Barry Moltz published his annual list of customer service trends on Small Business Trends. His list is as follows:
- The time to react to your customer is shrinking.
OS thoughts: I call these customers “leeches” because they are a time and resource drain with often very little ROI. They are the same people who spend $9.00 at lunch, drink water, pay $10.00 for everything, and expect you to bend over backwards for them at the snap of their fingers. That said, they are the most vocal/viral of customers because of their self-indulgence (see trend #2), so you can’t exactly treat them differently as you would your most valued patrons. I’m not sure how companies will be able to “fire” these customers unless they were an online store, as opposed to bricks-mortar.
- Customer service has become the new marketing.
OS thoughts: Great point here. Small retailers need to pay special attention to this. They typically lack the pro-activeness to monitor customer satisfaction/dissatisfaction because they think their business is small potatoes. Small maybe true, but any negative comments can (and will) severely hinder your potential for new customers, especially given the competitive arena for every product or service out there and the convenience of testimonials right at your fingertips.
- You can find out exactly where your customers are talking about your company.
OS thoughts: Some websites and forums are quite obvious depending on your industry (e.g. Yelp.com or Urbanspoon.com for food & beverage) – chances are, someone has reviewed your business if you’ve been around for more than 6 months. A simple Bing or Google search of your company name typically reveals a number of sites where it may show up. It’s a good idea to scroll through more than just the first 2 pages of search results, as many small or local sites don’t necessarily have strong SEO to enhance their page rankings.
- The “social support” experience grows.
OS thoughts: At the present time, I think the interaction between customers are still heavily emphasized in certain realms of products, and specifically products that are mass-produced (e.g. clothing, gadgets). If a small retailer is a re-seller of such items as cell phones or sunglasses, it would be valuable to explore these community sites and see what customer concerns are out there that can be addressed the next time someone walks through the door to purchase the same thing.
- Faster resolution of customer service issues through blog and social media site comments.
OS thoughts: Blackberry does a great job of posting answers to technical questions on Twitter for everybody to see (at least the ones who follow @blackberry) – I can’t think of the last time I visited Blackberry.com’s FAQ page. That being said, there are obvious limitations, as personal account details, billing information, etc. cannot be made public. On the whole, many people prefer to search rather than to call somebody for help, so it’s important to keep that in mind and utilize it to your company’s advantage.
- Integration of Web customer service and traditional phone support.
OS thoughts: A specific application like Parature for Facebook does have a monetary cost associated with it, so it’s unlikely a small business owner would need to jump on this solution in the short term. However, the process of seeking and monitoring customers and prospects’ commentary needs to be complemented by response. It’s no longer sound business to ignore what people are saying, or worse yet, be totally unaware of what they are saying.
- More self service.
OS thoughts: Again the idea of a small retailer or restaurant installing a kiosk in their store isn’t always economically viable (or esthetically pleasing), but the concept can be adopted in other lower cost ways. A perfect example is leveraging the use of smartphones. Granted that you have the ability to set up a mobile-compatible website or a smartphone/iphone app, you provide customers with the convenience of looking up product SKU’s and conducting their own research. Or to offer some more basic, some handy hard-copy product guides scattered throughout your store (e.g. Home Depot). You or your staff may not always be readily available to assist, nor is your assistance necessarily always welcomed, so self-service should always be an available option.
- Faux personalization becomes an expectation.
OS thoughts: It used to be that frequenting a watering hole like Cheers was always a comforting experience because everybody knows your name – but it was never, pardon the expression…the Norm. Just because one place knew who you were didn’t mean that you expected every other place to do the same. That might be changing now, at least in online shopping. With how e-commerce has evolved, it is pretty simple to implement a variety of tools and preferences to help shoppers customize their profile and shopping experience. For bricks and mortars, going the extra mile to remember names can go a long way for customer loyalty because many have neglected it altogether. Think about the last time you went to a store or restaurant and a staff member acknowledged you – how did it make you feel?
- Retail stores are now an experience.
OS thoughts: Barry mentioned Apple and Brookstone in his post, but the ones that resonates the most with me are Ikea and Chapters/Indigo. Consider the length of time that you spend at either of these stores over any other. Ikea is like the yellow brick road – full of surprises, while Chapters/Indigo feels like a grand library with a cozy coffee shop. Because it’s so easy to shop online nowadays, there’s no reason to spend an obscene amount of time on industrious window shopping. For groceries, don’t forget about Costco and their famous food sampling booths – I swear I’ve gotten full just making my rounds.
- You need to chat.
OS thoughts: Another technology trend that may need to come down in price before it becomes feasible for smaller retailers. But as I mentioned above, the use of social media applications like Twitter and Facebook can be a good starting point (although response time would depend on the business). Some businesses have even created a specific Windows Messenger Account to accept live chat support. Regardless of medium, the most important thing is to stay on top of it.
- Online inventory tracking from your customer’s phone.
OS thoughts: Not all businesses have this capability, but it’s worth noting. Remember all the times you’ve gone to Footlocker, only to sit there for 10 minutes and have them tell you they didn’t have your size? Saving such grief is a potential life-saver for consumers, but how can your business survive if nobody’s visiting? How can you upsell? By countering this with trend #9, and giving people another reason to visit than just buying a product, you can again build on your customer loyalty.
See the full run down of Barry’s own incite into each trend. Do you agree or disagree?