Customer expectations are rising faster than steroid use in Major League Baseball (MLB) – and companies are responding even slower than the MLB. Wait much longer to meet customers’ new expectations and your company may see its reputation tarnished, too.
Like baseball and football — and the athletes who play them — customer expectations have evolved over time, but never as rapidly as they have in the past couple of years.
We can thank (or blame) technology for most of these new customer expectations. The amount of information that’s available at the speed of light and in the palm of people’s hands makes nearly everyone expect more.
Concept meets reality
Customer service decision-makers want to meet those expectations — at least in concept. Nearly 95% of leaders say providing a good customer experience is their top strategic priority, according to recent Forrester research. Three-quarters of them want to use customer experience as a competitive advantage.
To them, the idea and intent looks great on paper. The actual implementation is quite a bit different. You see, many don’t have the means to improve the experience in the ways customers expect them to. Just 37% of leaders have a dedicated budget for customer experience improvement initiatives, according to the Forrester research.
With or without a budget geared toward meeting expectations and improving the customer experience, leaders need to know what customers want now and how it will drive their satisfaction and loyalty. Then they can focus efforts on meeting expectations and driving results — much like the companies we’ll talk about here.
Here are customers’ latest expectations and the companies that are meeting them:
Expectation No. 1: More personalization
It’s kind of ironic that in the far-reaching, all-encompassing online world we have come to embrace, in which so many business and personal interactions can be anonymous, customers want very personalized experiences.
They expect a company will put the information and products they want where they expect to find them. Nearly half of consumers will dump their online cart if they can’t find a quick answer to their questions. That means, a customer service rep better be available to chat at any given second customers navigate your website. Or the toll-free number must be prominently displayed on all web pages so customers don’t have to work to find it.
And yes, most customers still want a personal one-on-one experience. Take, for example, a small-industry specific study: Wells Fargo found 60% of banking transactions are made by customers who still prefer to do business with a teller. That’s despite the fact that account holders have services available to them online and via mobile devices.
So how can you create a more personal experience in the growing age of anonymity? Here’s one idea: John Wettlaufer, customer service manager at Homedics in Keego Harbor, MI, and his team look at customer requests, orders and questions at the end of each day to find those that were most important — say those that involved a long-time customer, a major problem or a unique request.
Then they hand-deliver any issue that needs to be resolved over to the proper person or department. It’s a special touch customers don’t expect in this day and age.
Expectation No. 2: More options
Now that you’re thinking about how you can make service more personalized, you might as well add a Part B to that list.
Customers want self-service, voice, digital and social means to interact with a company and its people — and they still expect each to deliver a personalized experience.
The phone is still the most preferred tool, which makes sense when you consider that talking to a knowledgeable, kind person who is helpful is about as personal as you can get.
Still, in the past three years, the use of other channels has risen:
- Web self-service — 18%
- Online communities — 39%, and
- Chat — 43%.
While offering as many channels to communicate as customers demand is important, it’s probably more vital that communication is seamless and agile.
For example: When customers contact you one way, then choose another to follow up, reps need to know what happened during the previous engagement, what’s pending as a result, and how satisfied the customer currently is. Then they can respond to the follow-up in the most appropriate way.
For instance, when eHarmony incorporated a customer relationship management (CRM) tool that monitored and tracked customer contacts across channels, reps were able to respond better in every situation. They knew the last time customers contacted a colleague, searched online or sent an email. At a glance, reps could see what was discussed, searched for or if there were special circumstances that needed to be addressed in the future. That helped eHarmony seriously improve its customer satisfaction ratings.
Expectation No. 3: Constant contact
The majority of customers don’t find advertising, promotions and “just touching base” as a nuisance. They expect some follow-up efforts to fill in their customer experience. It’s a request that can benefit business as well. Keeping in touch can deflect incoming contacts, which can reduce costs and boost customer satisfaction and revenues.
The key is to give them the right amount of information at the right time through the channel they prefer. So before businesses increase (or start) outbound communication, they want to involve customers. That boils down to finding out:
- What customers want to hear from you
- When they want to hear from you, and
- The channel(s) they want you to use.
For instance, utility customers tend to want emergency notifications texted to their cellular devices, B2B customers often prefer periodic emails notifying them of scheduled maintenance or contract renewals, and retail and tech customers are more likely to keep a keen eye on social media for the latest news.
At Groff Tractor & Equipment in Mechanicsburg, PA, VP Tom Jamieson has his reps schedule time each day to call customers after routine service, repairs and small complaints — even if it’s just to leave a message. Jamieson reserves the follow-up calls on bigger issues for himself to make. None take long, but they all enhance the customer experience.
Expectation No. 4: Listen closely, respond quickly
Good news: Most customers don’t find your surveys and other requests for feedback annoying (unless, of course, you bombard them constantly). Customers’ biggest expectation in the feedback loop is that companies do something with what they have to say.
Companies need to respond to feedback, act on it and let customers know what’s been done to make their experience better based on the data. If not, customers will cease to give feedback.
Allegra Print and Imaging in Portage, MI, was able to use its voice of the customer program as a basis for creating deeper customer relationships. When VP Brain Kaufman switched from random phone surveys — which didn’t garner the amount of feedback he wanted — to real-time online surveys, the response immediately rose. More importantly, because customers took the five-question survey immediately after a service experience, Allegra is able to respond to any below-average responses while customers’ emotions are still high. Service pros can work through issues, make the experience better and usually save relationships.
Expectation No. 5: Give front-liners more control
Customers’ tolerance for jumping through hoops has diminished dramatically over the years. Customers now believe they should have what they want the minute they request it.
That’s why customers expect front-line service and sales pros to be knowledgeable enough to handle anything — and have the authority to do what needs to be done to satisfy customers.
Companies often fail to give reps this authority because all they think about is the small percentage of customers aiming to take advantage of them.
But the reality is most customers have good intentions — they just want their issues resolved, problems fixed and questions answered. Those are things nearly any customer service rep or salesperson can handle — if trained properly and empowered.
Ask in-house authorities to do just a little training. At CUETS in Ottawa, Ontario, VP of the Contact Center Scott Bailey asks colleagues to be part of his regular “Brain Gains” — brief training sessions designed to keep front-line reps up-to-date on as many areas of the company as possible. Leaders from Marketing, Sales, Finance and Quality pull together small, 30-minute updates on the most important topics that concern customers. Then Bailey arranges brown-bag lunch or post-shift training sessions around those updates.