by Tess Woods
Providing exceptional customer service has long been seen as a competitive advantage for SMBs. Social media, mobile technologies and altering demographics present SMBs of every size with tremendous opportunities.
Richard Shapiro is the Founder and President of The Center For Client Retention (www.tcfcr.com) and author of the forthcoming book, "The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business." (Feb 2012).
"All of these changes actually underscore the importance of getting back to the basics of treating customers as individuals with unique needs. When a customer feels that his/her business is welcomed, appreciated and valued, the result will be repeat business," says Shapiro.
In 2012, smart, forward-looking SMBs will be viewing customer service in new ways. They will be reengineering their thinking to reshape the customer service paradigm to take advantage of the significant modifications in technology, social media and ever-shifting demographics.
Shapiro's 7 SMB Customer Service Trends to watch and leverage in 2012:
1. Engaging the Whole Family: Many young family members have become equally or even more knowledgeable than their parents about what products are available in the marketplace, because children as young as three and four are using computers, tablets and smart phones. Social networks play an increasingly more important role in the product review process. These changes will necessitate businesses to engage the entire family on multiple platforms to ensure that children, as well as parents, feel welcomed and that their opinions are valued.
2. Bringing Eco into Daily Dialog: While companies have been focusing on eco-friendly products for a number of years, a higher percentage of consumers will be looking to shop at businesses that understand the importance of being "green", and have products and services to match. Companies that provide comprehensive environmental education to their front-line associates, to ensure that the company's ecology polices are incorporated into daily dialog with consumers of all ages, will be rewarded with increased sales and loyalty.
3. Being Social: Social Media allows customers to be the voice of service delivery and amplifies their message exponentially. Via social media postings on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc., customers will continue to be more and more vocal about service and products. Companies that understand, engage and monitor this activity will thrive.
4. Influencing the Social Masses: Key Influencers on Social Media will be targeted in even greater numbers by brands to introduce (and endorse) products and services to their communities. It will become increasingly important for businesses to be transparent in these efforts.
5. Offering More Language Options: With one in four births being of Latino origin, significantly more companies will begin to offer toll free numbers, bi-lingual representatives, websites, instructions, directions, etc., in both Spanish and English. Even though the majority of Latinos living in the U.S. speak English, they feel more welcomed when the company offers them a language choice.
6. Opting Out Options: Companies who elect to use mobile technology to interact with consumers by offering them real-time, geo-location based discounts, coupons, etc. will offer instant opt-out options and address privacy issues or customers will not allow them to continue to interrupt their daily activities.
7. Checking Out: Self-service checkout counters will continue to increase, but companies should understand that frequently the front-line associates located at the checkout counters may be the only human contact opportunity they have with the consumer. Many astute retail businesses will turn the checkout counter into a welcome station and the entire checkout experience will be transformed from a robotic factory line encounter into one that makes customers feel that they are being treated as people.
It's often said that "the more things change, the more they stay the same." Things are changing faster than ever. Successful companies will ensure that no matter "what's new", they don't forget the old fashioned ways of making customers feel welcomed, appreciated and valued at every human touch point.
What customer service trends are you seeing for 2012?