Technology has made it easier than ever for businesses to process sales. Consumers are able to connect with brands via a variety of touch points like telephone, email, direct mail, social media, and website chat. But are those brands using each method to optimize their customer service experience?
Don't let your business fall short in this area. After all, you don't want customers to perceive your brand as inefficient or unreliable.
It seems like a fairly obvious statement, but your customer service efforts can make all the difference between keeping a customer and losing one. About one-third of Americans say they'd stop doing business with a company after just one instance of poor customer service. So do everything you can to keep your current customers happy. It might be the best marketing move you ever make.
Here are seven ways to use customer service as a marketing tool.
1. Use Good Reviews with Your Promotional Materials
Back in the Mad Men era of advertising, endorsement marketing influenced customers by telling them what marketers wanted them to hear.
- If you want to feel refreshed, drink a Coke.
- If you have aching muscles, pop an Aspirin.
- If you have chapped hands, a bottle of Thrill dishwashing detergent, with amazing Theratone, works miracles.
Of course, cigarette ads were plentiful, too. Lucky Strike. Philip Morris. Chesterfield. Marlboro. An ad for Camel cigarettes claimed that More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette. What better way to convince you it's OK to smoke cigarettes than a ringing nicotine endorsement from your health-care provider?
Whether a celebrity was endorsing the product or not, consumers were buying what was being sold to them in magazines, newspapers, and on television. Fast forward to today and it's obvious some things never change. Celebrities are still readily endorsing a plethora of products and the public can't get enough of it. But, there's another form of endorsement that's proving to be even more powerful: customer testimonials.
“The rise of the citizen review site is a sobering development. No longer are you on top of the mountain, blasting your marketing message down to the masses through your megaphone. All of a sudden, the masses are conversing with one another. If your service or product isn’t any good, they’ll out you.” —David Pogue, Scientific American
With the arrival of social media, "regular" people who weren't paid to provide endorsements, were able to have their say about the products and services we all use everyday. From opinionated tweets and Facebook recommendations, to Google, Amazon, and Yelp reviews, the general public is free to speak their mind about any product or service.
The end result? An astonishing 97% of consumers claim an online review affected their buying decision. So use these reviews to your advantage. By including customer testimonials with your marketing materials, you're highlighting some of your business's most effective qualities.
Always Monitor Your Online Reputation
When you know what's said about your company online, it enables you to see what you're doing right—and wrong. Good reviews make for great marketing, but feedback from customers can still be positive even when they're negative.
Believe it or not, a bad or mediocre online review can help you because it reassures other customers that the opinion is real and unbiased. It also gives you an opportunity to improve your business and make a personal connection with your customers.
Be sure to fix bad reviews by offering to "make it right" with any disgruntled customers. Whenever you see a negative comment about your business, provide some kind of solution. Never ignore a bad review. Even if you only have one poor remark on a Google or Yelp review, there could be hundreds or even thousands of people who read it.
Show that you care about your customers by providing a solution to their problem. You can even sweeten the deal by offering something for free. For example, if you own a restaurant and someone claimed to have had a bad experience at your establishment, take control of the situation with an appropriate response and consider offering them a coupon for a free meal or beverage to make it right.
In some instances, you can request that the disgruntled customer contact your customer service department to resolve the problem. Be specific with this information by providing a telephone number or email address. It shows the general public you're trying to fix the problem without airing any dirty laundry to the whole world.
2. Respond Quickly to Customer Communications
Not only should you be sure to respond to customer feedback (positive and negative reviews, social media and email questions and comments, etc.), you should do so in a timely manner.
“Customer service is the new marketing.” —Derek Sivers, Founder, CD Baby
Customers expect a response to their email messages within an hour, so the sooner you can get back to them, the better. A great option is to set up an automated reply that lets them know you received their email. This is a helpful response that requires little effort on your part. You simply create the initial autoresponder and each time someone sends an email to your customer service mailbox, they'll immediately receive an autoreply that keeps them in the loop.
Remember, while this is a great, time-saving feature, you still need to be sure to send a personal response regarding their specific question or comment as quickly as possible.
Social media is a slightly different situation. The average wait time for a consumer to get a response on social media is an unthinkable nine hours. If you can quickly engage with your customers on social, it's a great opportunity to stand out from your competitors. According to a 2018 study, customers are expecting a social response time similar to that of email—within an hour.
Keep Customers Up to Date with Orders
You already know your customers appreciate quick responses. That includes updates that tell them where their order is, how long it will take to arrive at their doorstep, etc. By creating an order update workflow, you're keeping your customer abreast of any and all developments about the product they've already paid for.
Be sure to schedule email notifications when orders are pending, shipping, back ordered, canceled, etc. By keeping customers up to date with the progress of their order, you're reducing those follow-up tasks that waste your time.
3. Let Your Website Do Some of the Work for You
More than 60% of U.S. consumers say their preferred channel for basic inquiries is a digital self-serve tool like a website, mobile app, or online chat feature. When you implement these tools into your website experience, you make life easier for your customer and reduce the amount of work you need to do.
Create a Knowledge Base on Your Website
Of all the self-service channels available to consumers, knowledge bases are the most popular. In fact, according to Zendesk, 91% of customers would turn to a knowledge base first if they knew it would help them answer their question. By being proactive and providing answers to common questions up front, you can eliminate the need for customers to send you an email every time they have an inquiry.
As a helpful bit of advice, if you see a pattern of similar consumer questions, create some content around that topic—like a blog post or FAQ—but be sure to optimize the content for search. That way, you'll turn it into a valuable inbound marketing tool.
Use a Website Chat Tool
Customers typically prefer a live chat tool over other customer service channels because it's quick and conversational. Millennials prefer chat simply because they're more comfortable with it over phone support or email. Why should you pay particular attention to Millennials? As a group, they're willing to spend 20% more than any other group for great customer care.
The recommended course of action is to direct people to a knowledge base first. If that doesn't help them answer their question, they can then select a chat option to ask their specific question to a qualified customer service representative.
One thing to keep in mind: your expected response time drops considerably with chat. Customers expect to hear from an agent inside of one minute. Depending on the complexity of your company, you may need more staff in place to handle the volume of requests.
4. Automation: Give Your Customers the Power of Self Service
Almost three quarters of consumers expect a company's website to include a self-service application. That's enough reason to be sure you've implemented this helpful feature, but consider this as well. According to research by Accenture, companies that provide their customers with a self-service feature can save between $1-3 million per year.
We already discussed an appropriate autoresponder for those customers who email questions to you. In return, they immediately get a response that lets them know you received their email. There are other ways to use automation, however.
Along with digital ad templates, you can also set up email templates to help your customer service team automate your support communications. For instance, you can help customers learn how to use a product they bought with drip-email training sessions sent over a period of time.
Don't Forget to Treat Your Customers Like Humans
It may sound odd, but in a digital world, be sure you treat your customers like humans. Some companies look at online support as a cheap and easy way to deal with their customers. They feel they can avoid spending time dealing with them directly by simply pushing them to a page on their website.
If this is you, abandon that train of thought and try a different approach. Build human-centric customer service via great people and smart technology. In the automation age, customer service specialists rule the tech industry. Humans need to offer customers what robots can't: creativity, community, and empathy.
According to customer service expert Kristin Smaby, being human is good business. Your customers are the reason your business exists, so recognize their value and treat them appropriately. There’s no substitution for knowledgeable customer service from a real person. Expect positive results when you go out of your way to be available and authentic with your customers.
5. Underpromise, Then Overdeliver
A trap that many businesses fall into is creating too much excitement and enthusiasm around their customer service intentions. How can that be a bad thing? It's only bad if you can't deliver on your promises. Maybe your plan looks good on paper, but you might be setting yourself up for failure by overpromising. Be sure you're able to carry out the benefits you're proposing. Be ambitious, but realistic.
In fact, set your sights on underpromising and overdelivering.
Consider the retail services of CVS Pharmacy. They're widely known for filling prescriptions and selling OTC medications and personal items. But with the addition of walk-in MinuteClinics, they can now also provide a variety of medical treatments, health screenings, vaccinations, and more seven days a week. In fact, CVS now offers nearly 1,000 MinuteClinics in more than 30 states. The overdelivery for CVS is providing a sort of business within a business. That and getting 24-million people to give them a 95% satisfaction rate. What an impressive statistic to market their business with.
Here's another example. The self-described "most helpful creative company in the world," Design Pickle, bases the very survival of their business on overdelivering. In a competitive marketplace, it's their best option. For a flat monthly rate, businesses can have their own personal designer available for everyday design needs. There are two plans: Standard and Pro. Both provide unlimited service, but the Pro plan is faster with real-time collaboration. The overdelivery is in providing a full-time graphic designer for hire—for under $1,000 per month.
6. Send a Handwritten Message as a Thank You
Few things say you really care about your customers as much as a handwritten note of thanks. But when you have hundreds or even thousands of thank you's to send, consider digitally handwritten notes as an equally impressive alternative.
You should recognize the lasting value of sending a handwritten message because it creates positive results for your business. Not only does your customer appreciate the sentiment, they'll likely tell others about their positive experience and be more inclined to share the card. By sending a thank-you note, you're expressing gratitude in a meaningful way, but you're also improving your chances of keeping that customer—and possibly drawing referrals from them. Now that's using customer service as a marketing tool.
Here's a handwritten example. Hex is a brand that takes handwriting seriously. They sell a variety of bags (camera bags and backpacks), plus iPhone cases, and waist packs. As a way of standing out from other, similar companies, Hex has written tens of thousands of thank-you notes for each order they've received.
With Simply Written, you can experience the benefits of a handwritten message without investing an enormous amount of time. Our patented technology uses the natural variations of real handwriting, so you can quickly create connections that last a lifetime.
Fill out this form with your contact details, or request a free printed sample to see it for yourself.
7. Emulate the Best Brands
Perhaps the best way to use customer service as a marketing tool is to study some of the brands who do it best. Take Zappos and Amazon as examples. The two companies have become ideal models for businesses that want to provide outstanding service to their customers. So it made perfect sense when the two customer service kings became one. Amazon bought Zappos for a cool $1.2 billion.
Zappos keeps a daily breakdown report (they write on a chalkboard) next to their customer contact center, with three categories of interaction, aptly named Phonez, Live Chatz, and Emailz. The Zappos customer service team keeps track of inquiries and the amount of time it takes to respond to them. Most inquiries are phone calls (answered within 25 seconds, on average). Their website chat tool takes about 30 seconds to get a response, and email takes around four hours, even though the goal is within an hour.
There's also another section of stats on that chalkboard that accounts for how many flowers, cookies, postcards, and other gifts get delivered to customers. (You don't necessarily need to send flowers or cookies to your customers. A handwritten message is more practical and oftentimes appreciated just as much.)
Gifts are not what helps Zappos build customers for life, though. It's the phone conversations they have with their customers.
Look at Amazon. Their business appeals to customers who want variety and convenience. Amazon shoppers want to make a purchase quickly, with as few clicks as necessary. Zappos, on the other hand, appeals to those who want a bit more history on the products they're buying and who they're buying them from. Ultimately, however, it's the personal attention Zappos customers receive. That's what keeps them coming back again and again.
The moral of this customer service case study is to be sure to attend to what matters most: your customers. However you interact with your customers, give them your very best. They, in turn, will not only become repeat buyers, they'll also tell others how great it is to do business with you. Now that's using customer service as a marketing tool.
“We take most of the money that we could have spent on paid advertising and instead put it back into the customer experience. Then we let the customers be our marketing.”
— Tony Hsieh, Founder and CEO of Zappos
Here's How You Can Use Customer Service as a Marketing Tool
How can you use customer service as a marketing tool? It's simple, really. Treat your customers as individuals you want to impress, not issues you need to manage. When you begin using your customer service efforts as part of your marketing strategy, you'll see the rewards. Looking for a place to start?