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3 Elements of a Better Customer Experience Companies that treat customer service like an afterthought needn't worry -- their competition will take care of the rest.

By Scott Horn Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


By definition, customer service should focus on three things:

  • Customers come first. Companies need to understand who they are, what they hope to accomplish and what they need to feel satisfied throughout their shopping journeys.
  • Service follows. Entrepreneurs should study how consumers want to solve problems and what they expect when help is provided.
  • Location is last. It's useful to learn where shoppers prefer to interact with businesses.

Marketers with a complete understanding of these fundamentals have a major competitive advantage over those who do not. In today's digital world, consumers' expectations are increasingly difficult to match, making it more important than ever before for companies to improve and refine their customer service strategies. According to the [24]7 2016 Customer Engagement Index, 86 percent of shoppers describe a great customer service experience as one that involves just one of these elements: A company anticipates their needs, self-service is optimal, or they're able to contact the company any way they choose (phone, email, chat or messaging).

Considering how poorly many companies handle their customer service efforts, it's almost as if these expectations are a real surprise. Customer service has a clear impact on a company's overall identity and bottom line, but too few businesses place enough focus on this critical consumer touch point. That's a huge mistake. Research shows that if price and products are of equal value, consumers who receive poor service will take their business to a competitor.

Related: 5 Ways Small-Business Owners Can Improve Customer Retention

Companies that give customer service the respect it deserves already are seeing direct benefits. Uber is the perfect example of customer engagement done right. The ride-sharing service is built on easy self-service via mobile, anticipates users' needs with always-available rides and meets consumers where they're engaged. Uber understands an important parallel: No one wants to walk three blocks to meet their driver, and consumers won't go out of their way to address service needs.

Companies such as Uber, Amazon and GrubHub have raised the stakes for others by removing the friction from everyday activities. These businesses picked up on consumers' behavioral trends and built their entire platforms around how shoppers want their experiences to look and feel. Today's consumers expect all companies do the same.

Many companies have yet to make the necessary investments in customer service, but it's better to start late than never. To be effective, businesses must master all three elements of a complete customer experience.

1. Know customer intent.

All consumer interactions and orders are digitally cataloged and at companies' disposals. What's more, the addition of new shopping avenues across many devices means this volume of consumer information is multiplying even faster. According to the [24]7 2016 Index, 95 percent of customers use three or more channels and devices to resolve a single customer service issue, and 82 percent use up to five.

With this wealth of data at their fingertips, businesses must leverage all technologies their customers use in order to anticipate concerns, questions and issues. Consumers want to interact with businesses on their own terms, whether that's live chat on the web or picking up the phone. But it's up to companies to create smart, connected experiences that allow customers to seamlessly switch channels when needed. For example, if a customer runs into an issue while depositing a check online, he or she might pick up the phone to talk to a person at the bank. In a great customer experience, an intelligent system has documented this journey and alerted a representative of the customer's original intent. When the customer and representative connect via phone, they quickly can resolve the issue without having to confirm customer accounts or jump through other procedural hoops.

A customer's most basic information -- name, phone number, email address -- automatically should follow him or her from one point of customer service to another. This streamlines digital customer service and makes it easier to handle more requests in less time.

As shoppers contact companies in multiple ways to address issues and ask questions, businesses can create a more complete picture of consumer needs. Over time, this will allow companies to increase the personalization of their customer service programs.

Although this breed of software-as-a-service technology is new in the past few years, it offers companies exciting opportunities to anticipate service issues in the future. It's extremely difficult for companies to regain business and trust after a customer's issue goes unresolved. Companies should do everything in their power to foresee and avoid problems.

Related: Use Your Customer Support Staff to Improve Every Aspect of Your Business

2. Offer easy self-service.

Not surprisingly, consumers often find it faster and easier to resolve issues on their own. For many shoppers, the less contact with a company, the better. In fact, one-third of millennials say optimal self-service is what they look for in a great customer service experience.

As reported by the [24]7 Customer Engagement Index, 20 percent of consumers who end a business relationship due to poor customer service report waiting too long to talk to someone on the phone. Thirty-seven percent point to frustrations with interactive voice response (IVR) technology, and 13 percent cite unskilled customer service agents.

In more complex situations it can be necessary to go beyond self-service. Companies might first offer a virtual agent and then transfer customers to agent-assisted service without interruption as needed. Self-service always should be available and frictionless from one touch point to the next. Shoppers regularly interact with companies in more than one way during the resolution process.

3. Meet shoppers where they are.

Companies cannot forget the importance of a customer's need to dictate how and when issues are resolved. Even shoppers with similar product or service issues might shape their resolution journeys in different ways.

The [24]7 Index notes that 49 percent of shoppers rely on PCs or laptops as the first device in the service path. However, smartphones (24 percent) and tablets (14 percent) are closing the gap. No matter the device, more than 60 percent of customer service experiences begin on a company website. Companies should know how a customer requests support and offer the correct resources based on the customer's platform.

Today's businesses can't simply push shoppers toward a singular interface. Instead, companies should develop holistic strategies that meet shoppers on their terms. This includes new channels and emerging technologies. Facebook Messenger, for instance, first became popular as a communication option among consumers. It's since evolved into a first-choice customer service option. It has the potential to become a key connecting point between consumers and companies.

Related: 5 Reasons to Reimagine How You Offer Customer Support

Moving forward, companies should continue to use consumer behavior as guidance, even when it comes to picking the basic technologies offered within a customer service strategy. This final point is one that perhaps isn't so intuitive for businesses. Companies always have striven to learn more about customers and to meet their expectations, but the marketplace's evolving technological landscape has created a need for businesses to take a closer look at customer service.

The smartest companies will master all three of the key points discussed above. When one provider cannot meet customer needs and does not make service a priority, consumers take their business elsewhere. The reverse also is true. Lifetime loyalty awaits businesses that understand consumer wants and reflect these characteristics throughout the customer experience.

This is the new reality to which companies must adapt -- and Uber and Amazon are a few that prove it's possible. They've made the entire experiences so seamless that consumers might not even realize it's happening. Uber alerts each customer of a vehicle's arrival and a completed payment. Chances are, Uber's riders don't think of these as customer service experiences. But they most certainly are, and they're working.

Scott Horn

CMO of [24]7

Scott joined [24]7 in 2015 as the Chief Marketing Officer and brings over 20 years of global marketing experience with leading technology companies. Prior to joining [24]7, he was the VP, Global Marketing for Seagate Technology, a global storage technology leader, where he drove revenue with a redesigned product line strategy, focused digital and demand marketing efforts on enhancing customer acquisition and loyalty and spearheaded the company's rebrand from a component manufacturer to a technology solution provider. Previously, he spent 17 years in Seattle at Microsoft in marketing and product development roles across various lines of business, including Windows Phone, Windows Embedded and Developer Tools. 

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