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In the second of her guest blog posts, Sophia Wright takes us on a journey through the ever changing world of customer service – there are some great stats in here making it well worth a few minutes of your time:

If you have a complaint or a question for a company, where is the first place you turn to? In the past, you may have picked up the phone or even written a letter, but nowadays we can get an (almost) instant response from customer service departments thanks to new developments in technology.

There are now several outlets online for consumers to express their views on a company, such as social media platforms and customer forums. As a result, businesses have to develop their customer service management skills in order to keep up with the changing face of the 21st century.

Social Media – #customerservice

Businesses can communicate with their customers instantly using social media. Many companies are now growing their own dedicated social media channels, and in terms of interacting with customers, Twitter proves to be the most popular.

Using accounts like @askthiscompany, retailers can place a member of staff with a certain level of expertise in front of a computer and easily manage the number of enquiries and complaints that are coming in. Companies are recognising this according to Social Baker’s Social Customer Care Analysis. In 2012, brands were only answering around 30% of questions posed via social media, but by 2013 this figure had more than doubled to 62%, marking an exceptional 143% year-over-year increase.

The survey also went on to find that customers who received a quick response on social media were 71% more likely to recommend that brand to their friends and family. Statistics such as these are encouraging businesses to join the social media movement.

Customers Like To Be Independent

As much as we may not like to admit it, the sense of pride we get when we do something for ourselves is great; whether it’s setting up a flat-pack chest of drawers, configuring your new iPhone or booking a holiday. A consumer survey by Nuance Enterprise has indeed found that the majority of customers respond positively to self service, with 75% viewing it as a convenient way of addressing customer issues, and 67% even preferring it to traditional customer service methods.

Companies are getting wind of this, and are using their websites as an outlet to help customers help themselves. With 91% of customers claiming they would be likely to use a knowledge base if it met their needs, companies are harnessing the educational power of how-to videos, blogs with step-by-step instructions and downloadable user manuals. Customers will most likely be able to access an online forum – a great tool for asking for fellow users’ help – and they are also able to read up on how others have fixed similar issues and be encouraged to try something they hadn’t thought of themselves.

This method effectively saves calling up the company directly and trying to listen to a long-winded instruction down the phone. Instead, customers can see what they need to do right there in front of them and are at liberty to carry it out at their own pace.

Live Chat

Live chat is sometimes dismissed by critics as a way of companies avoiding giving out their phone number. But it can in fact be a useful tool for getting issues dealt with quickly, or for receiving step-by-step guidance as a customer feels their way through an unfamiliar process. In an ATG Global Consumer Trend study, it was found that 90% of customers consider live chat helpful, and 44% of them even regard it as one of the most important features a website can offer – almost like having their own personal shopping assistant.

By using live chat, which is similar to an instant messenger between the customer and a member of the customer service team, staff can chat with multiple customers at a time, significantly cutting down queues and enabling customers to multi-task whilst they wait. Staff can also give a set of visual instructions to solve an issue, which is often more attractive to most people than hearing the instructions verbally.

Mobile browsing

If we want to look for a product online nowadays, it probably won’t always involve switching on our computer. It’s often much easier and quicker to press a few buttons on a smartphone and find a product whilst out doing other things – perhaps even cruising the high street.

If there’s anything that the holiday season of 2013 taught us, it’s that mobile purchasing is on the rise. December saw a year-on-year increase of 18% for UK smartphone and tablet sales, whilst Black Friday saw a whopping 86% increase in the use of shopping applications by those in the US. As customers we want an easy life and retailers need to keep up with that – especially as 2014 is expected to continue along this trajectory.

Many retailers are developing mobile versions of their websites tailored to be viewed on smartphones and tablets, and there has even been the first tentative steps of a mobile payment movement, all of which are making it easy for customers to find the product they want and order it there and then from the comfort of their sofa.

Retailers are also using electronic surveys on their website to get customers’ opinions on products and services; something that they would have previously had to implement in stores or collect over the phone. However, besides costing less, online surveys take the customer less time to complete – always a bonus in today’s busy society.

Press ‘One’ To Speak To an Adviser

Despite the variety of contact channels that customers have to choose from, Forrester Research claims that 69% of consumers still prefer to use the phone for customer service.

Not many people relish calling up a company in a state of anger and having to sift through several automated menu options before they get the chance to speak to a human, and flat-toned automated messages can seem patronising. It’s been estimated that Americans also spend around 60 million precious hours waiting on hold – that’s almost 88 lives lost to customer service!

But customers these days are much more demanding – they know what they want, are used to having several options at their fingertips, and have a worldwide platform at their disposal to tell other consumers about a brand’s bad service. It’s therefore all the more crucial that companies make their phone lines’ greeting messages short, to the point and interesting; as well as taking appropriate steps to reduce wait times.

It’s clear to see that social media is the biggest development in using technology to improve customer service. After all, we always have our heads buried in our online worlds, so why wouldn’t we use them to complain to and question the brands we purchase from?

Businesses need to stay current by using the developing technology to their advantage. After all, no customer has the time or patience to sit and press buttons when they can simply open up an app, log into online chat, or write their problem in 140 characters.

Having worked in the consumer marketing profession as a Customer Relations manager and consultant for the last few years, Sophia’s knowledge and expertise have driven her  to establishing Customer Service Guru to share her skills and knowledge of the customer service industry.

When it comes to consumerism, Sophia is compelled by new and pioneering service and marketing techniques that put customers at the heart of success and growth. She values platforms for discussion regarding the satisfaction of the customer and enjoys the recognition of companies who are leading the way with regards to developing long-term B2C relationships. You can find out more at www.customerserviceguru.co.uk or follow Sophia on Twitter  https://twitter.com/gurucustomers

me- sophia wright -csg