How to Win a Year-Round Customer

Businesses today are operating in the "age of the customer." Customers expect information and services to be at their disposal in a timely manner, in any context, and in the most straightforward way possible. When it comes to moving the needle in the contact center industry, Forrester Research identified omnichannel service and proactive engagement as top trends impacting customer service in 2014. When a contact center strives for these standards, the business finds an overwhelming amount of customer support and loyalty, and as a result, is more likely to secure the coveted "year-round customer."

The heart of customer relationships often lies in the contact center, where customer interactions can easily make or break a company's bottom line. No matter the quality of your product or service, your customer support team has to be just as good, or better. According to a study by Zogby Analytics, 15 percent of consumers would rather see the dentist than call customer service. Think about what that means for your business: It's important to deliver the best possible service to retain customers and ensure an experience that they enjoy instead of dread.

Recent events reiterate the importance of doubling down on customer support. The security breaches from Neiman Marcus, Snapchat, Michael's, and Target have shown that it's critical for contact centers to be prepared at all times; when disaster strikes, businesses can save or even create new year-round customers by making the most out of the increased need for customer support.

Below are four tips to help your contact center staff fully engage and win year-round customers:

1. Quickly troubleshoot customer service calls. Speed is the name of the game, so it's essential to be on your toes to quickly answer and resolve customer concerns. According to the results from our study with Zogby Analytics, 79 percent of consumers are willing to wait no more than 15 minutes when calling customer service. To quickly troubleshoot customer service issues and avoid leaving customers waiting, it's important to understand what your customers really want from you. Winning year-round customers means delivering efficient and accurate responses as quickly as possible.

2. Every customer interaction is an opportunity to create an ongoing relationship. Approach each customer interaction as an opportunity to create a lasting customer relationship. As businesses, we have plenty of opportunities after the sale, beginning with the first customer service call. Our study discovered that about half (48 percent) of consumers say they contact customer service once a year on average, while 17 percent say they do so about once a month. When customer support agents answer the phone, make sure they are trained to gain a full understanding of what the customer is asking; they should avoid making assumptions and proactively engage with the customer. Careful listening and targeted questions will eliminate frustration and wasted time for both you and your customers. Earn the customer's trust first through clarity and empathy–trust builds strong relationships that will keep your customers coming back for more!

3. Create positive customer service experiences. After a positive experience with a customer service representative, three in 10 consumers say they would give feedback to the company. This is just the beginning of brand loyalty, as consumers also report that they would likely return to that business after a positive experience. Conversely, after a negative customer service experience, 34 percent of consumers say they would complain or ask for a manager. Though a cliche, remind your customer support department that the customer can "hear a smile through the phone" and that a little kindness goes a long way. Your customers react to how they're treated, and your customer service response reflects on your company and overall culture. In the contact center industry, hold times deter customers and poor responses equate to quick hang-ups. It's important for businesses to capitalize on every personal touch, regardless of how small it may seem, in order to "wow" customers.

4. Personalize customer service experiences. Three in four consumers say they have contacted customer service within the past 12 months and more than one-third report that they have contacted customer service at least once per month. These customers are making many calls, and it's up to your business to stand out from the crowd by delivering a personalized customer service experience. Establish a human connection and encourage customer support reps to truly listen to the customer's concerns to help eliminate future calls and frustration. Addressing the customer by name shows that you're engaged and know who they are. CRM software can also help with tracking and reviewing call notes to further personalize your conversations. If calls are better suited for another agent, encourage the rep to take ownership of the issue on behalf of the customer and give the customer their contact information in the event they need to follow up. Customers may also start to demand omnichannel service, or the option to start an interaction in one channel and complete it in another. Remember to thoroughly engage with customers across all support channels–whether it's on the phone, over email, through chat or social media–and be ready to continue your response through their outlet of choice. By doing so, you will confirm that your company cares and is fully invested in their needs.

Empower your company's contact center staff to tackle customer service issues headfirst. Great customer service is key to turning customers into brand advocates and supporters and making it a priority for your business will lead you in the direction of winning those year-round and even lifelong customers.

Matt Lautz is president of CorvisaCloud, a cloud-based contact center solution provider.

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In a study by equity insight and analytics provider 24/7 Wall Street and research company Zogby Analytics, Comcast was named one of the worst performers in customer service, while Amazon was named the best. More than 1,500 Americans were asked to evaluate companies across 17 industries.

Posted August 26, 2016