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A customer interaction is a communication between a customer and a company. Every interaction with a customer is a chance to connect with them, delight them, and increase their retention and advocacy.
The number of channels through which communication can happen is ever-increasing, and in today’s connected culture, it can happen at any time.
It’s important to have a framework to ensure opportunities to connect with customers aren’t missed.
Customers have specific needs for their communication with companies. When customers contact a business, they’re looking for a variety of elements including:
Reliability: Customers want to know that the business is dependable. They’re looking for good service that exemplifies trustworthiness and shows that the company will do what’s been promised.
Assurance: They also want affirmation that they’ve made the right choice to do business with the company. Being helpful and meeting their expectations in the interaction validates their decision.
Empathy: Everyone wants to be understood. Customers want to feel like the company representatives can see from their point of view. They want personalized attention based on their experiences that shows that they’ve been heard.
A customer interaction strategy helps to make sure these needs are met.
Responsiveness: Availability and speed is also important. Customers don’t want to wait. Getting back to them quickly shows that they’re important and leaves them with a good impression.
The customer interaction cycle is how a business can engage with customers during an interaction, and it consists of five steps. These five steps form a systematic approach to interactions and ensure successful outcomes.
Getting started on the right foot begins with greeting the customer. While often short, greetings set the tone for the rest of the interaction and help the customer form their first impression of the service. A simple phrase can change the course of the interaction for the better.
If it’s not possible to greet the customer right away, for example, if you provide support via email and it’s outside of business hours, it’s important to acknowledge that the communication has been received. Auto-responses are a great way to let customers know they were successful in getting in touch and that they’ll be hearing back from someone soon.
That said, it is important to respond and resolve problems in customer interactions as quickly as possible and take steps to shorten the wait time.
A few sample greetings:
“Hi, Thanks for contacting us! How can I help you?”
“Hello, you’ve reached [Your Company Name]. What can I assist you with today?”
“Good afternoon, great to hear from you. I’d be happy to assist you today. How can I help?”
The next step in the customer interaction cycle requires focusing on the needs of the customer and working to understand them. It means assessing how they feel and collecting facts.
This often involves asking clarifying questions. One of the simplest is: “why?” Asking why is an invaluable method for getting to the root of what a customer wants. Often, you may need to ask why several times before getting to the real cause of their inquiry.
Another major component of understanding is active listening. That means being present and paying attention. It means tuning in and avoiding interruptions until the customer is finished. Repeating what’s been heard allows the customer to confirm that it’s been understood correctly. Keep in mind that each customer is important. A company representative will handle many interactions in a day, but for a customer, it’s the only interaction they’ll have with the company that day, perhaps ever. As such, it’s important to treat each case with the utmost care.
When speaking with a customer on the phone, another way to understand is simply by listening to the tone of their voice. This will be a key indicator if their sentiment changes at any point during the conversation.
A few sample phrases to use in the understanding step:
“May I ask why that is?”
“Can you tell me more about that?”
“Is there anything else I should know?”
“From what I understand…”
After greeting and understanding comes agreeing. Helping a customer requires mutual agreement on the desired outcome of the interaction. This is where information and options are offered to the customer, expectations are set, and a solution is reached.
In this stage, it’s important to stay solution-focused. Some customers may ask for things that just aren’t possible. When this happens, it’s good practice to be upfront about limitations, then focus on what can be done. If there’s an opportunity to do something similar to what they’re asking for, then that can often be as acceptable to the customer as what they originally requested.
When possible, going the extra mile to suggest a workaround or alternate solution is recommended so the customer isn’t left empty-handed. In addition, this shows a higher level of care than simply looking at surface-level fixes. For times when there are no other options, it’s a good idea to have some resources set aside, like free months of service or special gifts. That way, at least there’s something to offer as a consolation and gesture of goodwill.
Once a solution is proposed, confirm understanding with the customer so they have a chance to indicate if anything is unclear. Make sure the customer understands if there are any steps they need to take to get to a resolution.
Phrases to use in the agreeing step:
“What I can do is…”
“Right now, we offer…”
“Does this sound acceptable to you?”
Once an agreement has been made, the next step is delivering. When delivering, it’s crucial to be clear about what’s going to happen and when.
If it will take some time to fully resolve the inquiry, be sure to keep the customer in the loop, telling them what’s happening and why, and when they can expect to hear from someone again. That way, the customer isn’t left in the dark while the solution is being completed.
At the end of delivery, there should be no loose ends, and the customer should have everything the need.
Sample phrases for delivering:
“Here’s what I’m going to do to resolve this.”
“For you to have all you need, I’m going to do…”
“Is there anything else I can do?”
Last, but certainly not least, the interaction should be concluded with a closing that encourages the customer to get in touch again in the future. Thanking customers for contacting the business lets them know they’re appreciated. Expressions of gratitude can go a long way in helping customers feel valued.
One last part of closing should be checking in on the level of satisfaction to make sure there’s nothing else the customer needs. This could mean simply asking them in the moment if they’re satisfied. A step beyond that is following up with a customer satisfaction survey.
By successfully moving through these five steps, companies can create positive outcomes with customer interactions. Following up a day or two after closing to ask about the experience can provide assurance that the outcome was indeed positive.
Sample closing phrases:
“Thank you for your business! Are you satisfied with the interaction today?”
“Thanks again for bringing this to our attention. Are you happy with the outcome of our conversation?”
Customer interaction management encompasses everything a company does to successfully engage with customers.
One thing to consider when building a program is that it will be serving many different types of customers. There are many ways to go about segmenting a customer base, but one way is based on their current status:
New: These are customers who have made their first purchase and are early on in their relationship with the company.
Existing: These are customers with whom the business has had a working relationship for some time.
Past: These are customers who have purchased in the past, but are no longer buying from the business.
Prospective: These are potential customers who need more information before making a purchase decision.
Each type of customer will have slightly different needs. By segmenting them, it’s possible to route them to different teams who specialize in understanding and serving each group.
There are also many different types of interactions that will require slightly different processes, including:
Requests: These are interactions in which customers ask for new features and functionality, or to build something from scratch.
Questions: These are interactions in which customers don’t understand some part of the business and are seeking clarification.
Complaints: These are interactions in which customers have encountered an issue and are unhappy.
Compliments: These are interactions in which customers are sending praise, getting in touch just to let the business know that they’re appreciated.
Different types of interactions should be handled and prioritized differently. For example, complaints are more urgent and sensitive than compliments, so they should be handled faster and by more highly trained agents.
When customers have poor experiences, they’ll tell their friends and family. With their voices amplified by social media and other digital channels, they’ll even tell strangers. When they interact with a business, it’s an opportunity for them to turn the experience around and prevent bad press.
Customers these days have countless options of where to spend their money. The quality of interactions can set a business apart from its competitors. Even with similar products or services, it’s possible to differentiate by positively connecting with customers. It’s often been said that keeping a customer is much more cost effective than acquiring a new customer: loyalty is extremely impactful to the bottom line.
Another outcome of positive interactions is that customers will recommend the business to others. Recommendations mean growth of the customer base without the use of traditional marketing tactics. Time and again, referrals have been proven to be a very efficient way to acquire new customers. When a customer is impressed by their interaction with a business, it’s easy and natural for them to tell everyone about it.
Interactions are also an invaluable way for learning about your customers and what they want. Companies often pay for market research, but it’s available for free when interacting with customers on a day-to-day basis.
It can be difficult, but sometimes it’s possible to bring customers back to your business after they’ve left. If an interaction is handled with care, what went wrong has been fixed, and the customer is left feeling heard, then they may just change their minds about buying from the business again. This opportunity to turn a customer around wouldn’t be possible without an interaction.
Customer interactions are also a great way to find out how to make your business better. Each interaction is a learning opportunity. In aggregate, many interactions can illuminate trends, showing what needs to be fixed to optimize a company’s product and service for all its customers.
When a team is dedicated to providing positive interactions, then they’ll have a happier workforce than one that only deals with complaints all day or doesn’t feel like they’re adding value in their roles. And happier employees means happier customers. It’s a positive cycle that only gets stronger once it’s set in motion.
All of the above won’t work without a larger strategy for implementing it. Managers should develop and socialize a customer interaction strategy to ensure consistency across every individual interaction. One important piece of a strategy is equipping the team. It’s impossible to achieve success in customer interactions without buy-in from well-trained employees. Make sure employees know the vision and are willing and ready to make it happen.
- Create a plan: To train your team, you first need to know what skills are important for success. Develop a list of competencies you’ll need to train for. What are the common situations that your team encounters during customer interactions?
- Practice: Once you’ve gone through core skills, create roleplay situations so your team can practice their skills and receive feedback. Ensure every interaction includes the five steps of the customer interaction cycle for full marks.
- Assess: Identify areas for improvement for each employee and provide ongoing support and training. Improve and develop skills over time through quality assurance and interaction reviews.
When developing a customer interaction strategy, it might be tempting to put scripts and checklists into place for your agents to follow. But customers don’t want to feel like they are only a cog in the system - they want to feel like they are treated as humans. A script will only serve to make agents complacent and restricted in what they can do to connect and make a good impression on the customer.
With every stage in the customer interaction cycle there’s an opportunity to personalize the response and build a relationship with the customer. Use the customer’s name when greeting them. Empathize with their situation when explaining that you understand what they need. Deliver an end result that is thoughtful and that anticipates any other needs they might have.
Client Interaction might sound like a formal business process - and it can be! But it doesn’t have to mean abandoning your brand personality when you interact with customers. Don’t think of CI as a script, but as a framework for having more valuable interactions with customers.
Customers can initiate interactions across a variety of channels or contact methods, so it’s best to develop a strategy that includes more than one. Customers want to interact with your company on more channels than ever before. Live chat, social media, review sites, and community forums are all places that your customers might get in touch with you. While each interaction might look slightly different, they still need to follow the customer interaction cycle, adapted for the format of where you are interacting.
It might not be possible to resolve every issue on every channel. For example, social media interactions are often public, making them inappropriate for account and billing problems. Move the customer to a more secure, private channel to deliver what you need. However, don’t move customers unnecessarily. If you can close the interaction on the same channel the customer initiated their question on, it’s much easier for everyone.
Another big piece of a customer interaction strategy is investing in a customer interaction management software. A tool like Freshdesk can help you capture all types of interactions from all types of customers across all of your many channels and work on them all in one place.
Freshdesk helps teams manage customer interaction processes through several features.
These are stored blocks of text that can be used over and over again in common situations. If you find your agents are constantly dealing with similar questions, you can save the correct response in Freshdesk to save time. Use canned responses to ensure consistency and help agents meet each of the five steps of customer interactions.
Each type of interaction requires a slightly different response. Freshdesk helps your team identify the type of interactions that are coming into your helpdesk so you can prioritize and respond accordingly. Whether they are requests, complaints, compliments or questions - give every interaction the perfect response.
To improve the quality of customer interactions, it’s important to have ways to measure how your team is doing and how your customers feel about each interaction. Freshdesk offers several ways to do this including built-in customer satisfaction surveys and easy to use reporting.
Track each interaction from beginning to end with ticket statuses in Freshdesk. Create workflows around each status so that your team doesn’t need to think twice about the next step. With custom ticket statuses, you can create unique processes to make sure nothing gets dropped.
Freshdesk contains many features that help teams work better together. Because every interaction requires its own personalized response, it’s important to make sure the right people are involved. Bring in help from other teams, notify stakeholders and work together to move customers through the customer interaction cycle.
When developing your customer interactions strategy, Freshdesk can help with our best-in-class helpdesk features.
Learn why over 131,000 companies already manage their customer interactions on Freshdesk with a 21-day free trial.
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