Your business offers top-of-the-line products or services—but does your business offer top-of-the line customer support? When you’ve invested heavily to drive customers to your site, you want to provide the same white-glove service throughout their customer journey, even if they contact you about an issue after a purchase is complete.
After all, a Dimensional Research survey found that 87% of customers rave about positive customer service to their friends—and even more importantly, 95% spread the word about negative experiences, with more than half telling at least five people. Go all in on great customer service, and, instead of fending off angry tweets, you’ll win the Internet with rave reviews and customer support stories going viral for all the right reasons.
Take Zappos, for example. While most customer service teams are focused on reducing the average time spent on each call, Zappos doesn’t treat each customer as a number: Their benchmark is 80% of agent time spent on direct customer interaction, whether that involves 100 customers a day or just one—as in the case of a nearly 11-hour call one representative had with a customer in 2016. This singular focus on stellar customer service ensures that nearly every customer becomes a raving fan for life: 75 percent of purchases come from repeat customers.
Want to deliver Zappos-level customer service? Then you’ll need to focus on understanding customer expectations in your industry so that you know how to beat them. Here are some tips for getting started.
Learn What Industry Benchmarks Look Like
You shouldn’t wait for customer complaints to roll in to realize when you’re getting things wrong. Be proactive about understanding exactly what high-quality customer support looks like in your industry so that you can build a plan to beat expectations.
We’ve previously gathered some common customer service benchmarks for all companies to use as guidance, which include:
- Acknowledgement rate: 100%
- Time to first response: 60 minutes
- Total handle time: 24 hours
- Number of replies per ticket: less than two
- Resolution without escalation rate: more than 68.8%
- Customer satisfaction: 85%
That said, customer expectations will vary from one industry to the next, so it’s important to take a personalized approach to determining your company’s plan of attack. For instance, Hubspot found that the average handling time (the time it takes to resolve a customer’s issue from start to finish) varied by more than 30% from one industry to another, with average handling times of 10 minutes in the gaming & gambling industry, and nearly 17 minutes in the web hosting industry.
Gather Customer Feedback
Now you know what customer expectations look like in your industry—but how well is your team currently performing?
Gather data insights in real time from your existing customer base, using measurement tools like a CSAT (customer satisfaction survey). In a CSAT, once a customer has completed an interaction, you can use a numerical scale (1-5) to ask her a series of questions about the experience. This can include questions about how quickly and how well your customer service team fulfilled their needs, as well as questions related to their onboarding process, product experience, website ease of navigation, and other factors.
It’s also helpful to measure your company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS)—a standalone question, “how likely are you to recommend this service to a friend?”, followed by a rating scale of 1 to 10. You can measure your company’s NPS score now as a baseline to understand how it can be positively impacted by making improvements to your customer experience.
Conduct Competitive Research
Just as you do competitive research in your marketing efforts, it’s also important to research how your competitors handle customer service issues. Purchase a product or service from a competitor, and pay attention to the service experience throughout your buyer’s journey. Is the browsing experience intuitive enough for you to easily find what you’re looking for? Are you able to easily set up account preferences? If you have a question, are you able to easily find the information you’re looking for through self-service in most cases? When you need to ask for more personalized advice, are you able to quickly connect with a customer support representative via phone or chat?
Pay attention to which competitors provide the best customer experience, and take notes on what you can learn from them. You can also check out third-party reviews sites, such as TrustPilot or G2, to learn more about other customers’ experiences and what they liked or hated about their customer service experience.
Create a scorecard spotlighting what your competitors are doing well or poorly in comparison to your own brand, including details such as what customer service channels were available, how easily you were able to navigate the company’s knowledge base for self-service support, and how quickly you were able to connect with a customer service representative through each of the available channels. You can use this research to inform the strategy you’ll develop in the next phase.
Build a Customer Support Strategy
Now that you’re armed with data on what your customers expect from the service experience, and what types of experiences your competitors are providing, you’ll need to audit what you’re currently doing and build a strategy for exceeding customer service expectations.
- Scale your support team sustainably to match your company growth
Pay attention to your growth rate: If your customer base is currently growing by 10% a year, you’ll need to make sure that you’re either increasing your customer support team at that same rate or introducing technology to optimize the customer support experience. For instance, incorporating a self-service tool will enable you to reduce overall ticket volume, since customers won’t need to request hands-on support as frequently.
- Make sure you’re responding to all support channels
Some customer questions or support requests might come in via email, while others may come in via chat or phone. But what about customer complaints you receive via Twitter tweets and other forms of social media? Pay attention to any channel that a customer might use to communicate with your brand, and create a clear communication protocol for responding and tracking their communication across omnichannel platforms. And, while not technically a support channel, make sure that your customer support team tracks your online customer reviews—although the customer has already complained, it may not be too late to provide a remedy that will satisfy her.
- Build a triage plan
For those customers who do require help from your customer support team, create a triage strategy so that you can easily identify complex problems that require high-quality, personalized support, versus those that can be handled more easily based on existing scripts. Build clear paths for routing your customers to the right support team: Enable them to type in their question, and if they’re not able to find an answer via self-service, they should be instantly routed to a support agent in the correct department, whether they’re asking about shipping, returns, product details, or another topic.
- Follow up to track how well the problem was resolved
Make sure that your customers’ expectations were met (or, ideally, exceeded) by sending automated follow-up customer satisfaction surveys, or even having a support agent call the customer to see how well the problem was handled. If the customer is still upset and there are other action items that can be taken to improve customer satisfaction, such as providing a credit for a future purchase, make sure that you do so—it’s far more expensive to attract a new customer once you’ve lost an existing one.
Why Great Customer Service Is So Important
Having a great product isn’t enough to maintain a loyal audience. Today’s consumers are focused on building strong relationships with the brands they care about, so high-quality customer service is an integral part of their experience. Today, 80% of companies believe they’re providing great customer service, but only 8% of customers agree.
Customer expectations can vary greatly across industries, and you’ll be benchmarked against what your competitors are doing, so it’s important to conduct your own research as we’ve outlined above. By taking the time and effort to gain a strong understanding of your existing customer experience, conduct industry-specific research, build a solid game plan for a best-in-class customer support experience, and then continually track your customers’ feedback, you’ll be able to build and continually grow a strong and loyal customer base that will advocate for your brand.
Eight in 10 consumers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience, so by ensuring that your customer satisfaction levels are off the charts, you’ll be able to future-proof your brand’s staying power as upstart competitors come onto the scene.
Building a best-in-class brand starts with beating customer expectations on every front.
Learn more about building a game-changing customer experience in our free ebook.