They say the customer is always right, but sometimes customers can be even more than right — for many businesses, they could be the answer to a service tsunami.
Customer experience remains a major tactic that can move the needle, but it is also under constant strain. In an age when shoppers have more channels than ever before through which to contact companies, in which they demand nearly instant response times, demand is increasing.
That, in turn, increases the burden on ambitious companies. To cope, I see many companies that begin posting static information resources like FAQs, in an effort to satisfy prospective customers’ time-consuming questions. The problem? Anticipating every conceivable question is an impossible task.
In specialist or diversified e-commerce organizations, for example, the challenge remains. Customers frequently come to e-commerce sites with high-definition knowledge about a product they are hunting and require equally expert closing advice — the answer to their question could make or break a sale. Even when investing in extra support staff, finding the corresponding level of product-category expertise can be difficult.
But there is a strategy emerging that can not only reduce the cost of servicing prospects, it improves company perception and increases the chance of purchase conversion. Many companies are beginning to staff their customer experience teams with voices from outside the office walls, including Verizon and Google, and in the U.K., giffgaff and Virgin Media.
These days, many companies are just as likely to have a support forum as a support phone number. On these forums, you will find hundreds of fellow customers asking questions, sharing experiences and providing answers. When customers need to know for sure whether that SD card is really compatible with all their equipment, they don’t want to throw the question into the ether. Nurturing a sale should not be optional.
This is why organizations like Virgin Media are providing customer experiences with two key differences — they are embracing contemporary communication preferences like mobile messaging, and they are guaranteeing correspondents get a response that is not only timely but also deeply useful.
For example, skiwear e-retailer Ekosport, a client of iAdvize, sought out fashion experts from the slopes to staff a live chat support line. It found an average 96.3% customer satisfaction rate following the interactions, which led to a 25.7% conversion-to-purchase rate . So, how can other companies achieve the same kind of impact?
1. Find the experts.
I believe that unlocking the expertise of category gurus is the way to truly help prospective customers on their journey to purchase.
To do that, you should identify and cultivate passions. Begin by identifying your category needs and sourcing experts, often from your own customer base. It is critical to assess their true level of expertise and then follow up with further training on the nuances of your offerings.
2. Use independent, authentic voices.
Don’t co-opt brand bots. You should not be staffing your customer chat with salespeople. Rather, what prospective customers need is help or advice that is deep, insightful and relevant.
When online classic car parts seller Mecatechnic sourced vintage vehicle aficionados to offer that kind of real-time help, things often got highly technical. Its helpers frequently found themselves advising correspondents on how to repair old Volkswagen Beetles from start to finish, for example. That is exactly the kind of help that delights customers enough to come back and buy.
3. Reward expertise with money.
In online self-help circles, it has rightly become accepted practice to reward the highest-contributing advisors. Support forums offer a spectrum of “top helper” classifications, unique to the company or support the accrual of points and badges. It is the guru generation game.
But I believe nothing rewards your advisors like money. Expert contributors — who can accurately advise consumers on the unique differences between items, what parts may be necessary and how to use a particular product — have a skill that deserves not just recognition but compensation.
Reimbursing your advisors doesn’t just make you feel good — it also develops a relationship to which your expert helpers want to keep coming back, making themselves available to prospects who raise their virtual hand for help.
4. Remember that time is of the essence.
In the age of real-time mobile chat, time is money. Every message that goes unanswered for hours is a hot prospect that may turn cold. That is why it is in companies’ best interests to provide prospects with help as soon as possible.
However, what that means will differ depending on the case, so set a window of response time that is actionable for your business.
And think beyond hourly units. For many businesses, demand is highly seasonal. For our client in the skiwear industry, for example, dedicating staff to live chat in the summer, when the slopes were dry, would have been wasted spend. Allocate your responsiveness accordingly.
We live in peer-to-peer times. No longer do companies need to speak with a characterless, disembodied corporate voice. And no longer do they have to use every interaction as an opportunity to push sales messages.
If you can unlock the expertise of your very best customers and independent experts, you not only stand a chance of further forging the relationship, you can also create a virtuous circle in which they become advocates who convert your next generation of best buyers.