By Cippy Seidler
Director, Consumer Care Center
Today’s customers have more ways than ever to purchase services or shop for products. There are also many ways to gain new customers, but the more challenging piece of the puzzle is to engage customers and make them feel like they are a part of your community. To help you meet these goals, I’d like to share my top five customer engagement and community-building strategies:
1. Leverage your Contact Center
In many cases, the contact center is the front door of your organization. This initial experience can determine if the customer makes a purchase or moves forward with your company. It is your first opportunity to engage with your customer. Sharing insights from your contact center with others in the company allows for the customer’s thoughts, concerns and feelings to be heard.
One way to share your customer insights is to create a panel where agents provide information on hot customer topics or customer concerns. Few people in your organization are on the pulse more than the contact center agents, yet how much do you ask for or use that information? My organization does surveys to see if the customer enjoyed the agents and had a pleasant and fulfilling experience, which is a critical performance metric, but this needs to be accompanied by the agent experience information. The agents have mountains of information about your customers, your products and the experience. That can be culled through call recordings and data management. A veteran agent however, can tell you a great deal more than you can ever get from the data. The key is to ask for or provide a forum where the agents can share.
One of my favorite contact center experiences involved a company that had quarterly meetings in a casual setting between senior executives and a representative agent panel just to talk about what the agents were hearing. This was a powerful opportunity for leadership to learn first-hand about the types of feedback the agents were receiving.
2. Be willing to listen to complaints
Yep, this one hasn’t changed in the last 30 years! Not listening to your customers or interrupting your customers is a way to actively disengage your customers. They have many choices and that can quickly drive them away. It is surprising just how many times a customer challenge can be resolved simply by listening. Sometimes it is a case of allowing the customer to vent, no matter how long that takes. Listening takes effort and concentration. It also takes some time, so allow your agents or customer service reps the time without “over metric managing” to complete the interaction. That little extra time pays for itself in the end with first call resolution, minimizing additional follow up needs, less angry social media rants etc.… These types of interactions are not limited to the phone or in-person. More and more are exclusively happening on social channels so you must be prepared to listen wherever the customer is “speaking.”
3. Invite your customers to your social community
Social Media is an amazing gift that companies have been given. The key is taking advantage of it. Most companies today know the importance of responding to customer posts but there are still many who are missing the vast opportunities that Social Media groups provide. Why not start on-line groups about products or services that are relevant to many of your customers?
Allow your customers to participate in groups on Facebook or Google, for example. It seems frightening at first to invite this kind of open discourse but as the groups mature and more customers join, the feedback will be more actionable and helpful for your company and your customers.
No matter what industry you are in, customers will provide you with information that you can take action on immediately as well: Customers sharing information about a defective product or a company store with understaffed return lanes, the clinic with the most responsive and timely call backs, the customer service rep who was consistently rude, or the agent that provided empathy and caring when handling a delicate situation. This is a way that customers can provide feedback directly to you. There are not many engagement tools more powerful than that. You can help control where that feedback comes from by creating forums for them to share. Customers want to feel good about their purchase or service and the easiest way to engage them in this arena is to ask them for their feedback and allow them to be a part of your community.
4. Find out about your customers
No one does this better than Amazon since they seem to know what you want before you actually know you want it, but many smaller companies can use basic analytics programs to understand how and when customers are shopping or using their services. Be sure to tie information together whenever possible.
One of the easiest and least expensive ways to engage your customers is by asking them. I was recently at a new dentist’s office. After the basic information was gathered, they asked me about what times of day and day of the week that I preferred to come in. Since I didn’t have another appointment to schedule, I asked if that was important and they said that they input that information to ensure that they are servicing customers when they need it and when it’s most convenient for them. (I’m in!) They also followed up with a brief survey about my experience, which allowed me to provide feedback. I felt that they were truly interested in me as a customer and in my opinion. I am much more engaged with the office than I would have been had they not asked for my thoughts and I am also more likely to return.
5. Make your content worthwhile
Customers become engaged when they have an opportunity to learn about the product they purchased. For instance, when I bought a new brand of phone, I went to the company website to learn about tips to enhance my user experience. Accordingly, make sure that your web content is robust and connects your customer to your organization more fully. For example, if your customer purchases new tires from you, your website could share tips for lengthening tire life or the hours of local free air pressure checks. If you’re in healthcare, and someone does a search for an obstetrician referral, why not present them with content related to the topic such as OB tours available in their area or a local educational session you are doing on childbirth?
There is an old service saying that to keep a customer demands as much skill as to win one. Engaging the customer in your business, making them part of your community and listening to their feedback are a few ways to add value to your customer experience and keep them coming back.
Cippy Seidler is an enthusiastic and engaged leader focused on providing a high-level customer experience through employee engagement and a commitment to excellence. In the span of 29 years, Cippy has served in leadership positions with retail organizations such as Liz Claiborne, Allen-Edmonds, and Zayre with a specialized focus on front-end customer engagement and retention, employee training and sales development.
Currently a Director of the Consumer Care Center with Banner Health, one of the largest, nonprofit health care systems in the country, she is responsible for driving performance across multiple service lines. As a certified Change Agent, Cippy is an advocate for change and is involved in leading and implementing change. Cippy's business philosophy is to embrace every challenge as an opportunity, approach it with enthusiasm, an open mind and a desire to make a positive difference.