Have a question about a product? Need help with an order? Trying to find an item in your local store? Where do you turn? Customer service. Regardless of the reason or the channel you choose, one thing remains clear. At that moment, the customer service representative can make or break the experience and have a significant impact on your overall perception of the brand.
According to CMO Council, 47% of consumers stop doing business with a brand that continues to frustrate them. And a 2017 Blackhawk Network report found that 94% of consumers are loyal to brands that deliver a consistently good customer experience – 73% are loyal because of good customer service. In most cases, you can’t have one without the other.
At a time when customer service is becoming even more important to consumers, why does it seem like companies aren’t investing in making these employees valuable assets as opposed to potential liabilities?
These days, where consumer choice is limitless, retailers who provide excellent customer service can easily separate themselves from the pack. They should focus on how their employees engage with customers at all levels because with good customer service comes consumer trust. And while obtaining that trust is critical and takes effort, losing it requires none.
Arm In-Store Employees With the Right Tools
In an effort to provide a better customer experience, many retailers are looking at offering more technology to in-store shoppers, from smart mirrors to product-less stores. But shouldn’t the same hold true for staff as well?
Think about it. If I call a customer service department, the associate is sitting in front of a computer and able to look up product and order info. They are there to assist me. But why isn’t the interaction in a store the same? Typically, I either have to hope they know the information off the top of their head, or they have to walk me to the customer service desk. And chances are I’ve already tried to find the info on my phone before seeking help. Is that a good customer experience? I might as well have stayed home and shopped online, maybe even with another company.
The time has come for retailers to provide in-store shoppers with all of the conveniences of online shopping, including an informed staff. They need to arm their associates with the tools to assist customers. In an age where every retailer is trying to compete with Amazon – and their customer service – this is one area where brick-and-mortar retailers have an advantage … at least for now. So make the most of it!
Invest in Training and Onboarding
A key part of making customer service associates an extension of your sales team is your training and onboarding process. You must invest time in training them on not only company policies but also how to take a customer-first approach to sales and service. Associates must be friendly and helpful, but they must also be able to assist customers and recommend alternate or add-on products. In instances where a customer’s experience is not going well, such as with returns or damaged items, they must be empathetic as well as helpful.
One challenge many retailers face is the associates’ lack of investment in the company’s well-being. Maybe they’re temporary or seasonal employees. Perhaps it’s “just a job” to them, such as with high-school or college students. Maybe the company work environment just isn’t that friendly. The individual situation doesn’t really matter. In that role, they’re the face of the company. They are extremely important to the success of your business. So creating buy-in is essential in having them provide the level of service you want. This is where onboarding comes into play.
Take a look at your training process, and redefine it in a way that not only empowers the employee but results in happy customers. Do you offer attainable bonuses to these employees for sales or positive review scores? Are they cross-trained on other areas of the company that would be helpful for them? Do they have visible and attainable advancement opportunities? If employees aren’t invested, there will be no consistency. And remember: 94% of consumers are loyal to those that provide consistency.
Earn Trust and Repeat Sales
Customers not only expect the customer service associate to resolve their current issue, but they also have a level of blind trust in them. They’re receptive to employee recommendations or feelings toward a product. And this becomes even more powerful if the employee is able to solve their initial request. The customer is then likely more willing to seek out, rather than simply receive, guidance from this employee, which can go a long way toward upsells or cross-sells.
The more knowledgeable an employee is, the better experience they can provide, and the more trust and satisfaction the consumer will have. This is how you build loyalty and create brand advocates!
Make it Easy for Consumers
Consumers are increasingly wanting more convenience when it comes to reaching customer service. Can you expand your current offerings? With so many ways to deliver support, think about the methods your customers may want, such as live chat, text, social media, phone or email, to name a few.
Live chat is rapidly becoming a favorable method, ranking just behind phone as the preferred method for contacting customer service, according to a 2018 Bizrate Insights report. Chat is a bit more informal and allows for a more conversational style of support, which can make it easier for employees to make product suggestions and guide a purchase decision. Don’t feel like you have to enable every channel for customers, but be sure to provide the methods they prefer, not the ones you prefer.
Customer service is the land of opportunity where retailers can compete, get ahead and build customer loyalty and brand advocates. People expect good customer service and experiences. Do your best to give them what they want. If you don’t, someone else will.
Greg Zakowicz is Senior Commerce Marketing Analyst at Bronto Software