I went to get a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop called Brew Room and was greeted by an elderly man with a pleasant smile. He owned the shop and was also the barista, so he took my order of a coffee and a few biscuits. While I was waiting, another man walked in. The owner greeted him warmly and proceeded to take his order. I’d gotten my coffee and was munching on my biscuits when I noticed the man in conversation with the barista. It was by no means extraordinary; they were just talking about their plans for the weekend and how their families were faring. But seeing this conversation had me interested and I decided to observe a little longer.
Over the course of the next 15 minutes, I saw similar interactions with a number of different people. That’s when something important dawned on me — the barista didn’t make his customers feel like they were buying coffee from some random shop; he made them feel like they were getting coffee from a friend.
The barista had earned a little following of regular customers for his small coffee shop, with nothing but a few minutes of friendly, personal conversation.
Customer service is one of the very few fields where making things personal between you and the customer is not just welcome, but a vital part of a thriving business. Human nature is naturally inclined towards making new connections, every day. We constantly look to build rapport, even in the simplest interactions. This becomes especially important when the people you’re having conversations with are your customers.
Customers can look at brands as faceless corporate entities, forgetting that they’re built and run by people like themselves. But who can blame them? With IVRs and canned, automated responses, brands have played a part in creating this cold, impersonal image that customers have about brands.
Brands quickly learned the vitality of that personal touch and the important role that social media plays in getting companies and customers together. It all started in 2007, when one man told his boss, “Someone is wrong on the Internet! I must fix this,” and joined Twitter. That’s how JetBlue was first in line to bridge the gap between brands and customers. This paved the way for the paradigm shift that we see today.
A decade after JetBlue’s pivotal first steps, customers have gotten used to talking to brands on social media.They gush and rant about different brands online. But unfortunately, news of negative interactions reaches almost twice as many ears as praise does. So in volatile situations where the company’s reputation and image are at stake, it’s only prudent that you begin truly speaking to your customers, rather than just responding to them.
So what can you do to deliver a more personalised experience?
Avoid canned responses when you can:
It’s fine when customers receive a generic response for the first time. It begins to get frustrating from then on, as customers start to feel like they’re maybe interacting with a computer rather than with the person sitting behind it.
Canned responses are important and save a lot of time on commonly-faced issues, but when customers follow up with a more specific concern, make sure you take a few seconds more to type out your response.
Call them by their name:
It’s a very simple thing to do, but it goes a long way in gaining a customer’s trust. People tend to feel like they know you on a personal level when you call them by their name. Avoid suffixes to their name, when you can, and keep it friendly.
Make small talk:
Issue resolution is a pre-requisite when someone contacts your support center, which makes it hard to wow customers with a great experience without making things personal. Fill up those awkward silences over the phone when you’re searching for answers with small conversations. Ask them how their day’s going so far, how the weather is, where they’re from and other simple everyday things that you can think of. Even if they’re not interested in the small talk, they’ll be glad that you’re going out of your way to keep the conversation running smoothly.
Everyone gets customers. But establishing strong customer service and good rapport ensures that you’re building a foundation of happy, loyal, repeat ones.
Any personal customer service stories of your own? Share it with us in the comments below as I get myself another cup of coffee from Brew Room!