Balancing Authenticity with Marketing Goals to Drive Customer Service

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We love this approach to customer service. Customer service is the backbone of providing a superior user experience; a bad customer service experience can destroy an otherwise strong brand relationship with a customer immediately. Every brand should take note! –Sailthru

Earlier this month, the Impact Blog! team included among their predictions for customer service expectations in 2015: “Authenticity wins the day.” This referred specifically to the increasing dissatisfaction among customers with overly scripted conversation and with sales pitches disguised as more innocent conversations. I’m going to address the first point, scripted conversations, specifically: how can you balance the desire for authenticity with the need for efficiency and for consistency in your customer service organization?

There are two simple ways to optimize customer service like this. 1) personalize by staff 2) personalize by customer.

As the aforementioned Impact Blog! post noted: “It’s not about stray­ing away from a boil­er­plate mes­sage as much as it is con­nect­ing with a cus­tomer to under­stand his needs so a per­son­al­ized approach can be taken.” Personalization is key.

But why does balancing authenticity with efficiency matter?

The VRU – Customer Service at 100% Efficiency and 0% Authenticity

One of the most universally frustrating customer service experiences is dialing a support line and getting a VRU (voice response unit). These systems make it hard to navigate to the department you’re looking to reach, especially if you guess wrong and have to endure long wait times only to reach the wrong person or team!

VRU systems (and other systems like them, like heavily-automated live chat tools) are clearly designed to be efficient for the customer service organization and by virtue of what they are, provide a consistent customer experience (up until the point that a human representative is reached, at least). And, admittedly, this should improve customer experience, by reducing the wait time for any given customer—but as a customer, it doesn’t feel that way! You want to get out of the digital maze of the VRU and reach a person as quickly as possible, because you believe that a person can actually listen to what your needs are and provide you with the answer you’re looking for. More on meeting customers on their preferred terms here.

Imagine how disappointing it is to escape the VRU and reach a person, only to have that person recite a script at you. It feels like they aren’t listening any better than an automated recording. Not exactly a positive customer service experience!

On the Phone with Your Mother – 100% Authenticity and 0–50% Efficiency

Depending on how conversations go in your family, a call with Mom could be a very to-the-point affair. In my family, however, a conversation with my mother typically means a casual update on what’s new in my life and the lives of all of my immediate family. However, even without the life-long context of my relationship with her, it’s obvious every time we talk that she genuinely cares about what I have to say, how I’m doing, what I’m struggling with, what I’m proud of, what I find amusing, etc. and wants to keep me in the loop on what’s going on in our family.

This level of authenticity is great. You’re establishing a connection, you’re building a sense of community—but your customer service reps don’t have time for all that, as nice as it would be. The unfortunate fact of the matter is you do have metrics you need to pay attention to such as time to answer, time to resolution, etc.

So How Do You Balance Both Authenticity and Efficiency?

As I mentioned in the beginning, the two simplest ways to inject some authenticity into your customer service organization without compromising efficiency are to personalize at the staff level and/or to personalize at the customer level.

Personalizing at the staff level means letting your reps phrase things more naturally. For instance, saying “Howdy” instead of “Good afternoon” if that is how they generally greet their peers. There’s not a whole lot of wiggle room here, as you do need reps to use technical terminology appropriately, and maintain some level of professionalism (you don’t want them saying “What do you want?” instead of “How can I help you?”)—but to the extent you can let some of their personality shine through, customers will recognize and appreciate that.

Personalizing at the customer level can take several forms. The customer service rep could take a look at the history for a given customer and reference it in the conversation. For instance “I see you purchased a [relevant product here] with us earlier this year – how is that working out for you?” While waiting for screens to load, the customer service rep could also make small talk relevant to the customer, for instance asking what they’ve been watching or reading recently, if they have interesting plans for the holidays or the weekend, etc.

I’ve worked for companies where holiday cards were made available for any staff to send to customers they felt motivated to write a message to, and companies where it wasn’t unusual for customers to actively seek out specific support reps by name at user conferences to thank them in person for all of their help. These kinds of gestures only exist where a strong level of authenticity is allowed to flourish within the customer service organization.

Using Live Chat to Bridge the Gap

While simple process changes can help bring more authenticity to your customer service organization, live chat software tools are uniquely well-equipped to help fully bridge this gap in customer service. For instance, pre-written messages can be inserted into the conversation and edited (i.e. personalized) before being sent. In contrast to the VRU, live chat provides an almost immediate response, both initially and ongoing throughout the conversation. However, live chat agents once fully trained can typically manage four conversations simultaneously—meaning that efficiency isn’t compromised. It’s even possible to insert a pre-chat survey, in the manner of the pre-directing a VRU menu is designed to do, but more quickly and easily than most VRUs.

Whether or not you decide to implement personalization via live chat software, Impact Learning is right that authenticity will be a defining characteristic of successful customer service organizations in 2015, and personalization is going to be the easiest way for most organizations to incorporate authenticity into their processes and their culture.

This post originally appeared on Business2Community.