While there are several benefits to going hybrid, there is a serious concern about losing the human quotient in customer engagements. As these experiences become more transactional, the stickiness and longevity of customers takes a hit. On the one hand, there’s an increased adoption of AI bots and guided conversations (often required for an application to scale). On the other hand, there’s a drop in human interaction, making the engagements more impersonal. Tackling this challenge requires a change in company culture and in adopting a strategic approach to leverage tools and technology to humanize engagements. A 360-degree shift from the pro-revenue-in-the-short-term approach to a pro-customer-for-the-long-term approach in all customer-facing functions is needed.
The next leap in technology adoption must factor in the personalization and humanization of various customer touch points. Keeping that in mind, here are some changes in approach that can drive customer retention in 2022 and beyond:
A how-to-serve-more mindset
Traditionally, the presales and sales functions automated by robust CRM applications, enable personnel to manage sales pipelines and stay on top of customer relationships. However, the unique sales models and journeys built by brands flew out the window during the pandemic. This forced sales teams to scale and adapt to more digitized models — some of which are here to stay. Sales and presales routines must now embrace newer models that retain the best of digitized and humanized approaches and focus on serving more and selling less.
Let’s consider an example of a cloud company that has licensed its software to a customer for 2 years. The typical subsequent interactions would be to let the customer know of other new offerings or upgrades from the brand or to reach out for renewal when their license is nearing its end. This is not the wrong approach, except that a strong case is not made for the customer to renew their license. If the salesperson reaches out periodically instead and checks on the customer to ascertain if they need anything more, the customer will have one more reason to continue business with that vendor.
Engaging more and responding less
A product or service is only as good as its post-sale customer support. Sadly, the customer support function took a big hit during the pandemic, with customers having a tough time getting a human to speak to on the other end of a line. Remote work pushed the support workforce to navigate issues concerning connectivity and tech, and deal with volatile ticket volumes across different channels, like email, phone, and chat. Finding the groove and scaling to these sudden changes entailed drastic changes in support processes. This included ceding a little more control to individuals handling support, changing support policies in keeping with the situation, and more flexibility. On the flip side, customers across the globe adjusted their expectations and tried to cope with whatever support was made available.
Those customer expectations are changing now.
Customers want to connect less with bots and more with real people. Herein lies a golden opportunity for companies. Bots are appropriate for customer needs that can be resolved in a self-service mode, but the rest of their interactions must have a human touch.
Customer support also needs to steer away from the culture of responding to tickets to maintain SLAs to engaging and solving customer problems. SLAs are not meaningful when ticket closure targets are achieved but customers are lost — aka a successful surgery where the patient died! While processes ensure discipline in customer support, businesses should not lose sight of what’s even more important: not losing the customer to a bad support experience.
Let’s look at an example of a customer whose license is due for renewal but there are also several open tickets in support. Clearly, this is not a very happy customer. It would be a great gesture to reach out to the customer proactively and offer a complimentary 3-month extension on their license in appreciation of their patience and cooperation while their issues are being resolved.
Building and nurturing a user community
A well-functioning community around a brand is still a largely underrated business function. In an era punctuated by the pandemic, the sudden shifts in varied levels of digital and human interactions has left customers wanting for more. At a time like this, a thriving community with online and offline engagements serves as a platform that complements the transactional engagement channels like sales, onboarding, and support.
The needs of each business can be unique, but there are commonalities around which peers can connect and engage in the community. Besides being a great self-help avenue for a brand, a community is also a credible platform to communicate important announcements and updates. Now would be a good time for community managers to step in and create more opportunities for members to engage. The more the customers engage in discussions within the community, the more empowered and enabled they feel. Their association with a brand gets stronger and gives little reason to leave.
At the end of the day, it is not the big giveaways, discounts, or flamboyance that counts. What makes customers want to stay with a brand are the basics — listening to customers, helping them through their journey, and keeping the channels in all customer-facing functions open for human engagement.
The author is Head, Zoho Community
June 13, 2022