Offering great customer support might be one of the biggest challenges a business faces.
The thing is, acquiring new customers can cost five times more than retaining existing customers. And when one in three said they’d drop a brand after a single bad experience, the pressure on customer support increases dramatically.
The purpose of this guide is to walk through some common questions, debates, and best practices to deliver exceptional customer support. We’ll start off briefly exploring the differences between human interaction and bot-based support. Then we’ll dig into how time and consistency influences customer happiness and their overall experience.
And finally, we’ll dive deeper into some best practices that’ll help you learn how to deliver outstanding customer support for your customers.
The debate around automated interactions and human ones is ongoing, and divisive.
On the one hand, in 2018 researchers found 70% of people prefer human interaction when it comes to customer service.
On the other, a separate study found 40% of consumers did not care if the assistant was a chat bot or human as long as they were getting the help they needed—Though this suggests the remaining 60% did care.
Of course this is an evolving landscape. Technologies like IBM Watson are paving the way for human-esque interactions and can save support teams a bunch of time. Enabling them to focus on “higher value work”.
And as these incredible advances in AI technologies offer the ability to emulate more accurate human-like responses, it’s not a debate that’ll be over soon.
One key difference to consider in the debate is the customer experience. Because while bots can be programmed and in many cases even learn to deliver the perfect resolution to a problem, what’s missing from the majority of automations is the human ability to exceed expectations.
61% of consumers thought that "receiving personalized communication via email, chat and social media from companies" was important. And this is likely down to the ability to be personal, personable, and show sincere empathy.
These things can’t be replicated and can make human support exceptional.
As with every customer experience point, exceptional support is frictionless. More often than not that can also translate to being fast too.
The speed with which a ticket can be resolved is one of the main reasons 55% of consumers actually prefer responses from service bots. After all, they are a fast and effective solution to solve simple questions.
Providing simple and easy access to support information is a reason 55% of consumers fall in love with a brand. So whether that’s through human-based support, or using tools like knowledge base software or even chatbots, offering fast and accessible answers is crucial.
Research also found that 33% of customers are often frustrated by service processes. Things like being placed on hold, or being passed from pillar to post and having to repeat themselves to multiple agents to solve simple product issues.
Oftentimes the responses and tone that customer receives can vary greatly from agent to agent. And this inconsistency can lead to a lacklustre brand experience. In fact, according to Salesforce 73% of consumers said they’d switch brands due to inconsistent levels of service across departments.
Of course the ambiguity there isn’t too helpful. After all, inconsistently good would no doubt trump consistently bad when it comes to ways to improve the customer experience. But the point remains that brand consistency is key, from your support voice and tone right through to the format and tools used to deliver support.
A study by Slideshare highlighted bad customer experiences were the primary reason the majority of consumers stopped using a product. And with 84% of consumers saying they’d pay more to guarantee a good experience, it stands to reason that a consistent customer experience could be more attractive than pricing.
With that in mind, here are a few tips on creating a consistent brand experience.
Your brand voice is crucial regardless of whether you’re writing documentation in a knowledge base software, or answering tickets via live chat, email, or social media. It might seem like a small thing, but it can set an impression of your brand that sticks with your customers.
Keeping your voice consistent across multiple team members can be a huge challenge though. If you have multiple editors or a big support team, it’s only natural nuances in their use of language will creep out.
Your voice reflects your culture
Your brand voice is a reflection of your culture and your culture is a reflection of your people. So as long as you have the right people in your team, your brand voice should be easily implemented.
Create a style guide
A style guide provides your team with guidance on how to communicate. It could cover anything that has an impact on the way your brand is perceived. Things like when and how to use emoji, the use of colloquialisms, and any specific approaches to language that are important to the brand.
Your style guide should reflect the culture not be imposed on it. So it could be a good idea to collaborate with your team to make sure you’re not letting your personal voice influence the brand.
Hire the right people
How individuals communicate is a reflection of their personality. By extension, people who don’t fit with the culture will likely struggle to adopt the brand voice.
Personalization isn’t just a nice thing to do for customers. For many, particularly those who are struggling it’s crucial to have someone on the other end that actually cares.
48% of consumers said they didn’t trust bots to understand their needs. The implication there is not only that a human touch is important, but the need to be understood as an individual is critical to a positive customer experience.
Impersonal, stock responses whether from a bot or a human just won’t cut it.
There’s a reason two thirds of customer support teams use some kind of knowledge base software. The fact is, they offer an easy and accessible way to make vast amounts of information accessible.
Not only does having a repository brimming with recurring answers, style guides, and resources save a bunch of time it also helps your team stay consistent.
Your customers exist everywhere. And when they need help it is likely they’ll ask for it in a variety of different places; on social media, inside your app, on your website, via email. This list of ways customers can communicate with businesses is growing everyday.
To provide an exception support experience, it makes sense to meet your customers where they are. You can remove friction by providing support where and when they need it most.
It’s not good enough to simply be on various platforms though. You have to make sure you’re responsive, and delivering the same level of service regardless of which communication method they’ve chosen.
A recent study found that the average company takes 12 hours and 10 minutes to respond to inbound email queries. But the same study also found a one hour response time met the expectations of 89 percent of customers. While responding within 15 minutes or less should be the aim of companies aiming for “world-class customer service”.
Customers respect honesty. Being realistic with your availability can let your customer know they’ve not been overlooked or forgotten about. It reminds them that you’re human too. Let people know when they can expect a response and keep to it. Breaking a promise to a customer will destroy your customer experience. Even if the promise is vague.
There are often tickets that require more than a frontline debugging can cover. But don’t leave your customers hanging. If it’s the kind of thing you’ll need to dig into, let the customer know you’re looking into it. Give them a realistic idea of when you’ll be able to give them a full answer.
More than half of consumers would prefer an option to resolve their own product or service problems instead of relying on customer support teams. And in a survey, Forrester found that good knowledge bases take the customer’s top spot when it comes to self-service preferences.
In fact 4 out of 5 customers would use knowledge bases when they’re available with 81% admitting to using the knowledge base on a company’s website—compared to 67% in 2012.
It’s fair to say the use of self-service and knowledge bases in particular is becoming both a trend and an expectation of companies. The only trouble is very few companies are actually providing a good knowledge base experience, and a great deal of customers see knowledge bases as “inaccurate or incomplete”.
A good knowledge base offers your customers articles that answer specific queries without having to involve your support team. And while it might seem like an arduous task, getting started building a knowledge base doesn’t need to be taxing.
At a base level, it all boils down to listening to your customers. Find out what they are asking regularly and provide the answers in an accessible and easy to understand way.
A good knowledge base should evolve as you learn more about how your customer self-serves, what they struggle with most, and how they interact with your knowledge base. Collecting customer feedback stats alongside top articles and searches data means you can build a more informed picture of your users. Which in turn will help you build a better knowledge base.
Creating an exceptional customer support experience relies on knowledge. Or more accurately, it relies on your support team being armed with the right knowledge to not only resolve customer queries but do so quickly and while embodying the brand voice.
44% of customers believe they make more effort than the companies they’re attempting to get help from. The thing is, they don’t want to be passed around. They want to be heard the first time. And they don’t want to have to jump through hoops to get some kind of a response.
Resolving a customer issue quickly the first time can be one of the main things that leads to outstanding support and an exceptional customer experience.
A knowledge base is only as good as its articles. Customers want the ability to solve issues on their terms if they want to. That means creating accurate articles with actionable knowledge that address the right problems.
When over half of consumers see access to the right information as a reason they fall in love with a brand, sharing your knowledge becomes a no brainer.
Outstanding support doesn’t aim to simply resolve tickets. Instead, the best kind of support aims to empower users in the long-term.
Resolving tickets is so easy a bot could do it!
Educating your users is a much more thoughtful process. It means giving your users all the tools and resources they need to succeed and grow on their own terms.
Recent research found that more than half of customers chose a specific company because of the brand’s reputation. And with 54% of consumers sharing lacklustre experiences with more than 5 people, making sure you’re doing everything you can to build your reputation is crucial.
Making an effort to educate customers can be a massive boost when it comes to building a company’s reputation. It can lead to long-term customer success and subsequently help farm trust in the process.
97% of consumers say that customer service is an important factor in their loyalty to a brand. By educating your customers and building trust you can foster long-term loyalty.
According to research, 86% of consumers say they’d pay more for better customer service. So putting some time and energy into providing outstanding customer support to deliver an exceptional customer experience can be a massive boost to your customer’s success and the long-term success of the business.
While there are many ways to get started. But one of the most effective to provide outstanding customer support is to use a combination of self-service, speedy, knowledgeable human communication, and investing in the long-term education of your customers.