With the end of the year rapidly approaching, most companies are busy putting the final wrapping on their 2015 fiscal plans and stuffing their strategies with sales and marketing programs to bring joy to their CEOs. But perhaps the most important part of these annual corporate traditions is the building and maintaining of a solid customer base.
While this is true for companies of any size, entrepreneurs especially depend on growing and nurturing a loyal customer base in order to stay in business.
As customer service becomes increasingly important and top of mind, my company, Aspect Software, commissioned a study of 650 customer-service decision makers to give companies a better idea of their approach to client care and the opportunities to deliver a better experience.
Respondents answered questions about their company’s client service in terms of leadership involvement, technology, priorities, alignment with the corporate mission and goals, their representatives and metrics.
Based on this, five common company approaches emerged, which were classified into customer-care personas -- none of which were absolutely perfect in dealing with customer service and each leaving room for improvement.
So whether your business is still in its infancy or in the middle of a full customer-engagement evaluation, figure out which persona your company tends to have. See below for the common traps to avoid when executing a service strategy.
There’s something to be said for the tried-and-true approach to customer service in which the relationship is king. But an overemphasis on conventional person-to-person customer engagement does not come close to areas of growing consumer interest: innovation, self-service and the use of contemporary technology.
A Traditionalist company is one that's all about the relationship but not the technology. Only 5 percent of the survey respondents linked with this type of company persona strongly agreed that their organizations deploys newer technologies ahead of customers’ demand for their use.
This can be a major pitfall, since many customers increasingly prefer self-service applications to resolve issues, and the expense of providing a one-to-one real-time touch point for each client can be high.
Companies that recognize that a comprehensive customer-care strategy is a mix of technology and agent-based service are those that will avoid falling into the Traditionalist’s traps.
2. The Honcho.
A Honcho firm has committed leadership involvement but lacks effectiveness. Companies like this see the value of customer service as part of the overall corporate strategy. In fact, 100 percent of survey respondents who had companies of this type reported that leadership is involved in the customer-service strategy.
These respondents also agreed that investment in customer-service technology has a strong correlation to improved consumer interaction. Yet they haven’t fully grasped how to integrate this technology into operations and use it effectively. They may not have a strong social-media presence or offer cross-channel capabilities for problem resolution.
Remember, it’s not enough for leadership to just value customer service. Put words into practice by encouraging the entire organization to continuously innovate and explore new channels for engagement.
3. The Selfie.
Face it: A company's brand is nothing without its customers. A company can be on the forefront of technology, ahead of the curve in customer-service innovation and functionality, but if these things are done only to cut costs and serve corporate interests, the organization is at risk of neglecting customers and their needs.
A Selfie company runs just that. It innovates but primarily to serve its own cost-saving agenda. A majority of respondents in companies matching this profile said they are nimble when it comes to changing technology to improve the customer experience.
But at this type of company, there's an amplified sense of self. Representatives believe that their enterprise can do no wrong and that they are doing a better job at client care than their customers would say.
It’s difficult to master something that's always changing and customer sentiment is no different. Any belief otherwise is a surefire way to alienate and lose the customers who sustain a business.
4. The Casualist.
The most dangerous trap of all may be an overly casual approach to customer service -- in everything from leadership involvement and metrics to technology and customer-service prioritization. Those working at Casualist firms miss the mark completely in most areas. None of the professionals working in companies of this ilk strongly agree their company ensures that customer-service efforts capture consumers’ satisfaction.
The use of a "light’s on, but no one’s home” care strategy is one reason why representatives at these companies see their customer-service performance worsening.
Casualness can be a sign of flexibility and the ability to handle surprises. But overdone, casualness can leave customers with unresolved issues and agents unsure of how to proceed.
Flexibility is critical in providing a personalized approach to customer care, but some structure is still necessary to resolve issues, which is key for the most superior customer experiences.
5. The Stickler.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the company that becomes overly bogged down by rules, procedures and a formalized approach to customer service. Stickler organizations focus solely on following a well-defined protocol, emphasizing that their representatives be adept at accurately explaining corporate policy and point of view.
While rules can be good, companies also need to be flexible to meet the needs of every customer. The customer cares less about the corporate policy and more about an experience that's not one size fits all.
While there’s no perfect posture for a company to adopt, find a balance between delivering superior customer service and bottom-line results.
The first step is to recognize your company’s approach to customer care and the potential customer-service traps and pitfalls your business can fall into. Avoid them, and then develop a strategy that takes into account your customers and the technology that optimizes your representatives' ability to best serve them.
Strike the right strategic balance between addressing the needs of your customer base as well as the needs of your own shareholders and investors. And in this ever-changing landscape, you’ll be able to deliver exceptional service as well as returns.