Your Online Customer Service Needs To Get Better ASAP!

Chris CrumBusiness

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Thanks to technology it's now easier than ever for consumers to connect with businesses and vice versa. Still, businesses aren't doing the best job of taking advantage of this to provide their customers with the best service possible.

What do you use as your main channels for online customer service? Let us know in the comments.

PricewaterhouseCoopers recently found that 41% of consumers claimed to have had a positive experience with online customer service chats. Interestingly, just 4% of them cited social media as the channel of choice. Phone support (somehow) still trumps online customer service, according to PwC's findings, but online customer service is becoming increasingly important to consumers. Variety reports on the study:

Despite a growing willingness to contact companies through email or their websites, 81% of consumers still prefer phone calls with live agents over any other means of connecting with customer service teams. Eighty four percent of respondents had a positive experience using the phone, compared with 55% who had a successful resolution to their issues after raising problems via email and 41% who were happy using online chat.

People have grown more comfortable using a combination of digital and traditional avenues to reach customer service teams, with 47% of those surveyed using a hodgepodge approach. Respondents said that traditional channels are better suited to billing issues and questions about various products and services, while digital channels were most often used to checking the status of an account or to handle website issues.

Interestingly enough, most retailers (at least in the UK) actually say their customer service is better online than it is in their actual physical stores. Over two third of them to be exact, according to research from Dyn. NetImperative shares some highlights from that:

  • Over 57% of retailers think one of the biggest things consumers want to see when shopping online is the same quality of experience, while over 76% say the experience is not consistent
  • Over two-thirds of retailers think their customers get the best service online (website, mobile or app) compared to 25% who think the best customer service is in-store

"Retailers that perfect their customer service gain a significant competitive advantage over retailers who focus most of their efforts on delivering the latest and greatest products," says Gallup, which actually found that shopping online often makes customers less engaged.

Rieva Lesonsky at Small Business Trends recently analyzed the E-Tailing Group’s 17th Annual Mystery Shopping Study, looking at ecommerce customer service benchmarks businesses should be considering. These include benchmarks for self-serve information, online shopping carts, days to receive ordered products, order confirmations, quality of response times for customer service queries, and return policy.

"Of the 100 retailers surveyed, 83 percent have FAQs on-site," wrote Lesonsky. "However, only 26 percent offer the ability to search FAQs. Surprisingly, the percentage of sites that list customer service hours of operation dropped from 83 percent in 2013 to 77 percent in 2014. This is the type of basic information every business should include on its website."

Social media may not be the channel of choice for for consumers seeking customer service, but the fact that companies simply aren't doing very well at it may have something to do with that. Last summer, we looked at a study from Amdocs, which found that social media to be an emerging channel of preference for consumer seeking customer-care assistance, but that businesses were not delivering on expectations.

According to the study, 68% of service providers believe their customers take to social channels like Twitter and Facebook when they’re unable to reach a customer support person on the phone. 50% of consumers, however, actually prefer social media over the phone, it said.

50% of customers had tried to communicate with service providers for customer service on social media, but three quarters never received a response or resolution. 80% of those said they had no choice but to call.

That's a major problem. Contributing to that, according to the study, is that 93% of service providers can’t identify customers from their social media profiles while 64% don’t store social media interactions in their CRM database.

“Subscribers are increasingly reaching out to their service provider across social media for customer care but due to lack of customer insights service providers are only able to provide generic responses, leaving the customer feeling more frustrated.” said Shagun Bali, an analyst at Ovum, which contributed to the study. “However, if service providers link their customer’s social identity to the customer profile already stored in their CRM systems they can gain contextual knowledge of the customer, and as a result deliver a consistent response while improving customer satisfaction and cutting costs by increasing first call resolution (FCR).”

We also looked at data from Sprout Social, which found social media response rates and times to be dipping while user engagement exploded. Average brand response rates for both Twitter and Facebook dipped below 20% year over year, and response times increased from 10.9 hours to 11.3 hours. On Facebook, response times were at an average of 15 hours, while on Twitter they were 7.9.

This year, this is all still a problem. Forbes calls customer service the "ignored side of social media," reporting from a panel where the subject came up a few months ago. It quotes Dennis Stoutenburgh, co-founder of Stratus Contact Solutions: “A year ago, when [consumers] got a social media response from a brand on a customer care issue, they were pleasantly surprised. We’re getting to the point now that if companies don’t respond, they will have a black mark against them.”

In January, SocialBakers released some interesting findings about how the nature of Twitter brand mentions is changing.

“From a sweeping sample of 860 brands we’ve monitored since New Years Day 2012 (back when planking, Nyan Cat, and Rebecca Black’s immortal Friday were all things), we found that mobile mentions of brands have grown 7.6 times – even though their number of total monthly active users only grew 2.4 times,” said Socialbakers analyst Phillkip Ross. “The implication is huge for brands. That means that Twitter users are increasingly leaning on mobile apps to both talk about brands and seek out customer service."

Twitter customer service specifically is poised to become more critical than ever thanks to a deal between Google and Twitter, which will more heavily inject tweets into Google search results in real time. We recently had a conversation with Conversocial CEO Joshua March about how this will impact customer service, and a brand's reputation if that's not handled well.

“The biggest challenge and opportunity for businesses using Twitter for customer service is that every interaction is now amplified,” he told us. “Whether that’s a complaint from a customer or the company’s response, the agreement between Google and Twitter places a greater spotlight on each interaction.”

“When a customer is searching on Google for a business, Tweets from customers about issues or bad service experiences could be on the front page," March added. "If businesses have a social first approach to customer service then they can tackle these quickly and head on, creating positive engagements that will show up instead. This deal has the potential to accelerate the kind of service-related Twitter crises many brands have already experienced.”

“For companies with a social first approach who are committed to delivering excellent, fast and authentic social customer service, the agreement between Google and Twitter has the ability to spotlight them, and make it very obvious to customers that they care. Companies that have successfully integrated various social media into their customer service DNA should be very excited by the agreement.”

Google is actually working on some other things that might help businesses handle customer service on the search front. The company is testing a new feature that would enable a business to live chat from the search results page.

According to a recent Oracle study, 88% of companies say they think they're making significant progress in modern customer service, but things like poor knowledge management, customer visibility, and reliance on traditional channels/metrics are holding them back.

What are the biggest issues you have in dealing with customer service? Discuss.

Chris Crum

Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.