There’s a new kind of customer service that many businesses are increasingly incorporating into their b2c strategy, and that’s customer ‘self’ service – helping your customers to help themselves at times when your own reps have their hands tied or are otherwise unavailable.
Helping customers to help themselves in a moment of confusion, curiosity or perhaps frustration comes with a whole array of perks that can only be good for your brand. As well as minimising cost, miscommunication and time consumption, facilitating a customer ‘self’ service often leads to greater customer satisfaction, a dissemination of richer information, and the greater retention of this information thanks to the research process involved.
Customers usually love the opportunity to get themselves out of a fix as it makes them feel more in control of their experience and promises a faster result than traditional customer service methods. Plus, when you educate one customer, you educate many. Customers are social creatures, so any information you equip them with is likely to be shared and built on over time, creating a loyal base of savvy shoppers who know your product inside out.
So how can we go about putting such an idea into practice?
Kick your knowledge base into high gear.
Research has shown that many customers would be happy to use a knowledge base if it were a) easily accessible and b) consistent and easy to understand. So before further ado, ensure you’re providing your customers with the right information from the beginning to the end of their purchase, and beyond.
A company’s knowledge base can take on many different forms. It’s your product descriptions (which should be precise and to the point); your FAQ; the manuals and how-to guides you supply with your products and services and any other background information you can provide willingly to the customer, before they need to ask. Of course this doesn’t mean an overload of information – keep it tucked away in one section of your site, but make it clear and accessible for those who may need it.
Including bright colours, pictures, videos and diagrams with guides and manuals also makes them much easier to read, and your FAQs should reflect realistic consumer scenarios and NOT be just another way to sell or promote your products.
Enroll the help of other experts.
Your customers don’t just want to take your word for everything. They want the knowledge of experienced experts who also know your products. And who better to suit this role than – that’s right, you guessed it – other customers?
Feedback from customers should be one of your main priorities to compliment your own knowledge base. Follow up purchases with an email, asking for a rating on the service received or a short survey (rewards or discounts can be great incentives for encouraging people to respond). Display customer comments clearly on your site (if ecommerce) and run website polls in those early days to see what your customers would like more or less of.
Your brand shouldn’t just be about delivering reliable products and services; it should be about creating a community and a sense of belonging surrounding your brand. Set up a forum where customers are able to share their experiences of using your product with others and pose their concerns when they’re confused about something. This forum should of course be moderated regularly by your own customer service gurus to inhibit the spread of contaminable misinformation.
Keep the flow of information flowing.
Don’t let your knowledge base grow stagnant; keep it topped up by circulating relevant information you find from other sources among your customer base. This can be in the form of webinars, videos, how-to’s or tutorials, blog posts, infographics and so on, and can be both industry or customer-created. Use your social media pages and feeds to share the information or experiences with your customers (Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are normally the best platforms for this).
Remember that consistency is key. Don’t share information that conflicts with your own guidance and expertise, or if it makes more sense, then it’s probably time to adjust your guidance and expertise. If information is well written, colourfully presented and insightful, it’s definitely worth sharing to help your customers get the most out of their purchases.
Go mobile, so you can always be there.
These days, there’s an app for everything (literally), and customer service should be no exception. The benefits of a mobile customer service are somewhat debated, but in actuality it all comes down to design and implementation.
A smartphone app can be used by your customers to register products, locate stores, complete feedback surveys, find relevant information from your knowledge base (using a clear categorisation layout) and access discount codes. It can also be used to assign your customers a ‘support ticket’ in the event of a problem, which essentially puts them in a virtual queue until their query can be addressed by one of your team. In the meantime, the customer is free to get on with his or her day, whilst your phone lines become less cluttered and inevitably, less costly.
In addition, an app can also be used to make customers aware of potential problems before they arise, such as a product fault, an update, or a scheduled disruption to the service. What your app should NOT be is a prerequisite for receiving any kind of customer service at all. It is an addition, and not a replacement.
On a final note, you should make escalation points available among all of your sources and features so your customer will be able to get in touch if they are truly flummoxed. Customer self service is not advocating a severing of all direct communication with customers, as to do so would damage those long term relationships.
Instead, customer self service is about equipping your audience with the tools they’ll need to fly solo…but letting them know you’ll still be there for them when the time comes.