If you're a small business owner looking to find better ways to connect with customers during the disruption caused by COVID-19 and social distancing, you may want to take a look at your data and customer service policies.
“Businesses are worried about keeping their employees and their customers safe, while also keeping their business running. Not to mention that many non-essential businesses have been ordered to close depending on what state you are in,” says Gabe Larsen, vice president of growth at Kustomer, a customer-centric omnichannel software company.
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“With so much uncertainty," Larsen continues, "transparent and honest communication between businesses, vendors and customers becomes crucial.”
Establishing that level of communication and activating your data is the first step of improving your customers' experience.
Use Data to Surface Customer Insights
Data-driven insights can inform personalized customer interactions that better address their needs and deepen your relationships with them, which is especially important given the unfamiliar circumstances caused by COVID-19.
The first step is understanding who your customers are and what motivates them. Leena Rinne, co-author of Leading Loyalty: Cracking the Code to Customer Devotion, encourages companies to gather data that can help them understand the reasons customers come to their brand during normal market conditions.
“When are they purchasing? Why do they buy from you? What needs are you meeting? Why did they choose you over a competitor?” Rinne asks. “If you know these things, you can leverage the information for how the relationship looks during challenging times as well.”
Cultivate Customer Loyalty
Rinne’s questions can be answered by looking at the data you've collected from your systems that track customer feedback and relationships. If you’ve been lax about gathering data, you can take two specific steps to implement a substitute system.
Smaller businesses can explore POS terminals that integrate with a simple customer database, storing information about past appointments and purchases alongside more detailed, real-time customer analytics like profiles and customer spend. Larger businesses have access to myriad robust CRM software solutions that can help organize customer data in a single repository. These solutions integrate across multiple channels in your business and gather data from customer interactions with your brand (like email click-through rate, lifetime customer value and customer service inquiry records).
Your business can act on this data by developing a strategy that reduces stress at the various touchpoints across the customer journey.
“A simple touchpoint can let customers know you care and that you are thinking of them,” says Rinne. “These touchpoints have to be sincere, not fabricated.”
Shore-Up Your Customer Service Survival Strategy
To craft these meaningful touchpoints, Larsen and Rinne offer the following four tips to get eager brands started with their revamped customer service strategy:
1. Think like a direct-to-consumer brand.
Larsen believes every business needs to act like a direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand in today’s market, whether they have a physical store location or not.
“This means brands need to be putting the customer first and perhaps coming up with creative ways to solve issues,” he says.
When agents have all historical information on past communications and purchases, they are able to get a holistic view of the customer and can figure out the best way to respond, no matter what channel is used.
—Gabe Larsen, Vice President of Growth, Kustomer
To help your business emulate DTC brand best practices, Larsen encourages you to start by personalizing communications using available historical customer data. Data about previous purchases and communications can inform how you craft customer service scripts, emails and social media content to better address customer concerns. These personalized communications demonstrate that you're in tune with what customers have wanted in the past and how those wants might have changed with the current state of the world.
2. Focus on empathy and generosity.
Everyone is moving through the world today with big feelings and new problems. That's why leading every customer interaction with empathy and generosity is more important than ever.
“Taking a little extra time understanding and listening to customers with our ears, eyes and heart is key to understanding their story and emotions,” says Rinne.
Rinne instructs her clients to do three specific things to retrain the way they listen:
- Stay silent until the person has finished talking.
- Don’t worry about how to answer—focus on understanding.
- Rephrase what was said and check for understanding.
"If I am training an employee, I would first role play with them—let them be an angry customer with a problem and show them how I would handle it," Rinne says. "So much of this is achieved in the tone of my voice. Does it sound like I am reading a script or do I sound like an empathetic, caring person who genuinely wants to help? Customers can quickly tell the difference."
3. Meet your customers where they are.
It’s time to expand your customer service strategy to meet customers where they live and deliver superior service across every channel.
“As many retailers today are multi-channel, your customer service also needs to reflect the many areas consumers choose to communicate,” Larsen says. “This means communicating via phone, chat, email, messenger, social media and more.”
Effective communication is about being able to pick up the same thread of a conversation across all channels where customers might reach out to you.
"For example, if a customer question initially comes in through an email but then is followed up with a phone call, that customer doesn't want to repeat themselves or worse, get a conflicting answer from a difficult service agent," says Larsen. "When agents have all historical information on past communications and purchases, they are able to get a holistic view of the customer and can figure out the best way to respond, no matter what channel is used."
4. Invest in simple feedback strategies.
With any customer service strategy, it’s natural to want to know how your customers think you’re doing. After all, you’re relying on customer service to power you through an unprecedented economic tide.
Short surveys, especially in today's uncertain times, increase the chance that customers will respond. To get the feedback engine rolling, companies can register for a wide variety of online survey companies. Here, you can create simple one- to three-question surveys and add the survey link to the end of a "thank you" email.
"We find that a phone call is also incredibly effective," says Rinne. "Call the customer and ask, 'What, if anything, could the company have done to better serve you?'" An open-ended question can inspire your customers to share concerns and offer solutions that your company can implement to the benefit of all customers.
Customer service can be the survival strategy that will endear you to customers, build loyalty and even encourage customers to look for ways to support you while operations are slowed or shut down. By gathering your customer data and using it to craft personalized and sincere interactions, you’ll be doing the good work to stay in your loyal customers’ good graces.
And with any hope, you'll cultivate new and loyal fans who will remember you as a warm and supportive presence during a time of so much uncertainty.
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