has experienced it: a frustrating, hair-pulling interaction with customer support. Have you ever had to go to multiple platforms--an app, a website, and a call-center, to answer a question that should be clear? Or scrolled through a massive page on a tiny screen because a website wasn't optimized for mobile? Ever had to repeat yourself multiple times to a mindless, automated voice machine that could not understand you? This friction gives users a markedly negative perception of the company, product or service. Consumers crave convenience, so make it a priority when building your customer experience.

A few examples: Nordstrom is an organization often applauded for its stellar customer service, so it should come as no surprise that it prioritizes customer convenience as well. In addition to building a reputation for its generous return policy, Nordstrom developed a tool called Reserve Online & Try In Store to offer a more streamlined, convenient experience for its customers. Then there's One Medical, which developed a platform built entirely around the need to eliminate friction at the doctor's office. One Medical recognized that going to the doctor is filled with inconveniences for patients: spending hours finding a doctor with the right specialty, making phone calls to verify insurance acceptance, navigating complicated portals, and dealing with limited office hours. Once they finally scheduled an appointment, they could expect to sit in the waiting room for an inevitably behind-schedule doctor. One Medical makes patients' lives easier by allowing them to do all those things, seamlessly, within a single app.

3. Keep it confidential.

Yes, experts have been ringing alarms about data privacy for a long time, but the Facebook/Cambridge  Analytica scandal finally struck a chord with consumers. Since that news broke, research shows that 69 percent of consumers are concerned about security and privacy, and 68 percent no longer trust brands to handle their personal information appropriately.

A lot of companies are getting it, putting privacy first and building user experiences to meet this requirement. Apple has always taken the lead here, enacting multiple, strong privacy measures over the years, making headlines in the process. In 2016, the company refused the FBI's demands to unlock an iPhone, citing fears that this would open the floodgates to the government requesting access to more and more devices. And more recently, Apple announced all apps need to retain a privacy policy in order to be listed on the company's App Store--a bold move demonstrating a commitment to privacy and raising the bar by forcing all associated businesses to comply.

4. Make the investment to win it all.

Acquiring a new customer costs seven times more than maintaining an existing one, so it's simple economics: companies need to invest in and prioritize existing customers. Some of the most successful, disruptive companies on the planet (think Adobe and Zappos) understand this and obsess over every detail of the customer experience.

These companies have embraced the evolution of the customer experience, and it's why they win. They retain customers, save money, drive revenue and thrive because they consistently provide their customers with an accessible, streamlined and secure experience. With this attitude and a strong commitment to the customer experience, any company can achieve the same.

Published on: Oct 4, 2018