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Five ways to create a customer service strategy that adds value

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Delivering great customer service can help your business stand out from the crowd. Here, Echo's Chris Cullen explores five aspects of creating the right customer service strategy - one that truly adds value...

It can be a costly mistake not to provide satisfactory customer service - in fact, in the UK, businesses are thought to lose a huge £234 billion each year as a result.  Today's customer is more informed, more demanding and increasingly critical, as well as being more aware of the power they hold.  These confident customers are more readily-able and more likely to use their greatest weapon, their buying power, to punish companies that don't live up to their expectations or fail to deliver what they want.

In fact, recent research we conducted highlighted that one third of customers would be willing to move their custom elsewhere if they received a service they perceived as unsatisfactory.  And, that's not all. Poor service also causes 'protest debt', where customers deliberately pay late or not at all - 48% of consumers told us they would withhold or default on a payment due to poor service.

So, the pressure is really building.  Businesses must put in place an effective customer service strategy to meet evolving customer needs and wants. If they don't, it's likely they could face the wrath of frustrated customers, a damaged reputation and losses in sales and customer loyalty.

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What should businesses do?
Delivering good customer service should in turn result in a good customer experience, and led from the top down, an effective customer service strategy is something senior management should both create and be engaged in, and some key aspects to bear in mind are:

1. Knowledge is a must
When it comes to customer service, the skill-set and personal characteristics of customer-facing employees are critical.  Advisors must not only be personable, but also knowledgeable and informed. A robust CRM platform that is updated regularly to be accurate and fresh, can help here to ensure employees have the latest and most relevant information at their fingertips. In addition, if front-line advisors are empowered to manage knowledge banks themselves, this increases the chances that information is correct and in line with current customer feedback and sentiment.  The value in investing in empowered and engaged front-line staff cannot be underestimated.

2. Make sure you really listen
Obviously, listening is a basic and vital aspect of delivering good customer service. Fail to listen, and you risk giving your customers the impression that you don't care about their individual thoughts and needs. Customer satisfaction surveys are therefore a must - especially those that provide feedback in real time, which can help businesses to swiftly introduce measures that directly benefit customers. Negative customer feedback should be followed up quickly to de-escalate potentially damaging situations and help ensure customers feel valued.  Make sure the voice of the customer is a central aspect of your strategy and ensure policies and procedures enable a swift response and an agile approach to change.

3. Be proactive as well as responsive
When a customer complains, a quick reaction is without doubt important. However, it's equally important for businesses to encourage their employees to be proactive in their approach too. This can really help you stand out from your competitors. Examples include: contacting a customer after their first order to see how they found the service, and following-up with a customer after a complaint to see whether they were satisfied with the resolution.  To be proactive, a deep understanding of each customer and their journey is required. This allows you to identify where real value can be added and to discover new touchpoints. 

4. Customers like choice
Businesses must truly listen to what each customer wants, as well as the channels they wish to communicate through.  Although offering channel choice may be more costly and complex, by adapting and tailoring your service according to customer preference, you can ensure each interaction is as easy and fluid as possible. But, be careful that the right channels are being used in the right way. Channel choice is often dependent on contact type and query complexity, with web self-serve often the best option for basic tasks and the human touch preferred for more emotive and complex queries which require a higher degree of empathy.

5. The lifetime value of a customer
Ensure your customer service strategy looks at the bigger picture - turn your focus to the long term value of each customer to your business, and not just short-term financial measures.  This can be particularly relevant when looking at in-debt customers. Our recent research found that half of customers feel harassed by debt collection measures and 56% would switch supplier if they felt that collection practices were poor. However, for many customers, debt is just a short-term blip. Honing in on instant payback may add pressure and frustrate the customer in a time of vulnerability. Engaging and connecting in a meaningful way and focusing on loyalty and retention can be a bigger benefit in the long term.

"If you can tick all these boxes, you're well on your way to creating a customer service stretegy that builds loyalty and trust - two of the most important assets a business needs and can build on for future growth."

Chris Cullen, head of sales and marketing, Echo Managed Services

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