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Business Series: Improving Customer Service Post-Pandemic

Business Series: Improving Customer Service Post-Pandemic

Exceptional customer service has always been a critical component of success in every business. However, post-pandemic, the need for customer service excellence has become even more important. Data from the 2023 First Citizens National Bank Economic Survey of Northern Central Ohio Business Owners and Executives, reveals two pressing concerns that go to the heart of a business’s ability to deliver quality customer service: 1) The tight labor market and 2) Changing customer behaviors.

The Labor Challenge

Survey respondents indicated the labor market and related staffing challenges as the number one issue affecting their success and growth in 2023. In fact, 14% identified labor shortages as the biggest threat to their growth. This challenge affects businesses of all sizes, as they struggle to find and retain skilled workers.

In addition, employees are now demanding greater flexibility, or even choosing to leave the workplace entirely. The way people want to work, combined with a lack of skilled staff, has made it more difficult for businesses to provide the level of customer service that customers expect.

Business leaders from all industries are responding, making staff hiring, retention and development a primary area of focus. Forty-seven percent of survey respondents plan to increase their hiring efforts in 2023. Additionally, 46% plan to raise pay and benefits, 36% aim to provide greater flexibility in workers’ schedules or support remote working, and 24% plan to increase training.

Changing Customer Behaviors

Respondents to the survey also shared their perceptions of how customer behaviors continue to change following the pandemic. Business leadership recognizes that customers are more appreciative of quality customer service (39%) but are also less patient when it comes to service expectations (29%,) less loyal to a company (20%,) and more demanding overall (43%.) Simply meeting customers’ expectations is the bare minimum for customer service and even that bar has been raised significantly.

Additionally, the survey shows an important trend in changing customer behaviors — the increasing use of eCommerce. Approximately 38% of respondents indicated that their customers are using eCommerce to make purchases from them, with 25% of all businesses reporting a sales increase via eCommerce channels of more than 25% last year. Providing superior customer service in the digital as well as physical space just compounds the challenges businesses face. So where to start?

Actionable Customer Service Strategies for Your Business

  1. Invest in your current team

Find ways to invest in your current team, especially your star players. Beyond pay, look at greater flexibility in your benefits. And be sure to step up training programs to broaden employee skills and standardize processes to maintain consistency for new hires joining the company.

  1. Create an Inclusive Culture for Retention

An Arizona State University study reveals that corporations are losing more women and minority professionals than their male and white counterparts1. Employee retention challenges have been linked to employees having issues adapting to workplaces and, in some cases, to lack of support from managers. Creating an inclusive culture that recognizes employee differences and addresses their needs can help with retention and engagement.

  1. Track Quality Metrics

Establish and monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) related to customer service quality, such as response times, resolution rates, and customer satisfaction scores. Using these metrics for guidance can lead to improvements in customer service quality and satisfaction. Companies that actively track customer service quality metrics achieve higher customer satisfaction scores1.

  1. Listen to Your Customers

How do your customers rate your service? What do you do well and where are your shortcomings? By knowing this, you can prioritize limited resources to address service issues. Simple online tools from companies such as SurveyMonkey can help design and deliver quality customer service surveys. Or just talk directly to a handful of important customers to hear their perspective. And once you have results, consider sharing them with your team and get their suggestions on how to address shortcomings.

  1. Empower Your Employees

Empower front-line employees to make decisions and resolve customer issues independently within established guidelines to resolve issues quickly and effectively. Ninety-six percent of customers who exert high effort to resolve a challenge are more likely to take their business elsewhere2.

  1. Invest in Continuous Training

Invest in ongoing training for your customer service teams to keep them updated with industry trends and customer expectations. Investing in additional training also shows your commitment to your employees’ career paths and well-being.

  1. Strengthen Your Online Presence

Enhance your online presence and e-commerce capabilities to meet the rising demand for online shopping. Simplify the online purchasing process to make transactions fast and easy. And look to provide online customers with an easy and effective way to request customer service help.

  1. Automation to Improve Efficiency and Response Times

The use of customer service software, contact center solutions, chatbots, and virtual assistants can help companies focus on more complex problems and rely less on employee skill and response time. Nearly 40% of companies observed a 15% or higher improvement in first-reply times after integrating automation and AI between 2019 and 20213.

  1. Engage on Social Media

Ninety-five percent of adults between the ages of 18-34 are likely to follow a business on social media4. Create a social media presence and provide customers with information on your products, new services, and other relevant news. Many companies encourage customers to use social media as a customer service channel. As with any channel, by engaging with customers on social media and responding quickly to questions and concerns, you can build and strengthen customer loyalty.

  1. Consider an Omnichannel Communication Strategy

It’s important to communicate with your customers in the ways they want to be heard. Phone, email, messaging, live chat, social media, are a few channels of communication that today’s customers expect. High-performing customer service teams are more than twice as likely as underperforming ones to have an omnichannel strategy4.

  1. Personalization for Meaningful Connections

Utilize digital technologies to collect and analyze customer data, enabling the creation of highly personalized interactions that foster loyalty and retention. Ninety percent of customers are willing to spend more with businesses that offer personalized customer service5.

  1. Utilize Data for Proactive Communication

Consider analyzing current and historical purchasing and customer service data to anticipate customer needs and potential issues and implement proactive communication strategies to keep customers informed. Sixty-seven percent of consumers appreciate companies that initiate contact with proactive communications6.

  1. Data Security

As more businesses and customers use e-commerce, it’s important to ensure data security measures are in place to protect customer information. Transparency in how data is used, and what the business is doing to protect the data, are critical for building customer trust. Ninety percent of customers are more likely to trust you if you’re transparent about how you use their information7.

As the post-pandemic landscape continues to evolve, it’s important to empower your customers and employees with the tools they want and need in order to foster a successful relationship with your business. Personalization, self-service options, on-going employee training, inclusive company cultures and proactive approaches to customer service are a few strategies that can significantly enhance satisfaction and loyalty. While business has always been about putting the wants and needs of the customer first, today it’s even more vital than ever for sustainability and success.

  1. 5 employee retention strategies every company should implement, Slack
  2. 115 Customer Service Facts, Indeed
  3. 7 Customer Service Trends, AI Multiple
  4. 10 Ways to Deliver Good Customer Service, Zen Desk
  5. 7 Customer Service Trends, AI Multiple
  6. Proactive Customer Service, Zen Desk
  7. Why Brand Transparency is Essential to Driving Customer Loyalty in 2021, Emarys
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