Customers today are empowered. They want to decide how they interact with companies that they do business with. That means that not only does a company need to provide the goods and services but also the tools and culture to make customer service a value-add to their customer base.  

Here are some basic but key steps to take to move in that direction.

Know Your Customer

When a customer contacts a company, agents should have full access to the customer’s information. They should be able to view past and pending requests made across all available communication channels that you support (like the phone, email, chat, SMS) as well as interactions over social channels like Twitter and Facebook.

If a request has been escalated from a Web self-service session, agents should have access to the full session history so as not to repeat questions or searches that the customers has already performed.

Couple Your CRM System With Others

CRM systems should be more than just the front end of a database of customer information and cases — they should also be integrated with back-office applications. Real-time data integration means that the system can make calls to third-party systems to retrieve a real-time answer to a question such as “When did my order ship?”

Some companies deeply couple knowledge management with CRM. While agents are gathering the details of the customer’s issue, under-the-covers searches are being executed so that an updated list of relevant solutions can be presented to the agent, which helps minimize handle time.

Make Search Smart

To optimize the search experience, context-driven search should be available on the agent’s desktop. The context of the interaction with the customer should be passed into the search — such as the product version being used and its operating system — so that only targeted information is returned.

Keep Your Customers In The Loop

If your customer chose to engage with you over email, send her an acknowledgement that you got the email. Let her know when you will get back to her with an answer. Deliver on this expectation. And if the customer can't wait that long for the answer, provide her with alternate means to contact you, like a phone number or a chat link.

Answer Your Customer’s Question

Six in 10 interactions with customer service don’t fully address the customer’s question. Teach your agents to answer all questions — direct and implied — to reduce follow-on questions. For example, a customer asking whether shuttle service is available should receive an answer to this question, as well as the cost and schedule for the shuttle service.

Follow up by asking if the customer’s question was answered, and give him alternate contact methods — like, for example, a pointer to the frequently asked questions on the Web site or access to a chat link.

Let Your Customers Engage With You

Never force your customers to use a particular communication channel or to get stuck with a single channel for the duration of the service experience. For example, a customer should be able to follow up an email service request with a phone call, and the phone agent should have access to the customer’s information across all contact channels.

Listen To Your Customers

Allow customers to give you feedback after every interaction. Act on this feedback to improve your services, products, or processes. Let your customers know what you did with their feedback. And thank your customers for their honesty.  

These strategies put you on the path in engaging in a successful two-way conversation with your customer base. Customers will still influence the relationship that they have with companies. Yet companies will have a greater success in creating a loyal customer base if they treat their customers as they expect to be treated.