I was first introduced to the concept of making meaningful connections with customers several years ago while attending a webinar hosted by the customer support leaders at Zappos. Zappos, of course, is the company that the late Tony Hsieh made famous for being a service company that just so happens to sell shoes.
The idea of connecting with customers was life-changing for me as a customer service professional and leader. And I love that we’ve made it a critical part of our mission statement at NumberBarn:
We believe behind every telephone number there’s a beautiful idea, opportunity, or person. We strive to create those meaningful connections every day.
But I’ve realized that the idea of connecting with customers doesn’t make a difference without intentionality. The idea is relegated to something that makes us feel good, but rarely results in enhanced customer experience
In this post, I’m going to get practical — really, really practical — about how we connect with our customers. Not just once, but again and again, day in and day out. Let’s dive into three very practical ways we strive to meaningfully connect with our customers at NumberBarn.
1. Use canned responses (the right way) to connect with customers
I know. I realize that I lost most of you with the mere mention of a canned response. You may also know them as scripts, templates or macros.
Regardless of what we call them, we’ve all had those impersonal experiences with different customer service teams. We expect to interact with human beings, but instead, we receive worthless information copy-and-pasted by
robots the legal department. Heck, we’re lucky if they remembered to replace [Insert Customer Name Here] with your actual name.
To make it very clear, that’s the WRONG way to use a canned response. That behavior should be abolished if your desire is to meaningfully connect with customers. Instead, it’s time to recognize that these canned responses are tools to make your customer support team better. Here are a couple of key purposes they serve:
- Save time for the customer support team by eliminating the need to type out the same, repetitive explanation over and over again.
- Ensure you’re conveying consistently correct and thorough information to customers every time.
When it comes to connecting with our customers, this gets us part of the way there. We must then select an appropriate canned response and tailor it to address ALL the customer’s issues. It’s then important to personalize it to assure the customer that a human, not a robot, sent the response. I spend more time on the topic of macros on CustomerThink if you’d like to dig a bit deeper.
And this leads us to the second way to meaningfully connect with customers.
2. Train your customer support team to recognize the personal cues to connect with customers
Especially in cases where canned responses are heavily practiced, customer support agents need to be trained in their use. Canned responses might make sending out those technical, multi-step explanations easier, but that doesn’t make supporting customers easier.
In our training, we must focus on infusing the human element into every customer interaction.
Customers often (not always) drop personal cues in their messages. Our ability to recognize those and tailor our responses can make a difference. There are times we experience sad, upset or frustrated customers and we need to take time to respond with empathy. In other cases, they’re excited or up to something cool and we can acknowledge everything that’s good about that.
Let me give you a couple of examples from the world of NumberBarn to help you better understand what I’m talking about.
Connecting with customers traveling abroad
It’s not uncommon for a customer to port their US or Canada phone number to NumberBarn while they live abroad.
For a few dollars per month, they can keep their number, continue to receive text messages, and forward calls to an international destination. By canceling that wireless plan they won’t be using, they stand to save a good amount of money monthly.
When these customers contact us, they can expect that we’ll help them port their number and inform them of the cost of international call forwarding. But the customer can also expect that we’ll wish them a safe and healthy voyage to their destination.
Connecting with customers with a new, pet-focused business
We love helping customers find the perfect telephone number for their business, especially after our recent Vanity Number Study revealed that nearly 85% of people are likely to remember a vanity number after seeing or hearing it in an advertisement.
Speaking of businesses that serve pets, just go try entering “WOOF” or “MEOW” or “OINK” (our personal fav) on our number search page. You’ll see that we have thousands of catchy, reasonably priced options to choose from. And you can expect that our team will help guide you to the perfect number. But, recognizing that you love pets, they might ask you a bit about your business or even want to hear more about your dog, cat, or pig.
Those are the sorts of connections we’re looking for: Humans connecting with other humans. So how do we make sure we don’t miss these cues? That’s where the third recommendation comes in.
3. Coach your customer support staff with consistent quality assurance
If the mention of canned responses didn’t evoke a negative reaction for you, there’s a good chance that quality assurance (QA) will. For anyone who’s worked in a contact center, they know QA to be a process of evaluating customer interactions according to a checklist. Agents succeed or fail based on their ability to complete all of the items on the list and rarely does this translate to a great experience for a customer.
Without going into too much detail, here are the steps to ensuring that your QA efforts boost customer connection:
Define what connecting with customers looks and sounds like
Take the time to clearly define the measurable actions and behaviors required to connect with a customer, along with the other keys to successful customer interactions.
These could be simple behaviors like greeting the customer, thanking them for their business, acknowledging and empathizing with their issue, and responding to personal cues. There will likely be other items required during customer interactions but that’s for another post.
Communicate this to your customer support team
Now that you’ve set a standard for the quality of your customer interactions, communicate that to your team. In my experience, most employees want to do a good job but may not fully understand what’s expected of them.
Regularly check customer interactions
The act of regularly reviewing customer interactions is the real work of QA. Assess based on your preset criteria and then take the time to review the interactions with agents. Be sure to reinforce what they did well and make sure they clearly understand how and where they can improve.
Continuously improve the process
You should be seeing improved customer connection and this should result in improvement to some of your key metrics like customer satisfaction, first contact resolution, and others. If that’s not happening, it might be time to adjust your criteria until you’re pinpointing the right behaviors.
Can you see how we have moved away from those feel-good experiences I spoke of earlier? Our aim is instead to systematically and consistently make meaningful connections with our customers every time we interact with them.
Think about your last five interactions with customer service folks (not including NumberBarn) and I’m guessing that most experiences weren’t terribly memorable. In fact, some companies set the bar really low.
Customer service and experience expert, Shep Hyken sums this up so well when he says, “You don’t have to ‘Wow!’ The customer all of the time. You simply have to be better than average — all of the time.” Consistently connecting with customers over time can make a HUGE difference.
As I conclude, we love to talk about phone numbers here at NumberBarn, but we also LOVE to talk about customer service and customer experience — especially when it means that we’re helping our customers make meaningful connections with their customers. Leave us a comment or feel free to contact our customer support team and send a note to my attention. I’d love to chat more about how we can help you and your business.