In today's service world, the bar is set by the most progressive brands. Their activity is frictionless, well thought-out and offers customer interactions that surprise and delight.
That’s impressive because, so often in the past, customer service was seen as a cost item, a necessary 'after-sales' investment to retain customers. But today customer expectations have skyrocketed. People expect immediate answers and solutions, and a consistent brand experience across all channels they use.
This customer expectation economy has created a state in which rising consumer expectations come to the fore. It’s worth looking in more detail at the Customer Service Experience Pyramid to understand this.
The Customer Service Experience Pyramid
In the past, brands often approached the Customer Service Experience Pyramid as a cost and effort saving exercise but the pyramid is there to help you consider options and apply the most relevant option for your brand - it's never 'one size fits all'. It's vital to investigate what role service should play in your business. For example, well-organized customer service can be a great brand builder. If a company is in the premium segment, 'service' can mean that (potential) buyers are directly connected to experts.
For brands that have a cost-efficient approach to service, or face enormous volumes, other challenges apply. A large community of peer-to-peer experts and fans may be able to help other customers do the same work. This reduces costs per case handled and provides credible service. In this way, they still meet the expectations of consumers who need service.
Dissecting the pyramid
Experts and Customer Service: This is often the most costly, and time-consuming, method of customer service, but also the most efficient. Many customer questions are repetitive and can be answered easily over time using technology. By quickly recognizing these types of questions and understanding which channel is used by the customer, you can save time and money on the operational part of customer service (for example, by implementing chatbot functionality or automated self-serving).
The art of online service is in keeping the human tone. A tricky balance, but with this efficiency you free time for other things – for instance, webcare and webdare (proactively engaging in online conversations). Social listening is a good way to go, you'll find out what is being said about your brand and related topics.
Peer-to-peer service: Like it or not, customers share their experiences about your brand and products. Those experiences are often considered more reliable than your own ads. By actively managing peer reviews and brand ambassadors, you contribute to sales by reaching prospects with convincing experience from existing consumers.
This is not equally relevant for all brands and products. Some lend themselves better to community building than others. However, even if you’re more a ‘functional’ brand than a ‘love’ brand, you can mobilize these ambassadors and bring them together in, for example, a Facebook group, where they can share their experiences with each other.
Self-service: Consumers want to become more and more self-sufficient. 81% indicate that they prefer to look for a solution themselves first, before calling in the help of an employee (Harvard Business Review). In addition, 91% would like to make use of an online knowledge base, provided it is available and contributes to a solution (ibid).
The road to answers via Google is the first step for many before they actually pick up the phone. You can prepare for this by setting up your website properly and clearly with FAQs and applying the best SEO. Technology that provides insight into the entire customer service process helps to get the right answers to the right people as quickly as possible - finding answers without friction.
It could be time to unleash your chatbot, too. In addition to the traditional routes of offering customer service, new channels are being added. Some 64% say they'd rather receive a message than a phone call from a company/brand. In addition, 76% prefer to send a message to a brand for help with a product or service (Zendesk). Messengers or chat interactions can make a huge contribution to your customer service.
And voice assistants offer possibilities too. Although the likes of Alexa, Google Home and Siri are (generally) not yet used for customer service, this will be the next step. Through the voice assistant you can contact your customer service directly, and Merkle has already built voice assistants for Europcar & NS, among others. (If you’d like to learn more about how voice search could boost your brand, you can sign up for our webinar ‘Giving Your Brand A Voice’ here.)
The side note of a linear model
The pyramid model is clear and suggests that the service process is a linear one, but reality has become more unruly and increasingly complex in recent years. Different target groups have varied service preferences across products and services, and a whole range of help requests. Research into the preferences of millennials shows that they prefer to engage in chat interactions for simple questions, such as arranging account details and requesting information. Calling is preferred for complex questions and sensitive information (Sharon K. Hodge, Earl D. Honeycutt & Danica Shipley (2019) Toward an Improved Understanding of Online Customer Service Delivery to Millennials, Services Marketing Quarterly, 40:1, 33-47). Older people are more inclined to pick up the phone for many help requests and attach more value to personal handling. So the question is not ‘which layer of the pyramid applies to us?’ but ‘how do we align all of the layers of this pyramid to our brand’s customer needs?’
More sales with customer service
When putting the customer first, there is no better route than to invest in your customer service staff and the data they collect through the technology they use. Your teams talk to existing customers and prospects on a daily basis and sense where the pain or reluctance to purchase a product or service lies. They can identify many opportunities to optimise the service experience – inevitably leading to more sales.
If you’re still wondering how customer service can contribute significantly to business then be sure to read our white paper: ‘In the customer expectation economy, service will be the key driver of sales’. You’ll discover, among other things, the role of customer service in the entire customer journey.
Still have questions about your brand’s customer service? Do reach out and contact us.