What is the first experience given by your customer service department? Are your customers extensively kept on hold, do they get lost in a confusing IVR, are they accidentally cut off while being transferred?
Many customers get their first impression of your company from interacting with your service department.
And first impressions are as important in business as they are in the rest of life.
How Important are First Impressions?
Anyone wondering how important first impressions are in business should be aware that customers are quite willing to abandon brands that provide a poor initial service experience. If your agents fail to provide a positive first impression in customer service, there won’t be many chances to make things right.
Almost 20% will leave after only one poor experience with customer service. And almost 85% will leave after three poor experiences.
If you aren’t consistently creating positive first impressions in customer service, your brand is vulnerable to customer attrition and poaching. And as customers spread the word, you’ll develop a poor reputation.
First Impressions begin with Customer Service
Nancy Friedman, Founder, Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training explains that Customer Experience begins when customers reach out for help or assistance. Their initial experience with your service representatives will leave a lasting impression of how your company treats its customers. Your agents need to intentionally create positive first impressions, whether they are communicating via phone or through chat.
We consulted four thought leaders on how to provide this kind of impactful customer service right from the initial point of contact: Darren Prine is a partner at Cloud Tech Gurus, a technology stack consultation firm. Megan Merrick is Vice President at Happier Living. Ramakrishnan Nagarajan is the Chief Technical Officer at Aptronix. And Leslie O’Flahavan is a customer care communications specialist and owner of the consulting firm, E-Write.
4 Ways to Improve First Impressions with Customer Service
1. Pay Attention to your Customer
Everyone wants to feel heard and be noticed. And when it comes to customer service, almost all of us want an instant response from someone who is actually paying attention to what we say.
Unfortunately, the average customer service department isn’t doing great in this area. According to HubSpot, 69% of people feel that customer service treats them like a ticket and not a person.
Despite all the personalization tools and customer insights available, many service reps aren’t effectively using these resources to transform the overall experience. They often lose sight of providing the human touch. Megan Merrick sees the way to improve this as getting back to the basic fundamental rules of good conversation and manners.
She says, “train customer service agents to create a positive first impression by teaching them to receive information from the customer before giving information to the customer. Teach them to listen actively and empathetically, teach them to read analytically, and let the customer go first.”
Remember that your customers have usually interacted with IVR or a chatbot before being routed to a human agent. Once they make it through, the best experience they can have is to be truly heard. Agents should stay receptive and open, paying careful attention to what customers say or type.
And your service reps need to be listening everywhere. Customer service agents need to respond to messages and mentions on non-traditional channels. Millennials and Gen Z in particular who tend to favor third-party customer service channels.
Take this tweet for example. A customer reached out to Nokia on Twitter, after apparently having no luck contacting them through traditional methods. Nokia didn’t reply, presumably leaving the customer even
less pleased. Luckily for Nokia, the tweet also went unnoticed by the rest of Twitter and didn’t gain traction.
The customer left another frosty tweet suggesting they’re even more displeased. Nokia is fortunate that the message didn’t go viral.
2. Ask, then Commit
One way to ensure that your agents have listened carefully to what the customer says is by asking the right questions. Asking questions shows expresses that an agent is willing to spend the time to really understand a customer’s problem.
Ramakrishnan suggests “Ask useful and probing questions to provide accurate and timely solutions, Correctly document the conversation, Provide tentative timelines for a resolution, and finally thank the customer for their visit.”
Ensuring you meet your commitment is of course a critical step in enabling excellent customer service. In order to do this, it is important to have a customer service team that is well-trained, empowered to make decisions, make requests to other teams such as service engineers or technical support, and get information from within the company.
Ensuring that you track every customer ticket is, of course, table stakes. And an excellent CTI is a good way to go about automating this process.
3. Provide Expertise
Once your agents have actively listened to the customer, they need to provide effective answers as quickly as possible. This might sound like an obvious way to create a positive first impression in customer service. But keep in mind that your customers are more informed than ever.
Most have consulted several third-party resources before reaching out to a company. They might check social media, private chatrooms, online forums, Reddit, review sites, or your own knowledge bank.
And whether correct or not, many will have developed an idea of what the problem or possible solution might be. When they reach out to customer service, they’re expecting a higher level of knowledge and clarity from agents who know exactly who they are and what their company history is.
Your agents need to be absolutely on the ball, insightful, and able to deliver quickly.
Leslie O’Flahavan says, “the first step to ensuring agents provide an on-brand, customer-centric experience is by ensuring the agent understands the product and the market differentiator. How does your product stack up against competitors? What are the ins and outs of the service and logistics? If an agent can’t speak to the product, they’re not going to be comfortable speaking to customers.”
“Beyond that, it comes down to the team working together as a cohesive unit (as opposed to every agent for themselves,) and constant quality assurance and continued education. Ensuring you always have a pulse on the quality of interactions taking place and communicating expectations so the entire team can work towards a common goal.”
Creating positive first impressions in customer service has to be a team effort.
How well do your agents know the customer they’re speaking to, your general customer base, the product, your competitors, and the marketplace? And how cohesive is your service center?
If your agents are performing at the industry’s average, they may be falling behind. One assessment found a full 76% of customers receiving conflicting information from service reps.
4. Ensure Quality Assurance and Consistency
Agents can be mind-readers (thanks to contact center CTIs), and this can delight, or at the very least, calm down an irate customer. Your customers hate having to repeat themselves and expect an agent to know their entire history.
Over 85% of them expect agents to already know about their previous interactions, without filling them in. And if your company does in-person business, 66% of customers expect agents to know about their store interactions.
And this extends to your multichannel communications too. If one agent doesn’t get an inquiry resolved, let’s say on a chat channel where a customer might first contact you, then the following agent, who may answer the same customer’s call on a phone channel, will have even higher expectations to meet.
In this environment, even your best agents can’t deliver outstanding service on their own. Enabling a consistent experience across the multichannel customer journey means consistent data logging and omnichannel access to that data.
Effective continuous training programs can help too by using a systematic approach of monitoring, gathering feedback, and making fine-tuned adjustments.
Tech stack consultant Darren Prine advises using, “AI assistants, a solid LMS, a great knowledge management solution, and a QA/QM solution that analyzes interactions and tells managers who needs training, what to train them on, how to train them, and when to train them.”
Supervisors doing quality control used to do manual spot checks at random or listen back to tapes of recorded calls. But AI contact center tools such as Speech Analytics, can now monitor calls in progress, detect any issues in real-time, and give tips on how to improve the quality.
Tools like this give your customer service team a tech advantage. And a tech advantage is necessary if you want to create a positive first impression in a world where customer expectations are always on the rise.
A One-Solution Tech Stack
So, what is the first experience given by your customer service?
There’s a lot at stake here, with both your market share and brand reputation hinging on it.
But there’s good news as well. Customers, in general, are eager to talk with service agents. There’s openness and a real urge to make human-to-human connections. And younger generations may be more inclined to communicate through non-traditional channels, but they’re also more likely to reach out to you.
People may be less willing to put up with poor treatment, but they also appreciate when customer service is done right. And the effort you put into creating a positive first impression and stellar customer experience pays off in business value
Ozonetel’s cloud contact center makes this easier than you might think. We help you create better first impressions in customer service by ensuring your call center reduces its average queue times and by ensuring personalized responses to customers via contact center CTI. Our AI-based speech analytics will examine your service calls and deliver the insights you need to improve your customer’s first impressions.
The first service experience can make or break the entire customer relationship. You can’t rely on follow-ups or compensation to mitigate the effect of subpar treatment.
There are sales to win and customer loyalty to gain.
This article has been compiled after interviewing industry experts, as well as with careful research from the following sources: 1 The Customer Experience Starts Here – Nancy Friedman | 2 2019 Customer Expectations Reports | Hubspot | 3 Gartner Says Millennials and Gen Z Customers Prefer to Self-Serve Outside Service and Support Organizations | 4 https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/2771217/Content/2018 Customer Service Expectations Gladly.pdf | 5 https://hbr.org/2017/07/your-customers-still-want-to-talk-to-a-human-being | 6 https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/the-three-building-blocks-of-successful-customer-experience-transformations