As the fall season gets underway, most businesses are starting to look at customer service trends for 2013. If you haven’t, don’t worry about it. That’s what I’m here for. I’ve started the research process for you and over the next few months, until the end of the year and into 2013, I will be featuring the customer service trends you need to watch for as well as sharing the best strategies and tools to put them into action for your business.
In order to gather some of this trend information, I decided to do some “unscientific” research and ask small-business owners and customer service experts what they thought were the top three trends in customer service for 2013 and how they were going to implement them. Based on the results from my research, I’m going to start this series by sharing with you what I have learned.
It shouldn’t surprise you that personalization came up as a major customer service trend for 2013. Today’s Internet and social-media technology make personal interactions with your customers so ridiculously affordable and low-tech that this is a trend you should start looking to implement right after you finish reading this article. Don't worry, I’m going to lead you through the steps.
Match Your Strategy with Your Style
One stumbling block I’ve noticed with my readers and clients alike is that they get focused on specific strategies, but then don’t implement them. The biggest reason for failure is that they picked a strategy that didn’t match their style. I see most small-business owners as being one of four marketing personality styles: social, persuasive, creative or analytical. The social and persuasive styles are more gregarious by nature, while the creative and analytical are more behind-the-scenes folks. There are several other distinctions but let’s just focus on these two in helping you choose a customer service personalization strategy that you can implement successfully.
How the Experts Personalize
Let’s dig into some of the personalization strategies that were offered up by other small-business owners and customer service experts.
Donna Drehman from Listen Learn Live is both a customer service expert as well as a small-business owner. Her take on personalization is to put a system in place that makes your customer feel and know that they are special to you. She recommends both high-tech solutions such as a CRM as well as low-tech solutions such as a filing system or simple database.
Since I’m sure that you have more files than you know what to do with, let’s take a look at a two CRM solutions that can be ideal for a small business.
Nimble. If you are a socializing or persuasive style of marketer, then you should take a look at Nimble. This is what’s called a “social CRM” application that is ideal for those businesses who generate customers via social media channels such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. Nimble allows you to leverage those relationships and not lose them. If someone recommends you or asks for your advice via a social media channel, you can use Nimble to keep that conversation alive and show the person that you are responsive.
ClaritySoft. I ran into ClaritySoft while I was helping one of my manufacturing clients find a CRM that was easy to use and that focused on the lead generation, nurturing and project management component of customer service. We ended up choosing them because they were very affordable and allowed us to profile customers, manage each step of the development process and create targeted sales and marketing campaigns in a snap.
Another terrific personalization tip came from Chris Anderson, co-founder of Breezi.com, a new and amazing DIY website tool. He recommends using live chat on your website.
He says that having a website with live chat takes it to the next level. Small businesses have been slow to adopt live chat, though it's becoming more critical to remain competitive and strengthen customer loyalty. The immediacy of live chat is the biggest advantage, where you can connect with a human being almost instantaneously. Many customers dread having to get on the phone and wade through a convoluted sea of automated messages and extensions, in hopes of finally reaching a real person.
Anderson recommends tools like oLark, Volusion, Velaro or LiveZilla explaining that each is inexpensive, easy to use and makes you personally accessible to your customers.
Live chat is a fantastic personalization option for creative or analytical personality styles who may not feel comfortable engaging via phone with customers or for small businesses who operate online either as a software business or other service where you need or are primarily used online at the time service is needed.
I’m Ready to Get Personal—Now What?
If you’ve read through this article and decided that you want to implement a personalization customer service strategy for 2013. You’re probably swimming in overwhelm right now. That’s perfectly normal. First take a breath and then follow this simple to-do list.
1. Ask your customers. Before you spend time, money and effort, ask your customers how they prefer to interact with you. You could do an online customer survey and just ask the question “How do you prefer to interact with us?” then list e-mail, phone, live chat, etc. Make sure you let them pick more than one answer.
2. Test the responses. Take the answers that you get and test them out on a small community of customers. So if your customers said they would like “live chat”—then try it out with a beta group of customers and see how that works.
3. Implement one simple tool at a time. I know, you’re going to get all excited, but contain yourself. Implement one tool at a time. If it’s live chat, for example, work with that for a few months. Then look at other options.
I could go on and on about personalization and customer service—and I will in future articles. But now, I want to hear from you. Use the comments section below to share your top customer service trends for 2013, and if you have questions about specific customer service tools, share those, too. Lets help each other and have an ongoing conversation about building profitable customer relationships in 2013!
Read more about small-business customer service here.