Since the pandemic started, I’ve heard an increasing number of stories of bad online customer experience. The timing is not a coincidence. Many businesses are at a critical inflection point when it comes to online customer care. In fact, as marketers are focused on “customer experience” as a priority, I’ll argue that customer care might be the most important issue facing the marketing profession right now.
It gets down to this: Nothing could prepare the world for the digital onslaught created by the pandemic. We have been setting eCommerce revenue records every single month since March 2020. But our levels of customer care could not keep up, for reasons I’ll explore in this post today.
We’re not going back …
A McKinsey survey found that companies are three times likelier than they were before the crisis to conduct at least 80 percent of their customer interactions digitally.
We’re three years ahead of schedule, and companies have had to scramble for people and remote services to handle the volume. Hence … the negative customer experience. We just weren’t ready.
Another study said that the surge in customer eCommerce behavior is the business trend most likely to stick around after the pandemic.
The need to work and interact with customers remotely required investments in data security and an accelerated migration to the cloud. Now that the investments have been made, these companies have permanently removed some of the pre-crisis bottlenecks to virtual interactions.
However, companies admitted in this same survey that these changes are much less likely to meet customer expectations than before the crisis. We’re three years ahead on eCommerce, but perhaps three years behind on customer care.
The pandemic impact
“Customer service SUCKS right now,” a friend recently wrote me. Instead of a response from a real person to help him with a damaged product, automated responses kept sending him to unrelated and unhelpful pdfs. He has nowhere to turn for help. He said he’s ready to switch to a competitor.
My friend’s complaint is in line with the new pandemic-era reality:
According to CXToday, the decline in service levels during the pandemic has been uneven, with variability by industry.
This shift, and the growing need for an aggressive online customer care strategy, cannot be taken lightly. If we don’t react and respond with superior customer care right now, we could be doing permanent damage to our brands.
Online customer experience is word of mouth marketing
When I was a young man growing up in the business world, my boss had a sign on his desk that said “A dissatisfied customer is a terrorist.” Seems a bit strong … but you probably understand the point.
Today, online customer experience is word-of-mouth marketing. If you provide a service that surprises and delights, people will talk about it. If you anger people and waste their time, they’ll talk about you even more! You’re creating brand toxicity.
In my book Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins, a key idea is, the customer is the marketer. Research shows that two-thirds of our marketing is occurring without us. It’s happening through conversations, social media posts, reviews, and private messages. People probably don’t believe your company or your advertising … but they do believe their friends and neighbors.
About 10 percent of the population across every culture are super-sharers. They simply can’t wait to tell you about some experience they had with a company or brand. My wife is one of those people. If you are anywhere in her proximity, she will be talking about a new discovery … or a customer service slight. You do not want to mess with Rebecca and the millions like her.
If we don’t get ahead of this customer service crisis now, we’re in trouble because the super-sharers (like my friend) will be on the march, telling a tragic new story about our organizations.
But wait, there’s more …
Customer conversation as strategy
There is another obvious strategic imperative tied to online customer care that 98 percent of the companies out there are missing.
Think about what’s happening around customer privacy and our inability to collect customer data. How are we going to connect to customers with relevant offers when precise customer data is essentially blocked?
The answer is right in front of us. We need to turn to online customer conversations!
When customers reach out to us online, it’s not just a complaint, it’s also an opportunity to connect with them and actually talk to them. This is a goldmine of opportunity most companies are missing because they are looking at online customer care as a cost to be managed instead of a strategic opportunity.
The state of online customer care today reminds me of how we viewed IT in the 1990s — it was a help desk, a cost to be reduced. We didn’t view IT as a transformational strategy at all. The same attitude is being applied to customer care, unfortunately. We see customers complaining and we want to get rid of this annoyance for as little money as possible. We’re missing the bigger strategic opportunity!
The future is online customer experience
I work with B Squared Media and I have seen first-hand how actually engaging with customers can be part of an integrated marketing strategy (a revolutionary idea!). Through enhanced customer care beyond the help desk, we’ve documented an ability to:
- Dramatically improve customer sentiment — We reduced “terrorist” comments by more than 90 percent for one customer.
- Improve response time. Nobody likes to wait! In one case study, B Squared reduced response time by 95 percent.
- Use information from customer conversations to help marketing solve problems, create new products, and find new customer communities.
Is this how you’re deploying customer care, or are you just checking a box to get rid of complaints?
My friends, customer care is the new word of mouth marketing, the new customer data hub, and, most likely, the largest untapped source of marketing opportunity for you and your company.
Focus on world-class customer care is a near-term strategy to differentiate your company. How different are you really? Here is an opportunity staring you in the face.
Increasingly the marketing function is responsible for a 360-degree view of customer experience. Shouldn’t that START with the online customer experience … especially now?
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