Digital Customer Service: the 10 Cornerstones

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While the medium has changed, the message hasn’t—customer service is about solving a problem for the customer. The difference now is that companies have to manage this communication across multiple channels. Whereas a few years ago customer service was only the way a business treated their customers in store, the mass uptake of the internet has permanently shifted the landscape.

When people have a negative experience online—or even simply a less than optimal one—they blame the company. Aligning all the stars to create a wonderful customer experience online isn’t easy, but it is necessary. Online reputation management plays a huge role in digital customer service. A good online reputation drives conversion, and all businesses are looking to prove ROI.  Not responding to customers on review sites and social media is worse than having a phone line that goes unanswered, because there are thousands of people witnessing the neglect.    

Surely, customer service still means working with customers in a physical location to provide the best experience possible. But now it means a lot more, potentially including being available on social media, answering multiple phone lines, texting customers, website chat boxes, sales presentations, website user experience, listings—the list goes on and on.  

The 10 Cornerstones to Success in Digital Customer Service

1. Respond to reviews quickly

When customers take time to leave a business a review, it’s essential to respond in a timely manner.  More than nine in ten consumers read online reviews to determine the credibility of a business, and it’s important they see that the business has an active, responsive voice (Vendasta).  While you are responding to one person, and your response should come across that way, remember that the audience is potentially much larger and far-reaching. Not only will other people who visit the review site see the response, but it’s possible those people could share the review and response with their own networks. There are different tactics for responding to reviews, whether they’re positive or negative, but all reviews should be acknowledged by the business. The only exception to this is star-only rating reviews. These are permitted on Facebook and a few other review sites.

2. Provide a consistent experience 

Depending on the type of product or service that you offer, customers may interact with several people at the company before the final transaction. At Vendasta, a potential customer might find us through an ad, subscribe to our blog, download a piece of content, explore our website, get a demo, experiment with the trial software, receive an email campaign, sign a contract… By the time someone becomes an experienced user of our software, they’ve had many points of contact with us, whether interacting digitally or with a person. We need to make sure that throughout that entire experience, they are having positive interactions. From your success reps to sales, marketing to the website, the customer experience needs to be cohesive and consistent. The same story should resonate, and that story should be customer-centric.

apple iphone

Apple is an example of a company that provides a consistent experience throughout their customer funnel. From their website with its sleek, minimalist design to the simple and elegant phone you take home, Apple products and website offer a cohesive experience.

3. Experience your customer journey

As you build out your product or service, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae and additional offerings. Most businesses have put together their online presence somewhat piecemeal—create an account on one social platform, add chat integration to the website, build a blog, expand offerings, etc. While this is the most common and realistic way to build out a business, it doesn’t always equal the most seamless customer journey. Go through your buyer’s process. Search for yourself online, look at the website content, sign up for the newsletter, etc. Note any bumps and bruises you find along the way and how you can make the whole experience more cohesive. Map your customer journey and gather a thorough understanding of your audience.

4. Use social media as a two-way street

Perhaps the best thing about social media is that it means a sort of democracy for customers, small businesses and big brands—everyone is on the same playing field. Engaging in meaningful conversations on social media and acknowledging mentions is a digital customer service area consumers are quick to notice. While social media can be tiresome, let’s be sure we don’t ruin one of the best things about it—the fact that consumers can have conversations with brands. No one turns on the television just to watch commercials. No one would listen to the radio if it were just ads. And no one follows brands who only sell on their social channels. Share helpful content, engage with consumers and occasionally share promotional info about your products or services. Asking questions, holding competitions and sharing content relevant to your audience are all good ways to engage with consumers. Don’t just talk, listen.

5. Have a high performing website

People visiting your website are not patient. Businesses need to have a webpage and assets that load quickly. Nearly 50% of consumers expect a page to load in two seconds or less, and after anything longer than that, consumers start dropping off like gym goers in February. Website assets like video and images are just as important. The abandonment rate for viewers waiting to start up a video is a steady curve up and to the right. When website visitors have a poor experience on a company website, they blame the company, not Google, wifi issues or whatever else may be the problem. On the flip side, increasing your site’s loading speed from eight seconds to two seconds can boost conversion rate by 74%, which is a great opportunity.

6. Open communication and transparency

Consumers can detect sales-y language from a mile away. Or however big a used car lot is. It’s best to be direct about your offerings, and even your shortcomings. Nail your sales approach and provide consumers the information they’re looking for, not just an information dump of everything you offer. Even if you are unable to solve every problem your customers have, they’ll appreciate your honesty and will be less likely to churn. Set your brand voice, share your truths.

Patagonia is an example of a company being open about their values and experiencing success. They’ve launched a Common Threads partnership, which promotes a more sustainable economy. Patagonia’s Common Threads Partnership promotes five progressive R’s that are all conservative tenets in practice: reduce, repair, reuse, recycle and reimagine. While all make sense, it’s the first one, reduce, that resonates with me as a consumer because Patagonia is telling me to buy less, when it would be in their best interest if I bought more. The company publicly supported this initiative with a Cyber Monday advertising campaign that displayed photos of products with headlines such as “Don’t buy this jacket.” In 2012, a year after Patagonia began appealing to consumers to buy less, sales increased almost one-third, to $543 million. The following year, the company’s revenue increased another 6% to $575 million. This unconventional and truthful marketing strategy has helped to sell somewhere in the range of $158 million worth of apparel and reduce customer churn. Being honest with consumers, even if it appears to be a negative, usually pays off. IF you are upfront about your offering, they are far less likely to churn.  

7. Get your listings right

Having a thorough understanding of listings is essential in the digital space, though it may seem boring. It’s not exciting to seek out business information and make sure that the name, phone number and address are consistent and accessible across the web. In fact, it’s a fairly tedious and mundane task. Getting business listing information accurate across the web, though, is one of the most important things a local business can do to create a better digital customer service experience. There are many important directory and listing sites. Though they are not often referenced directly as a listing site, having correct listings with the four major data aggregators is one of the keys to disseminating accurate listing data across the web.

8. Positive attitude

I’m not one of those people who will tell you that positive thinking is all it takes to make any situation better. There are many things beyond our control, of course. But, the power of a positive attitude and its influence on customers should never be underestimated. Optimism is a cornerstone of digital customer service, or any kind of customer service. Because you are often communicating with customers via written language, positive language is very meaningful. Small changes in language and wording can make a huge impact on customers.

Option one: I’m sorry, we won’t have that product in our software this month.

Option two: That functionality will be available at the beginning of next month! Our development team is hard at work on a few other features that are useful to you, as well….

Abrasive or abrupt language is very off putting in digital customer service, even if it is not directly rude or negative.

9. Use email effectively

Emailing customers is an intimate experience, a one-on-one form of communication. All of us experience a little email fatigue, receiving more in our cluttered inboxes than ever before. Make sure when you email your customers, you have something to say. The communication should be timely, relevant and helpful. Having an effective call to action is essential—give them a reason to read and engage with the email. An automated newsletter is fine and can be a good piece of communication, but never have a do not reply email. I can’t think of anything that says “I don’t care about you or your response to this message” more than seeing a do not reply email. Kill them, all.

Whose job is customer service, though? Our partner success team is known for their amazing customer service. Some would say it’s the job of customer support, others would say sales. Others, still, would even claim digital customer service is the job of marketing, optimizing the website and content.

The truth is, customer service—and in particular digital customer service—is the responsibility of everyone in the company. Building a brand means delivering on a promise again and again. It means consistency and maintaining effective customer relationships.

The Heart of Digital Customer Service (Number 10)

And at the heart of digital customer service is authenticity.

Customers may say they want the best product, and that they want it at the best price. While that is true, what they want most is authenticity. Authenticity is delivering on a promise.

Authenticity is consistency.

Authenticity is digital customer service. 

Nykea Marie Behiel

Nykea is the Director of Content at Vendasta, where she heads up our content marketing team and inbound marketing initiatives.