The key to a company's success in today's world is a business model that centers around consumer convenience.
The mobile first, on-demand consumer is completely revamping the way business is conducted — especially when it comes to customer service.
In today's world nearly anything and everything can be delivered on-demand. Consumers expect the services companies deliver to be buttoned up and are getting used to demanding speedy resolutions if expectations aren't met.
They expect immediate access to people for their customer service needs and are raising those issues with companies publicly via social media. The traditional ways businesses handle customers and manage their many wants and needs is becoming a thing of the past.
Sadly, there is no shortage of customer service blunders going viral every week, proving that outdated customer service practices are still the norm for a frightening number of businesses out there. Here are a few ways companies can catch up and keep up with today's on-demand consumer.
I want it all and I want it NOW!
We're living in mobile and technology-first times. The smartphone and app revolution has catalyzed a behavioral demand and expectancy that everything we want or need should be available on demand — whether it's Seamless for food, Uber for a ride, or Netflix for entertainment.
Terrible cell service makes the news these days, and is the pitch point of almost every mobile network TV ad, precisely because of the frustration it causes when we want something now but can't get it.
It's also done away with any semblance of the old 9 to 5. Time — or rather the removal of any “typical” time norms is the key change. Consumers want access to customer service and most likely the times you don't want to provide it. Evenings, weekends — when it's convenient for them. And then you need to fix whatever they want in an instant.
That's the new expectation, so if you're not ready and willing to deal with customer service issues at 11 p.m. on a Sunday, make it clear when you will and when you won't.
Set up automatic notices, so if someone doesn't see that instruction, they receive a reply that explains when you will respond, allowing customers to feel a bit more at ease in the meantime.
It's only natural for consumers to encompass this new mentality, with all of the on-demand services available — like Postmates or DoorDash — which even make the impossible possible. It's no longer an issue if you want, say, food from a certain restaurant that doesn't deliver. There's a way it can be at your doorstep in an instant.
Make the technology work for you, not against you
Customer service isn't a 1-800 number game anymore. In the event there's an issue that needs to be resolved, customers expect to be able to reach companies via whichever social media platform they prefer. Make sure you have a unified approach to customer service across social media, email, web assistants, text messaging and even traditional call centers.
Companies like Uber are going one step further, trying to handle customer services issues through their app, making it more convenient for consumers while keeping complaints out of the public domain. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines uses Facebook Messenger to handle many of its customer service communications.
Ultimately, technology should be helping your company provide customer service support in a way that better fits customer needs.
Also think about ways to empower your customers to answer their own questions. Self-service is a huge emerging trend. A Zendesk study found that 91% of consumers would prefer to use a company's FAQs or knowledge base on their website or app if they are comprehensive enough — and easy enough to navigate — for their needs.
Just make sure you keep those pages up-to-date, and don't inadvertently trip yourself up in the future.
Honesty is the best policy. There's nothing worse for a company than a customer complaining on social media about their product or service. That same customer will be making it his mission to expose the dishonest way you treated him across any and every social media platform available.
It's becoming a habit for many people today to read Amazon reviews before buying a product, or check out Yelp or Google reviews for a restaurant before making a reservation. Therefore, businesses need to address these types of negative responses that are out in public in order to prevent potential damage.
Companies should respond to negative reviews online with honesty and sincerity — people on the fence about you will be encouraged that you made a genuine attempt to fix that person's problem.
If you're a company being hammered on social media, acknowledge the complaints and take them privately or offline as soon as is reasonable to do so. This lets you handle any issues one-on-one and limit the potential fallout of others piling on in a public forum.
Handle it well, and that customer leaves satisfied — and they might just tell their friends how happy they are.
Although it might not seem like it, the technology is your best friend (as well as your worst enemy). Companies who can use technology to keep pace with consumer preferences in this mobile-first, on-demand economy will prosper. Good luck to those who don't!
Barnaby Lashbrooke is CEO of Time Etc, a virtual assistant service which provides access to highly skilled, vetted personal virtual assistants. timeetc.com This piece was originally published in the NY Daily News.