Business owners innovate when it comes to their products, company culture, and business models. Good entrepreneurs are constantly looking for the next big thing, the pioneering idea that will help grow their businesses and establish them as visionaries. But a much overlooked element of every business, which is desperately in need of innovation, is customer communication.
Yes, big ideas help. But if a business can’t help its customers when and how they need it, the idea will get lost in a wave of dissatisfaction. The customer, after all, is king. Companies that ignore this well-tread business practice suffer greatly. In today’s networked world of Yelp and other social platforms, there’s no hiding the fact that the absolute most perfect dress you shipped arrived two weeks late. You ruined her senior prom? I’m sure she’ll get over it - after venting on Facebook.
How companies communicate with their customers outside of their store fronts is an essential element of customer service, and one with which many organizations struggle. We recently learned this first-hand by commissioning a poll of 500 consumers to understand this relationship between customers and businesses. The results were not encouraging.
According to our study, more than 80 percent of people are put on hold every time they contact a business. More than half reported that they spend between 10-20 minutes per week on hold with businesses, amounting to 13 hours a year, time that could easily be spent doing something productive (or fun!). Perhaps most revealing, however, is that nearly half of all respondents believe calling a business is unproductive because the person on the other end of the line is unhelpful or unresponsive.
This proves what we have long theorized: customer service needs an update. Businesses – even those hailed as forward-thinking – have found themselves using outdated methods to reach their customers. The telephone was patented in 1876, and is no longer how customers prefer to communicate with businesses.
While the phone may still be the primary channel to reach businesses, a study by Forrester Research recently reported a 24 percent rise in chat usage for customer service over the last three years. Our own poll indicated that more than 61 percent of people in their 20s prefer texting, sending more than 50 text messages per week.
This poses a particular challenge for new customer-facing businesses, which lack the capital to invest in additional employees, technology, or supplemental customer service training. Since they’re typically smaller and may not be able to compete on price, customer service is often a small business’ only weapon against the bigger brands. Building loyalty amongst their customers is essential, but they can no longer rely on just the phone to answer that call.
Free proactive outreach tools, like Facebook, Twitter, and e-newsletters are a great place to start. When direct customer interaction is a must, consider new innovations such as text-any-business apps that allow customers to interact more easily. These apps make it possible for the business to read messages online or by email, but replies still go back to the customer as a text message. When customers are able to get the answers they need quickly and move on, they’ll be happier – as will you.
Customers are no longer willing to spend time on hold when they could be doing other things. Finding the next big idea is difficult, but seeing the need to innovate when it comes to customer service is a no brainer.
Stuart Levinson is co-founder and CEO of TalkTo, a free text-any-business application for Web, iPhone and Android. TalkTo is headquartered in Cambridge, MA and venture-backed by Matrix Partners.
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