Why email beats social media for customer service

We’ve known it for a while but now it’s official: most people are not keen on social media customer service. Done right, email still is the best way of responding to customer queries.A new survey of the over-25s shows that only 2% of respondents prefer to use social media to get help. And these are not people who haven’t given it a go yet; 67% of those surveyed had tried and tested the method, and were unimpressed. Those of us who are focused on providing the best possible service have only ever tried to give the customers what they wanted. When everybody was telling us that we needed to use social media, we made the effort. Facebook, Twitter, even Instagram – you name it, we gave it a go. So where to now?

Email: what customers want

We don’t suggest for a moment that you give up helping people on social media. Actually quite the opposite – what you need to do is ramp up your social media game to ensure that you’re not one of the companies who are putting willing users off social media custserv altogether.

I know just how it happens. Earlier this year I had a question for UK clothing company Boden, who pride themselves on their customer service – and rightly so, I have to say, having dealt with them via email. They are fast, friendly, and solution-focused. When I tried to interact with them on Facebook, though, I was sorely disappointed.

I commented on one of their posts with a question about an item featured. The post was a few days old, so when I didn’t receive a reply I thought perhaps it had just been overlooked. I tried again, repeating my question. Crickets. So what happened? Based on my (positive) experiences with the company, I think they just never saw my message.

I can tell that they don’t use Casengo’s customer service software, which would have sent my comment right to the top of their team inbox ready for them to deal with. Instead, I think it just got lost in their attempts to handle Facebook from the Facebook interface, one of many hundreds of comments they have to deal with each week. Thanks to the stellar service I’ve received from Boden in the past, I don’t hold it against them – but they did lose a sale. And I won’t try to Facebook with them again.

Use email, use email, and did we say – use email?

As a company staffed with internet junkies, we have more than our fair share of experience with online communication. When it’s done right, email has to be the best way of handling customer service.

The benefits:
• You have as much space to say as little or as much as you need to; no need to stop at 140 characters.
• It’s (more or less) private, government hacking scandals aside – in any case, it’s not being broadcast to anyone who’s ever heard of you (and even more people who haven’t).
• It is convenient for both sender and receiver. The sender can reach out at a time that suits them (no phone line opening hours to fit in with, and no being put on hold), and the recipient can respond at a convenient moment. No picking up the phone in the middle of lunch. No difficulty understanding each other’s accents. No premium phone lines.
• If you need to include attachments – photographic proof of a damaged item, say, or instructions for use – it’s easily done.
• And with hybrid chat, it can go from an email exchange to a live chat session whenever it suits! When it comes to choosing the best customer service medium, it’s important to keep one thing in mind: the customer is still always right.

Although email is almost always the best option for getting to the bottom of an issue, not all customers want to do things via email. And that’s ok. The best channel for customer service is still the one they prefer, not the one that is the one that you think they should prefer. If they tweet you, you tweet back. Facebook comments? Better be right there. And dare we say it, even the occasional customer who prefers to pick up the phone? You’re gonna chat to them in your brightest and cheeriest phone voice. Because whether they want email, Facebook, or perhaps even carrier pigeon, they’re the ones who are keeping you in business.

3 ways to adapt your customer service to the relationship economy

2015 is off to a shaky start for UK businesses with the release of a new report from the Institute of Customer Service (ICS). This independent membership body publishes the UK Customer Satisfaction Index twice each year.

The latest edition of the Index, aiming to help businesses improve their customers’ experiences along with their business performance, is not good news: overall satisfaction has dropped over the past year and is now lower than at any point since January 2010. The CEO of the ICS reckons UK companies are struggling to keep up with changes to the economy, as it switches from a transactional economy to a relationship economy.

Customers used to be concerned only about the price they were paying and the product they were getting in return. But over the past five years, rapid technological changes have had a massive impact on the way we conduct business. We are now able – and expect – to share our opinions on the companies we buy from, and to enter into a dialogue with them. But most businesses are just not ready for this. Is yours? Customer service change

Customer service change #1 – Value (speed and reliability) beats price

Under the transactional model, it was all about competition: businesses competed on price. Many products and services were essentially the same (thanks in part to market research which told companies “what customers want”). It became a race to the bottom to see which businesses could provide the lowest price without actually going bust.

While price is still an important factor in decision-making, there’s another important differentiator at play in the relationship economy: value. With customers being increasingly value-conscious, decision-making is based not merely on dollars (or pounds or euros), but on factors like customer service. Time is fairly limited for most of us, so it makes little sense to stay with a business which has low prices but an unreliable product, service or delivery method, or which has such poor customer service that it takes up time sorting out administrative or other problems.

Adapting your customer service: Casengo’s email management system allows businesses to keep on top of all their electronic communications using just one inbox. Whether you’re monitoring social media or dealing with incoming queries, compliments or even complaints, it’s all there in the one place. Better customer service = less time wasted = better value for money. And more brand loyalty.

Customer service change #2 – Monologue to dialogue

Anyone older than five years of age has grown up in an environment where brands held a monologue. They talked to us, and we listened (or not) – but we didn’t reply. Unless we were angry or enthusiastic enough to send an old-fashioned snail mail letter to a company, we were preached to and that was that.

That’s how it worked when radio or tv ads were the only way to communicate to the general public. Now we have the internet, and more specifically, social media. If you are not yet holding a two-way discussion with your customers, you’d better get started pretty quickly.

Adapting your customer service: Casengo’s hybrid chat feature makes it easy to communicate with your customers at the pace that suits them (and you). Not only can they respond to you easily, but the communication can even be a live discussion if you’re both online at the same time. The great thing about hybrid chat is that you can chat when you’re working – no more rapid email back-and-forth with subject lines beginning re: re: re: re: re: – but when you’re not, the client’s message is simply treated as an email and goes straight to your inbox. No ‘sorry, live chat is currently unavailable’ note on your website, just a simple yet versatile tool combining the best of both email and chat.

Customer service change #3 – Collaboration over competition

Nowadays, doing business is not a zero-sum game. You can often improve your company by collaborating with other businesses. Consider companies like Coca-Cola and Heinz, which worked together on packaging, or Evernote and Moleskine and their Smart Notebook. Working together with your so-called ‘competitors’ can create win-win situations where both businesses multiply the possibilities available to them and come up with new products and services which would not otherwise have existed.

If you stay in the old-fashioned transactional economy, you’ll find yourself left behind as your offering becomes harder and harder to distinguish from the other businesses who are differentiated only by price. In the meantime, collaborative companies will be creating the goods and services that today’s consumers want to spend their money on.

Adapting your customer service: Casengo makes both external and internal collaboration super-easy. You can add notes to update a case if you speak to a client on the phone or, say, a package is returned as undeliverable. That means that your colleagues have always got all the info they need, all in one place. So all team members can be kept up to speed on the situation, all the time. And if you need help from someone who doesn’t use Casengo (the IT contractor who set up the back-end for your credit card payments, let’s say), collaboration is just as simple. With a simple invitation she can automatically see the entire conversation so far, allowing her to give a rapid reply. Problem solved quickly = more happy customers!

While a blog post can’t possibly cover what you need to know in order to make the change from transactional to relationship-oriented, it can at least emphasise that you need to get started. With just one inbox for all your incoming communications, Casengo’s customer service software makes it easier to keep on top of your social media discussions while providing speedy email support too. If your business (UK-based or not) is still stuck in the early years of the 21st century, take these new ICS results as a warning sign that you’re falling behind the times. Why not vow to join the conversation, get yourself up to speed on what customers expect from you, and you’ll be back in business!

How customer service will get you through rough times

The economic outlook for 2015 is uncertain - The Economist says so. As we settle into the groove of another new year, a combination of world events and the continuing aftershocks from the financial crisis show a bumpy road ahead for businesses and customers alike. When people have less money, they are more careful with it – but that doesn’t mean they necessarily go for the cheapest option. Here’s how customer service can encourage people to buy from you, even when the seas are rough.

Work on your website

When was the last time you did a walk-through of your own website? Whether you’re an online retailer or have another form of online presence, you can’t get away with having a less than confidence-inspiring public face. You wouldn’t set up your real-life premises in a tent, would you? Because you’d look like a fly-by-night operation which couldn’t be trusted with someone else’s money.

Look at your website as if you’re a first-time customer. Click on all the links and see if they take you where you want to go. Make sure that your choice of colours and design project an air of quality and reliability. If your first impression isn’t good, then your service (and the resulting customer satisfaction) probably isn’t going to be that good either. So get clicking and make sure that your website represents the reliable, customer-friendly business that you truly are!

Be good and fast – but not too fast

We’ve talked before about the dangers of giving a too-speedy reply and how the quality of your answer is more important. However, speed is important too. Confused? Don’t be. The truth, hard as it is to accept, is that customer service needs to be both good and fast.

Back in those long-gone days before the internet when you could only connect with customer service reps in person or on the phone, you always knew that they were going to come back. Whether you were sitting waiting in a business with only one exit(!) as they rummaged out the back, or listened to that tinny version of Greensleeves while on hold, you knew that eventually you’d get a response.

When you send an email, however, it’s a bit like putting a message in a bottle and casting it out to sea. Quite possibly something will happen, but it would not be unreasonable to expect that it won’t. Giving a fast reply removes that doubt.

Make it easy for the customer

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: meet the customer where they are. But that doesn’t just mean helping them on their preferred channels: it means that you need to think like your customer. Putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and seeing the experience through their eyes is the only way to ensure that your customer service is hitting the spot. You may well have systems in place which state that, for example, queries of a certain type need to go through a certain person. If that means that the customer needs to speak to or email someone else, then you’re just going to have to change your systems. The point of having systems is not to make things clearer and easier for staff – it’s to make things clearer and easier for your customers!

The reason we emphasise these points isn’t just because we want people to like you, or to think that you’re a “good” business. It’s because they’ll give up and go and spend their money elsewhere if you make it too hard for them to do business with you. And let’s face it, when you’re an SME in a tough economic climate – every dollar, euro, pound, yen or shekel counts. We’re not rolling in money in some Hollywood film here. We’re out to earn a living (and then some, with any luck!). And the best way to do that is by giving good service. So go do it.

What are your customer service New Year’s resolutions?

Now that the holiday season is behind us and the reality of the new year is setting in, it’s time to take a look at where you want to take your business in 2015. After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there? With a few well-thought-out and well-executed customer service resolutions, you’ll be well on the way to a happy and prosperous new year.

1. Help your customers on their preferred channels

Research into customer service is full of conflicting messages. We get told that customers want to speak to a real live person, that they don’t trust email because they don’t believe they’ll get a reply. Then we get told that phone service is passé and everything needs to be done through social media. The fact of the matter is that different people like different things.

You need to meet your customers where they are. If someone contacts you via Twitter, don’t send them a phone number and ask them to call you. If you get a Facebook message, don’t ask them to email you. Today’s customers expect to be served on the channels they prefer. So if you offer it as a channel, you need to follow the interaction through on it from start to finish.

2. Don’t handle customer emails the hard way

When I worked in online customer service, I handled everything using my Outlook inbox. This was, well, complicated. I managed it by being extremely organised … and working very long hours. But I had an excuse: it was 2007.

It’s 2015 now, baby! There are tools available to help you manage your customers’ emails much more effectively. Help desk software like Casengo allows you to handle emails, chat sessions and social media interactions all in a single app. You can also add notes to a case (for example if you receive a call, or even – who knows – snail mail from a most peculiar customer). That means that you don’t have to keep everything in that poor overfull brain of yours.

In addition, software like Casengo makes life simple for SMEs which employ more than one customer service specialist. When a new message comes in, you can see the entire discussion – and any other contact with the client – to date, whether you handled it or someone else did. Then you can work to solve the issue without delay. Working faster and working better means happy customers and happy staff!

3. Don’t forget there’s a person at the other end

You can use the best helpdesk software there is, vow to process emails at lightning speed, and buy yourself a fancy new ergonomic chair to write them in. But the basics of customer service haven’t changed.At the end of the day, whether you’re working for the hottest new startup in town and dealing with multinational clients, or selling a pint of milk to Mrs Appleton at the village shop, your customers still want the same thing. They want to feel liked and listened to. It’s not about getting a speedy reply, or even getting a refund. It’s the feeling of being valued that will keep your customers coming back again and again.

We love our jargon in the business world. We love new technology, new metrics, new levels of profit. We’re always searching for a new and better solution that’s going to keep those customers coming back time and again. But however much technology develops, the fact is that human nature doesn’t change that much over the years. So while you need to keep up with what technology can do, both for you and for your customers, make sure you don’t forget that deep down we all just want to be loved!

People pay more for better customer service

While many businesses see customer service as being an unavoidable cost of doing business (on a par with the fact that you will need electricity, say, or staff), the reality is that it’s part of the customer’s decision-making process when choosing to do business with you. Consumers will always seek value for money, especially in tough financial times.

However, a recent American Express survey has reconfirmed that people are willing to pay more than the lowest available price for a given product or service – as long as the customer service is good. The results of this survey place Indian and Singaporean consumers at the top of the list of those who value good service, but that’s not to say that people in other countries aren’t prepared to shell out for good care. Quite the opposite.

One poor customer service experience, and they're off

I can hear what you’re thinking: that people will say they want good service, but when it comes to the crunch, it’s the hip-pocket nerve that drives their decisions.

It’s true that survey results in general are notoriously unreliable, but consider this: customers do switch brands. That’s an established fact. And one of the main reasons they give for switching is that they are unhappy with customer service. So even if you do suck them in with low prices, you’re going to lose them again if your service isn’t up to scratch. With 89% of people saying that they’d switch to a vendor’s competitor after a poor customer service experience, you’re taking a pretty big risk if you focus simply on price. And in the original AmEx survey, 38% of consumers say that they would immediately consider switching to another company after just a single poor experience.

Show customers that you understand their needs

So how does this work? Your customers are influenced by price, but customer service is where the real influence kicks in. Unfortunately many businesses seem to be a bit confused by what good customer service actually is. There is a secret, and it’s probably not what you think it is. In fact, failure to understand this secret is behind 95% of bad customer service experiences. What you need to do, is show customers that you understand their needs.

I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve had a bad customer service experience which was founded on a lack of awareness of that simple statement. Companies love to show that they’re speedy (by giving fast reponses). They like to show off how organised they are (automated phone menus with 10 different choices at each level before you finally get put through to a human being). And oh, they love to show off what a wide range of goods and services they have to offer.

Accept, assess and fulfil

What most of them fail to demonstrate is any sort of awareness of the customer’s needs. Let alone understanding of them. Accept that your customers’ needs go further than just finding the lowest price possible. And then to assess each customer communication individually to see just what it is that they need. This part is really not that hard – customers will usually tell you. Customer complaints are invaluable market intelligence. Then once you know what their needs are – and this is the key – fulfil them.