4 Ways to Get to Know and Empower Your Customer

Although most of us can’t readily remember doing business 50 years ago, it’s not hard to imagine a world of companies that were smaller and more personable. Regular customers walked into shops only to be welcomed by the owners who knew them by name.  But globalization and the expansion of businesses has led to a much less personal customer experience, whether dealing with a nameless conglomerate or a well-known brand. Some organizations don’t know the names of their employees, let alone their customers. But no matter which industry you’re in, customers are vital. And they want you to do better. While they might not expect to walk into a shop on a main street in their town for every transaction, they have come to expect more personal experiences from businesses. For businesses interested in continued growth and prosperity, it’s time to optimize your offerings to meet these expectations.

In the field service industry, the technician that visits the customer is often the only human to human (H2H) contact that the organization has with their customers. This increases the pressure on field service professionals to provide exceptional customer service and ensure that they represent their brand well.

April 20 is ‘Get to Know Your Customers Day,’ and it’s the perfect reminder to reflect on how well you know your customers, and whether you are offering the best customer service possible. But how can an organization get to know their customers with so little face-to-face contact? Here are four ways that you can get to know your customers better:

1. Stop Fearing Social Media

Social media has taken the world by storm, and given the anonymous—and sometimes angry–customer a voice and a megaphone. This has been scary for many businesses, but leading ones realize how to leverage these channels for greater engagement. If customers can engage with businesses to voice their experiences—whether good or bad—organizations can interact with customers quickly and easily to either rectify the issue or publicize good reviews.

With recent high profile customer service incidents highlighting organizations that are failing their customers, it’s even more important that organizations focus on social media. Consider the United Airline incident, for instance. The video of a passenger being dragged off a flight was reposted on Twitter more than 170,000 times (in addition to mass circulation on television, news outlets, YouTube, and Facebook). Not so long ago, Spirit Airlines decided to ‘hug their haters’ in order to rebuild their reputation with what was a cheeky and yet extremely successful campaign.

Even though social media can spread a bad reputation, it is also an opportunity to engage in a two-way dialogue with your customers. It’s a way to quickly address their concerns, provide technical support, and most importantly, make them feel heard.

2. Ask for Their Feedback

There’s no better way to find out what customers want than to ask them directly. How are you going to solve their problems if you don’t understand the issue?

Ask customers for a company review or feedback after they have been visited by their technician. This way you can learn what your team is doing well, and what the customers want to be improved. It’s also good practice to request feedback immediately after service, while the details are still fresh in their minds.

Few people get excited about completing surveys, so keep them short, straightforward, and simple. Ask one question at a time, and avoid jargon that could confuse the customer. To get richer answers, avoid yes or no questions. Instead, ask questions like “how much” or “how likely” and include a response scale.

But don’t stop at asking. Make sure you ask questions that help you uncover issues or strengths with the service call, and avoid questions that don’t have a purpose. If the feedback leads to actionable information and you can then inform the customers of their impact, you will have shown that you do care and pay attention.

3. Give Them the Tools to Engage with You

Offering customers better tools for communication between them and field service techs, support staff, and your company will empower the customer and improve their experience. For instance, enable your customers to easily schedule a service appointment or even send photos of their issues. Send customers notifications about their service status, the location and arrival time of their technician, and any other relevant details. Keep them updated throughout the service process in real time to provide transparency and accountability that will boost their trust in your business.

With self-service sites, applications, or other tools tailored customer engagement you can learn more about your customer’s service preferences, tailor each visit specifically to the customer, and give them more personalized experiences.

4. Learn How to Make Your Customers Better, Not Just Happier

Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is helping fuel a renewed interest in customer experience, although some businesses are still seeing it in short-sighted and strictly monetary terms. While proving convenience, transparency, and of course exceptional service is quickly becoming table stakes, businesses also have the opportunity to invest in their customers’ success. Whether it is providing training or online resources to enable more self-service, rewarding them for providing testimonials, or inviting them to share their ideas, their value to your business can be manifested and measured in more ways than purchases or recurring subscription fees.

Customers are the beating heart of an organization, and every single customer needs to feel as though they are the only one. If an organization improves its communication with customers, they can provide a service that is especially tailored to each customer, which will increase customer loyalty and satisfaction in both the long and short term.

Join the ‘Get to Know Your Customers Day’ conversation by using the hashtag #GetToKnowYourCustomersDay. And learn about more customer experience trends on Field Service Matters.

From “Fast Food” to “Fine Dining”—the New Standards for Field Service

Consumer behavior is changing at a torrid pace. Immediate access to messaging, social media, and smartphones has created customers with expectations for fast, simple, and convenient experiences. Companies like Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google, and Uber have changed the cultural definition of “right now” by minimizing use of the customer’s time, whether waiting for a package or hailing a car. Other players are focusing on consumer convenience, enabling new trends like the sharing economy in which bikes, cars, and apartments are available when and where needs arise. No inconvenient phone call, no cheesy hold music. Just one-touch access to what consumers want.

Every industry must keep pace in order to succeed—and the field service industry is no exception. Where field service used to be somewhat of a “fast food” experience—customers were given a big window of time for a service call, a technician finally arrived, grunted a few words your way, had you sign a piece of paper to prove he/she had completed the job, and left for the next destination. The expectations for an in-home visit were as low as at the drive-thru window and just another box on the to-do list of the service technician. Today’s expectations are on the rise and smart service organizations are falling in line, offering more of a “fine dining” experience for customers complete with customized time reservations and a menu of enhanced options to choose from that ultimately add value for the organization too.

Your Customers’ Tastes Have Changed—Has Your Menu?

You are no longer competing with the experience your industry peers provide. You are competing with the customer experience provided by every other company in their lives. Customers expect more now, and with constant visibility into the purchase and delivery process (think tracking numbers for packages). And when it comes to quality service, at home or at the office, we all want flexibility, efficiency and effectiveness from our service providers.

There are many ways service organizations can up their game, not just to meet customer demands, but to work to the organization’s advantage as well. Most often, the service professional is the only interaction a customer has with its provider; so smart organizations are actually leveraging field service as a marketing function, in addition to filling the need for service. But if the quality of the interaction is not excellent, then the interaction has been wasted. Alternatively, this provides the company an opportunity to speak with the customer face-to-face, find out his or her needs (met and unmet) and leverage that intelligence for the opportunity to upsell (who wouldn’t want HBO added to their current lineup?).

In the Battle for Customers, What’s Your Secret Ingredient?

So what are some of the steps field service organizations can take to get the job done while promoting customer loyalty and engagement? First and foremost, field service organizations must leverage technology to the benefit of customers, users, and the business. Field service management (FSM) technology should provide ease-of-use for professionals and customers while guarding sensitive consumer data and supporting the service strategy.

The important thing to remember is that FSM technology is not just a scheduling and dispatch or mobile efficiency tool. That was what service was back in the ‘fast food’ days. It now provides a menu of ‘fine dining’ options for improving customer experience with complete visibility into the customer’s service experience to date, which proves invaluable for improving the service experience. What benefits do consumers see from an increased level of service? They include:

  • More informed, efficient and engaged service professionals
  • More customized offerings; a good field service pro now knows what products customers have, their preferences, their service history, and what appointment slots they prefer
  • Increased flexibility; ability to conveniently schedule, change and provide feedback about the service visit and service professional via any device
  • Automatic updates; access real-time info on where the field service professional is and their estimated arrival time
  • Convenience, quality, satisfaction

In addition to the customer improvements, enhances field service management can also help to increase efficiency for the field service professional. Some of the more important changes to note include; minimizing disruption and delays, with easy access to processes and policies that support dynamic changes and maximizing the opportunities to leverage unexpected idle time due to early completion or cancellations both of which help to improve the organization’s bottom line.

We are living in what James Gilmore and Joseph Pine coined as the “experience economy” a decade ago. Or are we? What we know is that businesses won’t survive by doing what they’ve always done and the bar gets higher and higher all the time. Competent service is hard to deliver. Exceptional service is even harder. But it has become a necessity for the survival of your business. Regardless of the starting point, the future of service is a critical component for our companies, our industries, and our economies–and is an exciting new frontier–that has yet to be fully realized, but we are well on our way.