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Digital customer service is the present and future for many companies — even traditional brick and mortar businesses have started servicing customers online.
This shift has led to a number of challenges and opportunities. Customers use multiple channels (more and more as time passes) and go through complex digital buying journeys. At the same time, they want increasingly more personalized experiences and innovative support.
How do you meet these evolving customer expectations? Start here — we put together a guide to help you offer superior digital customer service and stand out from competition.
What is digital customer service?
Digital customer service is a company’s collective efforts to engage customers through digital means. This includes delivering support and marketing processes over digital channels, like live chat, email, video chat, chatbots, or text messaging.
Despite in-person buying still very much being in the picture, the bigger part of customer journeys has gone digital. People research items or services online, check websites and reviews, and use digital means to ask questions or comment on brands. These behaviors shape the face of digital customer service that companies offer.
Why is digital customer service important?
Digital customer service can help you increase customer satisfaction and reduce costs. Even just being accessible online is a massive plus for the increasingly well-informed and curious modern consumer.
In fact, good online service is downright expected by most customers. Many prefer using digital channels to get in touch with companies, as it’s faster and more convenient. Reducing customer effort by helping them find the answers they seek in the way they want is key.
In other words, offering thoughtful digital experiences can be a big differentiator between you and your competitors.
Examples of digital customer service
Every digital interaction customers have with a company online to get information or resolve issues counts as digital customer service — no matter the channel, time, or device it happens on. Examples include:
- Searching for an answer in a company’s help center / knowledge base
- Asking a question in live chat
- Clicking on a personalized offer presented by a chatbot
- Sending a message on a messaging app
- Calling support (many companies have digitized their call centers)
- Troubleshooting problems via innovative customer service technology like cobrowsing or video chat
- Posting on social media about a positive or negative experience
The takeaway is: no channel is too small to be part of your overall digital customer service strategy. Customer journeys are complex and you need to take into account multiple customer touchpoints to offer the best experience.
How to improve digital customer service
Each company will have their own strategies depending on their particular audience and expectations. But, here’s a list of digital customer service best practices you can use as a rule of thumb:
Ensure the basics work well
Before you get into the complex stuff, like artificial intelligence or visual search, make sure that the core pillars of digital customer service are effective: namely, your website and contact center.
User experience for website visitors can be a deciding factor of how they view your brand. Consider, for instance, that 53 percent of people are likely to abandon their online purchase if they can’t find a quick answer to their question. This means that your FAQs, knowledge base, product pages (or product descriptions) are essential to providing good service.
We should also give a nod to aesthetics — a well-designed and attractive website is more likely to capture the attention of customers.
Additionally, make sure your contact center is well-staffed and has the customer service processes and technology to field requests efficiently. That’s the bare minimum your customers expect from you.
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We’ve been hearing about this a lot the past few years. And that’s because the number of digital channels available keeps rising, and customers now expect you to meet them where they are.
This presents a great challenge: how can you be sure that you’re covering all bases? And how can you personalize experiences when the same customer can contact you in multiple ways at different times?
That’s where an omnichannel strategy and implementing omnichannel technology come in. This way, you can do two things:
- Be present on as many digital channels as possible to cater to wider audiences
- Integrate all these channels fully to unify customer conversations and data
So, to become truly omnichannel, collect data on what channels are most popular with your customers (you can even ask them!). Some channels that make sense no matter what your industry is:
- Live chat
- SMS messaging (plus WhatsApp, Viber, etc.)
- Video chat
- Social media
- Knowledge base
- Email / Shared inbox
Start looking for a platform where these channels can co-exist and the associated data be kept in a centralized location.
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Invest in digital customer service skills
Customer service, whether it’s happening online or offline, involves the same overarching abilities, like good communication, patience, and a positive attitude. But especially with digital service, your teams need to have the skills to navigate the complexities of the online world.
Here are some skills to invest in:
- Tech-savviness. This one’s a must — your customer-facing teams need to know how to use technology fast so as to not leave customers hanging.
- Succinctness. Good communication takes many forms, but on mediums like live chat, email, social media, or messaging, the more concise the better.
- Problem-solving. A timeless skill that’s always important for issue resolution in customer service teams. According to research, the most frustrating aspect of a poor customer service experience is an agent’s inability to resolve the issue.
- Empathy. It’s often easier to sympathize with someone when you see them face-to-face. But, it can be difficult online — especially in written form where interpreting emotions can be tricky. That’s why your team needs to enhance their empathy when offering digital customer service.
- Knowledge. Whether you’re in SaaS or consumer goods or services, your team needs to have deep knowledge of your offering. After all, 33 percent of customers indicate that speaking with a knowledgeable agent is the most important aspect of a good customer service experience.
Train your team in these skills (at least) to help them provide more personable and pleasant experiences. And as a tip: your knowledge base / help center shouldn’t just be for your customers. Ensure your agents have the same access to material they can use to find quick answers and solve issues.
Implement conversational CX
The concept of digital “conversations” rather than digital interactions is fairly new, but it seems that it will play a big part in the future of customer service.
Being conversational means that each time you communicate with a customer, you know who they are, as well as their interaction history, so you can talk to them with context. Each interaction isn’t just a support ticket or an ad-hoc question. It’s a part of an ongoing relationship with a person.
This is the key to effective personalization, too. At the core of conversational customer experience, there’s a system to unify data into individual customer profiles. That way, both your software (e.g. your CRM or CX platform) and your teams can better understand each customer’s expectations based on previous purchases, questions, knowledge base searches, conversions, and more.
And this approach also solves one of the bigger problems with disparate support processes: the fact that customers often need to repeat themselves when they’re transferred from agent to agent, or when they contact your company again at other times or via other channels. With omnichannel customer profiles that track conversations, all the information needed is available at any time or to any person who has access.
Try AI chatbots
Technology is central to every aspect of digital customer service, but AI deserves its own mention.
Chatbots have become popular as a support tool. You can often find them in the corners of webpages waiting patiently for attention. When customers have a question, they can send a message to the chatbot and get information without having to reach an agent. This saves time for both your team and the customer. And the chatbot will be there 24/7, ready to speak to anyone who needs it.
But chatbots can be even more powerful than that. For example, with triggers, you can get them to pop up and engage a visitor when they perform a specific action, e.g. look at pricing or specific products. The chatbot can offer help, personalized recommendations, ask questions, and more.
If you’re thinking of implementing a chatbot, or want to refine your existing one, check out our complete guide to chatbots.
Refine your data and feedback collection
Without good-quality data, you can’t be sure what resonates with your customers. But, making sense of the data management processes that work for your company can be difficult.
The usual culprit is data silos. If data isn’t unified, insights are unreliable.
Thankfully, there are ways to centralize your customer data. If you go omnichannel, like we mentioned, then raw data from digital interactions will be automatically collected and stored in a single location. If that location is a customer experience platform, you’ll also have the ability to get reports and track dashboards with important metrics.
The other element is actual customer feedback. Social listening, analyzing reviews, sending NPS or CSAT surveys are all important ways to understand your customers and the market. For this to work, you just need a deliberate approach — have dedicated team members to practice social listening, read and respond to reviews, and analyze survey responses. Technology, and often an external consultant, can help you put all of that in place.
Digital customer service is here to stay. The more effective it is, the better for your customers and your brand. One great way to find what your audiences want is to walk a mile in their (virtual) shoes. Just go through a basic buyer’s journey for your product or service and see how people find out about and interact with your brand. Then, work to streamline each touchpoint. The result will be better service and happier customers.