Customer service is a perennial issue that is critical to all small business owners. Although it is included in every company mission statement, no one wants to focus on it. But some key customer service trends for 2011 make this phase of your business even more critical in the coming year.
Here are 11 customer service trends to watch in 2011:
- The time to react to your customer is shrinking. In this 24/7 instant gratification world, the time in which your customer expects you to be able to resolve their problem is getting smaller. Most customers expect to be able to reach you 24/7, and for you to resolve their concern on the very first call (or at least the same day). This is putting increasing stress on companies’ infrastructure and pressuring companies to ensure the profitability of each customer. Look for companies to begin to “fire” customers that don’t meet their profitability metric.
- Customer service has become the new marketing. Small business owners used to be afraid that a dissatisfied customer would tell 7 people. Now, through social media sites, they can tell 7 million people. On the flip side, “raving fans” can be your biggest source of new business as they tell everyone how great your company is. Consumers believe what their peers say about your company more than they believe any of your own paid advertising.
- You can find out exactly where your customers are talking about your company. Every business is being talked about on the Internet, but where? New customized software from companies like Flowtown allow the business owner to insert a contact’s name or e-mail address and identify the social networks in which that contact participates. Knowing where your prospects and customers congregate online is critical for engaging your customers where they are.
- The “social support” experience grows. Consumers now talk and bond directly with each other over using your products. Companies like Get Satisfaction and Feedback 2.0 are building online communities that facilitate conversations between companies and customers. Get Satisfaction states that 46,000 companies use its product to provide a social support experience to listen and talk to their loyal customers.
- Faster resolution of customer service issues through blog and social media site comments. Calling a company’s customer service number is no longer the fastest way for a customer to get an issue resolved. Since most brands are tracking what is being said about them on all the social media sites, tweeting your concern or posting it on Facebook will often yield quicker results. This has especially been effective for me with my vendors like Comcast, Vonage, American Airlines and Discover Card.
- Integration of Web customer service and traditional phone support. Customized software now allows integration of what prospects and customers are saying on the Web about your company. More solutions like Parature for Facebook are available to integrate that information with your website and customer service center. Software now enables Facebook users to search their knowledgebase, submit help tickets and chat with customer service agents. Look for online and offline customer input channels to continue to merge in the coming year.
- More self service: It started with ATMs 40 years ago and now we rarely go to the airport without using a self-service kiosk. This past year, more complicated transactions like renting a car are now being done via kiosks at companies like Hertz. Although it takes a bit longer, it is effective for impatient customers who do not want to wait in lines. Many stores have also implemented self checkout. Can buying a car or house via self serve be far behind?
- Faux personalization becomes an expectation. With many consumer interactions now happening online or through automated kiosks instead of live people, customers have come to expect the type of “personal service” they get at websites like Amazon. Easily being able to track your current, past and recommended future purchases has become an expectation that is not easily matched in a brick and mortar store. Amazon always remembers who you are, but does your local retail store? As a result, where would you rather shop?
- Retail stores are now an experience. Successful retail stores like Apple and Brookstone have become demo centers with a lot of service people around to help. On Black Friday, when other stores were struggling to keep up, I was in and out of an Apple store in 5 minutes with my iPad purchase. In order to compete with online shopping, successful stores are now fun places to come out and shop. Gone are the days when you couldn’t find someone to help you at Toys R Us (and I don’t miss it).
- You need to chat. Helping a customer on your website used to providing an e-mail address or listing the company phone number. Real-time chat is now becoming a requirement in order to help your clients. Can video chat be that far behind for an even more personal touch?
- Online inventory tracking from your customer’s phone. Your customer will no longer come into your store to see if you have a product. Companies like Milo.com can now tell the customer if a product is on your shelf. The company says it tracks real-time availability of 3 million products in 52,000 stores. Is this the end of “window shopping”?
What customer service trends are you seeing in 2011?
Great post, Barry.
You wrote that, “tweeting your concern or posting it on Facebook will often yield quicker results.”
My Mom had an issue with a new TV that we had bought for her over at our local Best Buy store. Her issue wasn’t being resolved, so I told her that I would jump on Twitter and see if that would speed things up.
@bestbuy is monitored by folks at their headquarters, and I got a response from them within a few hours. (A little longer than I expected, actually.)
Best Buy jumped in, but problems at the store itself delayed things for way too long.
Social Media has been a boon to companies that ARE interested in satisfying and keeping customers.
The Franchise King
Yes, I do the same thing with Discover, Citibank and Comcast! it works!
So many industries have been commoditized by consumers so that it is exceptionally hard to stand out. Add in the recession and how frugality is the new black and you have a very unattractive situation on your hands. That said, customer service is still one area where you can easily distinguish yourself, justify a higher price and have customers that rave about you. Great post Barry!
Agreed- Service trumps price always!
Nice share Barry! This year Social Media has been used for Customer Service and I also think that it will continue may the consumers have negative or positive feedback, it will all help improve a business. If there are negative comments, we should make sure that we do something about it, or like you said it will spread to 7M people.
Thank you for this information Barry. GREAT points!
I believe your #1 point is the most important. I did a lot of work within the Tier 3 Automotive vertical and explained how their biggest concerns should be customer service. I would walk through the scenario of unhappy customers on the showroom floor or in the service area armed with their smart phones. A very scary scenario for any company with poor customer service.
In the world of the social web bad companies cannot hide for long.
Virtual Agent- totally agree for better or worse!
Yes Jeff, there really is no place to hide any longer!
Barry, love the post.
I currently oversee a large constituent services department within the public sector and have found constituents are not reducing their expectations of great service delivery from their local government.
Often the public sector moves at a slower pace to jump on board with “new” trends, but many have recognized social media networks as a great customer service resource to engage with constituents and to provide real time information to the public on a continual basis.
Great article without strong customer service future sales will stop occurring. If you couple the
Gary and Rosetta- both great suggestions! Thanks!
Insightful post, Barry. With the world getting smaller by the day and our choices increasing by the second, quality customer service is an area of small business that will certainly demand close attention. All the best, AMB
Yes – its like a small town!
Great advises. Zopim provides an excellent solution for live chat.
You say in pint #5 “Faster resolution of customer service issues through blog and social media site comments. Calling a company’s customer service number is no longer the fastest way for a customer to get an issue resolved. Since most brands are tracking what is being said about them on all the social media sites”
How are companies tracking what is being said about them? Are there software packages that accomplishes this and aggregates information? Or do they have legions of people trolling the internet? IF software based, I’d like to know the names of those software firms
Yes, check out Parature.com
Speed is very important and lock step with another consumer trend – Instant Gratification. For example, our instant rewards program NOWcard gives small business the tools to offer customers an instant reward each time they shop with them.
Thanks Barry. Great points. Number 1 is the best point. There is no excuse for delay now. Our world has changed, technology has changed, expectations have changed. As an organization if you snooze, you lose.
It is amazing how an problem can be solved by posting a comment on Facebook page. I had a problem that kept getting passed around until I posted a comment and the problem was solved promptly. Good customer service is the only way to survive.