It’s the end of the year. It’s the time when we all take stock of our lives and think about what we’d like to do differently. Did we exercise as much in 2014 as we’d planned? Or maybe we’re regretting all the time spent looking at Kim Kardashian’s photos. If you’re a running a small business, now is the time to take stock of your customer relationships and think about what’s working and what can be done better. Looking back at 2014, here are some of the things we learned about customers and what they expect when it comes to support:
Focusing on the customer experience is still the way to go. When you think about an awesome customer experience, Apple (News - Alert) is probably the first company that comes to mind. Everyone knows that the late Steve Jobs was personally obsessed with every detail of his iPods, iPhones, and iPads. And guess what? Consumers love the products. They love the packaging. They love everything about the company. I personally love that when my iPhone (News - Alert) wasn’t working I walked into the Apple Store and instantly got a replacement.
All this seems to be working. And it’s working better every year. The company’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus sold a record 10 million units over their first weekend, up from the nine million iPhones it sold last year in the first weekend of its last version. Apple employees are very satisfied with their jobs (Glassdoor.com rated Apple one of the 50 best places to work for in America this year), which also helps the customer experience. Who’s more helpful than an Apple Genius (News - Alert)?
Having a strong personality can drive satisfaction. Consumers like to deal with companies with fun personalities. Just look at Southwest Airlines. Why yawn through the safety video when you can be entertained by the hilarious flight attendants? Or Trader Joe’s. They do very little advertising, but offer a unique and healthy selection of food and wine, and a fun loving atmosphere where salespeople wear Hawaiian shirts, give stickers and balloons to small children, and ring real bells to get a manager’s attention.
Another company that’s excelling by building a unique personality for customer service is BarkBox, the monthly dog toy and treat subscription service. The company sees every communication — even notices about shipping — as opportunities to build its brand and encourages agents to use funny slogans like “pawesome” and “poochas gracias”. BarkBox increased its customer base by 10x last year and has an amazing 90 percent retention rate. Personalized communications from its “Bark Happy” support team are a key part of how they show their appreciation for customers.
Be sure to incent your employees to drive the behavior that you want to see. This year’s most memorable customer service interaction was a fiasco involving an over-zealous agent, a savvy customer who recorded their call, and more than 5 million listeners. A large communications company’s reputation was trashed. And although anyone who listens to the recording of the call would probably agree that the agent was a complete tool, many businesses are taking a step back to re-examine their own support processes. Are the measurements and motivations they use for agents incenting better service? Or bad behavior?
Although many companies evaluate agents based on what percentage of cases they can close after the first email or phone call, or how quickly they can close them, others are considering non-traditional ways to measure their support teams. They are encouraging agents to spend time with customers, fostering loyalty and strong word of mouth. Successful startups like One Kings Lane encourage customers to talk to customers as frequently and for as long as it takes to make them happy.
You can’t be too careful on social. It’s been almost a decade since Twitter (News - Alert) was launched but somehow smart companies continue to make dumb mistakes like capitalizing on a disaster for marketing or accidentally posting inappropriate comments, offending thousands of customers in just seconds. This year’s blunderer was an apparel manufacturer which posted a picture of the Challenger disaster to celebrate the 4th of July.
Or there’s the case of the NYPD, which grossly misunderstood how consumers feel about it when it asked residents to post to photos of themselves with its officers, using the hashtag #myNYPD. Instead of sharing the love, New Yorkers shared a variety of photos of alleged brutality. The takeaway from all this? Be really, really, really careful about how you use social, both in personal and your professional lives. And, don’t ask for a meme, because you never know what you’ll get.
Data can help you deliver a better experience. Amazon’s been using data for years to deliver an unparalleled level of convenience to its customers. The site keeps a record of all of your past purchases so it can make recommendations of other products you might find interesting. It also shows you what products are most often purchased together and reviews of everything.
Big data has been around for a few years, but with cloud solutions getting easier and easier to integrate, it’s not just a big company thing anymore. Even small companies like the 90 employee strong Fruit Guys, which sells and delivers fresh fruit to workplaces across the country, are taking advantage of data to make their customer experience even better. The Fruit Guys can see if a customer always doubles their fruit orders in the summer time, and then use that information to proactively suggest that they bulk up when cherries or avocadoes are in season — before the customer even places their summer order.
Whether you’re an early stage startup or a well established mom and pop shop, in 2014 it was clear that customers still expect a service experience that is helpful, personalized and well-informed when they interact with your company. As you take a look back on how your own team stacked up, remember that it’s not just about being there when your customers reach out, but also how they experience your support brand as a company.
Edited by Maurice Nagle
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