Advances in technology have made the customer support process more efficient. But the focus on scaling customer service hasn’t necessarily led to better quality support. Customers complain about navigating the maze of phone trees, waiting endlessly on hold, talking to clunky bots, and sifting through lengthy support articles online—all with minimal human assistance. At times, it feels impossible to reach another person to talk to when they need help. And despite massive changes in the ways that people communicate, many companies are only reachable by phone call or email. The result is that customers feel lost and abandoned.
In the age of multinational corporations, it’s easy for customers to feel devalued. Many big companies feel impersonal, and it’s because they have forgotten the basics of good customer service. By emphasizing technology and automation rather than people, businesses have lost their human touch. Customers are tired of talking to machines, and they are nostalgic for simpler times when local business owners knew them by name and treated them like old friends.
Mediocre customer service is everywhere, but the rewards for companies who provide superior customer support are bigger than ever. If you’re finding that your customer experience is lacking, it’s not too late to add your customers back into the equation. To do this, revisit the past, rather than zooming towards a technology-focused future.
What customers want
It wasn’t that long ago that many people lived in small towns, where they shopped at the same stores their entire lives. When they went to a place like the general store, the owner was someone they had known for a long time. If they had a question, they could count on getting advice from someone that they were comfortable with and could trust, and the entire experience was highly personalized. If they had a problem with the service, they could bring it up to them directly and get an immediate response.
These days, boutique customer experiences are rare. People no longer shop at the same places their whole lives. Communities shift all the time, and businesses are larger and more complex.
But customers haven’t changed. They still want personalized shopping experiences from businesses that remember them—and remember what they want to buy.
The best customer experiences that you’ve ever had were likely in places where you felt like a regular. The benefit of being a regular is that the company knows you well enough to know what you want, even when you don’t communicate it to them. It’s easier to communicate what you want with someone that you feel comfortable with. And if you have a problem that you want to address, you are more likely to get a rapid response from a person who cares about you.
Many companies have focused on investing in technology such as artificial intelligence, chatbots, and virtual reality, rather than figuring out what their customers really want. A 2018 report by Usabilia found that despite the push to use technology in customer service, customers want more human interaction with brands, not less:
“The report revealed that, despite misconceptions of robots taking over, consumers across generations crave human interaction when engaging with brands. What’s more, they don’t expect nor want technology to replace real people. It’s true consumers are open-minded about using tech like chatbots that save time and make life easier. But they still trust humans to help solve more complex problems and make experiences—whether shopping at a retailer, filling a prescription or making a bank deposit—more enjoyable.”
Putting people back into customer service
The majority of your customers may no longer live in small towns, but you can still create close relationships with them. The way you do this is by thinking carefully about how you are delivering your customer support and treating customers as valued friends, not as order IDs and sales metrics.
A common customer complaint is that it’s hard to get ahold of a human being when they’re having an issue, and it’s even more difficult to get an immediate response. That means that companies still need to have people available at the end of the line to deal with customer service queries.
Phone and email are the most widely used customer service channels that involve corresponding with a person, but phone support is notorious for putting people on hold, and email can feel distant and require a lot of back and forth over a long period of time to resolve issues. Companies are looking for new and more effective ways to connect with customers, including texting, live chat, self-service help centers, and social media.
Modern businesses need new communication channels that reflect changing consumer behavior and preferences. In particular, texting is the new norm for people in their personal lives, and people are increasingly texting with small businesses and individual service providers, such as personal shoppers, insurance agents, real estate agents, plumbers, etc. Some younger customers are much more accustomed to sending a text than picking up the phone. But the business world has been slower to adapt, despite the convenience and efficiency of the channel for customers and businesses. A 2016 survey from Twilio found that nine out of 10 people want to text with businesses, but less than half of global companies had the technological capacity to do so.
Customers are also turning to social media for their customer service issues—both good and bad, especially when they have trouble getting ahold of a support agent on the phone or email. Social media is an effective way to reach a wider audience, but it can be a double-edged sword. It’s great when customers post on social media about their positive experiences with your brand, but your reputation suffers when they broadcast their frustrations. Customers love being able to direct message brands on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, but moving them to a channel like text message helps to build a more personal connection.
Business texting makes it easy to be personal at scale while modernizing customer service operations. The personal attention that customers receive make them feel special and like they belong to a community. When you can text a business, it’s like having a friendly personal shopper that you can reach by phone. If something negative happens, you know you can communicate with a human being. Texting helps businesses become more customer focused and build meaningful personal relationships with customers. So it may be that texting is how modern companies can provide “small-town” customer service—even as the size and complexity of businesses have changed.
The benefits of texting for customer support
The most obvious benefit of texting may be that it is more convenient and efficient for both customers and businesses. Customer response times are shorter compared to phone or email, and problems are resolved faster. Customer support agents who use texting are able to converse with multiple people at the same time, meaning that businesses save money on support. Teams that use texting to communicate with internal teams are able to build better relationships with employees by sending timely updates and easily receiving feedback.
Texting can be a vehicle for small and thoughtful actions that build trust in your brand and increase loyalty and engagement. For example, e-commerce companies can send texts right after making a sale to check in and follow up with customers, and after they send the product, they can check that it arrived. Clothing companies can check in to see if the product is the right fit. For products like furniture, you can see if the customer needs help setting up the product.