As times change and societal shifts occur, customer expectations evolve. Innovations like e-commerce and online reviews give consumers more power, and tech advances help businesses provide higher service levels. The COVID-19 pandemic changed how people shop, and these more discerning customer expectations – including heightened service levels that drive customer satisfaction – may be here to say.
To stay competitive, businesses must respond to changing industry dynamics and escalating customer expectations. An integrated, omnichannel customer service strategy might be the only way to deliver a truly delightful customer experience.
We’ll explore what a great customer experience looks like today and what customers expect from the companies they do business with.
Did you know? An excellent customer experience can pay enormous dividends for businesses. According to research from Gladly, almost 70% of customers said they are willing to pay more for a brand or provider with a brand reputation for outstanding customer service.
What a great customer experience looks like
According to a Kustomer survey of what consumers want, customers expect much more from companies they buy from. They are also willing to reward companies that meet their expectations with customer loyalty and increased sales. Here are some ways to avoid customer service pitfalls and provide a standout customer experience.
1. Demonstrate value to provide a great customer experience.
Customers want to feel like the product or service you provide is a good value, both overall and in relation to price. This expectation doesn’t mean you must charge excessively low prices. Value includes additional factors like product quality, customer support, relevant content, loyalty programs, and community-building.
When customers feel they’ve received a good value, they are more willing to share data and engage with your company.
2. Create a speedy experience to satisfy customers.
Speed is a key factor in providing efficient customer service. The good news is that customers are happy to have their problems resolved by a chatbot, which can save you money and allow your customer service reps to handle thornier issues.
3. Personalize communications to appeal to customers.
A McKinsey survey found that 71% of customers expect companies to deliver personalized interactions. They want businesses to employ a personal touch and send only relevant communications. For example, if a customer bought a sweater, they don’t want to receive an email promoting the same sweater, but they’d likely welcome an email promoting pants that would look good with it.
To effectively personalize your communications, gather data on customers, including:
- Purchase history
- Stated preferences
- Browsing history on your website
Keep this information in your customer relationship management system (CRM) program and use it to make relevant recommendations. Send recommendations via email and dynamic pages on your website that display items the customer recently viewed and complementary or similar products.
Personalization should also flow into your customer loyalty program so that once a certain amount of money is spent, you can offer customers a discount on products they’re more likely to buy.
4. Communicate with empathy to support customers.
When a customer has a problem or complaint, the company’s representatives must empathize with the customer’s predicament. It’s essential to emotionally connect with customers, especially if they’re upset.
Create processes to separate calls from upset customers and move them to the front of the line or to dedicated reps trained in calming customers and resolving high-priority problems.
Tip: One way to nip customer service issues in the bud is by proactively following up after a purchase to request customer feedback about their experience.
5. Provide the convenience of omnichannel customer service.
Today’s customers quickly switch from websites to social media to email and phone calls. They expect companies to provide seamless service on all these channels. Many customers expect to use Twitter for customer service, along with email and live chat options.
All your customer service channels should be integrated so that customers can track their issues no matter their channel or device.
Omnichannel customer service eliminates several common customer frustration points, including:
- Being transferred to another department when contacting customer service
- Having to repeat information multiple times to different reps
- Getting contradictory or incorrect information
In addition to omnichannel customer service, offer customers various purchasing options in addition to buying online and buying in-person. Consider offering buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) options, delivery for in-store purchases, and curbside pickup to maximize customer convenience.
How the customer experience changed after COVID-19
Particularly in times of crisis, every customer interaction with a brand can trigger a lingering effect of trust and loyalty or disconnect. The COVID-19 pandemic changed how people did business and their expectations of companies. Here are some customer experience implications that resulted.
1. Customers expect real-time data about product availability and shipping.
The pandemic caused unusual product availability disruptions, some of which still linger. Part of the problem is that supply chain distribution was disrupted. It’s still variable as suppliers adapt to labor shortages, pent-up demand, and limited availability of specific components, especially from overseas. Here are a few things to implement in your systems:
- Provide real-time inventory information. Because consumers sometimes encounter long wait times for some everyday items, they want to know upfront if your store has their items in stock now. Connecting your store’s inventory software to product pages may require back-end changes, but it will help you bring customers real-time information, avoid wasting shoppers’ time, and earn and keep their trust.
- Be upfront about shipping. As always, shoppers expect fast shipping. Current shipping speed information belongs on every page in your online store so customers aren’t surprised at checkout. This will help you stop shopping cart abandonment.
- Enable purchase tracking. Your customers also must be able to track their purchases from warehouse to doorstep, which you should offer through your carriers or a third-party package-tracking service. Real-time tracking is essential to show where packages are and to help prevent package theft, which is on the rise.
2. Customers expect clear, positive messaging and support.
As customers first began falling ill and experiencing financial problems from lost jobs and closures due to the pandemic, they expected companies to respond with understanding and support. While the worst of the pandemic may be over, this expectation has remained. Positive, caring messaging can be a natural extension of your company’s mission statement, purpose, and values.
Consider how your business can help customers cope with current and ongoing issues. Goodwill gestures like extending extra assistance can strengthen brand loyalty.
Ask the following questions when determining how best to support your customers:
- What will your buyers value?
- Can you offer a free upgrade on shipping speed for in-demand items?
- Can you bundle and discount items often bought together?
- If your site doesn’t already have a customer service chat tool, can you add one to help shoppers get their questions answered quickly?
Look for the gaps in your customer experience, examine the hardships your customers are facing, and see how you can make things better. Continue supportive outreach efforts whenever a disaster or economic downturn affects your customers.
3. Customers expect low-friction checkout and authentication.
Brand loyalty is also driven by the ease of the buying experience, which often hinges on the online checkout process. During the pandemic, already-stressed customers did not want to jump through hoops to make an online purchase, and their tolerance for a clunky checkout process has persisted.
- Checkout. A poorly designed checkout that requires too many steps or feels like an inquisition can lead to cart and merchant abandonment. An easy checkout can make a huge difference, particularly with the 38% of shoppers categorized as “deal chasers,” converting them into loyal customers, according to Pymnts.
- Authentication. Additionally, how your store authenticates a customer’s identity protects you from fraud while helping to shape the customer’s perception of your brand. Every e-commerce order screening represents a fragile opportunity to earn customers’ loyalty.
For an easy, frictionless checkout process, utilize the following features:
- Social media sign-in
- Price matching
- Clear refund policy
- Non-automatic online coupons
- Easily navigable cart
- Real-time inventory update
- Progress bar
- Multifactor authentication
- Secure account data storage
Tip: To improve e-commerce customer service, provide various service options like live chat support, text message customer service, and toll-free phone numbers so customers can reach you conveniently.
Know and meet your customers’ current needs
Creating a great customer experience is possible, even during times of significant disruption. Know and meet your customers’ needs, embrace transparency about product availability and shipping, and communicate with empathy to stand out in the increasingly crowded and busy e-commerce landscape.
David Fletcher contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.