As we talked about above, much of human interaction and relationship building is about reciprocity. One aspect of that in business is the one-on-one interactions that come through to your customer service and support teams. Because of the personal, attentive nature of customer service conversations, they are one of the best ways to build loyalty with your customers.
For every customer that complains to you in your support inbox, 26 remain silent. How sobering and scary is that? Imagine the number of conversations that you have in your support organization, and then multiply that by 26. That’s the number of people that have had trouble with your product.
Consumer Reports surveys, also responsible for the above metric, have shown that nearly 91% of customers will not do business with you a second time if you cause them pain during their first experience. It was even uncovered that two-thirds of customers have walked out of a store when they felt the service was subpar. So, that number that you calculated above? That’s how many opportunities you have to succeed...or to mess up.
That’s a lot of potential money on the line. Even more so if you consider the lifetime value of a customer and not just the immediate loss of a second or recurring purchase. Providing excellent customer support and creating loyalty is one of the best ways to boost your bottom line, especially as your company’s business grows and you aren’t able to give every single customer a personalized walkthrough during the buying process.
The first step into generating customer loyalty through customer service is by figuring out the perfect customer service strategy for your customers. There are so many different channels through with to offer support, it can be tempting to just offer all of them and see what works best. Instead of doing that, do some analysis of the average demographic of your customers. For example, are they kids? Perhaps teenagers, or millennials? Maybe your target audience for your product are people within the age range of 40-55? Each of those different groups is going to have different preferences for communication, and different expectations about what good support looks like. You should select the channel(s) that work best for the people that use your product, not the ones that are easiest for you.
For example, if your product is a mobile app, or something primarily used on mobile devices, it might make sense to offer social media support and chat support.
For a product that is physical or bought in a retail store, it makes sense to offer in-person, or over-the-phone support. SaaS companies that are offering software and no tangible product usually consider offering something like email support and perhaps chat, as needed. For each of these companies, the method of support meets the audience where they are most active, meaning that the audience has to do the least amount of work, rather than the most.
Sometimes picking the fastest method of support is not always the best. People using an in-person product, for example, may not want or feel comfortable using chat support. Even though chat support is usually the quickest way to get support, it is not always the most thorough or easiest way, especially there are nuances to the customer’s issues that lend themselves to deeper troubleshooting. Give your customer the opportunity to talk to you and ask questions where they are most comfortable doing so to cultivate a culture of loyalty. It doesn’t have to cost much to offer an excellent experience.
Sometimes for an excellent customer experience, one that ultimately leads to customer loyalty and stickiness, you don’t need to do anything outlandish or spend a ton of money. An article written for Help Scout introduces the idea of “the frugal wow” or a small gesture that leaves a large impact on your customer when they experience them. The author describes going to a flower shop that he’s loyal to. It’s not that the flowers are particularly high-quality, or any different from the flowers somewhere else, but instead that the shop offers small, but meaningful experiences when he visits:
“It’s a few small gestures that keep me coming back. On the surface, they seem unimportant:
1. Someone from the store always helps me walk a large purchase to my car.
2. Someone from the store always approaches me when I enter and helps me find what I need.”
These things seem small and second nature, right? Someone helping him to carry a heavy purchase, or someone asking to see if he needs help when he enters? For some, it may be, but for most adding small gestures like this into your customer service team’s toolkit can make a huge impact on customer loyalty. In fact, if you think about most of the stories in this book, they all use the frugal wow: most tactics cost little or nothing to employ and are super effective when done right.
So, how do you figure out where your opportunities are? Think about the things that are you or your support team’s nightmare, and then flip them. For example, in the Help Scout article, the author describes how much he dislikes lackluster “Thank you for your purchase” pages and mentions that this would be the first thing he would focus on if looking for frugal wows on an e-commerce site. Maybe for you, or your company, the first thing you would change could be your documentation organization or perhaps a specific marketing page—either way, find what these “must fix” sections are for your company and flip them to your advantage.
Like the example with the mints above, if you proactively ask your customers if they are doing okay prior to them needing to reach out, you’ll win fans for life. This process of offering help before customers need it is proactive support and it can involve anything from reaching out to customers via customer success, offering amazing self-service documentation, or pre-emptively fixing problems when you notice them starting to occur.
For example, imagine that your customer wants to talk to you about a specific problem they have with the product that you sold to them, and locates your contact form on your website. When they type “Problem With” into the subject line of the contact form, a number of suggestions from your documentation populate underneath the box where they are typing. As they type and their question becomes slightly more specific, the suggestions get more relevant. When they read one of the suggestions, their issue is resolved.
Imagine that, using the data from the searches, you create a pre-generated email series to go out when people first sign up. You can show potential customers relevant information from the most looked-for pieces of information during the typical first four weeks of use.
In the first case, the customer doesn’t have to reach out to you or wait for a response from your customer service team. Instead, their issue is resolved immediately and they can continue getting to know your product without pause. That’s awesome. In the second case, building off the first, t he customers don’t even know that they are going to have a problem. In fact, they never get to have a problem because you reach out to them before they get there. This also prevents any gap in usage or need to reach out to your team.
It’s preventative instead of reactive, allows your customers an unbroken experience of your product, and helps them to become super users—all core tenets of creating loyalty.
Have you ever had an outage or something break? As a business, it is your worst nightmare: something has failed and you may or may not know what it is. If you know what it is, you’re scrambling to fix it. If you don’t know what it is, you’re scrambling to find out. You are basically trying to navigate with your hands tied behind your back. As a customer, though, it’s even worse: if you have your hands tied, your customer is blindfolded. They aren’t able to see anything or make any kind of impact. All they can do is reach out to you and hope that you’ll help them as best you can.
If you do help them quickly or at least with a lot of care, you have the opportunity to recoup a great deal of trust that you lost with the original outage itself—more so than you would have built without the outage, in fact. If you don’t, well, you might lose a previously loyal customer.
The phenomenon of being able to build more trust than you would have been able to without an outage is called the service recovery paradox.
Effectively, if a customer comes to you in a time of need and you are able to provide them with stellar service, you’ve won them over for the long haul. If it’s unclear when your outage is going to end, it may be that this means having one of your team members specifically offer first responses to customers, and another update your status page every 15 minutes. That kind of minute-to-minute feedback about the product makes customers feel like they are cared about and that the company understands that this is important to them.
If you just continued to have your regular email protocol in place, you may miss out on the opportunity to really wow a customer, and end up just disappointing them instead. Because of this, it’s really important that you set up an outage protocol or work towards setting up a process that empowers your users with knowledge. With a clear-cut outage protocol, you can provide a stellar experience and use the service recovery paradox to make a good thing out of what could have been a bad one.
If you’re building or developing a support team with the goal of creating loyalty amongst your customers, there are a few qualities that you can look to hire for or cultivate on your existing team.
When you go into the Apple Store, the employees engage with you like you’re their friend. Rather than hopping right into a sales pitch, they take the time to get to know you and what you are looking for. The same thing should be said of a customer support person. Rather than hopping right into a solution, encourage your support team members to greet the person and thank them for writing in, just as they would a good friend.
For example, instead of saying:
“You can resolve this issue by hitting the button on the Account page, and then selecting ‘Update credit card.”
You might coach your team to say:
Sometimes just dealing with someone who has a positive demeanor can help to de-escalate a situation, and get the support inquiry resolved more quickly. It’s better for both the customer and the support team who have other people to help.
When customers come to support, they can sometimes be frantic. They wanted and expected something to work a certain way and now it isn’t and the whole thing is out of their control. It’s totally understandable that they might want a quick answer, or speak a little bit aggressively to the person that responds to their inquiry.
Let’s return back to the example of the Apple Store. Oftentimes, especially in big city stores, customers come into the store last minute before either leaving the city or going to a big meeting to try to get something fixed or replaced. The Genius Bar almost never has walk-in appointments anymore, and it’s hard to buy a brand new computer in under 10 minutes. Usually, this means people get angry.
Now, dealing with an angry customer in person is totally different from dealing with an angry customer over email, but some of the same de-escalation tactics apply. At Apple, these are the three As: acknowledge, align, and assure.
For example, imagine that you get a customer email like this:
I can’t believe that you billed me without letting me know ahead of time! I was not expecting a charge at all, let alone one that was SO EXPENSIVE. How can you guys get away with this!?!?
To respond, you would first acknowledge the customer’s problem:
Thanks so much for emailing about this—I’m sorry to hear that you were caught off guard by our billing.
Then, align with their frustration:
I can totally get how it can be frustrating to receive a charge that you weren’t expecting, especially when you’ve just started to use our tool.
Then, assure them that you’re going to get it fixed:
Could you share a bit more information with me so that we can get to the bottom of this? For example, would you mind sending me the username associated with your account along with the date that you received the charge? Using that, I can take a look in our system and see how we can get this fixed for you.
Having this simple toolkit enables the Apple Geniuses to resolve super-heated issues and create loyal brand advocates, and can do the same thing for your support team by de-escalating slowly and with patience.
“Positive language” might sound strange, but it can be one of the best things to have in your support team’s too lkit. Positive language is taking a sentence that could be negative, using words like “don’t” or “can’t” and instead phrasing it from a positive perspective. Take, for example, if a customer reaches out about a product that you are currently sold out of, but are building more of in the near future. While this is a best-case scenario when it comes to physical products and SaaS feature requests (it’s coming in the future!), it can still be hard information to convey to a customer. They don’t care that it’s coming, they want it now. And if we think back on that metric on how often customers churn after their first negative experience with a company, it feels even more important to make sure that they feel heard.
If your support team was moving quickly, it might be easy to just pass this off with a canned reply and little personalization. But, depending on the type of language used, it could make or break the relationship with this customer:
Without positive language, the response might look something like:
“I can’t get you that product until next month; it is back-ordered and unavailable at this time.”
With positive language, it might look like (bold just for emphasis):
“That product will be available next month. I can place the order for you right now and make sure that it is sent to you as soon as it reaches our warehouse.”
It’s obvious to see the difference between the two and imagine how much more appealing and friendly one would seem to a potential paying customer than the other. When writing responses, take out negative things like “can’t,” “don’t,” or “won’t” and anything you send out will have a positive impact on your customers’ perception.
Empathy is one of the key traits of a good support person, and it’s likely that you wouldn’t hire a person without it. Empathy allows support and service people to understand where the customer is coming from and try to provide them with better service rather than just shutting down the conversation and letting the person fend for themselves. Every day, support people that are excellent at their job take on the emotions of their customers in order to better serve them. This empathy, the ability to relate and understand, creates loyalty through one-to-one reciprocity, and is integral to good support.
That being said, to look for it in potential hires or gauge it within your current customer support people can be tricky. A good question to ask is “Tell me about the last time you had an interaction with a customer that made you feel like a boss?”
Then, listen to how they respond. Do they talk about convincing a customer to purchase an upsell? They might be more revenue driven than customer driven. Do they talk about building a relationship with the customer? Perhaps they go into a story about how now the customer reaches out to them even if they don’t have a problem anymore, just to talk and see how they are doing. If that’s the case, they are excellently empathetic, customer-focused, and will generate a ton of loyalty in your customers for your company.
First contact resolution is a huge boost when it comes to customer satisfaction and, subsequently, loyalty. If your customer service and support teams can resolve a customer’s inquiry on the first try with no back and forth, this creates an effortless and wonderful experience for your customer. They’ll feel happy and at ease with your product, and go right back to loving you and your product in no time.
But first contact resolution is so prized for a reason: it can be very difficult. Not only does your customer support or service person need to know your product exceptionally well, but they also need to have excellent troubleshooting and problem-solving skills to think about any potential issues that might pop up from the issue the customer is currently experiencing. So, when a customer emails in, in order to achieve first contact resolution, your support team member needs to:
Finding and providing all of this information requires immense curiosity and problem-solving skills. Every customer is like a puzzle, and if your service and support team members can crack the code, you’ll wow customers every time.