It used to be that businesses would engage in a war of nickel and dimes, trying to find ways to offer slightly better prices than competitors. When they weren’t busy riding their research and development teams to produce the tiny tweaks and find the innovations that would offer an advantage, they would browbeat the marketing team to at least make it seem like they were offering a superior product.
If those days haven’t already passed, however, they soon will. While pricing and product will always be important, the Customers 2020 study from customer intelligence firm Walker reports that by the year 2020, customer service will have overtaken both price and product as the leading brand differentiator.
On the surface, offering exemplary customer service may seem like opening up an abyss into which endless time and money will be tossed, while customer service outsourcing teams are exhaustively trained and monitored to ensure they’re constantly providing the quality interactions befitting of the brand. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Imagine instead a customer service reality in which customers are actually doing most of the work themselves and are pleased as punch with the outcome.
Farfetched as it may seem, this utopian world exists, and it’s populated by smart customer care self-service tools.
While these self-service tools are valuable for companies of all sizes, it is perhaps small and medium-sized businesses that will benefit the most from automating customer support. These tools represent a major upgrade in customer service capabilities without requiring a huge boost in the customer service budget. Furthermore, these online tools all integrate neatly with existing processes and customer satisfaction efforts and offer the flexibility and scalability necessary for growing and changing businesses.
It’s also worth considering that when customers opt to go with a smaller business as opposed to one of the big dogs, they likely do so expecting to receive superior customer service.
Must-have self-service tool #1: a virtual assistant
Forget those clunky customer service chats that consistently serve up links to irrelevant information. And for the love of everything good, forget the butler from Ask Jeeves. Today’s virtual assistants are powered by artificial intelligence so good it should be called artificial brilliance.
An automated virtual customer assistant, such as those provided by customer self-service pioneers nanorep, can be instantly engaged at any and every point during a customer’s purchasing or brand interaction experience, eliminating the frustration that is often experienced when waiting for support. The nanorep assistant can be conversed with in both text and voice and is available on a wide variety of platforms including websites, mobile apps, social media and even popular messaging apps like Facebook messenger.
These assistants are designed to provide a smooth and seamless customer service experience. They’re equipped with natural language technology that allow them to understand everything from complex sentences to slang, abbreviations, even misspellings and fragments – everything very much present in human conversation. They also converse with a natural cadence in and use dynamic decision trees to resolve customer queries effectively and efficiently.
Perhaps it isn’t nice to say that virtual customer assistants are like people only better, but if the virtual shoe fits, it’s easy enough for a virtual assistant to wear it while increasing customer satisfaction as well as retention.
Must-have self-service tool #2: dynamic FAQs
Sometimes a customer just doesn’t want to interact. Not with an actual person, not with a virtual genius, and not with a social media account or email helpdesk. Sometimes a customer just wants an answer as quickly as possible. Enter the dynamic FAQ.
When a customer types a question, a dynamic FAQ instantly responds with a concise and accurate answer, taking the customer exactly where they want to be on the website. No more lists to sort through, and no more recommendations that the customer send an email or contact a live agent for help. In addition to keeping customers happy, this also cuts way down on support staff cost and support ticket traffic.
Like virtual assistants, natural language technology is at the heart of a dynamic FAQ’s capabilities. These FAQs are equipped with the ability to understand the nuances of human conversation and respond quickly and accurately.
Must-have self-service tool #3: online communities
Tech giants like Apple, WordPress and Microsoft have it all figured out: not only are customers both capable of and willing to help themselves when it comes to customer support, but they are capable of and willing to help each other. Many businesses now boast booming online communities full of customers asking and answering questions that may have otherwise toiled in customer service limbo.
By providing an online community or discussion forum that is free and easy to use, a company not only creates a repository of helpful information, but it also inspires a feeling of unity amongst customers and can help breed loyalty with the brand, ultimately increasing customer lifetime value.
Helping customers help themselves
Self-service tools may seem like the ultimate customer care hoodwink, tricking customers into doing all the support work themselves while a business sits back and reaps the benefits. But what self-service tools like the ones listed above actually do is eliminate wait times, provide helpful and accurate information, and foster a feeling of belonging and loyalty while allowing customers to take their purchasing experience into their own hands. An empowered customer is a happy customer, one that returns again and again and makes recommendations to friends and family while they’re at it.
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