Want to do something really revolutionary for your business? I've got just the thing: provide exceptional customer service. I talk a lot about how to make the customer service experience better for our users -- it's on the agenda at every staff meeting -- because I know it makes a difference in the company's bottom line. In fact, customer service is such a priority at ShortStack.com that everyone at the company, takes a shift each week answering support tickets. Including me.
Why do we invest so much in customer support? The motivation is selfish: We want our customers to rave about us to their friends and colleagues. But we also want to make our existing customers so happy with our product and our service that they have no reason to switch to a competitor, even if the competitive product is less expensive, or easier to use.
Are you familiar with the "switching economy?" Even if you're not, I bet you've contributed to it. That time when you switched cell phone or Internet service providers, or perhaps chose a different rental car company after years of loyalty to one brand? That's switching. And it's very costly to businesses. Chief among the reasons people switch from one brand to another? You guessed it: customer service.
One 2013 Accenture study found that 51 percent of U.S. consumers had switched service providers in a variety of industries (including banking, Internet service providers, wireless providers and travel) due to poor customer service experiences. According to the same research, the switching economy puts $1.3 trillion in play for companies offering superior customer experiences.
So here's where the concept comes full circle. What's one way you can you grab some of that business and, more important, avoid having customers switch away from you? By investing in customer service.
Here are five things you can learn from your customer support team that will make your business stronger, make your customers more loyal, and increase your company's revenues.
1. How you measure up within your industry
Whether you use Zendesk, Help Scout, Oracle, or Freshdesk, you probably get a monthly report with statistics that let you know your team's average response times, one-touch resolution times, etc. Some platforms will also let you know how your response times and other support stats compare with your competitors'. Let's say you learn your company's average support-ticket-response time is 1.5 hours, while the average in your industry is 24 hours. That's information your sales team can use to their benefit when they court new business.
2. Which customers are ready to upgrade
Nurturing relationships with customers is integral to any company's ongoing success. We may live in an age where automation has supplanted the personal touch, which certainly makes some things easier, but in the context of customer service, automation is risky. If you aren't communicating with your customers, you risk losing them, obviously, but you also miss opportunities to make yourself indispensable.
For example, when customers get in touch with your support team about a problem, your agents should know to go a step beyond solving the problem and offer suggestions for how the customer could use your product or service more effectively or efficiently in the future.
A crucial part of customer service is being proactive and anticipating what people might need so they can use your product successfully. Would you rather have your customers think of you as a sommelier or a clerk at a quick mart? A sommelier will recommend food-wine pairings but a clerk will just point customers to the cabernet aisle.
3. How valuable your team is
Whether you use a customer service software platform such as Zendesk, or you rely on telephone support, your customers should know immediately that your company's representatives know how to use your product or service.
This sounds absurdly obvious, but I know I'm not the only one who's been on the phone with a customer-service representative from a company, only to learn that the rep has no idea how to use the product or service beyond the most basic level.
Try thinking of customer service as an investment instead of an expense. If you outsource your customer service to the cheapest provider, and rely on people who don't understand your customers' issues, you'll lose customers, and then lack of customer service will be really expensive.
Then take a step further and think of your customer support agents as customer success agents who deserve your support. They are going into proverbial battle on your behalf every day, and it's not always an easy job.
4. Ways to save money on research and development
Your customer support agents should also be encouraged to let their managers know when something with your product needs fixing or other updates. For example, at ShortStack.com we have two distinct fix-it categories. One is "bugs" and one is "feature requests." Our customer service team keeps the development team aware of both. From there you should have a process in place that allows you to assess whether the problems being flagged in customer support require a band-aid or surgery.
I've learned that by listening to our customers we are, in effect, doing R&D without having to invest thousands of dollars on focus groups and lengthy, expensive surveys.
5. What your customers say about you in public
Your social media team is the bridge between marketing and customer service and it's essential that the teams communicate. Even if you think you're doing a fantastic job using social media for customer service, your customers might not agree: According to one study, only 36 percent of consumers who make customer service inquiries on Facebook, Twitter, etc. say their issues are resolved efficiently and effectively. A whopping 10 percent of companies who receive customer service questions via social media never bother to respond at all, according to the same study.
A quick look at this chart with stats from a 2014 American Express study shows that customers use social media to communicate with businesses -- and about them. It also shows that social media interactions can win customers' loyalty .... or not.
|Percentage of people who praise a company for a great service experience||48%||52%|
|Percentage of people who vent frustration for bad customer service experience||46%||50%|
|Percentage of people who share information about a customer service experience with a broader audience||47%||46%|
|Percentage of people who praise an individual for providing great service experience||33%||35%|
|Percentage of customers who say they always get an answer to customer service enquiry asked via social media||21%||31%|
|Percentage of customers who say they never get an answer to customer service enquiry asked via social media||6%||13%|
In conclusion: Great customer support is ... priceless
I hope by this point you have a better understanding of just how much customer service is worth to a business. In fact, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase. And it's six or seven times more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to keep existing ones.
Remember, satisfied customers tell three friends and angry customers tell 3000 (according to Advertising Age columnist and author Pete Blackshaw).
I could go on and on, but let me finish with one of my favorite business quotes. It's from Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines: "Don't worry about profit. Think about customer service. Profit is a byproduct of customer service."