Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category

Become a Stage For Customer Interactions

In my last article, I discussed how to make it easy for your customers to share their impressions of your business. Today’s theme is related: helping customers connect with each other as they together experience your service. 

People shopping in a retail store.While your business may be the star of your life, for your customers it represents something different.  It will never, as a matter of fact, be the center of your customers' lives. Only your customer, and the people your customer cares about, will every hold that position.  So a business often insinuates itself best into a customer’s life, memory and loyalty by being a backdrop to the story of their lives, as experienced with their friends and family. By learning from them, learning about them, and then getting the heck out of the way, or at least out of the foreground of the experience.

Restaurants, for example, provide the setting for marriage proposals, love affairs, breakups, arguments and, according to every mob drama I’ve ever enjoyed, the occasional professional hit. Not to mention the more prosaic: business meetings, shared sunsets and outings with coworkers. This isn’t isolated to foodservice setting: Airlines, hospitals, even the DMV, can be settings for the drama that runs through customers’ lives. Embracing this reality can allow your business to become very powerful, by helping customers to live out the drama and fantasy of their lives with the people who matter to them.

“My goal in life is to make you a hero to your spouse,” luxury hotelier Mark Harmon tells me. If Harmon were more shortsighted, he might set his aims on something more conventional: making his hotels the most profitable properties in the luxury hotel market, for example. But Harmon focuses on his customers’ goals rather than his own. As he puts it, “The touches we add [help] make for a memorable time together here. This is important, and we take it seriously. In the big scheme of things, how often as a couple do you really—I mean really—get away from the kids and get to connect, in a stress-free setting? We’re honored that guests let us be the setting for that, whether or not it’s technically what you’d call a special occasion.” Harmon feels his Auberge Resorts’ success is built upon the relationships his guests have with each other while enjoying Auberge’s service. It’s an astute and effective way to serve today’s customers.

For the fraught, high-stakes referral healthcare that Mayo Clinic is known for, treatment often becomes a socially complex, multigenerational affair. Mayo addresses the inclusion of family members and loved ones through design. Every exam room is designed to encourage collaboration and commiseration. One simple change has made a big difference: Each consultation room, as Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic author Leonard Berry has observed, features a specially designed, multipurpose couch instead of a couple chairs that only two can use and are rarely plentiful enough for everyone who needs to be present.

You may not think the relationship-conduit model applies to every business situation, but it applies quite widely. The True Value Hardware store and the CVS Minute Clinic seem purely functional at first glance, so putting a priority on facilitating customer relationships there appears beside the point. But even mundane, transactional situations common to the Minute Clinic or a hardware store can be improved by keeping an eye out for how relationships among customers can be facilitated. A Minute Clinic is a lot more comfortable for the patient if the patient’s family has a place to sit as well; the same goes for a customer at True Value if there are changing tables (for when you bring the family) and aisles wide enough to accommodate a shopping companion who gets around via wheelchair.

5 Ways to Improve Your Communication with Your Customers

If you want to keep your customers happy and loyal, it isn’t enough to offer a groundbreaking new product or service anymore. The customer experience has to be memorable and surpass their expectations, and this starts with offering exceptional customer service.

There are five key principles we subscribe to at Nextiva to ensure we are providing the best customer experience we can. Over the years, we’ve found that it is the little things that make all the difference in the customer experience. And thanks to the help of technology and cloud communications, many of these principles will be easy to implement in your business.

1. Act human and always add a personal touch to the customer interaction

Do you like talking to a robot? I would think (and hope) that you said “no”. As consumers of products and services, we want our interactions with the company we are buying from to feel genuine and personal. The little touches such as calling someone by their correct name and remembering their preferences will go a long way. While a script or general guideline may be necessary for certain job functions, don’t be afraid to let your employees inject some of their personality into their interactions with your customers. Also, go the extra mile whenever possible and make your customer feel like you genuinely care about them and their needs. The bare minimum isn’t enough anymore and will cause you to lose customers to your competitors.

2. Integrate your CRM with your phone system

It’s a fact of life that the majority of people dread calling a company’s customer support. So rather than slowing down the process by having to ask your customers for their name and account details, integrate your phone system with your customer relationship management (CRM) system. Cloud phone systems have made this easy to do and it will significantly improve interactions with customers, as well as save your customers (and your team) valuable time. The Nextiva App for Zendesk is one example, but there are a variety of options out there and many of these integrations are free, or come with a small fee, depending on the systems your business utilizes.

10-1 Customer Communication smallThe main benefit of integrating your two systems is customer records are at your team’s fingertips the minute they answer a call. You can reference past calls and check-in on other questions or concerns the customer may have had in the past. Additionally, this will help management identify trends in customer calls that can be used to create change—from updating messaging and communication to revamping processes and user tools.

3. Follow through

Do what you tell your customers you are going to do. How many times have you been promised a follow-up email or call back and never received it? Your customers’ time is precious, and they are counting on you. Don’t make them follow-up with you, instead provide them with the information they requested when you said you would. If you don’t have an answer or all of the information for them, at least check-in to let them know you are still working on it. This goes for all departments in your organization, but especially sales and customer support. This also builds trust between your business and your customers, which leads to a better overall customer experience and customer loyalty.

4. Remember them!

Without customers your business would cease to exist. It is important to show that you appreciation them. This can be done in a variety of ways, from a special promo offer to a simple email or phone call. At Nextiva, we send a "Happy Nextiversary" email to the businesses we serve on their “anniversary” of being a Nextiva customer. It’s a fun video where members of our team thank our customers for their business and remind them that we are always available to help with anything they may need.

To implement something like this at your business, pick a milestone, event, holiday, etc. to show that you value their commitment to your business. It’s even better if you can offer them something that will encourage them to continue doing business with you, such as a complimentary service, discount on their next purchase, or an exclusive access to your new product and service before anyone else.

5. Create a customer referral program

Reward your customers for bringing you more business via a referral program. Consumers are smarter than ever, and they are much more likely to believe a recommendation from a friend or peer than they are from a billboard or banner ad. An endorsement from your customers is the most important marketing tool in your arsenal and the more you reward your current customers for promoting you to their network, the more likely they will be to continue sending business your way.

But it isn’t enough to simply have a referral program; you need to make sure your customers (especially those that are happy) are aware of the program and its benefits. Send emails, have your sales and account management teams mention the program when speaking to customers, share on social media, etc. The options are endless, and do what works best for your business.

Is Speed the Best Way for Small Businesses to Attract Customers?

The fast casual business model enjoys continued success for a reason that goes beyond low prices: customers are busy people who see time as money. Every minute that they spend waiting for service is a minute lost to other daily activities. This same concept holds true for any business — from store-fronts to consulting services. But in some cases, faster service can cause a speedy customer exit. Before taking action to accelerate your operations, you have to ask three basic questions to make sure that your changes attract customers, rather than deter them.

1. Will Speed Reduce Quality?

The first question may seem obvious, but you really need to carefully forecast the product or service outcome before you decide how to go into high gear. Maybe speeding up will give you advertising bragging rights because you can deliver custom widgets in half the time of your competitors. If you save time because of a unique manufacturing process that continues to deliver high-quality widgets, you'll have loyal customers. If you reduce production time by eliminating time-consuming (but important) quality assurance checks, however, former loyal customers will stay away in droves when their widgets break down moments after their purchase.

2. Does Speed Require that One Size Fits All?

Next, ask yourself if you can deliver the precise product or service that your customers need at high speeds. Just about every product requires some degree of customization; grocery stores even offer potatoes in a range of types and sizes. The real question is whether your product or service lends itself to offering the right variety right off the shelf or if you need to customize the product to make every sale.

To make this decision, you have to carefully analyze your customer needs. If you sell vinyl siding, for example, sky blue might be a perfect choice for some homeowners, but others may need gray mixed in to blend more naturally with the roof color. Offering stock colors allows you to complete installations more quickly, but it will send many customers to other vendors. If you can speed up the color customization process, however, you offer the kind of speed and flexibility that can attract a broader range of customers.

3. Can Speed Alienate Customers?

Not all time is created equal. Customers don't want to waste time, but they often view the time that you spend with them as a commodity. Service businesses are often particularly tied to time, with medical offices being a primary example. Patients typically (and correctly) place more trust in doctors who spend more time with them. Time is as much a part of the product as a cure. Cut down on that time and patients may feel like they are part of an assembly line. Unless you have no competition, they will look for another doctor who shows greater respect for patients.

Waiting time, on the other hand, is dead time for customers and there are usually any number of ways that you can provide services more quickly. Medical offices show respect for patients by getting them out of the waiting room and into treatment rooms more quickly by providing nurses who handle preliminary tests before the doctor walks in. If they are located in shopping centers, they may provide patients with 15-minute warning pagers. Auto parts stores can dedicate a separate line for customers with time-consuming questions. Customers ordering specific parts can zip through the process — order-takers at the counter quickly deliver a list of parts to order-pickers, who rapidly fulfill customer needs from a well-organized warehouse.

Efficiency is Always a Worthwhile Goal

Time is money for your customers and for your business, so it makes sense to constantly look for ways to deliver high-quality products and services as efficiently as possible. Even if you can't advertise "the world's fastest service" or "customized wedding gowns while you wait," your customers will recognize your company's value and pass the word along to others. Remember that word-of-mouth is often the best advertising of all.

The Power of 90% Customer Loyalty

9-10 Customer Loyalty smallCustomers today have more purchasing options than ever before as well as fewer obstacles afterward if they want to switch to a different supplier. This embarrassment of riches strains traditional notions of loyalty. But it hardly spells the end for loyalty, not for customers in general and certainly not for millennials, despite what many claim. In fact, even in the supposedly loyalty-averse millennial generation, things aren’t really moving in the direction that you might imagine.  Boston Consulting Group research has shown that younger millennials (ages 18 to 24 at the time of the study), “are three times more likely to report strong brand loyalty than their non-millennial counterparts.”

If my take on this sounds more hopeful than what you’ve heard elsewhere, it’s partly because my definition of customer loyalty differs from most. In everything I do, I aim for what I call “90% loyal” customers—the ones who will stick with you through thick or thin, good times or bad, most of the time.

This 10% wiggle room makes the loyalty goal a bit more achievable by bringing the concept of loyalty more in line with what’s achievable in reality. Because every one of us in business knows the score: If a sexy new restaurant or shop opens across the street from ours, even our best customers are going to want to try it—once. But they’ll be back once their itch for novelty, their fleeting need to cheat on their main squeeze, has passed.

And sometimes, it’s not this need for novelty that makes customers stray from you periodically. Practicality may demand it. A 90% loyal Whole Foods mom or dad may do some shopping at Trader Joe’s or Wegmans when she or he is stuck in a different part of town. And if Mom or Dad's preferred airline doesn’t have a direct flight while another carrier does, this otherwise loyal passenger will most likely take the direct flight if that’s what it takes to get home in time for her or his kid’s soccer game.

Even the ever-competitive Richard Branson once recommended his customers use his archrival British Airways—if only to remind themselves all the more of why they love Branson’s Virgin Airlines. Of course, Branson being Branson, he timed his recommendation for the day British Airways offered a fire sale that he knew Virgin couldn’t affordably counter, and on which British Airways was sure to lose money.

Two more loyalty trends

A couple of trends are complicating the loyalty landscape.

Portfolio loyalty: This occurs when customers are equally loyal to every brand in a small portfolio of trusted brands in a particular category. This behavior wouldn’t be possible without the surfeit of choices consumers now have in almost every consumer category. Consumers have the globalization of commerce, improvements in many companies’ return policies due to competitive pressure, and the various defect-reduction campaigns in manufacturing of the past several decades to thank for all these offerings. (Formerly an automotive punchline, Ford is an impressively reliable manufacturer today. Even a Jaguar—should you be so lucky—will rarely leave you stranded these days.)

Micro-loyalty.  Customers today can have micro loyalties, loyalties for very specific parts of a company’s product line, for example, they can be loyal to Apple for this but Google for that, to Reebok for this but Nike for that, and so forth. They don’t buy an overall identity related to a single brand; they mix and match. They still consider themselves loyal, but it’s a more targeted type of loyalty.

How did this come about? Younger customers today were raised with a lot of support for individuation: They were allowed to make their own choices and work with the results. From mismatched socks (ultimately commercialized by Little Miss Match) to tattoos and piercings to control over hairstyles and how they dress for school, this generation was empowered by its parents to shape its own identity. As marketers and generational researchers Van den Bergh and Behre point out, the Internet has further fostered such mix-and-match identities, at least in the commercial sphere of their lives. Easy-to-find product review sites like Gizmodo make it far easier to sample and choose brands, comparison shopping on mobile phones has long been a reality, and thanks to iTunes and many other sites, even the playlists they listen to are easily stitched together song by song from their own choices rather than relying on the decision of any single artist or record label’s vision for their music.

The “New Reality” of Customer Service

Do employees at your customer service call center feel like they’re dealing with more frustrated customers than ever before? New research from Mattersight offers some insights into why this might be. According to Mattersight, more than two-thirds of customers who speak to call center reps feel frustrated before they even place a call. What’s more, 75 percent are still frustrated after the interaction, even if the representative solves their problems.

With more than 70 percent of customers saying a bad customer service experience could keep them from patronizing a business again, keeping customers happy when they call should be a high priority for your business.

One reason for customer frustration, Mattersight notes, is that there are so many ways for customers to reach out to companies for support these days. When a problem arises, most customers start by using the company’s website, FAQs or other online help tools to try to figure the problem out on their own.

By the time customers actually dial in to a call center, they’ve usually tried every other way of solving a problem, with no results. So what may seem from the rep’s end like the customers’ first attempt to resolve the issue is, for the customer, the end of a long and frustrating journey.

However, instead of acknowledging this “new reality” of customer service, most call center reps still focus on getting the customer off the phone as quickly as possible to meet their goals for handling X number of calls in X amount of time.

How can your company improve the customer experience and enjoy higher customer satisfaction? Here are some takeaways from the report:

  • Acknowledge the customer’s frustration and the seriousness of their issue. Be extra patient working with the customer. By validating their feelings, you can help them feel more taken care of.
  • Offer personalized assistance. Your call center reps should be able to quickly access all of the data you have available on the customer on the other end of the phone, such as order history, current order status and recent interactions with the company. Showing knowledge of the customer’s past behavior and history with your business will persuade them your rep is in a position to really help.
  • Take time to understand. A long wait time is customers’ number-one frustration with call centers, but number two is dealing with representatives who don’t understand what they need. Make sure your reps really listen, restate the problem to the customer and clarify that they’ve understood all aspects of the situation.
  • Follow up after the solution. After resolving the problem, don’t just rush to get the customer off the phone. Take time to apologize once again for the difficulties the person encountered, thank the customer for his or her patience, and ask if there’s anything else the rep can assist with. Let the customer be the one to end the call.

By taking a few simple steps to get into the right mind-set when dealing with call center customers, your customer service reps can not only solve problems, but also leave customers with a good feeling about your business.

The Power of Crowd-augmented, Transparent Customer Support

Rather than solely rely on its employees to answer customer support inquiries, Applegate, the successful purveyor of humanely raised and slaughtered meats, openly crowdsources commentary and advice from other customers to answer these questions honestly, making use of a community software platform called “Get Satisfaction.” By using the feedback from customers who have already explored these kinds of questions, Applegate is making transparency work in its favor, elevating the customer and its products at the same time. This is particularly useful to the company and to its customers, because Applegate regularly fields specific, detailed and emotionally charged questions about both the meat and the packaging in which it is conveyed.

Letting your customers be the experts–in support of other customers

JD Peterson, chief revenue officer at and well known as a force behind the popular Zendesk customer support platform, points out that the millennial need for recognition and feedback drives the push toward crowdsourcing: “Let your power users be the voice [of your brand]. Customers these days are more willing to do this kind of work for your brand, but they want recognition for doing it—they would like to be given that badge or stamp that says, ‘You’re the power expert in Applegate bacon.’ Giving power users that recognition, a badge, points [or] some sort of title, giving them something they can stamp on their resume or their LinkedIn profile that says they’re an expert or a power user, I think, is really important to customers today. It’s certainly a win for [the] business as well: You’re not having to take on all the burden of support costs because your users are able to do some of that for you—and your customers get closer to the brand at the same time by assisting you.”

The power of ratings and review transparency

Ratings and review transparency is likewise an important commercial trend: from voluntary transparency on sites like that openly show customer ratings for all products (including sometimes mixed reviews for Amazon’s own Kindle tablets and Fire phone), to enforced transparency via TripAdvisor, Yelp and the like that post reviews of your services and products whether you want to be rated this way or not. Embrace this trend even though it can be uncomfortable, because it’s not going away. Reviews are now decentralized and user driven, and you can’t control product ratings, product discussions or much else in the way of reviews, except by providing the best customer experience possible and by being proactive in responding to negative trends that come to the surface in your reviews and ratings.

Emulate a company like Engine Yard, a San Francisco-based cloud application management platform that has taken the brave step of putting a real-time (not to mention cute and cuddly) indicator of its current customer satisfaction stats right on its support site. You’ll find 100 panda icons featured prominently on Engine Yard’s website with just a few “sad pandas” crossed out in red. Looking at the company’s site right now I see 97 happy pandas and three that are crossed out, indicating a current 97% customer satisfaction rating. How does Engine Yard arrive at the proportion of happy and sad pandas? Each time there’s a support interaction, Engine Yard asks the customer, “Are you satisfied with the response you got? Yes or no?” They then total that percentage on their website for anyone to see. This transparent approach goes a long way toward reassuring customers (and, perhaps as much to the point in the competitive arena in which Engine Yard plays), prospective customers that this company is, and will remain, on the ball throughout the life of the customer relationship. 

Five Tips for Social Media Success with Your Customers

Here are five secrets to succeeding on social media even in the face of the most irate customer postings (though read all the way to #5 for how to avoid most such postings in the first place).

1. Reach out directly to online complainers.
Suppose that you’ve spotted the following outrageous tweet about your firm:

Company X double-bills customers—Must Think We R Suckrs—#FAIL

This is insulting, and hard to handle. Not only will your staff need to suppress the urge to respond angrily, they also will need to prepare a response that is thoughtful and positive. A thoughtful and positive response in a situation like this is rare precisely because it’s so hard for somebody who has just been insulted to muster thoughtful positivity.

But that rarity makes it powerful: A thoughtful and positive response can come as such a surprise to an online critic that it can help to convert the critic into your advocate. At the least, it will stanch your losses.

First, however, in order to respond, you’ll first need to reach your critic. How can you do that online? That depends on your professional relationship with the critic. If the person behind this message follows you (or agrees temporarily to follow you) on Twitter, or if she’s in your database, send her a direct, “backchannel” message. Include a real, monitored email address and phone number. Otherwise, reply publicly in the same forum she chose. List offline ways to reach you (including a real, monitored email address and/or phone), and express your regret and concern.

Contacting a social media critic to request an offline conversation is the digital equivalent of ushering a loud and angry customer into your office for a discreet discussion. You move the discussion out of a public venue and into a one-on-one situation, where you can work directly with your antagonist without thousands of eyes dissecting your every move while failing to understand the whole story. After a successful resolution, politely ask the complainer to amend or even withdraw the original ugly comment.

2. A delayed response can create a social media fiasco. Can you spell F-I-A-S-C-O? The formula in social media is simple: Small Error +Slow Response Time = Colossal PR Disaster. Put differently, the magnitude of a company’s social media embarrassment is proportional to how delayed its online response was. An event in the online world gathers social steam with such speed that your delay can become more of a problem than the initial incident. Even an afternoon’s lag in responding can be catastrophic.

3. Whoever handles your social media responses needs as much customer service skill and training as your traditional customer service reps. Social media responses are customer service, plain and simple. Sure, it’s customer service at breakneck speed, with lots of hazards and quirks, but it’s still customer service. So if some of your customers expect that you will serve them via social media, meet their online expectations superbly. Engage and assist those customers online as energetically and effectively as you do through traditional service channels.

Get this effort off on the right foot by staffing your online presence with your company’s people. This is crucial. Companies often make the mistake of leaving social media teams instead in the hands of technical experts. Technical wizardry is a crucial resource, but don’t let that technical tail wag the customer service dog. Let your people experts lead the way — because your social media team needs to be every bit as customer-centric as your other support/response channels. If not, it’s bound to hurt your brand rather than help it.

4. Beware the Streisand effect. When someone uses social media to attack your business, your first urge, naturally, may be to sic lawyers on the critic, or otherwise try to intimidate the attacker into removing the complaint. Think carefully before taking that course of action. The rule online is that a defensive reaction tends to bring additional publicity—very negative publicity. This rule even has a name: the Streisand Effect, named after Barbra Streisand, who sued a photographer in a failed attempt to remove a photo of the singer’s precariously sited mansion from the California Coastal Records Project. Streisand’s aggressive reaction to free expression offended some netizens and titillated others. The result was far wider distribution of the photograph she wanted to suppress – on T-shirts, websites, coffee mugs – and a permanent blemish on her public image.

Over and over, brands and businesses discover the inviolability of the Streisand Effect the hard way. Threatening your online customers almost never solves the harm they are causing you, and it often backfires dramatically.

Any public, digital argument with a customer is an exponentially greater risk for your company than the old-fashioned kind of argument that didn’t involve social media. Without a doubt, arguing with customers has always been a losing proposition for time immemorial. But today, online, those same arguments are far costlier online, because of all the additional customers and prospects you risk losing who are watching from the sidelines. So make sure everybody who represents your company online has taken the time to learn how to slow down, breathe, and bite their tongue — consistently. Train them to think of the big picture. The future of your company likely depends on it.

5. Prevent most online complaints in the first place. Unhappy customers are unlikely to complain by public methods like Tripadvisor or on their blogs if they know they can use email, the phone, or a feedback form to reach you directly — and if they feel sure that their problem will be addressed immediately. You can do a lot to ensure that the first impulse of such customers is to reach out to you directly, day or night: Offer “chime-in” forms everywhere. Provide direct chat links for when your FAQ’s fail to assist. Provide an easy way to respond directly at the bottom of every corporate email you send out, instead of ending with that obnoxious “please do not reply to this email” footer.

Overall, become widely known for your rapid and satisfying responsiveness, and such customers will come to you, offer to help you improve — and will keep their complaints and misgivings “in the family.”

6 Customer Service Trends You Need to Know About

A lot has changed in the business world since 2007, but perhaps what’s changed the most is how rapidly customer service expectations have risen. As customers evolve, your customer service has to keep pace. Just how are customers’ expectations changing? Customer2020, a new study from Accenture, has some insights every business owner should know about.

  1. They want it now. Accenture dubs today’s consumer the “Nonstop Customer”—which should give you a clue as to what type of service they expect. Customers don’t just want rapid resolution and minimal hassle—they expect it. If your business doesn’t deliver, they’ll move on to your competitor. Slightly more than half of consumers polled say they have become more impatient with the buying process since last year; two-thirds say they turn to online channels for customer service because they’re seeking speed and convenience.
  2. They have more options. Not only are consumers today more impatient, but they also have more places to go if they’re not happy with your customer service. Two-thirds report that the number of companies or brands they consider when making a purchase has increased significantly compared to 10 years ago.
  3. They care about what others have to say. Word-of-mouth has always been important to growing a business—but never more so than today. Last year, Accenture reported that 78 percent of consumers used at least one online channel when prospecting. Today, 88 percent do, which means they have many more opportunities to hear good (or bad) things about your customer service. More than half of respondents say they rely “much more” on other people’s experiences or reviews when making a purchase decision than they did 10 years ago. If bad word-of-mouth about your service spreads, either offline or online, you’ve got to turn it around.
  4. They’re itching to switch. Consumer loyalty isn’t quite a thing of the past, but it’s definitely become much harder to come by. Two-thirds of respondents say they have switched providers in at least one industry as a result of poor customer service. Six in 10 say they are more likely to switch providers now than they were 10 years ago.
  5. They want you to fix it the first time. Of those respondents who switched providers because of poor service, over 80 percent say the original company could have kept their business if their issue had been resolved the first time they contacted the company about it. In fact, first-contact resolution has been consumers’ number-one source of frustration for the past five years of the study—which suggests that companies aren’t getting much better at it.
  6. They still like human contact. While some consumers have “gone digital,” seeking to interact with customer service via online channels at every opportunity, many others of all ages still prefer traditional channels for resolving issues. To keep everyone happy (isn’t that the whole point of customer service?), your best bet is to provide a wide variety of ways for customers to resolve service problems.

By incorporating these six trends into your customer service systems, you’ll be able to step ahead of the pack and provide the kind of service today’s customers expect. 

Five Customer Trends That You Need To Be On Top Of

8-6 customer trends smallHere are five ways that customer expectations may have grown beyond what your company is providing. If you aren’t keeping up, the question becomes how quickly you can get up to speed, and the answer to this can make or break your bottom line and your survival prospects. So check out the list and see where you stand.  

1. Customers expect extended hours: hours that you’re open, hours that you provide support.  This may mean 24/7 or as close as you can get. For example: For its advertising clients, Google now not only offers support in 42 languages, it does so nearly around the clock, and offers English language support English-language support 24/5. That’s pretty good, considering we’re talking about B2B, non mission-critical support.

Customers also expect more flexibility and options during traditionally “off” hours. For example, if you’re in foodservice, consider letting customers order from either the dinner or lunch menu in the mid-afternoon, and consider offering a cold sandwich menu available late in the evening after the kitchen has closed but your bar is still open.

2. Customers expect self-service–well-designed self-service–to be an option: No matter how good your human-delivered customer service, customers expect self-service options as well. Self-service, which includes everything from web-based e-commerce to IVR (interactive voice response telephone systems) to concierge-like self-help touch-screen menus in public spaces to passengers printing their own boarding passes at home before traveling, is a powerful trend in customer service, and companies that ignore it, pursue it reluctantly, or violate the basic laws of its implementation will be left in the dust.

3. “Fast enough” isn’t, anymore:  Does your company still refer to internal documents with obsolete standards like “We strive to respond to Internet inquiries within 48 hours.  Maybe such a time frame made sense a few years ago (I actually doubt it, but maybe), but today, such a response time is the equivalent of 36 years in Internet time.  Your customer support standard needs to be response within just a few hours; after that, your customer is going to assume that you’re never going to get back to them. An intensified expectation of timeliness also applies to product and services delivery, an area where is obviously one of the leaders. Amazon’s example, and the twitchiness that apps and the Internet itself invoke, means that your company’s traditional definition of “fast enough” probably isn’t, anymore.

4. Social consumption is now the norm. “If I don’t have a picture of it on my phone, it didn’t happen”: Lisa Holladay, branding and marketing guru at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, tells me she’s heard this sentiment lately from young customers. This means that if business isn’t building opportunities for social sharing into the customer experience, you’re missing out on a chance to delight–rather than drive away–your customers. (Ritz-Carlton does this gently with the Shareable Experiences feature in their app and their #RCMemories “Let us stay with you” campaign; for an entirely different and kind of niftily over the top approach to this, you should also check out 1888 in Sydney, aka the “instagram hotel.”)

5. Customers are looking to blur the lines between the fun and the mundane: On the one hand, there’s a new expectation that fun, adventure, even ‘danger’ can be incorporated in potentially mundane interactions. Business travel is a great example of this: More and more travelers try to integrate some adventure, some local exploration, into what are ostensibly business trips. At the other end of this blurring of leisure and business, we have mostly given up on “fully unplugging,” so it makes sense to accommodate even leisure customers’ need or desire to work and keep in touch.  For example, it makes sense that some airlines’ long-haul flights now offer a “quick dine” option so passengers can quickly get back to work without the food tray being in their way, as it makes sense for businesses of all types to offer fast, no login required wifi and other tools to their waiting, “captive” customers.

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