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3 Tips To Humanize Online Customer Service

Humanize Customer Service

This is the second installment in our Customer Service In The Digital Age series.

Think about the last great online customer service interaction you had with a retailer: chances are, it was a personal  interaction through online chat or social media. Retailers that address social media customer service inquiries like a face-to-face interaction and use customer service representatives that are empowered to deliver an engaging experience will retain more customers than those that don’t. While this may not appear easy to achieve from behind a computer screen, have no fear—here are three tips on how to humanize online customer service!

1. Scripts are for theatre, not customer service.

When customers start an online chat with a representative, they’re expecting a conversation, not a pasted wall of text. Robots paste, humans interact. Think about providing service over the phone: would you be reading a script, or having a conversation? Given customers’ expectation of a fully integrated, consistent experience, you should treat online customers the same way you address their concerns in-store.

Take Home Depot’s US stores as an example of integrated customer service. The stores start by hiring highly motivated people, most of whom have real world experience as licensed professionals in a home renovation profession, and supplementing their knowledge with an interactive e-learning curriculum. This prepares associates to address customer inquiries knowledgably and with added insights. Instead of relying on associates to answer rudimentary questions such as where products are located, Home Depot directs customers to their mobile app, which locates products by aisle and provides detailed information such as reviews and features.

Home Depot understands that customer loyalty is not built on simply pointing out the aisle number, but through in-depth conversation and exceptional service that customers cannot get anywhere else. Apply the same idea to your online customer service. Would you rather use a script and be passive, or make an impression? 

2. Respond quickly and empathetically.

Responding quickly to customers over social media is no longer a bonus, but a necessity. While brands are quick to address negative customer reviews to avoid social media damage, customers demand a similarly swift response for general service or product inquiries and expect brands to empathize with their sense of urgency. In a study by the Social Habit, 42% of consumers expect a response to their inquiry within 60 minutes. More customers are even expecting brands to get back to them after hours or during weekends.

While suddenly ramping up your turnover time may seem overwhelming, ask yourself these questions to start making small changes:

  • When are your customers engaging with your brand the most?
  • What type of questions (i.e.: ordering, returning, product features or use) are most customers asking?
  • Can you educate the customer better on your website (FAQ, dedicated pages) or use your in-store sales associates to provide information and reduce the number of future inquiries?

Think of online customers as though they were there in the flesh. You wouldn’t want to keep in-store customers waiting in line for the next business day, so don’t do the same to your online customers.

3. Offer customers a conversation and reward them for it!

Online customer service should show brand personality. Tesco, which has been recognized as a Top 10 Socially Devoted global brand on social media, creates friendly conversations with Facebook users on their page. Instead of being completely focused on marketing new offers or responding to inquiries, they participate in banter such as asking customers about dinner plans, suggesting recipes, and promoting live chat. This creates a three-dimensional portrayal of Tesco; they are not just a brand, but a friend. This kind of easy conversation with customers builds loyalty through the humanization of your brand.

Don’t just stop at the conversation you start—when you see customers participating in their own conversations, find ways to reward them for these mentions. Consider Hollister’s Twitter hashtag promotion, which encouraged followers to Tweet a specific hashtag to activate the brand’s deal of the day. The Tweets created increased awareness about Hollister on social media and showed customers that their Tweets mattered and even benefited them. In your own customer service platforms, think about how you can thank customers for mentioning your brand, giving feedback, or coming to you with a question.

Just as you would never respond to a customer “in the flesh” with a canned response, in the world of online customer service, canned responses are not acceptable. Remember—each inquiry comes from either a potential future customer or an existing customer, so be sure to engage and treat them like a friend!


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