Strong customer relationships are critical to the success of your company, helping to build brand advocates that drive more revenue and, if needed, help weather a crisis. There’s no single-source solution for building relationships that last – and as customers’ expectations for personalized solutions increase, organizations will need to become increasingly creative and resourceful. Beyond implementing technologies like CRM and considering the customer experience for your sales or support process, here are some tips to take your customer relationships to the next level.
1. Train your front-line employees on empathy
Most companies with a customer service component invest time and resources to train front-line employees — call center workers, cashiers and clerks, etc. — on technology and processes. But outstanding customer service workers also must show a high level of empathy, and, empathy is something that also can be learned. While investing in empathy training for your front-line employees may not immediately improve your bottom line, it will pay dividends by leading to stronger customer relationships. Here’s a great resource from Forbes on how to jumpstart a culture of empathy within your organization.
2. Don’t just look at the data, use it to remove friction
Customer-service organizations, particularly those with high-performance call centers, are collecting and analyzing data about customer interactions in order to track metrics and patterns against company goals. But the highest-achieving customer service organizations put that data to work in their day-to-day interactions. Use whatever data you have access to — or to which you can gain access — to remove friction from the customer-service process.
For example, using customer data you already have can help smooth out interactions while showing the customer that you really know and understand them. Recently, I needed to return some cable equipment at a Verizon store. In order to properly attribute the returned equipment to my account, they needed to verify my identity. Because Verizon already had my mobile number on file, rather than requiring me to give a passcode or personal details such as mother’s maiden name, the store employee was able to send a verification code to my mobile phone. In seconds I was verified and on my way.
3. Meet your customers where they are
It’s no longer enough to solely provide a phone number or email address — customers now expect brands to meet them wherever they are. Channel preferences can differ generationally, by product or service offering and even level of urgency. For your customers, that may mean anything from website chats or Facebook messenger to social media or services that allow a customer to request a call back. And this isn’t only for addressing customers’ complaints — today’s consumers may want to purchase products and services in a way that’s most convenient to them.
As a starting place, incorporate channel preferences into your data collection process and use that information to develop an engagement strategy. User preferences may change over time, as the channels themselves are fluid and constantly-evolving, but understanding customer expectations is the first step, only to be followed by an iterative process to meet the needs of your audience.
4. View negative engagements as an opportunity
We sometimes fall short on delivering outstanding customer experiences, so when this inevitability occurs, brands should view these so-called negative engagements as an opportunity to create life-long brand advocates. Think about it this way: if everything goes smoothly in a transaction, your customer may feel positively about your brand, but ultimately, they’ve merely gotten the product or service for which they paid. However, if you can turn around a bad situation, you can foster a true brand advocate.
When we look across the client brands that tend to get this right, the commonality is empowering customer-service agents to act in the spirit of the policy, versus following it to the letter. An extension of goodwill during an act of god – like a hurricane – can extend well beyond the impacted customer. And for situations beyond the control of an agent, offering alternative compensation, as a means to show empathy, can help make a small dent.
5. Adopt a human-centered mindset
Your customers can tell when they’re being put to the side in favor of shareholder value or financial concerns. If you want to increase the quality and value of your customer relationships, you need to adopt a customer or human-centered mindset. And I’m not talking only about customer-service processes — the customer must be at the center right from the beginning with human-centered product design.
Take, for instance, the creation of our latest product feature, OpenBook. As consumers, we’ve all experienced the changing landscape of airfares and how various airlines are packaging services into tiers. When one of our largest travel loyalty clients began receiving questions from its loyalty members about what was – and what was not – included in redeemed flights, the account team and our client saw an opportunity to improve the customer experience. OpenBook was developed in order to solve the customer challenge of understanding what’s included in each fare. It creates transparency while members search for a flight and decreases the number of questions escalated to customer service representatives. And the result? The client has experienced a 10% decrease in its lowest-cost airfare options – loyalty members are willing to spend more points when they understand the amenities included in the cost of the flight.
Above all, treat customers the way you want to be treated
While these five tips include some specific process or technology recommendations, customer success can ultimately be boiled down to the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. It’s easy to develop a certain myopia when it comes to customer-service processes. But it pays to step back and consider how you would want to be treated in a particular situation, or what it’s like as a customer to experience the processes you’re putting in place.