Customers today have higher expectations of businesses than they did just a few years ago. They are used to being treated well by sophisticated companies that anticipate their needs and deliver tailored experiences directly to them, just in time. Customers also expect their interactions with all companies to be smooth and pleasant. When a problem arises and a customer contacts a company for a resolution, that’s when the stakes are high and businesses must take special care in how they respond to customers. Here are some recent statistics by Accenture that illustrate how important improving customer experience really is:
I am going to share some proven methods that companies have used in order to create great shopping and customer service experiences for their customers. Such customer experiences lead to very happy customers who, in turn, love to share their experience with their community. A great 5-Star review by a customer who is sharing their experience passionately and authentically is worth far more than any clever messaging a company or marketing agency can create.
I am not talking about 5-Star reviews with generic ‘Thank You’ notes like “Great service, thanks,” or “Item arrived as described.” Although these are good to have, they are expected as standard services by customers. I am instead talking about reviews that include personal stories with emotional content, which truly connect with readers. Those are the reviews that convert casual visitors who are checking out your business into buyers. Those kinds of reviews matter quite a lot, and they do not happen by accident. If you see a company that has a number of these heart-felt positive reviews, they appear because they were engineered to happen, by being a part of the company’s culture and operational practices.
Make it easy and pleasant for customers to do business with you. Remember the saying, “Don’t make me think!” There is plenty of wisdom in that. Assume that your customer is very busy and is not paying full attention to the transaction at hand. Most people just muddle through their tasks, multitasking, and doing ten things at once. A great user interface is one that makes it super easy for customers to take the next step. It anticipates their next move, brings it forward and makes it obvious. The problem with most online sites is that they assume customers are reading all or most of the content and making informed decisions. Excuse the bluntness, but customers generally don’t care all that much about your business and its information and warnings. They expect you to figure it out for them, so only present them options that are relevant to them for the transaction at hand. Having to go through five dropdown menus to buy a toner cartridge is not what I want to spend my time doing on a Monday morning when my phones are ringing, or when I have a sales meeting in ten minutes and deadlines to meet before lunch. Not to mention the pounding hangover from yesterday! If I bought a toner from your company three months ago, I should be able to click one button and buy it again. Here are some important items for improving the initial contact point:
After years of managing many businesses, I have come to believe that improving customer experience is all about setting expectations correctly. I have clients that are discounters with very strict return and refund policies, who have happy customers and great reviews because they are upfront about revealing all of their terms and conditions. People understand that in order to get a great deal, you sometimes have to agree to strict terms. It makes sense, and they are happy to oblige. On the other hand, I have a client who sells high-end items with very liberal policies, except for (what he believes are) some very minor inflexibilities. Those inflexibilities were causing friction with customers because my client was not totally up-front about displaying them. Most of the negative reviews were about these seemingly small items. Every point of friction will eventually cause unhappy customers and negative reviews. So it is very important to think through every point of interaction with customers while making sure you’re anticipating friction areas and setting expectations correctly. Some important areas of concern are:
If you ship packages to your customers, here is your opportunity to create a ‘wow’ moment. Imagine when your customer receives his or her first package from your company. The stakes are high. If you set your customer expectations correctly during the order process, then they should get exactly what they ordered and what they expect to receive. This is when you can go the extra distance and wow them. Here are some ideas:
When they first remove the tape and open the package, it is similar to when they first open the door and come into your store. A nice greeting here can go a long way to establishing good faith. You can have a note that simply says ‘Thank You.’ A handwritten note from a real person at your company, sent to the customer, can make a huge impression, and it is proven to reduce returns. These days, customers order packages from multiple companies, keep one and return the rest. A personal message or a group shot of employees like the one here can make your package the one that they keep.
A small unexpected gift can be very impactful. To help improve customers’ experience at the crucial contact point when they first open the product shipment, we added a handful of hard candy to packages that our client sends to their customers, along with a personal note. You cannot believe the number of positive messages we received from customers. I doubt many people actually ate the candy; however, it’s more about the unexpected smile that you put on your customers’ faces. For another client that services luxury cars, we asked our client to leave a $10 Starbucks gift card on the dash along with a thank you note. Again, that’s all customers could talk about.
Making a personal connection with your customer is key to creating a great lasting experience. Nobody likes to deal with an impersonal robot or cold corporate language. We go through every client email that is consumer-facing to make sure it comes from a real person and sounds friendly and empathetic. Recently, we changed an auto-responder email that was signed, “Customer Service Team,” and rewrote it to appear much more personal. It thus became a message signed by Jessica, a real customer service rep at our client’s company. The result was a higher response by customers directly to Jessica, along with a 15% higher conversion rate in the funnel. A 20-minute personalization exercise netted thousands of dollars in returns. Personal connections are the most important improvement you can make to your communication funnel.
If and when problems arise and customers have to contact the business for resolutions, it is imperative that this interaction is handled professionally and with the utmost care for the customer. Mistakes happen; however, it doesn’t really matter whose fault it was. What matters is what impression you, as the business or brand owner, leave with the customer. This is where you can turn a negative into a positive and make a life-long customer. I am not talking about giving things away to make a customer happy. In fact, I believe that most customers are sensible and understand that problems happen. It’s how the business owner handles these problems that makes the difference. My best advice for business owners is to not take anything personally. That’s rule number one! But I know that it is easier said than done. My other advice is for the business owner to stay away from customer service, and leave it to a manager or someone who is not emotionally vested in every outcome. This applies even if you are right, and especially if you are right. The more important consideration is usually the long-term outcome in terms of business reputation, not just the outcome of the particular transaction at hand.
Almost all companies have customer service policies, and customer service representatives are expected to explain company policies to customers. How this is done makes a huge difference in creating happy or unhappy customer experiences. The tendency for busy customer service departments is to copy and paste the policy into pseudo-personal messages. Something like: Hi Sasson, we at company XYZ care about our clients… blah blah blah. However, based on our company policy that you agreed to during checkout, we regret to inform you that… blah blah blah.
I am sure that sounds like many of the emails you frequently receive. How can we improve this negative experience for customers? In one word: Empathy.
First, we must empower the customer service representatives to have the authority to make the right decision. If you don’t think your representatives are qualified to make these decisions, then either hire new staff members or improve your training process. Any representative that has worked at your business for a few months generally knows what to do to make customers happy without damaging the company. However, they may lack the authority to make decisions and must escalate the issue to upper management. If that has ever happened to you, then you know how that makes you feel. I don’t think I really need to expand on that.
The most effective emails and responses are the personal ones. These are emails and responses that come from a person, not a department. We train our clients’ customer service reps to treat customers like they are their family. Listen carefully, care deeply, and address every single point that the customer makes. Respond in a personal and empathetic voice. The customer must really understand that they are heard, that you recognize what they are asking of you, and that you are doing your absolute best to help them. Only then can you start talking about company policy. It also helps to explain the logic behind the policy, just like you would if your brother or sister had ordered and now was not happy with the product or service. This doesn’t mean that you have to do exactly what they request; however, it does mean that you should respond with due consideration and not like a robot. If the customer has a valid point, then that should come into consideration. If you can make an exception and make a customer happy, that could make a lifelong relationship that continues to give back to the company. Again, the long-term outcome may be more important than the short-term win.
I love the story of zappos.com, which sent a large bouquet of flowers along with a “Get well soon” card to a customer’s doorstep who had ordered shoes for her mother who was suffering from sensitive and numb feet due to medical treatment. This kind of sympathetic gesture demonstrates that you are bigger than the business of selling shoes, and that you are a real human being. This creates good will that is invaluable. This story has been circulating around the internet for years. You cannot buy this type of good will. It only comes from real human kindness and treating customers with love, like we do with our own friends and family.