Four ways to go beyond “basic” in customer service

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Basic. The classical definition is one of being fundamental in nature. Slang has turned this categorization into an insult. In either case, using the term “basic” to describe an organization’s customer service is not a positive thing.

That’s not to say covering “the basics” isn’t important. In fact, the basics are the absolute starting point for customer service. But going beyond those essentials can be a differentiator, and in a world of commoditized goods and services, standing out in a crowd–especially when it comes to customer service–can have game changing effects in customer satisfaction, efficiency gains, and revenue retention and growth. So how does an organization get there?

Choice of channels

The telephone continues to be a popular choice for customers. That makes it an important channel to offer, but it would still fall squarely into the basic camp. Live chat–like the telephone, another one-to-one service offering–would also fall into this category. Not so basic is messaging, which is becoming more popular and offers a live-like experience that elevates service above the fundamental.

Forrester has been raising the importance of offering self-service for years. An up-to-date knowledge base is table stakes here. Online communities may be interesting for some customers, and organizations can benefit from this channel by harvesting useful information in a community for use in new product or service development; to document proven solutions in knowledge base articles; or to craft chatbot responses. Speaking of chatbots, when done right, they can also help rise above basic.

Going beyond basic also means mobile-optimized service. That doesn’t mean a dedicated app is required, but that customers can connect with customer service from a mobile device without sacrifices in the experience.

Choice doesn’t mean offering every possible channel. Providing customers with too many routes may not make sense. Identify and eliminate low volume channels or those that are expensive to maintain (e.g. due to technology or the need for special skills to staff). Don’t neglect to ask customers for their input, as well. The easiest way to not be basic is to follow the ever-changing interests of customers.

Assistance everywhere

With the right customer channels in place, it might seem that’s all that’s necessary. While it’s true the lines of communication might be open, they might not be in the right places.

A customer’s need for assistance can come at any time in their journey. It could be pre-sales or during product or service use. With more of that journey taking place on the internet, a tap or click to get to a customer service page might be just enough to disrupt the experience: the prospect does not purchase or the customer’s question goes unanswered. Limiting customer service to one “place” is basic.

Instead, access to customer service should be readily available. Supported channels–messaging, a chatbot conversation, a searchable knowledge base, etc.–must be offered prominently. To accomplish this, embed service across the digital landscape. Then help is never far away.

Customer operations

One would think providing appropriate channels to connect with customer service in places throughout the customer’s journey would be enough. This has all the makings of good customer service, but it still lacks a critical component to be truly great.

That’s because customer questions and needs come in all forms. While some might have easy, rote answers, others may not. Issues might require aid from another individual or team outside customer service who has the knowledge or skill to assist. Most organizations recognize this, but they address these more complex issues using manual means: tracking them in spreadsheets and communicating status over email. This can slow service and negatively impact the customer experience.

Rising above basic means delivering faster resolutions. Issues requiring proficiencies outside customer service are resolved more rapidly when customer service is connected to those specialists in the middle- and back-office. Self-service workflows can connect customers directly to these other teams for actions like registering products, requesting replacement parts, or scheduling a service appointment. During live interactions, customer service agents can assign tasks to other parts of the organization using standardized playbooks to complete customer requests.

Proactive notifications

The term “customer service” brings to mind agents and self-service options available to help when a problem arises. These are an organization’s reactive response options: to stand by and step in to help when asked. Critical to offer, yes–but also basic.

The world today is digital and connected. This means many products and services have a “health status:” available/online, slowed, or unavailable/offline. Media streaming services, ATM networks, and airline reservation systems are just a few examples of digital services customers rely on. When these systems are experiencing issues, they contact customer service–often to be told by an agent, “yes, we are aware of this.” Agents are aware as a result of the surging contact volume around this issue. Technical teams behind the scenes charged with maintaining the service, though, probably saw the issue coming.

Rather than allow customer service to be flooded with inquiries–reducing service levels and adding to agents’ stress–customer operations in the form of workflow can deliver a more proactive response. When disruptions occur, technical teams can alert customer service. Potentially impacted customers are identified. Proactive notifications (emails, SMS, etc.) are sent to alert customers to the issue, inform them it is being addressed, and when a resolution is expected. Though the outage may be an annoyance, customers are not further inconvenienced by needing to contact customer service.

From basic to remarkable

For some, “basic” may describe the bare minimum. For others, it may be considered an insult. Either way, organizations today can do more than basic when it comes to customer service.

Start by eliminating barriers to engagement. Meet customers in their channels of choice and offer customer service at places throughout their journey. Use automation and workflow so that customer operations run smoothly and speed customer issue resolution. And finally, identify scenarios and build the processes and systems to serve up proactive service. Doing so goes beyond basic to deliver truly memorable customer service.

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