by Brian Stacy, VP of Customer Service Operations at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @brian_stacy44
A great customer experience (CX) can be the difference between a customer coming back to you again and again or them going with your competitor. It’s the compelling reason people buy your product or service and recommend your business to others. Today, CX is a key differentiator for most businesses, big and small. And many are looking to technology to deliver the kind of innovative experiences that will help retain and win new customers.
Take chat bots. At their best, these can help customers get answers to their questions quickly. They can even help train customer assistants to deliver a better service. One beauty brand launched a chat bot on the popular messaging app, Kik, to offer customers quizzes, personalized beauty tips and reviews — you can even buy the beauty products you’re chatting about without ever having to leave the app.
And there are plenty of other ways in which tech is driving better CX. There are the advanced collaboration tools that help call center staff handle queries and orders faster. And there’s the artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced analytics that are enabling organizations to take the vast amounts of data they’re collecting on their customers — online, via social and in-store — and turn it into actionable intelligence.
That all sounds great. It also sounds expensive. If technology is providing an edge when it comes to CX, is it the large enterprises with equally large IT budgets that have the edge? How can small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) like you hope to compete?
Tech is levelling the CX playing field
SMBs have a natural advantage when it comes to CX. They’re often closer to the local communities that they’re based in and understand their customers’ needs. But tech can take these experiences to the next level.
You might think tools like chat bots and AI will break the bank or require specialist knowledge. The reality is quite different. Take this tool that enables you to build your own Facebook chat bot in about seven minutes with no coding involved. The best bit is that if you think you’ll get less than 500,000 monthly active users, you can do it for free. Big businesses like Volkswagen and Uber are using this kind of solution to create additional channels for reaching customers. You can too.
Innovative CX solutions are becoming more and more available — no matter what the size of your business. Many of the advanced tools that large enterprise would have developed in-house are now available off the shelf. For example, Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions are readily available that enable real-time video conferencing from any device — no need for an expensively outfitted office. That means a better experience for business clients you can’t easily visit.
Many SaaS solutions provide more advanced functionality than you’ll find in large enterprises using in-house systems. They’re developed and maintained by experts. And SMBs are often better positioned to take advantage of them than big companies, typically being far less encumbered by legacy IT systems. That means you could actually be the one gaining an edge.
From advanced apps to cheaper cloud storage, from social media to more agile connectivity, technology is enabling great improvements in CX. And it’s not just for the big guys.
Avoid tech for tech’s sake
But technology isn’t the answer to all ills. You shouldn’t just implement new technology for the novelty factor or because someone else has it — this kind of decision could backfire and result in worse CX. You need to determine whether a particular piece of technology will improve experiences and help your customers reach their end goal sooner. You also need to think through whether it’s something your customers will be comfortable using. If they typically avoid social media, a Facebook chat bot won’t do your CX much good.
Start by mapping your customers’ journeys to get a clearer picture of how they interact with you. That means looking at key touch points and identifying any pain points. And not just those that come after you’ve made the sale. The customer journey starts from your very first contact with a customer — through a tweet or advert, say. Think about the experience delivered by the product, the marketing, the selling and the operations. Examine the whole journey and ask yourself, where can tech make a difference? Where can it really improve CX?
Some large organizations are using big data analytics to help them build digital profiles of their customers and understand customer pathways. But this is actually somewhere you could have an advantage. SMBs often have simpler customer propositions — based around one core product or service. And that could make it easier for you to identify where tech will have the biggest impact on CX. These don’t have to be huge changes, but they should be driven by the right motivators. Be led by CX, not by cost savings or novelty tech.
When you’ve identified where to make these improvements, the technology to make a difference is well within your reach. But this isn’t the case of once and done. Products, technology and customer expectations are changing all the time so you need to work with companies that understand the latest trends and can help keep you up to date.
Every B2B sale is ultimately an exercise in building relationships. When customers trust you and feel like you understand their problems and can be relied on to keep your promises, they will be more likely to buy from you. When customers feel pressured, or feel like you’re not really listening to them or not fully paying attention to their concerns, they will take their business elsewhere. Even if a new prospective customer has come to you via referral and already has a good foundation of trust in what your company has to offer, your sales team still needs to demonstrate to this customer that you know how to solve their specific problems and win their confidence for a long-term business relationship. Here are a few tips for how every B2B sales team can do a better job of building relationships with customers throughout the sales process:
Think like your customer: Try to get inside the minds of your prospective customer and empathize with their biggest concerns. For example, most new prospective customers are needing to be reassured about a few key concerns: they want to know if you are trustworthy, they want to know if your solution can really help them save time, make money, or avoid hassle. And the biggest question on the minds of every buyer is: “What’s in it for me?” Stay focused on how you can address these key concerns for your customers. Don’t build a sales pitch around your product’s key features; instead, talk with customers and listen to their specific concerns, and look for ways to show them solid evidence of how your solution can help.
Share knowledge with your customers: One of the most powerful tools for building customer relationships is content marketing – broadly speaking, content marketing can include blog articles, videos, podcasts, or any other informative content that you can share with your prospective buyers. Content marketing is not a “sales pitch” about your specific product or service; instead, content marketing shows your thought leadership by sharing expertise about your industry. Content marketing can be as simple as sharing great articles about your industry with your customers, or it can be as customized as delivering case studies (based on real customer success stories) that show the expected ROI of your solution.
Do your research: Before you go into a conversation with a prospective customer, make sure you’ve done your research and you know who this person is, how their name is pronounced, what their job title is, how they fit into their organization, and how you can specifically help them. The more you can do to show that you understand the prospect’s company and you know why your solution is a good fit for their needs, the easier it will be to establish credibility and build a relationship with that customer.
Sales success is not about catchy slogans or brochures or sales pitches; it’s about building relationships. If you have a good relationship with a customer, everything else in the sales process becomes easier – it’s easier to get them to return your calls, easier to get repeat sales, and easier to get testimonials and referrals that can lead to new business opportunities with other buyers. Focus on building relationships first, and the rest of your sales process will become much more effective. This guest post is by Gregg Schwartz, the Director of Sales and Marketing at Strategic Sales & Marketing, an industry-founding lead generation company specializing in major account B2B lead generation.
The following post is from Mary Yarbrough, Verizon's vice president of mass business marketing:
Why do we choose some businesses over others? For me, it’s all about reliability. Will the auto dealer have my car ready when he said he would? Will the local baker get my daughter’s birthday cake right?
Reliable communications services are critical to small businesses. A recent Verizon/Small Business Trends survey of small businesses in Philadelphia found that 89 percent identified high-speed Internet as essential to their operations, and two-thirds of respondents identified landline phone service.
Verizon gets that, and our customers seem to agree.
J.D. Power: Verizon Ranked Highest in Very Small Business Wireline Customer Satisfaction
I’m proud to note that Verizon is ranked “Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Very Small Business Wireline Service” in the J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Business Wireline Satisfaction Studysm. Small businesses – those with 19 or fewer employees – represent our entire mass business market. Verizon was ranked highest for overall satisfaction, which includes the following factors: performance and reliability, customer service, communications, sales reps, cost of service and billing.
And we are working hard to get even better. Our voice and Internet services for small businesses have 99.9 percent network reliability. Our goal is to ensure that our valued customers are “business ready” to serve their own clients and customers. Over the past couple of years, we’ve invested in network, IT and operations process improvements. We have redoubled our focus on customer service fundamentals, and we’re putting technology to work for us to help improve our small business customers’ experience. For example:
- Our new FiOS customers say they appreciate that we’re visiting their businesses prior to the installation date. With these visits, installs become easier because we can ensure that we’re ready for the customer, and the customer is ready for us.
- Our technicians are equipped with rugged tablets that enable them to do their jobs more efficiently, whether they’re at their work center, in their vehicle or at the customer’s site.
- We’re offering to repair small businesses’ voice and Internet services the same day or the following day.
- We’re providing customers with a written price quote of the services they order and a purchase summary that shows the first and subsequent bills, so they know what to expect each month.
- Small business customers can take advantage of a generous loyalty rewards program, exclusive discounts and a number of free resources.
Our reliable, advanced networks enable us to meet our customers’ evolving needs. For instance, we recently started to upgrade upload speeds for our consumer FiOS Internet customers to match their download speeds. Many of our small business FiOS Internet customers already have these equal upload/download speeds, and we’ll begin rolling out this SpeedMatch feature for remaining FiOS Internet for Small Business customers shortly.
Our goal is to be a reliable partner, and we’ll continue to innovate to help small businesses succeed and grow.
Verizon received the highest numerical score among very small business wireline providers in the proprietary J.D. Power 2014 Business Wireline Satisfaction StudySM. Study based on responses from 4,220 business wireline customers measuring 9 providers and measures satisfaction among wireline service decision-makers with very small businesses. Proprietary study results are based on experiences and perceptions of consumers surveyed in April-June 2014. Your experiences may vary. Visit jdpower.com
The Verizon Authors Series was designed to bring experts to small businesses. All this month we gave away featured author, Alan Gregerman’s book Surrounded by Geniuses. We will give away more of Alan’s book the rest of this week.
On Wednesday, April 27th at 2 p.m. EST Alan will host a live (free) webinar presented by the Verizon Small Business Center and then be available for an hour on Twitter on Thursday, April 28th at 2 p.m. EST to answer questions and offer advice.
I urge all businesses to seize these two opportunities to get insights from Alan Gregerman. Consider it a free consultation with a business expert so why not participate? Alan is an internationally-known expert on business strategy, innovation, providing amazing customer service and differentiation. During this webinar Alan will offer tips so you can provide the best customer experience. No matter the business you are in, providing good service matters. Good service helps you keep your customers or clients loyal.
To register for the webinar click here. Towards the end of the webinar feel free to ask Alan your questions or save your questions and ask him on Twitter. For more information about the Twitter chat click here, just be sure to include #bizbooks and follow @VzSmallBiz (www.twitter.com/VZSmallBiz).
If you missed Alan’s last webinar where he offered tips to unlock the genius in you and bring success to your business, click here for the replay.
Of course, feel free to post your questions in the comments section below and we’ll make sure Alan answers it during the webinar or on Twitter.
- Everyone's Tags:
- Customer loyalty
How has your week been? Lots of interesting stories in the news these days. Check out these articles below that may be pertinent to your business.
All business knows customers are key, but some customers are just toxic… this article offers tips on how to handle them.
Your company like my may have a Facebook page… the biggest challenge is to keep your fans engaged and to get more fans. This article has some interesting facts about when to post and how to engage.
For years I’ve heard about the paperless office… I know I’m not there yet, but I want to be. Best to take action if invoices, checks and customer orders are buried… this article offers some solutions.
If you like watching videos more than reading then check out the Harvard Business Review channel on Youtube.
This video from Entrepreneur offers tips to find customers on social media… best to go where your customers go.
If you weren’t aware, Verizon offers free webinars (available on replay) featuring key experts offering tips and insights that we hope may help to enhance your business. The next free webinar (Thursday, April 14 at 2 p.m. EST) features author, entrepreneur, and consultant Alan Gregerman. Alan will show you how to unlock the brilliance in yourself and your business. To sign up, click here.
The first three to post a comment, sharing a story that might be helpful to other businesses will get a copy of Alan Gregerman’s book. And in case you weren’t aware, Verizon just launched the Verizon Author Series, making experts available to answer some of your questions.
Have a great weekend!
- Everyone's Tags:
- customer service
Each of us thinks we’re important (some more so than others) especially when we’re putting money down to buy something or pay for a service. That’s when we all want the very best treatment. It only makes sense as we can always take our hard-earned money and spend it elsewhere.
I, like many of you, have experienced excellent, good, mediocre and very bad service. When my experience is good, it makes me feel all warm inside and I want to tell anyone and everyone about it.
Conversely, when the experience is aggravating or borderline insulting, I get so angry I am more inclined to share my terrible experience with everyone. That’s why we see so many comments on websites like Yelp; Urbanspoon; Angie’s List and other sites that allow anyone to post a review... which can help your business or break it. Be reminded that people love to talk and share stories.
Now, it’s not just businesses in retail that need to be concerned with customer service. Every business – even a doctor’s office – needs to have good service. After all, a doctor’s office is a business too; the patient can easily see another doctor…
Earlier this week, I called my parents’ heating oil company to inquire if they were indeed billed correctly. It seems my parents were being billed nearly double what they were billed for previously. The owner of this company took my call and patiently explained that the statement is correct and that oil prices have gone up due to the crisis in the Middle East and that they are doing their best to keep costs down. He was patient, kind and helpful. It was more than I had expected and I was touched. Good job, Mr. Woolley and thanks for taking my call! [If you have a minute check out their website, I just noticed it was recently redesigned and it’s nice!]
Having been on both sides – a shopper and a salesperson at a number of stores including my parents’ restaurant – I know it really doesn’t take much to give good service. It can be something as simple as a smile when someone walks in or even a, “Hi!”
Most importantly small businesses, try to acknowledge everyone who walks into your business –your restaurant, your shop, your store, or your office. It’s the least you can do, and believe me it’ll go a long way.
Don’t get me started on why I refuse to step foot in this well-known retail store, but it does have something to do with all of their salesperson always seems busy talking to each other than assisting a potential customer.
Check out this Inc. article that gives you 7 tips to transform your company’s customer service.
Let us know if your business is focused on customer service?
- Everyone's Tags:
- customer service