As a growing mountain of studies continues to show, the events and effects of the past year have driven – and continue to drive – profound shifts in customer needs, preferences, and standards.
For better or worse, this great reshuffling of buying behaviors has many North American brands in a tizzy. Sure, most organizations have long understood – to varying degrees – that CX (customer experience) is a driving influence on loyalty. Still, I’d argue that there has been widespread reluctance to embrace the new post-COVID reality: your customers might forget the exact price they paid, where they see your product promoted, or even the exact name of that product. But here’s what they’ll never forget: how they feel treated by your brand when make contact with you.
How well is your customer care team measuring up?
In his recent article, digital analyst and Salesforce futurist, Brian Solis, offers up 5 important ways to ensure that your customer care team is capable and empowered to become what he calls the “gateway for customer engagement and a pivotal touchpoint for enhancing customer relationships and loyalty.” You can read them here.
If you are looking for ways to turn customer care contacts into critical CX and loyalty moments, I hope you’ll reach out to us at Skybridge Americas. We specialize in helping many of the world’s most beloved brands deliver superior customer experiences and we would love to talk with you!
Driving Lifelong Loyalty Through Human-Centered Customer Service
By Brian Solis
Brand loyalty is up for grabs. According to recent research from McKinsey, 75% of U.S. consumers tried out different stores, websites or brands during the pandemic. And 60% of those consumers expect to stick with those new options. The past year has shifted priorities for many people, leading them to place an even higher premium on values and trust when deciding where to spend money. With customers exercising their power of choice, brands can’t rely on inertia to keep them coming back. Retention is now vital, and acquisition is a massive opportunity for those who invest in customer experience.
You’ve heard it before, customer service is marketing. Now, great service is also directly linked to loyalty.
Traditionally, service has been the weakest link in the customer journey. “I can’t wait to call customer service,” isn’t something you’d expect to ever hear from everyday consumers. Even as sales and marketing have doubled down on intentionally crafting experiences, service has often remained reactive, often viewed as a cost center, and historically adopted new technologies to serve customers at scale, trading efficiencies for experiences. But to succeed, no customer journey can continue with such a glaring exposure to a touch point that erodes customer trust and confidence. Now more than ever, service has the potential to become a new gateway for customer engagement and a pivotal touchpoint for enhancing customer relationships and loyalty. This requires new technology, skill sets and metrics — and most importantly, a mindset shift in the role service plays in overall customer experience (CX).
- Make service the frontline for customer engagement
The pandemic has elevated the critical role service plays in the customer journey. With physical stores shut down or limited in capacity and inventory, traditional sales channels were disrupted. Digital skyrocketed in adoption and immediately became the window to discovery when customers researched products, services, and solutions. Adoption of chat bots and messaging technologies also skyrocketed to keep up with new customer behaviors and expectations for instant engagement. When a customer considers an online purchase and clicks “Chat Now,” they are connected to customer service — not sales, marketing or commerce. This warrants repeating. Customers are connected to a service agent, not a sales rep or marketing expert. This is a new role for service to play in the customer journey and it cannot resemble the service experience customers know all-too-well today.
Customer service is no longer just about cases and tickets anymore. It’s not just a role to support customers when they have problems. It is now a role for service, where it more closely aligns with its definition, the action of helping, assisting, or advising. Agents have become the frontline for critical customer engagements, now including assisting and helping in another critical moment of truth and discovery. According to the 2020 Salesforce “State of Service” report, more than three-quarters of agents say their company views them as customer advocates or brand ambassadors, and 77% say their role is more strategic than it was two years ago.
Digital transformation over the past year has created digital-first behaviors and expectations that customers now can’t live without. As a result, the role of customer service in cultivating loyalty has transformed for good. 91% of customers say a positive customer service experience makes them more likely to make another purchase, as discovered in the 2020 “State of the Connected Customer” report. In the inspiring words of Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Discovery and support represent two incredibly emotional touch points that service agents now own.
No amount of marketing or sales outreach can convince customers to stay if they don’t enjoy their experiences when doing business with you.
- Reimagine service to drive lifelong loyalty
The corporate approach to loyalty has often boiled down to rewards programs, points or miles. As the upheavals of the pandemic have shown, true loyalty requires more than a transaction. At its core, loyalty is when customers go out of their way to give a brand their attention and business because a company has done something profound and meaningful for them. Not just once, but in all engagements. It’s how you make them feel that counts.
- Do you show them that you value their time?
- Do you value their effort?
- Do you remind them of their worth to you?
- Do you invest in relationships beyond marketing and sales outreach?
Loyalty is something that must be earned, continuously. Customer experience — the sum of all interactions a customer has with a brand — defines how customers feel about a company and whether they come back. In a post-pandemic, digital-first world, service now book-ends customer experiences. As such, the role of service must be reimagined.
- Place empathy at the center of engagement
A positive customer experience comes down to making a customer feel valued in the moment. Empathy has always been a key skill for customer service, but it’s become even more essential during an uncharted moment. 71% of consumers say businesses that have shown empathy during the pandemic have earned their loyalty. Customer service has always been about reacting to customers in times of need — the definition of service is ‘the act of helping someone. Now, service isn’t just about solving problems. It’s about enhancing relationships and enchanting customers.
One example of empathy in action came from AAA Carolinas, the auto insurer. When the pandemic first hit, the CEO directed agents to use technology to identify vulnerable customers: those who were older, single and likely alone. Representatives reached out to let them know AAA was there and ask what they needed. The company ended up delivering essential items — like toilet paper, masks and food — to isolated customers. Compassionate acts like these foster reciprocity, which is a foundation for loyalty.