Nobody likes to be kept waiting. In today’s fast-moving world, we expect things to happen quickly. Response times from customer services are no exception.
Most customers are willing to spend more with businesses that respond fast – but 62% of companies don’t respond to customer service emails at all! It’s astonishing that so many organizations fail to realize the risks of ignoring their most valuable asset.
While customers appreciate politeness, knowledge of the product, and the ability to resolve issues – a quick response is prized above all. You might think that the main aim is to get the inquiry resolved in the long run – and you’d be right, in a way.
However, if getting the right solution takes too long, the customer will still be left feeling that you could have done better. It’s far more effective to send a quick acknowledgement that you’re looking into it, than to leave them without a response while you investigate their problem.
Customer satisfaction translates into customer loyalty, great online reviews and word of mouth recommendations. Failing to make the customer feel valued means losing potential customers and serious damage to your brand.
Here’s how you can reduce your customer service response times to avoid lost leads.
1. Find out where you’re going wrong
Improvements always begin with a solid plan. First of all, take a look at how your company is currently doing. Take a look at customer feedback, online reviews, and data on customer retention.
You should also find out how your customer service agents feel about their own performance. Are they unproductive or stressed because there are too many enquiries for them to deal with? Maybe they don’t feel like they have the tools they need to succeed in their role.
In a survey of 1,000 companies, the average response time for customer service requests was 12 hours and 10 minutes. It’s worth working out your average and seeing how you compare. Don’t forget to look for outliers too – are there any queries that are resolved especially slowly? If so, why?
By comparing your average to benchmark times in your industry, you know where you’re starting from. From there, you can come up with an achievable target for your response times, based on the resources you have in place. Part of your plan should be creating a standard process that everyone should follow, to ensure consistency across the team.
Work out how you can guarantee that agents respond within the optimum time, and how you will ensure accountability. You can use technology to monitor performance, while feedback from high-performing agents can be used to help those struggling to keep up.
This plan should be customer-centric, and one thing to consider is your customers needs.
What are your customers’ needs?
There are a lot of questions to answer when creating your new strategy, including:
- What do your customers need and expect from your team?
- What is their preferred method of contact?
- What’s the best time to get in touch?
- In which language do they prefer to communicate?
- When do they mostly get in contact with you?
- What platforms do they prefer – and is there a demographic split?
By learning about these preferences, you can determine when synchronous or asynchronous communication should be used. It won’t always be an opportune moment for a customer to receive a callback – for example, when they are at work or it’s late at night – so they may prefer an emailed response to read at their convenience. Customers may also find it more helpful to see a step-by-step guide or a video tutorial, rather than taking instructions via phone.
Data collection and analysis will also be beneficial as you develop your sales channel strategies and decide which medium is best for your business. Omnichannel and multichannel strategies offer plenty of opportunity for learning about customers.
In e-commerce it can be harder to build a relationship with customers because there’s no face-to-face interaction. Try to personalize the experience and make them feel that their individual needs are important to the company.
For instance, you can adapt the technology you use to suit a particular demographic. Some businesses still like to use fax, so you could introduce a fax from computer solution rather than trying to resolve things through email.
Remember that speed and efficiency are key, whichever medium you’re using to interact with the customer.
2. Put the solutions in place
Once you’ve worked out your plan, it’s time to feed it through to the people who will put it into action. Customer service employees will require extra training to handle the new systems, and they’ll also need support from supervisors as they learn.
As well as technical knowledge, employees also need to brush up on their listening skills and develop empathy for the customer. After all, if they truly care about the customer’s needs, they are more likely to go the extra mile to resolve the query.
Every member of the team should know exactly what their role is when an inquiry or problem arises. If it’s outside of their skillset, they should know how to escalate it swiftly to the agent best placed to handle it. Inbenta’s augmented agent solution integrates into call center software to streamline agent productivity with excellent speech-to-text functionality. These types of software can also help reduce customer service response time.
Build a knowledge hub
Creating and maintaining a company knowledge base will make it easier for agents to look up solutions to the most common problems. This avoids leaving the customer hanging while they spend time searching for the answer. Complex issues can be documented and shared for future reference.
Don’t forget about your remote workers. Make sure this central hub can be accessed anywhere, and that they’re held to the same standards as on-site staff. The best virtual phone systems are a boon for those who don’t have physical premises, as they can be used anywhere with an internet connection.
It’s also useful to have some of this knowledge available to customers via FAQs, help guides and tutorials so that they can resolve simple queries by themselves. This reduces the pressure on your team, allowing them to provide better customer service.
Invest in software
These days, there are plenty of software and tech solutions to enhance efficiency and reduce customer response times. If you’re harnessing new digital technology to reduce customer service response times, upskilling your agents is crucial. It’s no use investing in tools that no one can use.
The best call centre software has stacks of innovative features to keep both customers and agents happy, such as:
- IVR (interactive voice response)
- Call recording
- Performance evaluation
- Speech analytics
- Technical support
It may also be worth investing in a VoIP system, rather than a traditional landline. What does VoIP mean for your company? Flexibility. Using VoIP systems allows your agents to take calls anywhere – particularly helpful for remote teams, or with sales agents who travel a lot.
A dedicated customer service software can store all your customer interactions, regardless of platform. This is a huge improvement on a shared email inbox, and means you can track customer interactions across various channels.
These solutions can improve your knowledge of each customer, as it keeps all their records in one place as well as sorting, tracking, and backing everything up. You’ll be able to monitor employees’ response times, and get a better idea of customer demographics.
Meanwhile, preview dialer software gives agents instant access to customer information and insights as soon as an interaction begins. This is a great way to make the conversation more personal. Plus, if this is not the first communication, they’ll be familiar with the background instead of making the customer tell the whole story all over again.
It would be great if there was time to send a personalised response to every enquiry – but that’s not really possible. However, your automated responses don’t have to sound like they were generated by a computer.
To help reduce response times, agents can create template responses based on the most frequently-asked questions. Avoid generic messages by adding personal touches such as the customer’s name and a topical conversational opening.
It might seem very impersonal, but it’s also useful to generate a completely automatic response. This lets customers know you have received their message, especially if it’s out of hours. Even though this means more than one interaction before the query is resolved, at least they’ll know you’re on the case and trust you to follow up.
Automated responses are far better than being completely ignored, and should help you avoid losing the lead altogether. You can also take the opportunity to provide your customer service opening hours, average response times, and links to FAQs or instruction manuals.
Timers and tags
Customer service software often has the ability to set up time-based enquiry alerts, based on what you’d like your ideal response time to be. You can set an alarm to remind agents to respond before the deadline. This allows them to view an email and return to it later, after they’ve found the best solution.
Another solution is for your software to assess each inquiry, categorize it and tag it using a traffic light priority system. This directs agents to the most urgent queries and means agents with the appropriate skills can pick up relevant tickets.
3. Use AI alongside humans
We sometimes hear people complain about having to interact with a robot instead of a human being when they contact customer services. But robots are getting smarter all the time, and can be hugely useful in helping you to improve your customer response time and avoid lost leads.
The latest artificial intelligence is programmed to respond in a much more human-like way. Chatbots and IVR systems are better at understanding the meaning of queries and communicating with customers in natural-sounding language.
Using AI to respond to customers, at least in the first instance, means your company doesn’t have to rely so heavily on human agents. If the query can be sorted in this way, great – and if not, the robot is clever enough to escalate the matter to its human counterpart.
This reduces the workload of human agents, giving them more time to spend on each interaction. It also makes it easier to respond to customers at any time of the day or night. Although it’s still important to have a human team in place, pairing them with AI means there’s they can focus on more in-depth queries, and provide better service overall.
At the end of the day, the customer’s main desire is to get their problem or inquiry resolved – and if that happens quickly and smoothly, they won’t mind if it was taken care of by a human or a robot.
5. Use social media to your advantage
Social media offers lots of possibilities for customer interaction and insight. But remember that social media users are accustomed to things happening fast. If customers contact you via this channel, they will have an even higher expectation of your response time.
The longer it takes you to respond, the more annoyed and frustrated the customer will get. Even if you resolve their query, they won’t necessarily be satisfied due to what they see as a delay.
According to one report, 37% of online customers expect a response in the first five minutes of asking a query. If not, they are likely to take their custom elsewhere and you’ll lose a valuable lead.
Your company should ensure it has a dedicated team of agents to respond to social media enquiries; people who are familiar with social media platforms and will get the tone of their responses right..
However, not all queries can adequately be dealt with on all channels. Occasionally, an enquiry received via social media would be better addressed on a different channel where you have more room to discuss the query and offer a resolution.
Don’t be afraid to suggest that a Twitter conversation might work better on email, or that step-by-step instructions would be easier to grasp over the phone. To improve your response times across multiple channels, use software that creates a creates a queue of inquiries all in one place.
Fast response times are vital in keeping customers engaged and retaining valuable leads, but make sure you don’t sacrifice the quality of your responses in the quest for speed.
It’s important not to overpromise. If the nature of a query means it’ll take time to resolve, manage the customer’s expectations by giving them an honest timeframe. Building trust with transparency is a great way to retain leads.
Remember, these improvements aren’t a one-off solution. Keep your processes under constant review and continue to analyse customer data and feedback, as well as looking out for the latest tech solutions.
Richard Conn – RingCentral US
Richard Conn is the Senior Director, Search Marketing for RingCentral, a global leader in unified communications and virtual phone system for small business.
He is passionate about connecting businesses and customers and has experience working with Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Experian, Target, Nordstrom, Kayak, Hilton, and Kia. Richard has written for sites such as Voilanorbert and Nextdoor.
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