Friday, July 3, 2015

5 Tips For Driving Social Media Engagement

Social media empowers companies to reach more customers than ever with limitless potential for delivering great customer service and building a loyal customer base. Yet, it's not enough to simply be present on social media-how brands use these channels is key to maximizing their effect. How can a brand take a strategic approach toward engaging customers on social media?
Initiate a conversation. When customers leave comments on social media that bear potential for a conversation-expressing their satisfaction with a product, for example-customer service agents should take the opportunity to reach out not only to thank them for their support but to engage with them. What exactly did they like best? Have they noticed other products or services the company offers? Or simply, tell the customer that people like them are valuable to the company. Giving customer service a human touch is gratifying for customers, and engaging in conversation often yields further positive comments and retweets on social media which amplify a positive brand image and keep customers coming back for more.
Keep customers informed with brand content. Customers will want to know what interesting things are going on with a brand. If a company is involved in charitable work, this should be shared on social media. Are there special discounts? Keep the customers informed. What about new products or services? Sharing essential content reflecting the brand's products and culture are critical to giving customers a holistic view of what the brand stands for while keeping them engaged.
Share industry content. In addition to brand content, it's important to post external content from other sources than your brand to better inform and inspire your customers. Keeping them posted about industry trends with news articles or consumer reports, sharing interesting photos or videos, and sharing links to blogs are all great ways to show customers that your brand is not too self-focused and genuinely interested in sharing the best content with them for meaningful customer experiences.
Deliver great customer service. Customers are increasingly turning to social media for customer service. J.D. Power and Associates found that 67% of consumers have used a company's social media sites for customer service. What's more, Gartner found that failure to respond to customers via social media channels can lead to a 15% increase in the churn rate for current customers. What this means is that agents need to be efficient and never ignore customer service requests on these channels. Social media moves fast, and customers expect quick responses. If an issue needs more in-depth support, agents should also be ready to move the customer to another channel when necessary. In any case, social media should never be underestimated as a prime channel for customer service.
Involve your customers. Many companies have garnered great success with marketing campaigns that involve customer ideas. Asking for customers to vote for a favorite product, for example, shows that your brand values their opinions and takes the customer experience seriously when coming up with new products or services. If your brand is unable to involve customers on that level, at the very least their opinions should always be welcome on social media. Reach out to customers for suggestions on what could be improved, and welcome customers to share their favorite aspects of your brand on social media through text, photos, and videos.
Using a strategic approach, companies can maximize the benefits of social media by engaging customers and turning them into loyal brand advocates. Learn about Vocalcom social customer service software solutions.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

5 Tips for Exceptional Email Customer Service

With the numerous studies showing the popularity of social media for customer service, it can be easy to forget that traditional channels still have a great impact. Voice is far from obsolete, SMS is still alive, and video chat is an increasingly popular channel as well. So what about the channel nearly all of us use in our daily lives: the all-important e-mail?
According to an Econsultancy report, 60% of consumers prefer customer service via email. What's more, 41% of consumers expect an email within 6 hours, but only 36% percent of retailers answered that quickly, according to Forrester Research. And how are companies responding to this demand? In a Benchmark Portal study in which businesses were contacted for product and service information, 83% of small and medium-sized businesses responded with inaccurate or incomplete responses. The answer is clear: companies need to make a greater effort, and these best practices can help deliver exceptional email customer service.
Use templates, with a touch of personalization. Template email responses are good for communicating information clearly, efficiently, and consistently across a brand (as they are sent by multiple agents), but customers should feel that they are valued as individuals. Inserting the customer's name is essential, and including any pertinent information regarding a recent purchase is great for marketing emails. Customers will appreciate a humanized and customized approach.
Keep customers updated. If a customer reaches out to a brand for service by email, auto-responses are important for acknowledging that the email was received. Customers should then be updated on a reasonable basis on open service cases-for example, if a service repair employee will be sent to the customer's home, if a package has been shipped, and the like, with detailed product or service information included. If service is taking longer than expected, customers should be notified as well. Once the transaction is considered complete, a feedback survey email is a good way to close.
Make online contact forms comprehensive. When inviting customers to contact your brand by email, providing them with a clear contact form is one way to gain more pertinent information from them and later classify their requests by topic. Ask for as much information as your brand will need: complete customer contact information, the product or service for which customer service is requested (think "phone", "cable" or "internet" in the context of telecommunications companies), and always a field for free-response comments or questions so customers feel they can freely communicate as much as they need to. This will save everyone's time and enable agents to more efficiently handle service.
Organize customers' emails by topic. Keep track of the service requests that customers send by email and classify them by topic. In this way, companies will better understand which requests are most frequent, leading to improved customer service and insight that will create better FAQs and training material for agents.
Give customers extra support. In each email response, provide customers with important information to make the service process smoother and enable them to find answers on their own. For example, emails may include toll-free phone numbers to call for voice support, information on all social media channels on which the brand is present, and links to frequently asked questions along with a direct link to the company's website.
Given the quotidian nature of email in most people's lives, it makes sense that many customers continue to reach out for service on this channel. By establishing and following best practices, companies are geared to deliver truly exceptional customer service through email. Learn about excellent Contact Center Software solutions optimized for email.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Driving Sales and Satisfaction with Live Chat

Of the numerous channels used to deliver customer service nowadays, live chat consistently leads with customers. An ATG Global Consumer Trend study found that 90% of customers consider live chat helpful, while a U.S. Wireless Customer Care Full-Service Performance Study found that chat has become a leading contact source for customers, with 42% of customers using a live online chat feature. What's more, satisfaction levels are high on this channel. Econsultancy further reported that live chat has the highest satisfaction levels for any customer service channel at 73%--far outweighing other channels. How can companies implement live chat effectively to drive sales and customer service satisfaction?
Make sure customers see it's available. The key word here is "see"-when a live chat window pops up, customers need to see it clearly against the webpage they are viewing. This means a simple but large enough window with a good-sized, legible font as well as placing the window in such a way that it doesn't hinder the customer from continuing to navigate online. It's also important to offer it fairly quickly-if a customer has been on a webpage for a minute, it's fair to assume they are looking for information or serious about a product and may welcome assistance.
Make it a conversation. Live chat should be treated like any professional conversation. Agents should introduce themselves by name, ask for the name of the customer, and maintain a professional yet friendly tone. While it may be tempting to write shorthand or abbreviate words as many do on social media, it should never be done professionally--it is critical to write complete sentences with proper spelling and grammar so that the customer can clearly understand the agent. Furthermore, agents should refrain from using overly technical language customers may not understand or advertising company products or services. Live chat is all about striking a balance between answering customers directly with short, to-the-point answers and humanizing the customer experience by answering in a natural way even when some responses may be scripted.
Be timely. As with social media, timeliness is a must. Agents should answer promptly at an average response rate of 30 seconds at the most (between agent-customer comments). If a customer's case proves to be too complex to handle over chat, agents may offer to move to another channel such as voice for better handling. Agents should also provide a phone number in case the chat goes offline unexpectedly, and customers should be informed of wait times and when they are being placed on hold. It's a conversation, so never leaving the customer hanging.
Use analytics. Analytics provide excellent insight into customer behavior, and this can be especially beneficial for live chat. Analytics can determine which company webpages are most frequently visited, and companies may then prioritize the use of live chat on the most popular pages. Skill-based routing may then be used to direct live chat to the most qualified agents, boosting agent performance and customer satisfaction.
When used effectively, live chat is an excellent channel for both sales and customer service, enabling agents to assist customers with purchases and support issues alike and instilling customer confidence in and loyalty to brands. Learn about Vocalcom contact center software solutions optimized for live chat.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

10 Customer Service Skills For the Savvy Call Center Agent

Call center agents are on the front lines of customer service, representing the voice of a brand and playing a large role in the customer experience. While companies may train agents to do their jobs well-with technology training, call scripts, and feedback from managers, for example-there are nuances to agent behavior which can mean the difference between a poor or merely adequate customer experience and a superior one which fosters customer loyalty. So what are 10 essential skills agents need to deliver optimum customer service?
Be knowledgeable. Agents need to understand exactly what products and/or services their company offers so that they can speak clearly about them to customers when needed. If there are special offers or discounts the company is offering, they should also be aware of them and communicate these to customers. Agents also need to be well-trained in their company's call center technology, such as CRM software, as well as social media and any other channel on which they may communicate with customers. Knowledgeable agents instill customers with confidence and trust in a brand.
Be proactive. If a customer is experiencing some kind of distress, a discount or some kind of voucher could be offered as a gesture of goodwill before the customer reaches the point of frustration. Likewise, when an agent expects a service issue to take awhile (with the possible need of speaking to other agents or a manager), let the customer know in advance and offer to schedule a callback. For deliveries, offering information proactively is an excellent way to keep the customer informed and satisfied.
Be empathetic. If a customer is dissatisfied, it's critical to empathize with him/her and offer an apology for the issue while remaining confident that the problem will be solved. Customers appreciate brands with a human touch, and showing them you understand and care are essential to keeping their faith.
Be confident. Empathy and confidence go together-when an agent shows compassion for a customer issue, he/she can also reassure the customer that the problem will be solved. Showing confidence in products and services is also important for marketing purposes when suggesting them to customers.
Be grateful. Always show gratitude for a customer's time and business with a simple "thank you."
Be strategic. In some situations, agents may need to consult other agents or managers for support, schedule callback times if a case is taking awhile, or switch the customer to another channel for more in-depth support. Agents should think on their feet when the situation calls for it.
Be patient. If a customer reaches out for support, they clearly need to be heard. Customer service interactions can be especially difficult when the customer is upset. Agents need to show patience by allowing customers to explain their situations fully and ask for more details as needed. Customers should never feel rushed to wrap up an interaction-they should be the ones to decide they are satisfied with the resolution, not the agent.
Be articulate. On any channel, agents need to make sure to communicate clearly. This can mean articulating clearly over the phone or video chat as well as making an effort to spell correctly and use proper grammar when writing (shorthand is not a good idea!). Articulation also means not leaving out any important information and asking customers if they have understood everything and need any clarification.
Be personable. It's important to have a friendly tone of voice, but it's also critical to address customers by name, and ask them questions such as how they are doing, if they need clarification, and if there's any other support the agent can offer.
Be efficient. Time is of the essence to agents and customers alike. Agents should make an effort to be thorough and provide a quality customer service experience, but taking such steps as consulting a CRM database for customer data, scheduling callbacks when necessary, and switching to a more appropriate channel for better service are all important for saving a customer's time and energy and winning their loyalty.
While companies need to provide agents with the right tools and training to do their jobs well, the way in which agents deliver service can greatly impact a customer experience and ultimately customer loyalty to a brand. Learn more about Vocalcom contact center software solutions for excellent customer service.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Engaging Millennial Customers

As described in the previous blog post, millennial customers, also known as Generation Y, show great demand for omnichannel customer service, have a preference for mobile engagement, and have the power to serve as great brand advocates when companies deliver great service. So how can companies engage this digital generation?
Be conversational and a little bit personal. A recent survey conducted on U.S. consumers found that millennials are 20% more likely than baby boomers to prefer live chat, while Forbes cited that 62% of millennials want to engage with brands on social media. This means that the younger generation doesn’t just want information-they want a personal experience. Given that social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are conversational by nature, agents can use these channels to personalize the customer experience in a way millennials will appreciate. On all channels, agents should address the millennial consumer by name, introduce themselves, and take the time to ask how the consumer is doing and if they are ultimately satisfied with the service experience at the end of the interaction. Social media enables companies to be personal with consumers while still remaining professional, and millennials thrive on this authentic approach.
Be proactive. Proactive customer service is essential for consumers of all ages, but millennials are particularly sensitive to time and instant gratification. They will remember you if you’re quick to please them, take away the potential headache of customer service, or have a great offer for them. If a customer wants to place an order for delivery, tell him/her the contact information on record and ask for a confirmation rather than asking the customer to give the details. This saves a bit of time but most importantly shows that the company is organized, efficient, and aware who their customers are. If customers qualify for free or discounted shipping, or if the brand can make an offer that will qualify them for some discount, let the customers know as soon as possible. Millennials also want to know about discounts in advance-the sooner this information is communicated (via social media or email, for example), the greater their loyalty.
Time is of the essence. Customers who reach out on social media are often requesting a real-time conversation, but brands must also be sure to deliver efficient service on other channels as well-via email, SMS, or phone, for example. Quick answers means being thorough while still attentive to time, and this can also include providing customers with shortcuts such as FAQs or video tutorials on a company website that will provide prompt answers. For retail brands, quick delivery options and easy returns are a must, as millennials favor brands that give them options and allow them to change their minds or preferences.
Understand customer values. A Forbes study cited that 75% of millennials expect brands to give back to society rather than simply keeping all their profits. While a company may not be able to go 100% green, finding opportunities to donate to charities, support environmental causes, and generally follow ethical practices which help society are all meaningful ways to engage the millennial consumer. If your brand engages in any charitable work, it’s important to communicate this on all channels and even find ways to connect sales to charitable contributions--offering to donate a percentage of proceeds to environmental causes, for example. Millennial customers will understand that you not only care about their needs but society as a whole.
A little "thank you" can go a very long way. Of course, every customer deserves to be thanked for their business. With millennials, however, a "thank you" can go a long way thanks to social media. When millennial customers are thanked on social media channels, or generally engage in any positive interaction with a brand, they are highly likely to share their satisfaction with a brand through retweets, Facebook likes, and positive social media posts. Offered them a discount or just a great customer experience? They just may rave about it on their accounts-and win you new customers.
Forbes cited that 60% of millennials are often or always loyal to brands from which they currently purchase. With these statistics in mind, companies can fuel their business, deliver customer service in new and exciting ways, and optimize newer technologies by engaging their tech-savvy millennial customers. Learn more about Vocalcom contact center software solutions for great social customer service.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

It's an Omnichannel World: The Rise of the Millennial Customer

We may already be living in a digital world, but the current younger generation has a special distinction of its own. Millennials--also known as Generation Y and considered to be anyone born after 1980-are the first generation to have been born into the modern digital world. They don't remember a time before the Internet, the smartphone has been around forever, and life is simply unimaginable without social media. So when it comes to marketing to these young consumers or delivering customer service, companies are presented with both the challenge and opportunity to do business differently than they may have done in the past.
The statistics are interesting and at times surprising. According to Forbes, 33% of millennials consult blogs before making a purchase, preferring to check the opinions of peers on social media rather than relying on standard advertising. In fact, the same study reported that advertising held very little value for this generation-only 1% of the consumers surveyed reported that advertising encouraged them to be loyal to a brand. Not surprisingly, 62% reported that they wish to engage with brands on social media.
Rather than disregarding advertising altogether, the message here seems to be that millennials want an authentic brand voice and are eager to hear the voices of like-minded peers. They like having choices and learning for themselves, so they expect brands to accommodate them. And ultimately, they want their voices to be heard, too.
Clearly, companies need to engage with these millenials using an omnichannel strategy-using social media channels in addition to traditional support channels-while prioritizing mobile optimization. Nielsen reports that over 85% of Generation Y owns smartphones, and they are using them for virtually everything they need. Pizza delivery? They want an app. Trouble with wifi at home? They'll want a live chat. Tracking a delivery? Don't give them an agent-they need a button so they can check for themselves. This generation looks for fast, thorough information, and it's often on the go. Brands need to be sure to define themselves clearly and consistently across all channels so that millenials not only get a great customer experience but they feel that they have a choice as to the channel they prefer. The more consistent and appealing a brand appears, the more loyal this generation is-as often evidenced by the enthusiastic support and endorsement they'll give on social media (and the critiques they'll likewise make when they're unhappy). Social media has the power to project a great brand image while empowering companies to engage-not just inform-their younger consumers. Indeed, the Forbes study also indicated that 42% of those surveyed showed interest in being involved with the creation of products. This means that brands need to be more creative about soliciting millenials' opinions on social media and giving them opportunities to make these opinions count. A compelling example is Starbucks' recent announcement that, choosing from its six new Frappuccino flavors, consumers are invited to vote for a “fan favorite.” But the brand took it a step further: The winning flavor will be discounted for a short period of time across all stores. Customer engagement meets customer loyalty-Starbucks fans will have their voices heard on social media, and they will even be rewarded for sharing their opinions. Such is the power of great customer engagement, especially when applied to millennial-friendly brands such as Starbucks.
With an omnichannel approach, companies may not only engage Generation Y but, by providing an excellent customer experience, count on them to become strong brand advocates. Stay tuned for the next blog post on best practices for engaging the millennial customers. Learn more about Vocalcom contact center software solutions for great social customer service.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Keeping the Customer Satisfied: Best Practices for Reducing Customer Churn

In every business, sales and marketing departments strive to attract customers with the straightforward intention of growing sales and ensuring long-term brand success. While growing a clientele is certainly essential to growing a business, current customers should never be overlooked. In fact, they should be taken care of, or else a company may experience the very dreaded result of neglect and poor customer service: customer churn.
Also known as customer attrition, churn typically occurs when a customer has a negative experience with a brand. Some may argue, however, that a poor experience may not be the only factor-what about simply not doing enough to keep the customer satisfied?
Harris Interactive reports that 89% of consumers have turned to competitors after having a poor customer experience. This telling statistic means that companies need to strive not only to attract new customers but better understand and support their current ones. So what should companies do?
Listen to the customer. If a customer is reaching out to a company, there is a good chance that other customers have experienced a similar issue but haven't said anything about it. According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, for every customer who complains, 26 other customers remain silent. Therefore, customer concerns should be viewed as opportunities not only to retain the customer involved but to enhance the service of the company for everyone's benefit. Agents need to empathize with customers and take immediate steps to rectify the problem. Once the problem is considered resolved, follow-up is key to making sure the customer remains satisfied. Paying attention to customer preferences such as the preferred channel of communication or callback times are all small but important details involved in preventing customer churn and reinstilling confidence in a brand.
Say thank you (with a reward). It's always important to thank customers for their business at the end of an interaction, but how about simply thanking them for remaining a customer? Sending vouchers and discounted offers to customers who haven't made a purchase lately is a great way to tell them that you appreciate their business while likely enticing them to remain loyal to your brand.
Optimize technology for a superior customer experience. Customers remember a good experience, but a truly exceptional experience fosters brand loyalty. Since technology is the bridge to connecting with customers, companies need to always remain focused on best practices for providing an excellent, user-friendly experience. When taking an omnichannel approach, companies should be consistent across all channels by providing in-depth, accurate information with a strong aesthetic feel that is more or less the same across all channels. In other words, a customer should be able to connect with the brand and understand a company's values and products no matter what channel they are on. Taking the stress out of a customer experience immediately translates into a desire to support a brand.
Use speech analytics and the cloud. Another strategy inside the contact center is to use speech analytics to determine the most common reasons for calls and monitor individual agents' performance. With such data, companies can understand how to better inform their customers and provide focused training for agents so as to improve the overall contact experience. Another approach is using cloud technology: the Aberdeen Group indeed found that contact centers using cloud technologies rather than in-house solutions experienced up to 27% lower annual costs, mostly due to customer retention. As the White House Office of Consumer Affairs elaborates, it is six to seven more times expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain a current one. Therefore, using a cloud-based solution is an excellent solution for reducing costs as it offers great adaptability of services ideal for companies with a large clientele.
Take care of your agents. Happy customers are important, but so are happy agents. To make agents feel comfortable and motivated on the job, it's critical to offer such support as regular training, mentorship, and inclusion in such procedures as reviewing customer feedback. Agents are at the front line of customer service, so their experiences and opinions should be taken into account. It's also beneficial to create an accommodating workspace that allows for agents to take breaks when needed and generally de-stress between interactions. Motivated agents can in turn motivate customers.
While there are many ways to address customer churn, the best strategy is simply to be proactive about customer care. By listening attentively to concerns, showing appreciation for their business, and always putting the customer experience first, your customers will be here to stay.