10 ways to deliver a great customer experience – And not break the bank

In the old days, customer service was the support you provided after the sale was made. But now ‘customer service’ is increasingly being redefined as ‘customer experience.’ That’s because ‘after sale support’ can no longer be the primary focus of a customer service strategy. You need to be ready to manage and shape the customer’s experience at every step along the way:

· The pre-sales comparison phase

· The moment of purchase (online, on the phone, in the store)

· The purchase follow-up

· The return, if there is one

· The negative AND positive reviews

This new world of customer experience is inherently multichannel-customers want to interact with you via the Internet, e-mail, social media, etc. Still, phone-based customer service retains its pre-eminent position. People may start their shopping online, but their second step is typically to pick up the phone. And when there is a specific question or a problem, the first thing they will do is call.

This is a challenge for many companies because phone-based customer service is expensive. But fortunately, there are more ways for you to deliver phone-based customer service less expensively and still deliver a terrific customer experience. Here’s how:

1. Know the Customer: Customers want to be recognized, particularly if they do a lot of business with you. Integrate your office communications system with your customer database and generate a ‘screen pop’ of information about the customer as soon as the call comes in. Customers feel better served, they are more likely to remain loyal and having this information instantly available helps reduce the time devoted to routine information gathering

2. Know Why The Customer Called: Today’s small business communications can handle multiple phone lines on a single system. If you have different phone numbers for different lines of business or specific numbers for customer service, today’s small business systems can handle them. You know instantly why a customer is calling and can quickly route calls to the right people.

3. Be Available: When a customer or prospect is calling, it’s almost always urgent. They want what they want and they want it now. Setting up an efficient call routing system helps ensure calls are answered promptly. So does integrating mobile communications into your office communications system. If a sales or service rep has stepped away from their desk, they can still handle the call on their mobile, including seeing the Caller ID. The result: more calls handled more effectively.

4. Extend Your Hours: We live in a world that does business 24/7/365. With today’s small business systems you don’t have to restrict yourself to handling calls during office hours. You can route calls between offices-your office in the Midwest can handle calls when the East coast closes and your location on the West Coast can pick up the slack later on. It’s all seamless to the caller and lets you provide superior and extended service, cost-effectively.

5. Use Home-based Agents: One of the major advantages that today’s communications systems provide for customer sales and service is the ability to utilize home-based agents. Someone can work from home (part-time or full-time) and handle calls exactly as if they were in the office-the routing, screen pops, speed dials, etc. are all available. This can help lower costs and provide a flexible way to handle peak calling periods. Many companies find that it also enhances customer service because home-based reps are loyal: they like the flexibility.

6. Find the Expert: You want to handle every customer inquiry quickly, but this is easier said than done. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone in your business to be an expert in everything. A better way is to share the expertise-provide easy access to people who can help (experts, managers, executives, consultants) etc. through the ‘presence’ capabilities of your office communications system: people can see at a glance who is available/present and reach out to them. This is an effective way to make expensive expertise available across your organization.

7. Record and Train: Are calls being handled accurately and efficiently? Are certain issues or problems coming up over and over? Are opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling being taken advantage of? Fortunately, there is an easy way to answer all of these questions: use your office communications system to record calls that come into your business. You can record as many or as few calls as you like and then analyze them. Use your findings to plan service and sales strategies and provide training.

8. Optimize: If your business has an established call center-a group of people who regularly handle sales and service calls-invest in software that analyzes their performance. How many calls does each person handle? What’s the average time per call? What are the hold times? This is information you can use to fine-tune performance and manage costs. Remember, to manage you first need to measure.

9. Automate the Routine: Are you paying people to answer routine questions, such as providing hours or directions? Is someone responsible for calling customers to confirm appointments or follow up on unpaid bills? These tasks are not only costly-they are unnecessary. With add-on software you can have your office communications system provide answers to routine inquiries and also do out calling. It’s faster, less expensive, more effective-and you can be sure that the job will get done.

10. Lower your Calling Costs: Today’s office communications systems are designed to help you cut costs: Take advantage of Internet-based calling options for calls between offices in different regions or different countries. Share communications resources between offices including messaging, call handling/ receptionist, customer sales/service agents and back-up calling capabilities. Eliminate fax lines. Eliminate fees paid to outside conferencing services. These and other savings can easily amount to tens of thousands of dollars a year, if not more.