Years ago, there was less competition for what was sold. Geographic barriers and limited choices meant that a customer would wait for service. The Internet has changed all that with unlimited products being delivered to any customer worldwide through the click of a mouse. As a result, customers will no longer patiently wait in line (or online) for their customer service concerns to be answered.
Compounding this complexity is the wide variety of methods that customers want to communicate with any company. In the past, face-to-face meetings, letters, phone calls and faxes had built in scheduled wait times. Newer communication forms like email, texting, social media tools and other online posts don’t have the same orderly convenience for the small business. This brings up a special problem for owners as they try to offer the best real-time customer service experience across all the channels of communication simultaneously.
How Long Is Too Long to Wait?
Overall, the time to react to the customer is shrinking. Most expect to reach the company 24/7 and for their concerns to be resolved on the very first call. This is putting more stress on companies’ infrastructures and pressuring companies to ensure the profitability and lifetime value of each customer.
In a world of instant communication, this is incredibly difficult since most small businesses believe they need to be constantly connected to serve their customers or fear those customers will leave and buy from a competitor. In reality, things move much more slowly, and different channels of communication require different response rates.
- Phone: answer within 12 hours
- Text: answer within an hour
- Email: answer same business day
- Blog post comments: answer within 8 hours
- Social media comments: answer within 4 hours
- Mail and fax: answer within 48 hours
The New Tools of Customer Service
With all the large number of conduits, online and offline customer service methods are merging. Customized software now allows integration of what prospects and customers are saying on the Internet about a company. Solutions like Parature for Facebook are available to integrate that information with a company website and customer service center. This software now enables Facebook users to search its knowledge base, submit help tickets and chat with customer service agents.
At Nextiva, according to vice president Yaniv Masjedi, the company answers calls, emails, social media posts and online chats in real time so its customers can get the solution they need as quickly as possible. Its cloud product merges many forms of communication. “No matter where you are, you can receive calls on your cell phone via the Nextiva App, have your voicemails forwarded to your email, and record calls for training purposes. Your customers will be able to reach you, and your employees will be able to communicate more effectively and efficiently," Masjedi says.
The most effective strategy for communicating is to set customer expectations upfront. The problem is that if you don't set reasonable expectations, customers will set their own. For example, tell customers that phone calls and emails will be returned the same day if made before 3 p.m. This can be done via an automated phone message or email auto responder. Staff these communication channels at a pace that can be profitable for the business in the long term. If a company does not have the financial resources to respond in this period of time, don't offer it as a communication channel.
Manish Patel, CEO of Where2GetIt, which provides local marketing for national brands, sums it up by saying, "Real time customer service is the law of karma. What you give is what you get."
Read more articles on customer service.
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