The customer service landscape is changing, with technology allowing customer service to shift from call centers and direct contact solutions to self-service technology.
“Customers have begun to use, and in some cases even prefer, non-agented interactions,” says Ian Jacobs, principal analyst at Forrester. “They use knowledge bases, FAQs, mobile customer self-service, chatbots and peer-to-peer communities in increasing numbers.”
These days, some 70 percent of consumers expect companies to offer a self-service option when they raise questions and/or complaints. As self-service technology expands, companies must innovate with new ideas to provide a better customer service and brand experience. Here’s a look at customer self-service and the role of burgeoning cloud contact centers.
The Rise of Self-Service
Gone are the days when a phone was the only option to reach a customer support team. Through the use of screenshots, as well as video and audio tutorials, self-service options have become powerful, bona fide tools to address customer pain points.
In particular, automated systems offer direct, immediate answers to simple questions and greater clarification. Of course, with this technology, consumers don’t have to wait in line, on-hold or for a response to an email. The answers are just “there” — and the buying public is embracing this new model.
“Customers often prefer self-service to employee-led options,” writes MIT Sloan Management Review. “For instance, rental car brands, such as Alamo and Enterprise, report that self-service kiosks can reduce check-in times by half, leading to greater customer satisfaction with the rental process.”
Customer Preferences and Self-Service
In spite of enhanced options and ease of use, experts say the only time customers tend to shy away from self-service options is when they’re poorly implemented. For a service to be used, it has to function well, answer questions without requiring information to be repeated and tie into a customer support network that has actual agents.
When a reliable and trustworthy self-service system is in place, consumers may actually enjoy a better customer service experience than they would when interacting with a live agent. Any time simple questions are answered via automation, live agents can spend more time and energy on more pressing issues.
As such, they will be more apt to spend time answering complex questions that self-service technology cannot support. In fact, some contact centers are adopting a concierge level of service and, as a result, are seeing big gains in customer satisfaction.
Cloud Contact Center
The rise of self-service options — as well as the integration of dedicated live agents who can now handle more complex issues — hinges on the use of cloud contact solutions. Self-service “is great … until something goes wrong,” says Forbes contributor Shep Hyken. “Then there has to be a backup plan, and that backup is usually a human on a phone or behind a ticket counter.”
It also has to be seamless to move a customer from self-service to agent-assisted help — and cloud contact center solutions are one way to make that happen. With these solutions in place, companies can keep customer service (self-service and agent interactions) in one place, allowing companies to provide all customers with the type of service they desire.
Of course, not all cloud-based contact options are created equally. Thus, in order to meet the needs of today’s consumers, your company will need to adopt cloud-based options that can handle inbound, outbound and blended interactions seamlessly.
Some popular products seem to sell themselves, but the reality is the success began with a process. The same is true in the business of professional sports, a $60 billion-a-year industry where some franchises grow into monster brands.
Sales managers in many industries sometimes use sports themes in their coaching -– competitiveness, dedication, strategy execution, etc. And as someone who has trained the sales teams of major sports brands, Lance Tyson sees what often separates the winners from the losers.
“The problem with selling today is there’s no home-field advantage,” says Tyson (www.tysongroup.com), President and CEO of Tyson Group, a sales training, coaching and consulting company and author of Selling is an Away Game: Close Business and Compete in a Complex World.
“The selling game takes place in the buyer’s mind. As the salesperson, you have to determine how much the potential buyer knows or doesn’t know. And even with all the technology, it’s never been more competitive; there are more salespeople interacting directly with customers than ever before.”
Tyson offers four concepts to consider when coaching your sales team on today’s more complex playing field:
Screw the better mousetrap. “You don’t necessarily have to build a better mousetrap; you have to do a better job selling your mousetrap,” Tyson says. “You have to understand there are a lot of new variables in selling. Social media and online information have changed the game, but despite all the new technology, the bedrock of sales remains the same: people selling to people.”
Attitude adjustment. Tyson points out that grit is a key component of both championship sports teams and successful sales teams. One notable difference is the relative importance of skill set in each profession. “Skill set does not equate to success in sales,” Tyson says. “Hard work isn’t a skill; it’s a choice. It’s starting early, staying late, being resilient after rejection. It’s forming the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.”
Level the playing field. Tyson compares the sales process to choosing which game to play in a casino; your odds of closing improve if you keep your sales process simple and tailor the approach to the buyer’s mindset. Otherwise, the salesperson can be as distracted as if in a casino. “In sales, we don’t have to be gamblers, but we do have to be odds players,” Tyson says. “So you want to play craps rather than the slots.”
Find common ground. Establishing credibility with a prospect requires engaging them in a conversation. “The first seven seconds are the most critical to get their attention,” Tyson says. “If you survive, you have the next 60 seconds to win their interest. To do this you need to see the sale from the buyer’s perspective.”
“There’s plenty of room for a salesperson’s creativity and a customer’s need for tailored solutions,” Tyson says. “At the same time, you can use that process repeatedly to provide solutions and compete in a complex world.”
Abercrombie & Fitch is counting on direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales to counter the retail apocalypse, Columbus Business First reports. Despite closing 400 stores over the last few years and the prospect of 60 percent of its U.S. leases expiring over the next two years, the fashion brand saw a 4 percent increase in sales, largely thanks to direct-to-consumer sales.
DTC sales made up 28 percent of Abercrombie’s receipts in 2017, and the company now runs 20 sites and apps in 11 different languages. The company anticipates that online sales combined with a strategic downsizing and redesign of its brick-and-mortar operations will grow the company’s sales from $3.49 billion a year to $5 billion.
Abercrombie & Fitch isn’t the only major retailer redesigning its sales strategy around a direct-to-consumer model. For instance, consumer designer brands Milly, Comme de Garcons and Theory have developed in-house offshoots of their main lines for exclusive distribution through their brands’ direct online and in-store channels. Retailers are prioritizing direct-to-consumer sales because of DTC’s proven advantages over traditional sales models. Here’s a look at some of the reasons the retail industry is shifting to direct-to-consumer sales.
Appealing to Online Shoppers
One reason direct-to-consumer sales is a winning formula for retailers is because an increasing number of online shoppers prefer to make their purchases directly from brands rather than third-party retailers. Over eight in 10 consumers expect to be able to buy directly from brands when shopping online, and nearly nine in ten would prefer to make direct purchases, a BrandShop Digital Consumer Preferences survey says.
For consumers, buying directly offers the assurance of product authenticity and the confidence that purchases are backed by a brand’s customer service, reducing anxiety over risks such as shipping, exchange and refund issues. For retailers, catering to this consumer preference provides the opportunity to build relationships directly with customers, promoting consumer loyalty and repeat marketing and sales opportunities.
Streamlining Inventory Management
Another advantage for brands turning to a direct-to-consumer model is the ability to simplify inventory management. Brands that sell directly to consumers can scale their inventory to actual sales volume, explains Sufi Khan Salaiman, vice president of e-commerce at surveillance systems provider Lorex Technology.
Lorex originally moved into DTC e-commerce sales in order to unload excess inventory that had built up through returns, Salaiman says. As Lorex’s e-commerce sales began to blossom, the company realized that an online direct-to-consumer model could help reduce overstock problems by keeping inventory scaled to demand.
Increasing Profit Margins
Lorex’s e-commerce move brought in 50 percent profit margins on its first million sales and set the company on a path to earn nine digits this year, illustrating another motive for adopting direct-to-consumer sales model. DTC sales offer brands higher profit margins than traditional sales models.
One way direct-to-consumer sales boosts profit margins is by lowering expenses. By selling more products directly to consumers and less through wholesale and retail channels, companies can reduce the expenses of paying third parties. Additionally, this gives companies the opportunity to develop their own distribution channels and customer relationships, laying a foundation for repeat business that increases revenue. The profitability of the direct-to-consumer strategy is illustrated by the success the technology industry has enjoyed in DTC sales. Online consumer technology sales increased 19 percent in the first three quarters of 2017, propelled by a 34 percent increase in direct-to-consumer sales, according to a report by the NPD Group.
Increased customer satisfaction, more efficient inventory management, and higher profit margins are three reasons the direct-to-consumer model is attracting retailers. As more companies see the benefits of direct-to-consumer sales, the DTC model will increasingly reshape the retail industry, promoting customer loyalty, smoother operations and greater sales success.
As a business owner, you understand the importance of keeping your valued customers happy; after all, a happy customer usually means a repeat customer.
Thus, the last thing you want is to inadvertently drop the ball and/or anger a valued customer and have them decide to shop elsewhere due to a foul up by one of your support agents or glitchy systems.
In order to maintain customer satisfaction and improve the overall brand experience, it’s important to be acutely aware of some of today’s top customer service complaints — and what steps you, as a business owner or manager, can take to prevent them from happening within the confines of your own business.
1. Rude or Indifferent Customer Service Reps
Unfortunately, you might have first-hand experience with this one. Case in point: You call a company to place an order and the customer service rep on the other end of the line is acting like they cannot wait to finish the call or is downright rude. To prevent this from happening at your company, it’s crucial to understand how words can fuel the fire of a customer’s anger.
For example, saying “it’s not our fault” is never acceptable under any circumstances, even if it happens to be true. Furthermore, let’s say a customer calls your live support line to complain about why their package was left in the rain by a delivery driver. Instead of saying you cannot control the actions of each of your drivers, empathize with the customer, apologize for what has transpired, and offer to send them a replacement.
2. Calling the Wrong Number
Just as your time is valuable, so is that of your customers. In that vein, know as a customer that it can be extremely frustrating to call a live support line and wait on hold for several minutes — only to find out you dialed the wrong number and must call a different one or were transferred to the wrong department altogether.
Want your customers to avoid this conundrum? One surefire way is to display a list of various departments and their contact information on your website, order invoices and/or social media pages. In fact, you may want to emulate the playbook of 800-numbers, a website that maintains a collection of toll-free numbers for many of today’s biggest companies. Search for specific companies or simply browse by category to find the right company department for which you’ve been searching.
Now, if you’re considering such a resource, make sure it’s easy for your customers to find the correct phone number without any sort of confusion.
3. Long Wait Times
Dealing with seemingly endless wait times is another common customer complaint — and it’s likely one you’ve experienced firsthand many times over. Of course, you want to make customers’ overall brand experience a positive one, so placing them on hold for upwards of 15 minutes or longer is not okay.
After recently surveying more than 1,500 U.S. consumers about acceptable wait times, Arise Virtual Solutions found that nearly two-thirds of all participants said they’re only willing to wait two minutes or less before hanging up, while 13 percent said they wouldn’t be accepting of waiting on hold in the first place.
Indeed, these results underscore the need for investing in a team or reliable and efficient customer service reps, who are able to resolve consumer issues in an efficient, thoughtful and pleasant manner.
Remember, Happy Customers are Loyal Customers
Because consumers are the lifeblood of your business, it’s certainly worth knowing and understanding what typically frustrates them while interacting with live support agents — and what steps you can take to resolve or prevent these issues altogether. By hiring and entrusting a friendly, helpful and empathetic customer support team, along with maintaining policies that prevent long wait times, you’re certain to bring smiles to your customers’ faces and see them return again and again.
Public relations disasters are many companies’ worst nightmares.
Whether it’s a common mistake that leads to a temporary bad reputation or a bigger problem that affects the future of your business, negative PR can be hard to recover from.
PR problems not only taints your brand name and personality, but can also eliminate customer loyalty and significantly decrease your profits and financial backing. And according to the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Report, over half of businesses are forced to stop operations for these exact reason. So what can you do to best address a PR disaster? Stay prepared by knowing all the best possible solutions:
Make a Joke Out of It
Beware that this answer is only appropriate if the reason for your company’s backlash is lighthearted and doesn’t have a serious affect on your customers. So make sure you thoroughly evaluate the problem before you decide to follow the path of making a joke out of the situation to draw consumers back in. If your PR disaster isn’t that serious, then this is actually probably the way to address, as it makes it seem like less of a big deal.
For example, when Reese’s released its Christmas tree chocolate in 2015, it received huge backlash as the shape of the chocolates looked like giant blobs rather than festive trees. Instead of addressing the issue as a serious event, Reese’s decided to create a campaign surrounding the idea of ‘tree shaming’ and #AllTreesAreBeautiful, which ended up gaining traction on social media and turned the disaster into a funny concept for fans to engage with.
Admit Quickly And Redeem
When it comes to big PR disasters such as the company lying, breaching policies and putting customers at risk, then timely admittance is vital to the reputation of your brand.
Back in 1994, Texaco was sued by former employees on the grounds of racial discrimination, and the allegations were confirmed after the release of recordings that proved discriminatory behavior. However, Texaco was able to bounce back in large because of its quick and honest approach — the CEO made a public apology, executives traveled to every location to apologize to employees, and the company hired an African-American owned advertising agency to formulate its next ad campaign. By taking this approach, companies have the opportunity to still show consumers that they have good intentions and genuinely care about their relationship with their audience, hopefully turning a negative situation into positive growth.
Educate Your Audience
In the case that your PR disaster is a result of false allegations and untrue statements, then educating your audience is vital to maintaining your reputation. When strategizing your message, ensure that the education clearly addresses the problem communicated in the disaster, and is easily accessible to your whole consumer base.
After being accused of being a pyramid scheme, Amway cleverly put together an engaging blog post that not only explicitly addressed the statement, but also provided a lot of background information about the company and how it works. By including employees’ testimonials and conducting ample research, the company was able to distribute this information online and successfully communicate the truth behind their company structure.
PR disasters are always trouble for any brand that runs into them. However, if proper preparation is done and the issue is addressed appropriately then it is definitely possible to turn a negative PR issue into a positive statement about your company.
Cloud contact center solutions are becoming the new standard for customer service.
The cloud-based contact center market is growing at an explosive compound annual growth rate of 23.6 percent, on track to increase from $5.43 billion in 2016 to $15.67 billion by 2020, Markets and Markets projects. Demand for managed services that allow organizations to outsource their operations is driving this growth, especially in the consumer goods and retail industry.
If your organization is considering whether or not to switch to a cloud contact center, you might be wondering how contact centers differ from traditional call centers and whether or not the difference is worth it. Here’s a look at how contact centers compare to call centers and why many companies are making the switch.
Cloud-Based vs. Office-Based or VoIP-Based
The difference between a traditional call center and a contact center is analogous to the difference between a traditional on-premise IT data center and a cloud-based IT infrastructure service. A traditional call center is usually based in an office with a public switched telephone network, or increasingly, a VoIP phone network. A cloud contact center is hosted virtually on a cloud server which is usually based remotely, or less frequently, can be based on-premises on a private cloud.
One major advantage being cloud-based represents for businesses is the ability to run customer service operations from any location. This gives companies more flexibility to hire home-based workers or to outsource their customer service operations to a specialty service. This can in turn help companies cut payroll costs as well as office rent and equipment expenses.
Omnichannel vs. Single Channel
Another difference between call centers and cloud contact centers is the number of customer service channels they handle. Call centers, as the name indicates, specialize only in voice communications channels. Contact centers, in contrast, are omnichannel, integrating the capability of handling voice call tickets with tickets originating from email, web contact forms, instant messenger services, text chat and video chat.
Cloud contact centers’ omnichannel capability extends customers more options for choosing their preferred communication channel. It also provides representatives with a unified interface for viewing all information associated with a particular customer or ticket regardless of its channel of origin. This allows tickets to be passed smoothly from one channel or representative to another without the need to repeat information the customer has previously given, which can speed up resolution time and boost customer satisfaction.
Cloud contact centers can also integrate analytics data from all service channels. This provides companies with a more complete view of their customer service performance. It also makes it easier to customize service for individual customers, which can improve sales as well as customer service.
All-Purpose vs. Inbound or Outbound
A third difference between call centers and cloud contact centers is their function. Call centers typically specialize in either inbound or outbound calls. Cloud contact centers can support agents who handle both inbound and outbound communications.
Being able to field both inbound and outbound communications makes cloud contact centers more versatile than call centers. You can handle all types of communications from a single contact center, including purchase orders, order status inquiries, post-purchase satisfaction surveys and technical support.
In summary, cloud contact centers are cloud-based, while call centers are office-based or voice-based; contact centers are omnichannel, while call centers are voice-only; and contact centers are all-purpose, while call centers are either inbound or outbound. Together these advantages are making cloud-based contact centers the compelling choice for a growing majority of companies.