Email or social media: empathy and listening are key in customer service

Joseph jaffe the customer service manifesto Recently I wrote about Joseph Jaffe’s Customer Service Manifesto. Now, Joseph doesn’t mean customer service as most of us interprete it (problem solving, etc.). However, in this post I will use the term in its more traditional sense.

Today we are using all possible channels to provide customer service to our customers. As I wrote earlier, people demand 24/24 and 7/7.

And I don’t mind adding to it that people have inflated expectations and sometimes demands that are exaggerated. We live in a society of instant gratification and, to be honest, I personally find this rather sad.

Customers and businesses will increasingly include social media. There are lots of examples of companies using Twitter for customer service purposes successfully. However, there are also lots of examples of companies doing it without success. That does not have to be because they do it wrong. It can depend from the type of customers they have (is your customer on Twitter?), what kind of products and services they sell and where they are based.

Why would you offer a customer service channel on Twitter if your average customer is not really using it? A good reason might be because some use it. However, why do it for this small percentage? Because chances are that these customers are influencers, using various social networking platforms and tech-savvy. 

If you don’t offer the possibility, these customers will probably complain about it sooner or later. And, finally, another  reason might be that tomorrow’s customer will be on Twitter, seeking for customer service.

A plethora of online customer service tools but do people use them?

Now, I’m using the example of Twitter but of course there is much more. Live chat on your website, a Skype button, one of those many 2.0 customer service platforms in the cloud that you can embed in all your online and social media presences, the list is long.

What does reality show? That call centers, customer service departments, etc. are mainly contacted by traditional channels such as email, telephone and even letters. 

A call center report, I wrote about earlier, showed that call centers often offer more customer service possibilities than their customers use (!), including Twitter, Instant Messaging, live chat, etc.

Another survey, dating from end of last year, by Trinicom, a Dutch vendor of Customer Interaction Management and web based self-service solutions, found that the main functions that customers expect to find on a website are…an email address and a telephone number.   

Email, the research, said, is still the most popular tool to ask questions to a company.

A fax number was the least important in 2009, in 2008 the last place was for chatboxes. So there is life for all kinds of live contact chat tools. But still: the traditional customer service channels are the most preferred.

When sending an email to the customer service of a company, 54.5% of the respondents expected at least a notification that the mail had been received and in what timeframe it would be answered.

Are you listening to me?

57% of the respondents stated that it should be easy to ask questions on a website and that information should be easy to find. It’s probably not a coincidence that customer service is moving more online.

Customers further seemed to have positive customer service experiences if their questions and problems were rapidly and accurately addressed, if the customer service operator showed empathy and listened well, if the people they talked to for their questions were friendly and willing to go just that little bit further to help them out.

Bad experiences included long waiting times, customer service collaborators that are rude or not qualified to meet the customers’ issues and being sent from one person to another.

So, in the end, what matters is the quality and speed of customer service interactions and a personal approach.

And although channels such as email still play a leading role, you can be sure that customer service requests via social media and Web 2.0 platforms will continue to rise.   

However, what matters more than the platforms as such is how personal your interactions will be: empathy, listening and going that little bit further…

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