The Internet user is an impatient customer. Always plugged in, often through multiple devices and living a large part of their lives online, so they naturally expect uninterrupted service. They have less patience to deal with glitches and problems, expect immediate resolution (or at least an accelerated one) and can be vocal if they have to wait.
And with Internet products and services, growth happens at an exponential rate. Scaling up customer care programs by increasing team sizes in a linear fashion is not practical. Teams need to stay lean and agile — yet deliver service at the pace and level the customer expects. In designing customer care programs, we must take this into account — tailoring it with automation, data, community management, proactive approaches to anticipating issues and integrating user feedback into products and services. Excellent customer service often calls for approaches that seem counterintuitive at first glance.
To accommodate these users and growth, we’ve tried and implemented several tactics in our customer care program at Yahoo. From serving more than 1 billion users at scale, we’ve adopted an approach that looks far beyond just resolving issues and instead goes entrepreneurial, with an always-on focus on engaging and delighting users across all touchpoints. Here are five simple strategies that can get your customer care teams on the path to success:
1.Think beyond issue resolution.
The smartest way to delight your user is to immediately learn from an issue, gather data and metrics, and feed it right back to the products, technology and engineering that power your offerings. For example, at Yahoo, we designed and implemented a program called “Voice of Customer (VoC),” a frontline layer that channels insights and data gathered from issues users face, and routes them to our product managers. In many ways, it adds to the focus groups the product teams would usually conduct for a deeper insight into user needs. As a result of running the VoC, we’ve been able to implement user-requested changes even to our flagship products such as Yahoo Mail and Sports. With Yahoo Sports, we allowed users to make last-minute changes to their Daily Fantasy lineup, and added schedules and an ownership percentage for players. In Yahoo Finance, user feedback shaped the unlimited watchlist for stocks. We use a tool called UserVoice in these products (and across 80 percent of products across Yahoo), which utilizes a voting mechanism that helps us prioritize our external requests.
2. Don’t wait for complaints.
A fundamental shift in customer care is in moving the starting point. Instead of initiating a conversation in reply to a complaint, make the whole process far more proactive by engaging with the community. When community managers reach out to customers, it generates more personalized feedback and deeper insights. One of the best examples is how Tumblr operates: the community managers sit within the product teams. This allows trends and commentary from the community to reach the product teams almost in real time, making it possible for them to anticipate issues and solve problems very quickly — even before complaints can be raised. Many brands benefit from focus-group interactions, which are centered on not only identifying explicit frustrations, but also latent needs that can be built into products.
3. Get internal buy-in: everyone should be invested.
Customer care is the front line, but one needs internal buy-in to be able to deliver a seamless experience to the user. It is incredibly important to share the vision of of the customer care organization with other teams — products, tech, engineering, marketing, sales, legal and company leadership. Partnering across cross-functional teams is the necessary premise to come up with creative solutions, and move fast and with more certainty.
4. Be consistent (not a hero).
Being consistent in how we address a concern, and making sure that’s aligned to the first expectation we set with the customer, is key to earning credibility. While going the extra mile is a good approach for exceptions, encouraging a “hero” culture is not. Being a hero to a customer can delight them once — but if it’s not an expectation that can be met every single time, we have basically set the premise for future disappointments.
5. You are as good as you finish.
The last touchpoint with a customer is how they are likely to remember the entire experience. Users are far more willing to let go of an unhappy past experience if the final resolution is what they were looking for; and, conversely they will not celebrate great customer service if their last touchpoint lets them down. It’s incredibly important that we finish strong. Focus on the last mile, always.
Customer care of any organization is a window to its real culture. In developing and deploying customer care programs, teams need to remember this. It’s not as much about how many problems we solved today, as how much of our positive culture did we extend to our users. Did we give our users an experience that inspires loyalty and that will make them champion us? This means following up with our most important customers through an escalated “concierge” team to ensure that they are pleased with the help they’ve gotten. Even if they are not happy, the process of accepting feedback is important and leaves the customer with the truth that they matter and that their experience is important to us.