Claire Harper

Customer service as a competitive advantage. A fresh perspective for the bricks and mortar customer experience.

18th Apr 2016 • CLAIRE HARPER

As I start to prepare my speech for the 2016 conference BIRA (British Independent Retailers Association) I wanted to share my thoughts on 'Customer service as a competitive advantage. A fresh perspective for the bricks and mortar customer experience’

Drawing on my extensive multi-channel retail experience I will be sharing my own story on why customer service should be at the very heart of any organisation.

Engaging content and experience

Traditional methods of customer service are no longer equipped to deal with the expectations of today’s customer and so many brands neglect the ‘heartbeat’ of their brand values. One of the biggest weaknesses is reliance on old customer service techniques, including traditional call centres often outsourced and detached from the central organisation.

Today’s consumers are demanding and savvy, not only do they demand an instant response; they expect that interaction must exceptional if their loyalty is to be retained or developed. But what does this mean for businesses and how can these changing expectations be harnessed for marketing advantage?

To take their customer service to the next level, companies need to invest in a broader total community approach, that goes beyond the customer service department to tap into expertise from not only employees in other business units but also customers and stakeholders. This new central cultural approach of growing and developing an online community, offers new opportunities for businesses to improve their customer service and better market to existing and potential customers.

Poor customer service can have a significant and long-term impact on brand health and sales. It has been proven time and time again via research that more than 50 per cent of consumers are unlikely to spend with a brand again following a negative experience (and then go on and share their negative experience with friends and family via social media) – even more reason to adopt a more holistic approach to customer service.

On top of this, customers moving online have high-expectations that their queries will be responded to promptly, with the majority expecting a brand to respond to an email or tweet in less than an hour. In order for brands to capitalise on these customer interactions, not only do they need to respond quickly but the responses also need to be to engaging, relevant, proactive and reflect the brand’s tone of voice.

The emphasis on customer engagement has got to be delivered through a constant stream of fresh, stimulating content that has been backed up with passionate and talented resource.

Best-in-class service

Brands must be focused on delivering best-in-class service via delivery, returns and exceptional customer care

Supporting customers through every stage of their journey is essential for delivering a best-in-class service. This is achieved through continually developing and improving self-service initiatives such as updated help sections and making more help and information available on both desktop and mobile sites.

It’s not just about saving money; brands have also found that customers who spend more time in online communities tend to spend more than regular customers. You only need to look at socially engaging brands such as ASOS, Ocado and Apple to see how the customer experience is reflected through every touch point of their brand. These customers view the online community as an important place to find reviews and recommendations by fellow customers before they purchase, and the support they find from peers makes purchasing more likely.

Many marketers may find the idea of linking social media and sales daunting. However, the move from a traditional call centre approach to a more holistic online community model has again been proven to reduce response times to customer service queries, is cheaper, and can increase brand loyalty and spend. Utilising a platform that can help your business build trusted relationships between customers and the brand, is key to retaining competitive advantage.

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© 2022 Claire Harper