Responsiveness in customer service matters, so why are some brands struggling?

Being available for customers - Shep Hyken quotePoor responsiveness in customer service can feel like it’s the norm to some consumers. On the flipside, that can be a blessing for brands that have great responsiveness in their customer service. They stand out in a positive way.

I remember the brands that make things easy for me. For example, I was driving one day when my car ended up with a flat tire. It was just before 5 p.m., and I wasn’t that far from my regular car repair shop. I called and asked if they could help.

“Of course, we can. Do you need a tow?”

I didn’t need a tow, as I was just half a block away, but the offer certainly felt responsive. And it was awesome that they were able to get me in and get my car fixed so close to closing time.

Many customers have been in the situation where we try to reach a brand for a variety of reason. We:

  • want to buy something.
  • need something fixed on the product.
  • have a question.
  • and so on…

Some brands make this more difficult than it needs to be. But the ones that make it easy stand out.

The other day, my AirPod Pros weren’t working and I contacted Apple through their website. I thought that might be a difficult process. I was wrong. They auto-called me right away and even let me pick my own hold music. That’s a nice gesture since I wasn’t on hold very long. “Push 1 for contemporary…”

I had to sent the headphones in for repair, a process that Apple made super easy. They sent a box, then returned them a few days later – repaired.

Good and quick service like that really does stand out.

Reaching somebody at a company

Sometimes it’s harder than necessary to reach a company. Some customer service responsiveness is especially bad when the outcome for the brand is less than positive – for example, when somebody wants to downgrade or cancel a service. We’ve all been in situations where it’s almost impossible to cancel. You can’t do it online and have to call a number that’s only answered during super restrictive hours.

Other times, customers get a hold of somebody, but feel like they aren’t being heard or their problem isn’t being addressed satisfactorily. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Maybe some businesses don’t even realize their responsiveness is bad? Run a video survey to find out what your customers are saying.

In large part because of the invention and market penetration of smartphones, many people expect everything instantaneously, said David Cancel, CEO of Drift, during an interview with Ryan Barry of Zappi during the 2021 Virtual Insight Summit.

“We want to buy the way we want to buy,” David said. “People want to do everything 24/7 but when you look at our businesses we run a 9-5, no weekends, no holidays schedules. That worked in a world where a company controlled the process.”

Today, competition in many verticals is fierce and companies that have that great product with a great customer experience can win.

Read next: How a customer experience program can help your business

What we call our customers could affect responsiveness

Many behaviors do come back to mindset. That’s no different in customer service. How we think of our customers can also make a difference in how we treat them. Are they just a number? Do we think of them as a person?

There certainly are a ton of different words to describe the people who buy from a business.

  • Customer
  • User
  • Person
  • Human
  • Client
  • Partner
  • Neighbor

But what we call them can make a difference.

“Hey neighbor!”

Customer experience legend Shep Hyken mentioned on an episode of “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show” the story of an Ace Hardware store that called all its customers “neighbor.” So when somebody walked into the store, an employee would greet them “Hey, neighbor.” That’s certainly a friendly way to talk to each other and can help establish that positive – dare I say, neighborly – relationship.

“You can’t say ‘Hey, customer,'” Shep quipped. “That doesn’t sound right.”

The term customer is a bit generic and maybe even “dehumanizing,” Shep said. Calling customers people or persons can actually humanize the relationship, he added.

“You are not just an object of a sale,” he said.

“You are not just a revenue metric,” Jenn added.

Read next: Ring also calls its customers neighbors. Makes sense as Ring cameras are becoming part of many neighborhoods.

What does it mean for a company to be accessible?

From a customer experience perspective, it comes down to how easy  it is for customers to interact with your brand. That can include:

  • Hours
  • Location
  • Other ways that customers want to reach you

“Think about Walmart,” Shep said. “Ninety percent of the population in North America is within 10 minutes of a Walmart. Now think about that. That’s accessible. And let’s say you are in a busy city. New York City. And you want a coffee. There’s a Starbucks on, like, every corner.”

Of course, hours of operation can make a huge differentiator for some businesses. If your competing car shop closes at 5 p.m., staying open until 9 can help you connect with that segment of people who have to work until 5 and can’t get away before then.

“That accessibility means, as a customer I don’t have to work around their schedule,” Shep said. “I can work around more convenient hours to me.”

Responsiveness doesn’t mean you have to be available

That doesn’t mean customers need to be able to reach you by phone in the middle of the night.

Shep shared the story of when he bought a Ping-Pong table from a German company. The assembly was difficult, and Shep called the company, but they were closed as it was outside business hours. “But don’t people put together Ping-Pong tables at night or the weekends?” Shep asked.

But the company’s  website shared a video showing, step-by-step, how to put the Ping-Pong table together.

“It saved me hours. And it didn’t matter if it was two in the morning or two in the afternoon,” Shep said about this example of responsiveness in customer service. Sometimes you don’t have to respond live, but make sure the answer is easy for your customers to find.

“That’s a version of accessibility,” Shep said.

Once customers experience great responsiveness in customer service, that raises the bar for their next brand experience, Jenn added.

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Making responsiveness a competitive advantage

When Shep was talking with Salesforce, he asked, “How accessible are you with customer support?”

“What kind of question might you need help with?” the sales rep responded.

Shep came up with a question, and the sales rep responded, “Just google that.”

He did and all kinds of video tutorials came up – some created by Salesforce and some by other users.

For a sales team, it’s important to know what is available and how to answer those questions. For example, for a start-up, there might be few answers available online, either from the brand or as user-generated content. In that scenario, the internal communications team or the marketing team might want to create  some of this explanatory content. .

The sales team also could let customers know about a well-designed content support center.

Read next: Which role on the marketing team should own customer insights?

In that setup, “most of the time, I don’t have to call,” Shep said. “It’s like I have that person sitting there and looking over my shoulder.”

Why is responsiveness and accessibility hard for some companies?

Jenn Vogel customer journey mapping quote“The biggest barrier is that they aren’t customer-focused and they really haven’t thought this through,” Shep said. “The way to go about this is to journey map  the experience for when something goes wrong.

To understand your customer pain points, you can simply ask them in a way that works for them and that you can easily analyze.

“When a customer has a problem, what do they experience?” Shep said.

Marketers often work on journey mapping, but focus on the experience to get people to the buying stage. Identifying problems and then figuring out how customers will experience them is another important step.

“No experience will ever completely be without problems,” Jenn said. “Journey mapping the problem in the customer experience is something people miss.”

“Realizing that we have to be more customer-centric is the key,” Shep said. “Jeff Bezos of Amazon is so customer-focused that there’s a rumor that there’s always an empty seat in the room … for the customer. That’s the customer who is not here, and we always need to be thinking about that customer.”

Use your website to your advantage

Not every business can easily sell their products on their website, but many can. Evolve your website to be accessible 24/7.

Take a plumbing business. Why not add an online scheduler to your website. Need a plumber? Schedule your urgent or regular appointment directly on the website.

If, for some reason, the technology implementation is delayed or not currently possible, at least set the expectations, Shep said.

“We will get back to you within one hour after opening at 8 in the morning,” he said. “I can buy into that a little bit more than ‘we are not available’. If you are going to make people wait, at least let them know how long, and then don’t be late.”

“You are going to lose my business if you are not available to me in the moment,” Jenn said, reflecting what many consumers think. “Brand loyalty is really under attack right now. It’s so easy to switch brands. If you aren’t available I can just go and get it somewhere else.”

David of Drift said to think of your website as a store. Even if you aren’t in ecommerce. On some websites the experience unfortunately can look like this:

  • Somebody comes into your store
  • Nobody is currently working so you have to fill out a form
  • That may or may not get read
  • Then you wait for them to respond

But how can you make your website part of the always-on culture?

  • Add the information that answers frequently asked questions.
  • Include an automated chatbot – like Drift – to give customers options to get information from you.
  • Add automatic responses to form submissions that mention how soon you will respond and that include answers to some frequent requests.

A well-setup website can also help with your responsiveness in customer service.

Internal relationships and collaboration for better access

It’s easy to forget there’s such a thing as internal customers. Those internal customers work with external customers. The better the internal relationship, the more likely it is to offer positive experiences externally as well.

Internal processes and requirements trickle down to the customer and can impact their experience. Shep shared a call to his cable company.

“They asked for my phone number,” he said. “Well, phone number is easy. Then the next question was ‘what’s your account number?’ Well, don’t they already have that?”

It’s always good for executives and team members to experience interactions with their brand as a customer.

“When was the last time you called your customer support line?” Shep asked. Try it. See how easy it is to get help.

If you follow the model above, where content support hubs are used to answer questions, define a problem and try to see if your content can help you solve it.

Sometimes, you still might make decisions that are unfavorable to the customer, but at least you gave it weight in your decision-making process, Shep said.

“At least be aware. Raising a price will never make a customer happy,” Shep said. “But to decide and know what to expect and know what to do when somebody calls and complains – all of that is proactive.”

Getting customers to come back

Shep also mentioned the importance of sitting down with cross-functional teams and asking:

  • Why would somebody buy from us over our competition?
  • What’s the reason for people to come back?

“You’ll get all kinds of interesting answers,” Shep said. “The ones I want you to stay away from are the generic ones — like, ‘Oh, we have really good service.’”

Everyone is saying that! Look at your competitors and see what they are doing. What are they doing differently? Whatever you are going to do, make it your own.

Go outside your vertical and see what companies are doing, Shep said, and ask yourself: “What’s my favorite company that I do business with? Write down why you like them.”

  • Who do you love?
  • Why do you love them?
  • Can we implement that?

Then ask yourself again why somebody would work with you? Be specific!

Responsiveness in customer service also includes automation. Shep said he loves working with brands that send quick and automated notifications that an order was placed and then send relevant follow-ups.

“Follow your package on a map” is my favorite notification.

How can insights help brands be more responsive?

Shep ranked the importance of customer insights a 12 on a 10-point scale. Listen to your customers to see what they enjoy about your brand, what they want to buy and how they are feeling about their experience.

Even in-the-moment feedback is important and helpful, Shep said.

Read next: What are some disadvantages to customer feedback?

When you rent a car, an immediate survey is sent: Is the car cleaned to your satisfaction? If the rental company knows about this in the moment, they can fix it right then.

“If you can fix it in the moment, it can prove how good you are,” he said. “Think about how listening to the customer isn’t just about thanking them for the future but doing something right now!”

Jenn said that’s much better than getting a survey a month later. “I don’t remember what I did a month ago. And if there was a problem, I would have brought it up already.”

Responsiveness in customer service helps business

For companies, it is important to understand their customers, their problems — including the problems they experience with your company – and how to make their lives easier.

“When companies are accessible, that’s never by accident,” Shep said. “It’s purposeful thinking.”

Being more accessible can help you win the game of sales and customer retention, Shep said. “At the end of the day, it’s a game, and the tally is how many customers do you have?”

Also remember the difference between “simple and easy,” Shep said. “A lot of the things we are talking about are simple to understand but they aren’t easy. Simple means I now understand it. Now let’s implement it.”

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