By Richard Shapiro
It’s the time of year when many people like to look back and reflect. I like to look forward and be prepared. What are the seven customer service trends for 2012 that will affect my business or your business?
No matter what the trend or the year, it’s always imperative to make your customers feel welcomed, important and appreciated every day. I never hang up the phone or leave a client visit without telling him or her how much I appreciate their business. Letters and e-mails are great, but there is no substitution for the person-to-person thank you.
To keep abreast of the marketplace, consider the following seven customer service trends for 2012. Some of these trends might not seem to affect your business directly, but it’s important to understand what’s going on in the marketplace. Your customers might experience these trends and knowing them will make your company a better business partner.
Engage the whole family. Many young family members have become 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 important role in the product review process. These changes mean businesses need to engage the entire family on multiple platforms to ensure that children, as well as parents, feel welcomed and that their opinions are valued.
Bring “eco” into the daily dialogue. While companies have been focusing on eco-friendly products for a number of years, a higher percentage of consumers will want to shop at businesses that understand the importance of being “green” and offer products and services to match. Companies that incorporate their ecology policies into daily dialogue with consumers of all ages will be rewarded with increased sales and loyalty.
Be social. Social media provides customers a voice and amplifies their messages about service delivery exponentially. Via social media postings on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other platforms, customers will continue to be more and more vocal about service and products. Companies that understand, engage and monitor this activity will thrive.
Influence the social masses. Brands will target key influencers on social media in even greater numbers to introduce (and endorse) products and services to their communities. It will become increasingly important for businesses to be transparent in these efforts.
Offer more language options. With one in four births being of Latino origin, more companies will begin to offer bilingual representatives and use both Spanish and English in their websites, instructions, directions, etc. Even though the majority of Latinos living in the United States speak English, they feel more welcomed when a company offers them a language choice.
Add opting-out options. Companies that use mobile technology to interact with consumers by offering them real-time, location-based discounts and promotions will need to offer instant opt-out options and address privacy issues. If they don’t, customers will not allow them to continue to interrupt their daily activities.
Transform checkout: While self-service check-out counters will continue to increase, companies should understand that frequently the front-line associates located at the check-out counters may be the only human contact opportunity they have with the consumer. Many astute retail businesses will turn the check-out counter into a welcome station that makes customers feel appreciated.
In closing, it’s often said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Things are changing faster than ever. The most powerful weapon in any company’s arsenal is the relationship or bond with their customers. To guarantee repeat business, make sure that with every interaction you consider how it is going to make your relationship with the customer even stronger.
Richard Shapiro is founder and president of the Center For Client Retention and author of the forthcoming book, “The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business” (Feb 2012).