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How to earn customer loyalty in the age of chat

“You’ve just become my favorite airline.”  Any business that succeeds in getting a customer to declare love for its brand has just converted an ordinary customer into a loyal customer.

As any observer of Super Bowl Sunday knows, brands put a great deal of effort and expense into customer acquisition strategies. But another way to increase profit is to develop a smart and strategic plan for converting ordinary customers into loyal advocates.

You see, an ordinary customer simply buys your products or services, likely based on price for value. A loyal customer, however, is one that will buy from you regardless of price.

Beyond added revenue, a loyal customer benefits a business in another, equally crucial way: he/she will help build and defend your reputation.

Customer service is both a logical and excellent place to start your loyalty-building efforts. Call center technology has advanced, giving businesses the ability to integrate phone systems with digital communications channels such as Web chat and social media. With smart and strategic use of this technology, brands have an opportunity to elevate the customer experience.

In fact, McKinsey has found that the more digital the customer service journey, the higher the satisfaction. In a study of telecommunications companies, the firm found 76% of customers were satisfied with a fully digital customer service journey compared to only 57% for a traditional journey.

In a way, this surprised me. By no stretch of the imagination can I be considered a technophobe, but even I expect a degradation of service when my only option for resolving a problem is through digital channels.

That’s probably because until recently, my digital interactions with brands have been less than satisfying. In the last few months, though, I’ve had a couple of experiences that made it clear to me the game is changing. Interactions with three companies – Microsoft, Verizon Wireless, and Southwest Airlines – have shown me how they are making smart use of digital customer service.

When I saw that Web chat was my only option to resolve a subscription issue with Microsoft Office 365, I was not hopeful. Yet, as Microsoft often does, it exceeded my expectations. I logged onto chat, asked my question, and had a friendly, productive conversation with a personable Microsoft customer service agent.

The entire complicated issue was resolved within 5 minutes. What’s more, I could multi-task during our conversation, allowing me to knock an easy thing or two off my to-do list. In all likelihood, the agent was multi-tasking too, solving another customer’s problem.

I had a similar experience with Verizon Wireless. Again, my issue was complicated and multi-layered. But chat was the best option available, so I kicked off a conversation with a rep. Within 10 minutes, I’d changed my plan, saved more than $50 a month, and had a link for my son to use to get a military discount for his line. Chat made a complicated process simple.

In both these examples, I’d needed more than self-service. To my surprise, chat turned out to be better than a phone conversation. Not only was it efficient, but it also gave me a written record of our exchange.

And I’m not alone in my satisfaction with this method: Live chat has the highest customer satisfaction rates – 92% – compared to other channels, according to a study by ZenDesk.

Yet, there are opportunities to improve the phone experience too, with smart use of queuing options.

When I needed to make changes to my son’s flight back to college, I called Southwest Airlines and got the dreaded message about heavy call volumes. But then this: “If you’d like us to call you back, leave your number. You won’t lose your place in line.” Wait. What?!

In a brilliant move, they did. While I waited, I was able to work on other things and be productive.

Not all companies excel on digital customer service. I needed to resolve a password issue with one well-known tech company, who had neither a phone number nor a chat feature. They did, however, have a Twitter account. They responded to my tweet right away. Unfortunately, they also seemed unable to move the conversation to private channels.

As always, I mine my own experiences to learn how to be a better digital marketer. Here are some do’s and don’ts for creating a top-quality customer experience:

Do:

  • Map your customer’s current customer service journey. Is it digital? What works well? Where does it break down? Use these findings to build a better journey.
  • Do more with your phone system. Integrate your call center, customer relationship management database, and social media with the phone system your agents use.
  • Train your agents on how to properly resolve problems in every digital channel. Remember, each has its own culture and nomenclature. Make sure they understand how they work and the nuances.

Don’t:

  • Limit your customer service options to one or two channels. Younger generations prefer chat to phone, and other customers may eschew social media. Recognize that each customer will have his or her preferred channels of communication.
  • Forget that customers need to be sold on the value of digital customer service. Be sure they know how they’ll benefit – the task will be easier, or they’ll get their information faster.
  • Make the transition without a migration plan. None of this can happen overnight. It requires planning, training and a coordinated roll-out.

But perhaps the most important takeaway is embedded in the findings of Edelman PR’s Trust Barometer, which again finds that “a person like yourself” or an average employee is more trusted than a CEO.

So, provide incentives for agents to be personable and friendly. The best customer service reps not only make the experience pleasant, but also are able to make real connections with their customers.

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