Timing is everything when it comes to customer service. But how fast does your company have to really be? If statistics are taken into account, the faster, the better. Forrester Research found that 77% of American adult Internet users say that they believe the most important thing a business needs to do to provide good customer service is to value their time.
In addition to faster response times, there’s also a huge demand for social media customer service. According to Social Media Research, 75% of customers who contact a company through social media in support-related cases expect an answer within an hour, at most. Wondering what’s the key takeaway from all this? In short, keeping customers waiting can lead to churn, and companies that continuously strive to improve their real-time customer service are bring in 5.7x more revenue than those who don’t. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the principles of real-time customer support.
What does “real-time” mean?
Imagine you’re at an event or a social gathering where you interact with others. When you have to talk to someone face to face, you instinctively notice their body language and pay attention to their tone of voice. This information, or context, allows you to adapt your body language, choice of words, or even the topics you choose to talk about.
In the digital world, real-time customer interactions work the same way as face-to-face conversations. You recognize a customer’s need or problem, and quickly respond with a message or proceed with an action. But to do so, you need proper data and resources.
Trends in real-time customer support
According to a report on real-time customer care, the growing popularity of tools like live chat has created a benchmark for user experience. Below we’ve outlined key trends of real-time customer support.
1. Customer communities
If you provide a platform for your users where they can organically share knowledge and ask questions, such as a community forum, you’re empowering your users and potential customers to utilize self-service. In this manner, potential customers can get their questions answered almost immediately, without the need to contact your customer support. The great thing about these communities is that even if they receive an answer from a different user (not necessarily an agent from your organization) they will retain a positive customer service association with your company.
The good news is that LiveAgent enables you to build customer forums and other useful knowledge base elements such as FAQs or how-to-articles. Additionally, any new query that’s received in your forums will be automatically converted into a ticket and sent to your LiveAgent dashboard. From there, your customer support representatives can easily answer the question if it hasn’t been answered by a different user yet.
2. The challenge of ubiquity
All contact centers should adapt their service so that they are compatible with multi-device users that go through numerous points of interaction as the basis of the user experience they offer in real-time. In short, this means omnichannel support. To learn more about omnichannel customer support click here.
3. Innovation, technology, and data
Cloud services are becoming indispensable. Machine Learning, complex analytics and access to customer data are all necessary to provide users with real-time support.
4. The “one-on-one” conversation
Brand strategies should aim to transform customer relationships through personalized conversations. This can be done through chat moderation, proactive chat invitations sent to users identified as potential clients, or existing customers that require support in real-time.
What exactly should you keep in mind to provide real-time customer support?
The above-mentioned trends shape the way companies must approach customer support and what strategies they must apply to meet their clients’ expectations. Below is an outline of what exactly your business should do to provide real-time customer support.
Speed and agility
Real-time customer support focuses on speed and adaptability. When we talk about “real-time” we refer to the ability to interact within a context and at the right time, in a non-intrusive way that provides value to the recipient.
This may require a response in milliseconds (for dynamic messaging and personalization) like answering live chat inquiries, inbound phone calls or communication that triggers a series of messages over time (e.g., e-mail sequences).
Some business cases require response times of less than 70 milliseconds, while others consider a response time of one hour to be fast enough. The response time required depends on the industry, overall business objectives, and internal key performance indicators (KPIs).
Immediate answers are always the best option, even if it means pre-emptively answering a customer’s request (until a more detailed answer can be provided.) As a general rule, social networks, SMS, and chat responses should be offered within 15 minutes; e-mails should be handled within a few hours, and voice channels should be optimized so that if an agent is not available, a callback option is offered.
To facilitate the management of incoming calls, companies can introduce Interactive Voice Response (IVR) within call centers. This feature enables customers to route connections on their own and decide what department they want to reach.
In short, make sure that customers are informed when they cannot be immediately connected to an agent. For example, have the customer receive a confirmation or receipt when they send an e-mail or SMS that gives them clear information on when they will receive a response. However, remember that real-time responses are most valued, so your brand should strive to provide them as quickly as possible.
Be accessible 24/7
Being available 24/7 may seem difficult or impossible, but it is essential if you want to be providing real-time customer service. The most influential brands are there for their customers 24/7 in one way or another, if only by ensuring access to FAQs or having an offline chat option.
Ideally, your company should offer real-time support through a multitude of channels such as phone calls, social media, or a 24/7 live chat service with agents that are available to assist your customers with whatever they need.
If this is something that your company cannot offer, try to increase the amount of information provided in your knowledge base and customer portals. Additionally, make sure your business hours for live chat and phone are indicated and easily found on your website.
Adopt a proactive approach
Being one step ahead of your customers makes it easier to support them in real-time. Find out which channels are most used, when they’re used, and for what purpose. As you get to know your customers’ habits, you’ll be able to identify which channels require additional attention from your staff, which recurring problems need to be fixed, and which agents are fit to answer specific queries.
In addition, using real-time analytics can prompt agents to provide proactive attention before problems arise, or customers ask for help. By taking proactive measures, the company can deliver real-time support better.
In addition to proactive chat invitations, your agents can make use of advanced features such as the Real-time typing-view. It enables agents to see what the customers are typing in real-time, even before they click the “send message” button. This tool gives your agents more time to prepare an answer and enables them to react in seconds.
Centralize customer data
Perhaps the most important tool for a contact center agent is a centralized database. If your agents do not have access to up-to-date customer information, they will not be able to serve your customers in real-time. Therefore, a built-in CRM software is essential for success. It enables agents to access and edit customer information at the same time they’re talking with a customer. A built-in CRM can also facilitate communications between contact center agents in the form of internal notes or internal live chat so that customers who need to be redirected to other departments or agents do not have to repeat their problem over and over. In essence, your built-in CRM ensures a seamless flow of data.
Moreover, effective real-time personalization is largely based on data. Your representatives need to have a deep understanding of their customers, such as both online and offline behavior, and their preferences. Having this information enables you to automate, target and segment customer communications to deliver a unique, compelling, and relevant experience.
Customer profiles need to be continuously updated, as more and more information will be acquired over time. Your personalized communication must go beyond the basics (name and address) taking into account a customer’s previous purchases, tickets, and requests as well as additional information such as their geolocation, time zone, and language.
Optimize and support all communication channels
Smart execution is a crucial part of any successful real-time strategy. Customers can interact with companies through any channel, at any time, on any device. These interactions can also occur through inbound or outbound, digital, or traditional methods. Since there is no way of knowing where customers will show up at any given time, you need to have the ability to deliver exceptional customer service through all touchpoints.
This aspect boils down to introducing omnichannel communication. To explain it briefly, omnichannel communication means supporting multiple channels within a single interaction, allowing customers to pick up where they left off on one channel and continue the experience on another. Your support team needs a ticketing system with a universal inbox that gathers all interactions under one roof to provide this kind of omnichannel support.
Offering customers self-service options is a primary way to get customer problems solved in real-time. A Global State of Multichannel Customer Service report found that 90% of customers expect a brand to offer a self-service portal or a knowledge base, and 60% of them had a positive opinion of companies offering self-service on mobile devices.
Offer customers options such as an IVR menus, callbacks, FAQs, or forums to ensure they can find real-time answers when they need them most.
Each and every one of the channels that a company or a brand makes available to a user must be easily accessible and monitored for queries. Whether it’s your phone number, Twitter account or email address, all should be monitored and viewed as equally important channels for customer service. The customer should not have to waste any time looking for ways to contact you, but rather pick a channel, and get a speedy response regardless of their channel choice.
In today’s fast-paced world, customers expect more than just proper customer service. By offering impeccable real-time experiences that recognize and respect your customers’ time, your company is much more likely to win over customer loyalty. To provide the best in customer support, learn more about LiveAgent, the most reviewed and #1 rated help desk software for SMB in 2019 and 2020.
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