3 ways to adapt your customer service to the relationship economy

Customer Service
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2015 is off to a shaky start for UK businesses with the release of a new report from the Institute of Customer Service (ICS). This independent membership body publishes the UK Customer Satisfaction Index twice each year.

The latest edition of the Index, aiming to help businesses improve their customers’ experiences along with their business performance, is not good news: overall satisfaction has dropped over the past year and is now lower than at any point since January 2010. The CEO of the ICS reckons UK companies are struggling to keep up with changes to the economy, as it switches from a transactional economy to a relationship economy.

Customers used to be concerned only about the price they were paying and the product they were getting in return. But over the past five years, rapid technological changes have had a massive impact on the way we conduct business. We are now able – and expect – to share our opinions on the companies we buy from, and to enter into a dialogue with them. But most businesses are just not ready for this. Is yours? Customer service change

1. Value (speed and reliability) beats price

Under the transactional model, it was all about competition: businesses competed on price. Many products and services were essentially the same (thanks in part to market research which told companies “what customers want”). It became a race to the bottom to see which businesses could provide the lowest price without actually going bust.

While price is still an important factor in decision-making, there’s another important differentiator at play in the relationship economy: value. With customers being increasingly value-conscious, decision-making is based not merely on dollars (or pounds or euros), but on factors like customer service. Time is fairly limited for most of us, so it makes little sense to stay with a business which has low prices but an unreliable product, service or delivery method, or which has such poor customer service that it takes up time sorting out administrative or other problems.

Adapting your customer service: Casengo’s email management system allows businesses to keep on top of all their electronic communications using just one inbox. Whether you’re monitoring social media or dealing with incoming queries, compliments or even complaints, it’s all there in the one place. Better customer service = less time wasted = better value for money. And more brand loyalty.

2. Monologue to dialogue

Anyone older than five years of age has grown up in an environment where brands held a monologue. They talked to us, and we listened (or not) – but we didn’t reply. Unless we were angry or enthusiastic enough to send an old-fashioned snail mail letter to a company, we were preached to and that was that.

That’s how it worked when radio or tv ads were the only way to communicate to the general public. Now we have the internet, and more specifically, social media. If you are not yet holding a two-way discussion with your customers, you’d better get started pretty quickly.

Adapting your customer service: Casengo’s hybrid chat feature makes it easy to communicate with your customers at the pace that suits them (and you). Not only can they respond to you easily, but the communication can even be a live discussion if you’re both online at the same time. The great thing about hybrid chat is that you can chat when you’re working – no more rapid email back-and-forth with subject lines beginning re: re: re: re: re: – but when you’re not, the client’s message is simply treated as an email and goes straight to your inbox. No ‘sorry, live chat is currently unavailable’ note on your website, just a simple yet versatile tool combining the best of both email and chat.

3. Collaboration over competition

Nowadays, doing business is not a zero-sum game. You can often improve your company by collaborating with other businesses. Consider companies like Coca-Cola and Heinz, which worked together on packaging, or Evernote and Moleskine and their Smart Notebook. Working together with your so-called ‘competitors’ can create win-win situations where both businesses multiply the possibilities available to them and come up with new products and services which would not otherwise have existed.

If you stay in the old-fashioned transactional economy, you’ll find yourself left behind as your offering becomes harder and harder to distinguish from the other businesses who are differentiated only by price. In the meantime, collaborative companies will be creating the goods and services that today’s consumers want to spend their money on.

Adapting your customer service: Casengo makes both external and internal collaboration super-easy. You can add notes to update a case if you speak to a client on the phone or, say, a package is returned as undeliverable. That means that your colleagues have always got all the info they need, all in one place. So all team members can be kept up to speed on the situation, all the time. And if you need help from someone who doesn’t use Casengo (the IT contractor who set up the back-end for your credit card payments, let’s say), collaboration is just as simple. With a simple invitation she can automatically see the entire conversation so far, allowing her to give a rapid reply. Problem solved quickly = more happy customers!

While a blog post can’t possibly cover what you need to know in order to make the change from transactional to relationship-oriented, it can at least emphasise that you need to get started. With just one inbox for all your incoming communications, Casengo’s customer service software makes it easier to keep on top of your social media discussions while providing speedy email support too. If your business (UK-based or not) is still stuck in the early years of the 21st century, take these new ICS results as a warning sign that you’re falling behind the times. Why not vow to join the conversation, get yourself up to speed on what customers expect from you, and you’ll be back in business!

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