How to Automate Your Customer Service on a Small Business Budget

04-09-2017    In today’s marketplace, customer service can make or break your business. Nine out of ten marketers now see customer experience as today’s key competitive differentiator, more decisive than price, quality or any other factor, according to Gartner research.

But if you’re a company with a small staff or a small budget, setting up a customer service process that lets you compete with bigger rivals can be challenging. One way to level the playing field is to leverage the power of technology. Here are some tips for establishing an automated, virtualized, successful customer service team.

Provide Self-service Options

If you have a small customer service staff to field phone calls, some good news is that your customers prefer helping themselves to calling anyway. Online consumers increasingly turn to FAQ pages first before exploring support channels, with 81 percent of U.S. adults using online self-service in 2015, a rise from 67 percent in 2012.

Leveraging this self-service preference by adding a FAQ section to your website is the most efficient and least expensive way to automate your customer service. Tools such as ZenDesk Help Center make it easy to create a knowledge base that answers common customer questions. You can also crowdsource your support by creating an online community where customers share tips with each other. For questions that aren’t answered by your knowledge base or your online community, you can set up an automated ticket system that lets your support team know when customers need help.

Offer Outsourced or Automated Live Chat Assistance

Automation can also help you when customers need further assistance. Customers increasingly prefer live chat support to phone calls and email, with 73 percent of customers who receive live chat support reporting satisfaction, compared to 61 percent for email and 44 percent for the phone, eDigital research shows.

Live chat can be handled by an outsourced team of live agents, or you can fully automate your support with intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) robots. As illustrated by technologies such as Siri and Alexa, today’s IVA services are sophisticated enough to handle many frequently-asked questions. Demand for IVA customer service has been the biggest factor driving the growth of the IVA market, which was valued at over $1.138 billion in 2017 and is projected to reach a value of $12.28 billion by 2024. Virtual receptionists are popular because they can be much less expensive than hiring traditional full-time help. One case study found that deploying the Olivia Greets virtual receptionist cut costs by 73 percent.

Streamline Your Phone Support

In addition to live chat, you can also use technology to automate and virtualize your phone support system. Much customer service time is wasted handling routine issues such as updating passwords or handling simple billing inquiries. Using automated receptionist menus can cut down on the number of routine issues your team fields, while efficiently routing calls that need human support.

While many calls can be handled automatically, making live phone calls an option is vital to customer satisfaction. Not being able to reach a human over the phone is American consumers’ biggest customer service complaint, according to Consumer Reports. Setting up a 1-800 number is a cost-efficient way to make sure your customers can reach a live agent. If your support team is small, consider outsourcing your phone support.

Use Cloud-based CRM Support Technology

Whether a customer support ticket comes in through live chat, phone or other channels such as email or social media, there are times when a support ticket will need to be handed off from one channel to another or from one agent to another. This can become frustrating for customers if they have to repeat information they just conveyed through a previous channel or to another agent. The redundancy can also be a waste of your own resources.

The best way to manage this issue is to use a cloud-based customer relationship platform that provides your support team with a single interface for handling support tickets. CRM customer support tools such as Salesforce Service Cloud empower your team to provide seamless support even when a ticket gets handed off between channels or between agents.


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