At the turn of the 20th century, storefronts like JCPenney and Selfridges ruled retail. Owners and clothing barons coined phrases like, “every great business is built on friendships," and “the customer is always right,” attempting to drive home the importance of building deep customer loyalty.
A century later, customer service has evolved beyond anything the founders of these retail titans could have imagined. There’s same-day delivery and video chatting with customer service representatives. Some even predict drones will soon dot the skies, delivering packages at lightning-fast speeds.
Customer service expectations that remained relatively unchanged for half a century have been completely upended in what feels like weeks. Companies like Uber, Airbnb, Blue Apron, Zappos and Amazon now offer hyper-personalized service and on-demand access to products, rides, meals, and more.
In order to compete in this complex service landscape, you must deliver extraordinary value at every touchpoint. Here are five ways to go from ordinary to extraordinary, and compete in this always-on economy.
1. Speed Service Response Time
73% of consumers say valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service. Which means making customers wait too long for parts to arrive, technicians to show up, or for that blasted furnace to start working again, can all cost service providers the very relationships that fuel our business.
We live in a world dominated by self-service technologies that give consumers access to nearly all the information they want, whenever they want it. Take that knowledge away, and they won’t be happy. With 84% of millennials reporting they have used a self-service portal for customer service, the future appears to be dominated by new service models.
New voice-activated technologies are giving consumers access to products, services, and answers all without the push of a button. Simply yell "I need paper towels” into your Amazon Alexa, and poof—there they are.
With this sort of response time and service becoming the norm, making customers wait is simply not an option. Here are some ideas for decreasing wait times:
- Leverage technology. If you have to put customers on hold, ditch the music. Instead, deliver an automated service that informs them know how long they’ll be waiting, or give them the option to call back with the reassurance they won’t lose their place in line. Better yet, give them an estimated time frame when you will call them back.
- Enable chat bots on your website to unlock an always-on communication model. This gives customers access to on-demand answers, and helps them feel like you’re always there to help.
- Be there when you say you will be. Call, text, and email ahead of the scheduled appointments several times to confirm. Once the field engineer is on the way, give an estimated arrival time that is as accurate as possible.
- Use route optimization tools to streamline technician travel times.
- Ensure the tech knows what needs to be done before getting to the customer’s location. And send the right tech for the job to ensure the job is done right the first time.
- Equip techs with mobile technology so they can access internal business data like customer histories, service manuals, and parts inventories.
2. Leverage Customer-preferred Channels
According to ClickSoftware’s recent Uberization of Service report, customers want communication in “Uberized” channels, like social media or via text message. Despite this fact, research demonstrated that just 5% of customers are getting communication via their preferred channel.
A key component of field service success is meeting customers on their home turf. Going from ordinary to extraordinary in service means giving your customers the ability to reach you across whatever channel they choose. Whether it's Twitter, Facebook, email, or a phone call, be where the customer wants you to be. Here are a few ideas for getting started:
- Put your business hours on your website. It’s simple, but it’s common for service organizations to forget this. Set expectations for the hours your business is closed or how long customers should expect to wait to hear back.
- Help your customers help themselves. Put FAQs and help sections on your website to address common issues or questions. Post blogs that address particular topics or issues in depth. Some large companies encourage and create customer forums where their customers can exchange information and where company experts can weigh in.
- Train staff to use each channel. Online options are wide ranging—from social media to email to live chat, to automated chat bots. It’s important that for each communication channel you offer your customers, you need to have trained staff ready to support each channel. Customers who want to connect with you online but get redirected to voice are going to be frustrated. If they wanted to talk to you by phone, they would have done that the first time.
- Invest in technology that will allow you to capture and crunch your customer interactions data from all channels in real-time or near real-time. Customers want to be able to pick up where they left off on one channel in a new channel. Tracking all your customer interactions in all the channels you offer, and putting those interactions in a customer’s history will be invaluable to you when working with them in the future.
3. Train Your Technicians to be Extraordinary
The fastest way to erode customer trust is sending a technician who lacks the knowledge to complete a job, or lacks the social grace to satisfy a customer. A well-trained field service technician is going to not only know how to fix customer equipment, but also the art of small talk.
In an increasingly technological world, high-quality human interactions have become a strategic differentiator in service. Customers must feel comfortable with the technicians in their personal spaces.
Customers who feel at ease will be more likely to communicate with your technicians. This gives your techs an opportunity to nip a potential problem in the bud, solve a problem you didn’t know needed solving, or even renew contracts and offer additional services. Here are some ideas for getting technicians trained up:
- Provide on and offsite social skills training. There are numerous people skills trainings conducted by professionals as in-person, or online seminars. Also consider hiring a consultant to work with your team.
- Give your technicians a crash course in sales. Since your techs are in your customers’ homes and businesses, they are in a unique position to impact future services or product purchases. If they do their job right, and are successful at putting clients at ease, your clients are more likely to trust your techs and be open to learning about new products and services. Make sure your techs know what you offer, and give them the tools to close the sale on the spot. Mobile technology can be used to process paperwork and gather signatures on-site.
- Keep technical skills and knowledge sharp. Training isn’t just for new technicians. With technology changing all the time, it’s good practice to offer seasoned technicians, as well as newbies, regular training. Take your training experiences to a new level by using augmented and virtual reality technologies.
4. Get Predictive
Linking devices via the Internet of Things and the predictive capacities of artificial intelligence give your brand an unprecedented opportunity to score big with your customers for getting ahead.
Artificial intelligence, along with devices that connect to each other and exchange data, can predict service needs and do some service tasks and diagnostics automatically. For example, sensors in a customer’s equipment can detect when a part fails and send an electronic message to you about the need for a part replacement. This way you can resolve the issue before your customer even knows there is one.
Software can analyze equipment condition and usage to predict maintenance needs. By comparing historical usage with current equipment condition, your software can alert you to impending equipment maintenance, allowing you to get proactive with service.
5. Focus on Extraordinary Care
All of the differentiators above not only make you an exceptional service provider; they ultimately make life easier for customers. But you aren’t done yet. The icing on the customer experience cake is customer care.
Customer care means taking customer service one step further. It means keeping detailed notes and records on your customers and learning from them. What brand furnace does Mr. Abe on Washington Avenue have? What’s the average repair cycle on equipment of that nature? Does Ms. Grosso service her building’s HVAC unit every two years without fail, or does she wait until it breaks down?
Use what you know about your customers to anticipate needs. And don’t underestimate the power of taking the time to show you care. Don’t check your phone or watch while talking to them. Get to know them and their businesses. Ask them questions and, above all, listen.
Making emotional connections with customers reassures them that you care about them, not just getting paid. This gives them a powerful reason to stay with you and recommend you to others.
To learn more about how to up your customer experience game, how technology is changing field service, and to get exclusive insights on the future of field service, subscribe to the ClickSoftware blog.