Nothing turns a consumer off a brand faster than bad customer service. Once the damage is done, it can be very difficult to convince a customer who has been burned by bad service to give your company another chance. Over 80% of consumers worldwide report having stopped doing business with a company as a result of a bad customer experience (eMarketer).
Companies that provide excellent customer service, on the other hand, gain reputations for that service and are able to attract lifelong customers and committed brand advocates. Take American Express or Patagonia — both companies have legendary customer service and reputations that precede them. American Express is known for helping travelers in distress, making them an attractive choice for people who travel often. Patagonia stands by the quality of their products and will replace or repair products that fail to meet those standards — a major benefit for outdoorsy types who demand high levels of performance from their gear.
In the digital age, there are more ways than ever to provide customer service — and users want access to customer service from a variety of different communication channels. Call centers and customer service via the phone are still important, but on their own they aren’t enough. In fact, a total of 73% of US internet users agree that it’s important for companies to offer customer service in a wide variety of channels (eMarketer). In this article I’ll explore the different customer service channels that consumers care about.
1 – Social Media
It’s a fact of social media management that customers will take to their social channels to lodge complaints and ask for help. It’s important that your company stays on top of these customer comments and resolves any issues quickly via the channel where they were raised. Even if the customer has posted a customer service question as a comment on a totally unrelated Instagram post (it happens more often than you’d think), it’s still important to respond in the same medium. You can always redirect the customer to your phone lines or customer service email. The important thing is to make sure comments, mentions, and posts are appropriately monitored so customer service questions that come up on social media can be swiftly addressed.
2 – Email
Email might be a bit of dinosaur in terms of digital customer service, but it does a lot of the heavy lifting. It’s also still the second most preferred option for customer service communication, following the good old-fashioned telephone. So even if email isn’t a cutting edge customer service technology, it’s still one that needs to be well-manned. A customer service email address should be easy to locate on your website and your social channels and email responses to customer inquiries should be swift — within a 24-hour window.
3 – Search and FAQs
Self-service options, like site search and FAQs, are useful ways to help customers answer their own questions before reaching the point of needing to speak with a representative. 11% of users report use of self-serve web tools as their preferred method of contact while making a purchase online (eMarketer), so these features shouldn’t be ignored.
4 – Chat, Chatbots, and Messaging
Online chat, chatbots, and messaging platforms are the most innovative customer service channels on this list, and when grouped together, they represent a very popular option among users. Chatbots are programs that use artificial intelligence to interact conversationally with humans via text or speech. They can be employed to serve a handful of different purposes, but one big one is to replace or enhance existing human-based customer service.
Though many internet users still aren’t familiar with chatbots — they either haven’t interacted with one, or have and didn’t realize exactly what they were interacting with — the user preference for chat indicates that these bots have significant customer service potential. 70% of millennial users who have interacted with a chatbot report having a positive experience (eMarketer).
There’s obviously cost associated with developing and implementing a customer service chatbot, but for brands with substantial amounts of customer service inquiries and for those looking to embrace a truly omnichannel customer service approach, it may be worth the investment.
5 – Phone
Last but not least, the tried and true telephone. It’s definitely not as exciting or innovative as chatbot technology, but for now at least, it remains the preferred communication method for most users. For obvious reasons, certain problems are easier worked out in a conversation than via an email exchange, and many users simply aren’t comfortable with newer communication technologies.
As time goes on, the telephone will likely become at least somewhat less desirable as a customer service channel. For now, though, it’s clear that the phone is a necessary channel to satisfy customer service demands. Don’t bury your phone number deep in some dark corner of your website. Make sure that the customers who need to reach you by phone can do so without issue.
It’s clear that what customers really want when it comes to customer service is options. It’s not enough to provide excellent customer service via a single channel, you need to give customers the option to get in touch by whichever method is most convenient and comfortable for them. Social media, email, self-service tools, online chat, and phone are all part of the package.