Businesses must make the customer experience effortless at every touchpoint, from initial contact to after-sales service. This drives loyalty and repeat sales, as well as creating evangelists who will promote the brand willingly.
Have you had a bad experience with a company – either online or in the real world? Was your problem resolved to your satisfaction or were you left dissatisfied and annoyed?
In the past week alone I have had several poor experiences with various businesses. I wanted to spend money with them, but I was left angry and frustrated. This meant I was only too pleased to share my negative views with friends and family.
Damaging a company’s reputation
If your business is not offering the best customer service and a smooth customer experience, you are not only losing prospective clients and income, but unwittingly damaging your company’s reputation in the wider world too.
Of course, there are good companies that understand that the customer experience must be effortless at all stages of the journey to purchase, and they take steps to ensure this. But there are a lot of people who either don’t know, or don’t appear to care.
Trades like plumbers, glazing companies and general builders are often among the worst offenders when it comes to customer service. They may ignore calls or not return messages on voicemail, text or email. Then, those who do agree to visit simply do not turn up when they had arranged, do not notify you they are unable to come, and do not bother to rebook a new date.
They may be so busy that they do not need new business immediately, but a polite response to that effect would save everyone time and stress. If they communicate with the customer, the customer understands the situation and can move on to find someone else for the work, without feeling angry that there has been no response. It also means the customer may approach them again in the future, when they do need new work, because they had a reasonable experience initially.
If a business makes an appointment to visit and cannot attend, the polite thing to do is to let the customer know. Customers are generally sympathetic if a situation occurs to make postponement unavoidable. However, no communication, explanation or apology will result in a frustrated customer who will damage the company’s reputation by sharing their bad experience with others.
Customer experience online
Online, the same rules apply; the customer experience must be straightforward. If customers cannot find an answer to their question on your website, they need to be able to see how to contact you easily to get that answer. So many companies do not clearly highlight their telephone number or contact details, or they may only offer a form to complete, or a chat bot option. Customers are all individuals with individual preferences for how they want to get in touch, so a range of options must be provided. And, importantly, there must be a human being available to respond promptly to a telephone call, email, or contact form.
A responsive company
Customers are getting used to the 24/7 availability of businesses like Amazon, which has a streamlined process to view and buy goods at any time of day or night. They think that if Amazon can offer this, other businesses should be doing the same. With prospective buyers located around the world and people working different shift patterns, you need to enable contacts round the clock. Of course, if you are a small business and you receive an enquiry at midnight, you should not be expected to send an immediate response. But try to deal with queries within 24 hours. If you are going to be unable to provide an answer within that time, at least send a quick reply saying when you will be able to respond more fully. Politeness and efficiency go a long way towards creating a good reputation for your brand.
If your company offers a digital assistant option, make sure it is not doing more harm than good. It needs to be effective at answering customer queries and not repeatedly saying it does not understand and asking that you rephrase the question. All this does is frustrate the customer. In addition, if you use a chat function, think about the customer experience. Customers do not want to be ‘fobbed off’ with standard responses that look like they have been pasted in from a list; they want a personalised experience from a knowledgeable member of staff who deals with their question or issue sympathetically, quickly and efficiently.
Customers who don’t feel that they have had a good experience with digital assistants or online chat systems will take their business elsewhere and they will also tell others about it. Not only will they tell their friends and family, but they will also share their negative views on social media channels, greatly extending the damage.
Respond to comments on social media
Businesses that have an official presence on social media must also monitor comments on their posts. It looks bad if someone asks a question and nobody has answered it. It suggests the company does not care about its customers. Plus, this lack of response is on display for other prospective clients to see. This further damages the company’s reputation, even though the company may be unaware. Followers of a brand online may start by sending a private message to the business, but if they receive no response, they will share their discontent publicly on social channels. In addition, customers may post an inaccurate comment that should be corrected before it can have a negative effect on the business.
Always respond politely to a customer and try to go above and beyond what they would expect in solving the issue. If they have had a bad experience with a product or service, offering a replacement quickly, with a discount voucher or free bonus item, can turn that negative into a positive for the company. It shows the business cares about its customers and wants to keep them. A happy customer will also share their experience through word of mouth and online, bringing kudos to the brand. Sometimes mistakes or delays happen, but it is the way they are corrected that matters.
It is also worth noting feedback from customers and prospective customers in the comments about your company online, or in direct communications. If a customer would like your product in more colours or sizes, for example, or has another suggestion, it is worth considering their idea. Remember to thank them publicly if their comment is public, or to reply directly otherwise. If it is something you have considered and rejected in the past, why not say so and explain why you won’t pursue it. Dialogue with customers can be helpful in guiding the development of the brand and showing areas where improvements can be made to ensure an even better customer experience.
Companies that hope to sell via their social media posts and websites need to ensure that a simple click will lead to the information the customer needs. I saw a product that interested me from an art gallery I follow on Instagram. However, when I clicked the link to find out more, I was unable to find more information on the product, or good photos. I went round in circles on the website and could not find the information I wanted and, worse, along the way I found other products in the shop that had confusing information and were unavailable to buy. This experience soured my view of a previously cherished brand and left me feeling they were unprofessional and untrustworthy. I certainly would not try to buy from them again. A poor customer experience can do a lot of harm to a brand.
Why not ask someone (or several people) not connected to your business to have a look at your website, apps and social channels to test them for a smooth customer experience? This should encompass everything from the initial enquiry to after-sales services. It is vital that websites work perfectly on all platforms, including smartphones and iPads. So test them all. If you sell online, they could go through the buying process and see how easy it is. They will see your brand through the eyes of a new client and have valuable feedback on ways to improve. Changes for the better can result in higher engagement with the brand and, hence, more sales.
The aim should be to always impress customers and to give them more than they expect. They will remember you for good reason and will trust you with future work. They will also become brand evangelists and recommend you to others. Investing time and energy in providing a great customer experience will reap manifold benefits in the short and longer term.