Today’s guest blogger is Micah Solomon, a customer service and marketing keynote speaker and consultant. His latest book is High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service. Micah is a keynote speaker for Zendesk’s Customer Service Hero tour. Find Micah at http://www.micahsolomon.com or visit his blog: http://www.collegeofthecustomer.com.
Learning to treat individual customers as individuals is a key to business success. But being aware of underlying trends in the marketplace is also essential for any business that relies on significant numbers of transactions and forward-looking planning. Here are six major customer trends I identify in my new book, High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service. (Please note that this is a two part series: part one can be found here)
Customer Trend #4: Customer Empowerment
Customers feel newly empowered in their relationships with companies. They’re expecting businesses to respect that sense of empowerment—and they lash out at those that don’t. They expect that your company will make itself easy to contact and will respond to their comments at a high and thoughtful level. Which I suggest you do. Because feedback will be offered, whether you welcome it or not. It used to be that a peeved customer might drop by your shop and give the manager an earful. Or go through an extended search to figure out the correct address for an executive high enough to make a difference, and then sit down and write her an angry letter. Later, the Internet brought an increased sense of empowerment, with online comment forms and the ability to send instantaneous complaint e-mails.
Today, those methods are increasingly looking slow and outdated. Technology has created faster, more viral ways for consumers to make their annoyance felt. Exhibit “A,” of course, is Twitter: Anyone who has enough people reading his blasts can get a company’s attention in a hurry with a cleverly or powerfully worded complaint—either within Twitter’s one hundred and forty characters or via a shared link directing followers to a longer blog post elsewhere on the web. Not only that, but the people who see it may resend it to their own Twitter followers (i.e., retweet it). Before long, one person’s complaint will reach enough people and elicit enough similar responses to make the company wake up and pay attention to the problems of the original complainer.
Customers understand that this is empowerment at the speed of light. And they expect you to understand it too, to incorporate the empowerment expectations of customers into your problem-resolution process. In other words, understand that the playing field has flattened—or prepare to be flattened yourself.
A model for how to encourage customer empowerment comes from Umpqua Bank, an institution top rated for service at its locations in the Pacific Northwest, California, and Nevada. Walk into any of its lobbies and one of the first things you’ll see is a placard reading “Let’s talk” and an antique-y phone with a direct connection to the president’s (Ray Davis, legendary founding president, director, and CEO) office. Is this a gimmick? Nope, because Mr. Davis actually answers it, according to Michele Livingston, senior vice president and regional retail manager. In fact, she says, “Ray loves talking with customers who have an issue, not hiding from them.”
Customer Trend #5: The Greening of the Customer
While the strength of this green (environmental) trend will ebb and flow and also varies in strength from customer to customer, it’s a clear underlying sentiment among much of today’s buying populace. And the younger the customer, the more “hooked on green”—so there’s no reason to think this trend will abate as the buying power of younger consumers increases. In interacting with your customers, it’s always wise to operate from the assumption that they’ll have concerns relating to the environmental impact of your operation and their purchase. Those unconcerned with the environment will rarely be offended if you take environmental precautions, but those who are environmentally concerned will be upset by, for example, your business’s excessive packaging, whether or not they do the favor of letting you know of their disappointment.
Awareness of environmental sensitivity should become part of the thinking behind your customer service interactions. For instance, perhaps a particular customer who purchased a large item from you that arrived in less than perfect shape would prefer a discount rather than having a pickup and rerun of an order because of his concern about the carbon impact of the return shipping. Or maybe the offer to throw in an additional, but not entirely needed, product as compensation for a delay will only grate rather than be appreciated.
Customer Trend #6: The Desire for Self-Service
Self-service, which includes everything from web-based e-commerce to IVR (interactive voice response telephone systems) to concierge-like self-help touch-screen menus in public spaces, to passengers printing their own boarding passes, is a powerful trend in customer service, and companies that ignore it, pursue it reluctantly, or violate the basic laws of its implementation will be left in the dust. There are various factors driving the self-service trend: our round-the-clock lifestyle, a buying populace that is increasingly tech savvy, and in some cases, the higher comfort level of some socially anxious customers when doing business with machines rather than face to face or even on the phone.