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

Are you a 247 operation from a customer support perspective If I need it, do you give me the tool to reach you That doesn't mean you need to be available by phone.

Poor responsiveness in customer service can feel like it’s the norm to some consumers. On the flip side, that can be a blessing for brands with excellent responsiveness in their customer service. They stand out positively.

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. So 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 fantastic that they could get me in and get my car fixed so close to closing time.

Many customers have been in situations where we try to reach a brand for various reasons. We:

  • want to buy something.
  • Need something fixed on the product.
  • Have a question.
  • And so on…

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

Read next: Consumers Weigh In: The best customer service examples

Reaching somebody at a company

Sometimes it’s more complicated 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.

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

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

Today, competition in many verticals is fierce, and companies with great products 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 many 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 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. However, he added that calling customers people or persons can humanize the relationship.

“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 massive differentiator for some businesses. If your competing car shop closes at 5 p.m., staying open until nine can help you connect with that segment of people who have to work until five 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 for 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 complex, 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 on 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 excellent responsiveness in customer service, that raises the bar for their next brand experience, Jenn added.

Making responsiveness a competitive advantage

When Shep talked 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 essential to know what is available and how to answer those questions. For example, there might be few answers available online for a start-up, 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?

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

Also, keep in mind where consumers want to communicate. For example, Gen Z and other younger consumers may have different preferences than their parents.

For example, some customers might want to be approached by store personnel when entering. Others prefer to browse independently and ask for help when they need it. In either case, a friendly “Hello” or “Welcome” certainly is always appropriate.

Marsha Collier, a customer service expert and author, said there has to be an expectation by companies that customer service is done well.

“Customer service is everyone’s job,” she said on “Reel Talk.”

Why are responsiveness and accessibility hard for some companies?

"Journey mapping the problem in the customer experience is something people miss."

“The biggest barrier is that they aren’t customer-focused, and they 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 customers’ pain points, you can ask them in a way that works for them and that you can quickly 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 figuring out how customers will experience them is another critical 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 quickly sell its products on its website, but many can. So to 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 more than ‘we are not available.’ If you will 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 at 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 go and get it somewhere else.”

David of Drift said to think of your website as a store. Even if you aren’t in e-commerce. 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 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.

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

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

It’s always suitable 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 unfavorable decisions 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 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 excellent 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? Then, 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. For example, 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 feel about their experience.

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

Read next: What are some disadvantages to customer feedback?

A quick survey is sent when you rent a car: Is the vehicle cleaned to your satisfaction? If the rental company knows about this at the moment, they can fix it right then.

“If you can fix it at 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 were a problem, I would have brought it up already.”

Responsiveness in customer service helps businesses.

For companies, it is vital to understand their customers, their problems — including the difficulties 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. “Many 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.”

Like this article? Read more like it here. 

What’s a question you’d like to ask consumers?