In the last year and a half, we have experienced tremendous changes in interacting with each other and using technology, both at work and at home. While we often talk about how best to support our staff through change, what about our customers?
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of upgrading or changing how you provide customer service, such as implementing new multi-channel customer contact management software. However, that means we often forget the fundamentals of change management and communication for the very people we are making these improvements for – our customers.
Implementing new customer contact management software will help you meet the customer service trends of the future. Still, it involves changes to both technology and processes that could mean short-term discomfort for some of your customers. Therefore, it’s worth creating a specific change management plan for customers, considering the points below.
1. Be proactive and incorporate your customers’ perspective from the start
In general, people are far more receptive to change when they are involved early rather than having the change ‘done to them’.
Involving your customers in the planning process for a new customer service software system can be done in two ways:
- using metrics about how they currently use your services, and
- getting their feedback directly through surveys or focus groups.
Planning an upgrade to a new software system may involve getting your customers’ perspectives on what they currently like and don’t like about the current customer experience and what they expect from a new system. You can also ask them what support they’d like during the transition from one system to the next.
It also helps you avoid making potentially disastrous assumptions about their preferences for one customer service channel over another and about their use of various devices. For example, human-driven customer service channels still rate the highest, so reducing or removing these could be detrimental to your business.
2. Consider the impact of your change on each stage of the customer journey
Planning a successful change actually starts with listening to your customers’ concerns.
Change is hardest for customers when they must alter how they interact with you. This requires a shift of attitude or behaviour beyond their comfort zone, for example, conducting tasks online that were previously done in-person, such as applying for a loan. They may be required to learn a new system, use technology they are unfamiliar with, adjust to different timeframes for responses, and possibly even interpret new words.
Start by considering the new customer journey you want them to take, and then plot out what information and skills they need to take this journey across all touchpoints. Then anticipate what obstacles customers may face on this journey; for example, they may not have an online account yet and need to set this up as part of the process.
You can then identify what support they will need, for example, tutorial videos or email instructions and an option for webchat or co-browsing. This support is critical if you want your customers to adjust positively to a new customer service process.
3. Communicate your customer service changes early and often
A customer has been making claims to their health insurance provider over the phone for years. One day, after waiting in a queue for 20 minutes, the customer service rep tells them that they can’t lodge a claim over the phone any more. They are directed to use an app they’ve never heard of to log their claims, and promised that it will be quicker. Understandably irate, they vent on social media about this sudden change and begin looking for a new provider.
Change without warning, even if it promises to make our lives easier, is unpleasant.
This unfortunate scenario could have been avoided if the company had paid attention to communication in the planning stage.
The importance of clear, frequent, and early communication cannot be understated when we are asking customers to adapt to new processes and technology, like a new self-service portal or app.
When planning the communication component of your customer service software upgrade:
- Prioritise your customers’ preferred channels for communication, whether it be by phone, SMS, your app, webchat, email or social media. Pay attention also to the formats – some customers may prefer information via video, while others like text.
- Explain why you are making the change and how it helps you meet their needs. Answering the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question makes customers more likely to view the change positively, the same way it does for employees.
- Use the FAQ style to answer potential questions as they are easy to read. Start with questions such as: ‘When is this change happening?’, ‘What should I expect?’, ‘What do I have to do differently?’, ‘How will you help me?’, and ‘Does this change my service?’.
- Have a clear, consistent message about the reasons for the change(s), how you will roll it out, what the customers need to do, and who to contact for questions and distribute them across the organisation. This helps avoid confusion when messages differ between communication channels.
- Plan to send messages of gratitude towards the end of the transition period. Thanking them for enduring disruption and learning new technology, along with a reward (such as a discount), will go a long way to maintaining customer loyalty.
4. Expect resistance to customer service changes and allow for a transition period
If you make wholesale changes overnight to the way customers interact with your organisation, you are headed for disaster.
Generally, the more significant the change and the more effort a customer has to exert (including time and money), the more resistance you’ll face as a result of that change.
Where possible, allow for a transition period where the existing system/process remains operational while you phase in the new system/process. Customers can adjust, and you’ll have more time to reinforce messages about the change.
During the transition period, ensure there is adequate support for customers by training your staff on using the new system/process, troubleshooting potential customer challenges, and guiding customers over the phone and webchat.
5. Manage expectations – both your customers and your own
Even with a well-planned change management strategy, not everyone will be happy, and unexpected problems may occur.
Be honest with your staff and customers about how long the change process will take, the types of disruption that may occur and how you will manage them.
It’s also important to be comfortable with the fact that not every customer will love the change as much as you and your staff. Get back to basics by handling customer complaints with grace, reassure them that their concerns will be addressed, and keep your eyes on the long-term gains
6. Listen to employees and learn from the experience
In their article Adapting Customer Experience in the Time of Coronavirus, McKinsey emphasises the need to listen to your front-line employees during times of great change.
Your customer service staff are well placed to gauge how customers feel about the changes occurring while on the phone, responding to email or social media enquiries, or talking to customers via web chat. Listening to this feedback and asking for suggestions about improving systems and processes in the future will strengthen your customer experience strategy and engender trust from both your employees and customers.