How to Gain a Competitive Edge by Updating Your Customer Service Culture

Customer service has long been viewed as a competitive differentiator, and its importance is still growing.

According to a report published by Walker, the customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020, and that’s why many companies are investing heavily in customer service coaching.

In an article for Inc.com, small business advisor Marla Tabaka notes that at present, 80 percent of businesses believe they provide "superior" customer service, but only 8 percent of customers agree with those same companies. This highlights a huge disparity between the perceptions of businesses and customers, and it suggests there is significant room for improvement.

In this article, we take a look at how you can give yourself a competitive advantage and get closer to meeting customer expectations by updating your customer service culture.

Multiple Channels

One of the biggest steps you can take toward updating your customer service culture is to acknowledge that all of your customers are different and a “one-size-fits-all” approach cannot possibly work. For this reason, your team needs to have the required customer service skills to handle multiple different channels.

For example, 81 percent of millennials said they would contact brands through social media, compared to just 44 percent of baby boomers, according to 2015 research carried out by Kelton Global for Salesforce's Desk.com. Traditional telephone customer service is also significantly more unpopular with millennials than with Gen X and baby boomers.

To gain a competitive advantage, you need to prioritize multi-channel customer service skills and acknowledge that expectations also differ across channels. 

For instance, research from The Social Habit found that when contacting brands through social media for customer support, 32 percent of customers expect a response within half an hour and 57 percent think response times should be the same during the day and during the night. Yet, SuperOffice’s 2017 Customer Service Benchmark Report tells us that the average response time for customer support inquiries of all types is more than 15 hours.

Digital Parity

In addition to providing a multi-channel experience for customers to make contact with your customer service team, today's customers also expect “digital parity” when shopping in-person. Essentially, this means the physical shopping experience needs to be as streamlined and as simple as your best digital channels.

"Online shoppers never have to wait in line to check out, so why, in a physical environment, should there only be a limited number of registers?" asks Micah Solomon in an article for Forbes. "Every retail employee, armed with a tablet, can be a cashier—and probably should be. Interactions should be intuitive, efficient, and fast."

Think about the various advantages of your digital channels and gear your training and customer service coaching toward being able to provide the same benefits at your physical premises. Where limitations mean you have to fall short, consider how you can make up for it by providing a superior, more memorable in-person experience.

DIY Solutions

A 2015 study published by Aspect Software revealed that 65 percent of customers feel good about themselves and the company they are doing business with if they are able to resolve an issue without speaking to a customer service rep. This figure increases to 69 percent among the millennial generation.

Many organizations think of self-service as being distinct from customer service, but this is simply not the case. When customers are unable to resolve problems by themselves, it can reflect badly on your business. For this reason, it is important that self-service options are in physical stores, as well as online, such as in the forms of FAQs and guides.

"Millennials really do not want to talk to you," said Jimmy Rohampton, writing for Entrepreneur.com. "The only time they want to speak with a live person is after their own self-service efforts have totally failed. And if those efforts have failed, businesses can expect to be shamed all over social media."

Modernize Your Service Methods for Greatest Success

Customer service is one of the single largest competitive differentiators, but in order to actually gain an advantage in the modern business world, your customer service culture needs to be modernized. In particular, it is essential that your business acknowledges that 'one-size-fits-all' solutions no longer suffice.

It is now more important than ever to not only embrace different channels, but provide a level of consistency across them. This means, in terms of quality, offering a comparable experience in-store and online, or over the phone and on social media, while still recognizing that specific expectations differ from channel to channel.

However, it also means accepting the shift towards self-service solutions, which are especially popular with younger generations, providing high-quality DIY options, and recognizing that, in some cases, even receiving contact from customers needing support can be perceived as a failure of your customer service culture.

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About the author

Monika Götzmann of Miller Heiman Group

Monika is the EMEA Marketing Director of Miller Heiman Group, a global sales training and customer experience company that specializes in providing exceptional customer service coaching to provide organizations with sales-ready solutions for their employees.

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