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  • 19 May 2015
  • Eric Michaels

The evolution of customer service: Navigating a complex new world

Would you like to submit your comments via e-mail or live chat—or would you rather wait 20 minutes to speak to a live operator (possibly on a faraway continent)?

Customer service has come a long way from the days when a quick phone call would answer your questions and solve your problems.

But small business owners need not fear this complex dynamic. Here is a look at how customer care has evolved, and how to steer your company through these sometimes murky waters.

Customer service has come a long way from the days when a quick phone call would answer your questions and solve your problems.

Multichannel is the norm

A recent study of 8,000 consumers revealed 74 percent use at least three channels when dealing with a brand's customer support services. Even if you cannot think of more than three types of support, the takeaway is clear: Consumers need options when they have problems with your company's services. Denying them a forum to vent their grievances is a questionable strategy.

In some cases, a phone call may be the least appropriate option. Certain work situations, scenarios where parents are caring for children, and even certain social interactions may make a phone call impossible. Providing support through live chat operators and e-mail is recommended for companies of modest size.

Quality over quantity

Though multiple customer service portals are the standard, the actual quality of service is the only part that matters. Coherent, efficient help over a live chat may be preferable to consumers who prefer to text friends rather than make phone calls. Likewise, busy customers may only have time for a quick e-mail or a rapid-fire Facebook post. Whoever is minding these channels needs the same customer care training.

Whichever channels customers choose to use, make sure the responses they get are worth their time and level of concern. The quality of modern customer care is the defining factor in your interaction with consumers. When you fail at the task, you could wind up with a disproportionate level of grief on your hands.

Bad feedback travels fast

Today's consumers have more ways to vent their grievances than ever before, but their choices do not diminish the power bad feedback can have. For example, studies show a single extra star on Yelp can increase a company's business by 5 to 9 percent. Small businesses without the benefit of volume need to monitor these reviews carefully if their clientele largely finds them online.

When bad feedback starts making the rounds online, word can travel fast, which will have an instant negative impact on your business. Customer care has evolved to the point where every business should be concerned about an online reputation as much as you would the appeal of your storefront or office. Unless you know what customers are saying about you in real time, you could face severe consequences when you calculate company revenues.

Social media allies silence the critics

The final piece of the customer care puzzle involves social media. Someone with thousands of Twitter or Facebook followers has the power to impact a business in minutes when posting negative comments; unfortunately, there is no requirement for accuracy and no rules governing polite discussion, and a lack of speed in your response could damage your company's reputation. In these cases, you will want allies to defend you while your business sleeps.

You do not need to hire some of your brand's most convincing advocates. Just as many businesses face negativity from social media users, and you may find an equal number of supporters willing to defend your business from unwarranted attacks. In a strange twist in today's business practices, unpaid supporters could be your greatest assets. Cultivating a relationship with these brand advocates is a highly recommended form of marketing.

When surveying the evolution of customer service, the basic principles remain. The challenge is managing so many channels with quality support. Let The UPS Store help you fight the good fight.

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