Here to help: Keeping up with customer channel complexity

In a world where customers have increasingly high expectations when it comes to round-the-clock customer service accessibility, SMEs need to keep up with customer channel complexity by working with a hosting provider that can support them every step of the way. Here Jon Dainton, below, Head of Customer Service Operations at Fasthosts, provides his top tips for SMEs looking to manage and maintain customer engagement online.

It’s essential that SMEs manage and maintain this area of their business with care because when a customer engages with them in times of crisis, it’s crucial they handle the situation well. If customers are ignored, they’ll disengage and leave. Ultimately a customer’s success drives your own success so it’s important to look after them.

What’s more, these days there are review sites left, right and centre, so it’s important that these are managed too. The problem you have if you disengage your customers is that, in turn, you aren’t looking after the external review environment which is key to maintaining your reputation and customer acquisition.

Thankfully, the idea of customer channel complexity is actually very simple when you break it down. The complexity element can be bypassed if you know what you are doing and do it well. Being where your customers are takes away any complexity by incorporating accessibility and resource, and ultimately how you then execute your customer services will dictate whether you have a complex system or not.

For example, are your customers on their phone, computer or tablet when they need help? Once you know where your customers are, you can then work on creating an omni-channel solution to make sure all bases are covered. Just some of the channels available include self-service (online articles and blogs) and chat bots, along with traditional phone calls, emails and online chats which can be more time intensive and costly than other channels.

If your company only provides a contact phone number for customers to call, you are instantly limiting your customers’ ability to reach you, and that’s echoed in terms of trends we’re seeing. Customers are shying away from calling, choosing only to phone us when there is something urgent or if they are struggling to articulate what the problem is via AI assisted channels.

Conversely, self-service channels and chat functions have been used far more since the pandemic and are popular as they can be at the customer’s pace. In terms of resourcing, the biggest complexity is balancing the customer need vs cost to your business.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

When it comes to customer channel complexity, here are my top tips for managing and maintaining customer engagement:

Know your customer

This is a crucial factor in providing great customer service and removing the complexity element from your customer channels. Often customers (indeed all people) will come to you with a solution they want. In understanding your customer you can understand their needs, and may have a better solution available, or be able to look a couple of straps ahead and anticipate potential future needs or issues. Customers won’t have the same knowledge as you, but you share a common interest in their success – your value for the customer comes not by clicking buttons, but by combining your knowledge with the customer’s needs.

Be empathetic

Your customers need to feel heard and understood now more than ever before. We are seeing a shift at the moment from a very transactional support model into a more relational model. This is because we are now providing a more personal, tailored service, so it’s important to make sure there is a relationship between the company and the customer rather than just a service. Customer service has to start with empathy because it’s only by understanding a problem that you can really take the necessary steps to fixing that problem. It’s simple, just listen to your customers and understand them.

Don’t rely on speed

It’s all well and good responding quickly to a customer query, but it’s more important to get the answer right. Automating customer services can provide great benefits when it comes to saving time. However, using AI tools such as chat bots and machine learning to filter calls won’t always result in customer queries being resolved. This is because some customer queries require information to be pulled from a number of separate data sources, or may be classed as wicked problems (where it continues to evolve while the solution is being searched for, a bit like a complicated medical diagnosis). Wicked problems in particular require empathy, understanding and a range of techniques for finding out what’s really important that doesn’t currently come naturally to a digital assistant.

Focus on response quality

Not only should you consider the speed of your response, but it’s the quality of your response that needs to be planned too. Mistakes cost time, so spend the time that you need to find a solution rather than hastily responding to the customer with the wrong reply. This will ultimately provide a more streamlined service and provide them with more satisfaction. 

Build trust with customers

What all of this comes down to is trust. If you get a query from a customer and they receive a poor service in return, be it speed or accuracy related, this is going to create a bad experience for them and ultimately fracture the trust they have in your company and service. It’s about having the right systems, knowledge, expertise and infrastructure in place to be able to provide a seamless service that will leave customers feeling supported, taken care of and their issue resolved. This is what they are paying for when things go wrong and as an SME, it’s really important to get this part of your business right if you want to see evolution and growth.

We know that when things go wrong for our customers, they need quality support delivered at speed, and we’ve certainly invested heavily in providing an omni-channel, round-the-clock experience. It’s those personal touches such as having a very knowledgeable set of staff that are empathetic and reflect our culture, which is key when offering the support our customers seek. We understand, we listen to customer needs and act accordingly.

At the end of the day, customer service complexity is a chain effect and at the root, SMEs need to ensure they are getting the level of support they need from their provider so that they can in turn support their own customers. Customers can go wherever they like for whatever reason they like, but as an SME it’s easier to listen to your customers and do what you do best, than to not listen to your customers and do what you think you do best. It’s about being the best you can be and really engaging with your customers.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024