Everyone has heard the saying: The customer is always right. But we all know real life isn’t that simple. For business-to-consumer companies that rely on regularly returning clients, the fine art of keeping these people happy can be a frustrating, confusing endeavor.
Digital companies in particular face unique challenges when it comes to keeping their customers content because there are few face-to-face interactions and a sale may often involve intangible products or services. What’s more, these companies also occupy an exceedingly social space where reviews are currency. Dissatisfied customers can quickly find a sympathetic forum for voicing their negative opinions loudly and anonymously.
How can a digital company maintain customer satisfaction with so many hurdles along the way? The answer is deceptively simple: Humanize your customer service. Just because a company may live in the cloud does not mean everything is or should be automated. Here are the practices I’ve found to be most helpful in maintaining customer happiness.
1. Don’t just be friendly. Be a friend.
Maintain a personality and have a conversation with your customers. Consider all the time you have spent in shaping a voice when selecting your logo and fonts and creating marketing materials. Why not apply this thinking to your customer service as well?
Bonobos, an ecommerce clothing company, offers one of the best examples of humanized customer service. Its customer service reps, called ninjas, transform shopping and the occasional refund into a virtually painless process. The company's emails are fun and in sync with its branding. They are never patronizing or packed with legal mumbo jumbo.
The worst customer-service responses are canned and scripted. Hollow “insert name here” responses treat customers like another number in a support queue. When replying to a customer, ask yourself how you would approach a friend in need of assistance.
2. Quality and quantity.
Here’s a common scenario: A customer needs help and is complaining loudly. You’re scrambling to troubleshoot the issue as quickly as possible, but it’s taking longer than expected. What now? Instead of delaying a customer-service response because you don’t yet have the solution, take a few minutes to send an email apologizing for the issue, while noting that you’re hard at work getting to the bottom of things.
Who said you needed to accomplish everything in one email? Avoid generic responses, use your customers’ names and thank them for bringing a problem to your attention. Building a relationship so that each individual is acknowledged and treated like a person will only benefit your company. Check in frequently, be honest if there’s a delay and build rapport. These are all the steps of a company with a more humanized brand.
3. The Rule of 5.
Sometimes you will encounter an unreasonable customer, someone who will make it difficult for you to stay calm and not take things personally. Humans have that fight or flight response. When they feel cornered or attacked, they make snap decisions.
In the customer service world, snap decisions can sometimes result in the sending of angry, defensive emails that are almost immediately regretted. When I find myself on the receiving end of a vitriolic email, I take five: Some days that means resting five minutes. Other times, it means answering another five emails before drafting a response. The Rule of 5 lets you disengage and then return to your customer-service task when your fists aren’t up and ready to fly.
Humanized customer service has a philosophical core: Being human means that mistakes will be made. Accept this. There will be glitches, website downtime, faulty code and unreasonable customers. How you handle them makes all the difference.
It’s easy to panic when the complaints come rolling in and the angry emails start piling up. And it's even easier to let your emotions take over and become annoyed and defensive in the process. Humanizing your response means acknowledging the issue with a touch of humility and maybe even some humor as well. Whether that means sending an email blast, posting on the company’s social media handles or replying to individual complaints, a human touch can make all the difference. After all, behind every computer screen is a person.
Ideally 95 percent of the time, your customers are happy and excited to continue with the company’s products or services. But when the remaining 5 percent of cases occur, you’ll be glad that you’ve already built a solid relationship with your customers so that you'll be able to keep them onboard, even through rough waters. No two companies are alike, but these best practices can be adopted whether you’re at a large, established company or an early-stage technology startup.
Related: Turning an Oops Into an Opportunity