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Customer communities: the next-generation customer service model

Understanding the nuances of building communities for millennials and Gen Z.

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Understanding human behaviour  is the crux of creating engaging customer service strategies. This is especially true considering the plethora of business-customer interactions along and across marketing, sales, or service. Everyone knows that human beings are social animals, so why not leverage this common knowledge in the next-customer service model, wherein companies dedicate best practices towards building and sustaining online customer communities? In all honesty, it is baffling that this is not being presently implemented on a larger scale.

The 21st-century customer has begun valuing self-service options today along with old benchmarks viz. first-call resolution and accelerated resolution time, and therefore, it would be wise for companies to facilitate and aggregate customer interactions. The power will shift towards their hands, while companies will merely manage the process leading to a win-win situation. The scenario is akin to an architecture (company) designing a building, constructors (dedicated software developers/third party IT solution providers) making the design a reality, all for the wellbeing and usage of inhabitants (customers) of the building. Let us understand the nuances of building such communities for millennials and Gen Z .

Self-sustenance management

Information is at the tip of our fingers today, with credit going to internet access  and advanced mobile technology. This has made customers more knowledgeable and self-sufficient than ever before. This accelerated access to information has inherently lowered customer’s thresholds on patience. They prefer to find their answers online rather than receiving long wound answers from service agents and staying on hold for long periods of time.

‘Empowerment’ is the buzzword wherein customers today do not prefer to seek spoon-feeding. They in fact consider too much assistance a hindrance or irritation. With that being said, the onus lies on companies to facilitate customer service experiences, which empower customers to solve their own problems. A knowledge portal of a company’s FAQs would present a good start, but the end goal must be to create an engaging self-service community.

The merits of such a customer service model include reduced support costs, and empowered and satisfied customers who will inevitably share their experiences and help other customers as well. Devoted and frequent customers develop a deep understanding of the company’s products and services over time and become leaders of an active community. Their participation can be incentivised through gamification involving special badges and leader boards.

Connected communities

Apart from gamification, a company must pull out all stops to ensure that devoted and prospective customers alike remain connected with the brand. For instance, even the most informative self-service portals would be susceptible to certain instances wherein a customer’s query needs more information. It is vital to ensure such disjointed experiences are prevented using on-demand omnichannel customer service strategies.

According to Gartner, about 25 per cent of customer service and support operations will integrate virtual customer assistant (VCA) or chatbot technology across engagement channels by 2020, up from less than 2 per cent in 2017. Instead of risking damage to a brand’s reputation, it would be advisable for companies to invest in a connected company that enables seamless transition between touch points to reduce friction and solve customer queries faster. In other words, the self-service community must have a three-fold ability to escalate cases, i.e., allow customers to create cases; enable agents to create or respond to cases in the feed; and automatic escalation through pre-set rules to cater to unanswered questions.

Additionally, all hands must be on deck to ensure 360-degree view of customers for experiential relationships rather than mere transactional ones. This means that companies must obtain comprehensive views of each customer by leveraging data from various touch points across customers’ journeys. The data would include product/service activity, omnichannel interaction history, recent product views, campaign activity, and process history among others. According to Harvard Business Review, about 22 per cent of repeat service requests involve issues related to problems after the first contact, even if the issue was resolved first time around.  This must, therefore, be addressed through an insight-oriented approach regarding customer interactions.

Parallel community and business growth

Although creating engaging customer communities is a task of its own, sustaining engagement presents a different ball-game. Our hyper-connected world will only gallop in terms of customer expectations, and those creating and managing communities must address the following areas.

  • Prioritising adoption and engagement with internal stakeholders and external customers by obtaining executive sponsorship
  • Ensuring integration of business processes into the community as part of the customer’s end-to-end journey
  • Establishing community managers to oversee community management on daily basis

Launching next-generation communities may appear daunting, but an extendable platform will save both time and money in creating a customer community that is aligned with the growth of the business.

In conclusion

Omni-channel customer communities inevitably pose a win-win situation wherein customers are not only empowered and satisfied to initiate interaction, but the company also continually gains insight on each participant; which will be integral for further personalized customer experiences. The community customer service model ensures an end-to-end journey of the customer wherein they are assisted at each touchpoint while remaining connected with every department of the business, as well as with themselves. Such interconnectedness with engagement written all over the next-generation model leads to only one thing - customer satisfaction.

(The author is founder director of Spicetree Design Agency. The views expressed are his own and Indiantelevision.com may not subscribe to them.)

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