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7 Best Practices to Handle (and Ace) Customer Interactions

November 4, 2021

customer interaction

For every interaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Customer satisfaction is at the heart of every business strategy, and it all starts with how you handle your communication with your customers.

Customer interactions can quite literally make or break your reputation and conversion rates. Paying attention to every interaction can help you understand what customers want and how you can serve them better.

Talking to your customers doesn’t have to be drawn-out and complicated. Leveraging customer communications management software can simplify the process by storing and analyzing customer information from the get-go.

Effective customer conversations help meet customer expectations while building trust and loyalty toward your brand and products. While there are several ways to improve your customer interaction practices, it’s important to remember that communication is an ongoing process and requires consistent time and effort.

Understanding the customer interaction cycle

Customer interactions play an integral role in every step of the customer journey – from the first impression during customer onboarding to requesting feedback and maintaining customer loyalty.

The customer interaction cycle is simply the process of moving a single customer down the sales funnel based on their interactions with a business. It’s a strategic approach to further understand customer interaction management and how several conversations can be stored and used for a better customer experience.

5 stages of a customer interaction cycle

Successful businesses have a strong understanding of the different stages in the customer interaction process. Here are the five main steps to consider when helping a customer make a buying decision.

  1. Awareness: Customers at this stage are very early in their purchase journey and are simply looking for more information on what your business does and how it can solve their problems.
  2. Consideration: The consideration stage of the customer interaction cycle helps customers find unique value propositions in your products and evaluate overall suitability for their needs.
  3. Conversion: Everyone’s favorite - It is the stage where you can look forward to new customer acquisition, as the buyer is in the final stage of the sales cycle.
  4. Retention: Gaining customers should never be the sole goal of your customer service activities. Make sure your customers are satisfied by checking in and asking for consistent feedback.
  5. Advocacy: Once you’re certain of the customers who will remain loyal to you, encourage them to become brand advocates by bringing in new customers in the form of referrals or social shares.

Customer interaction cycle

Importance of customer interactions

Imagine if every difference with your friend could potentially end your friendship; very unfortunate, right?

That’s precisely how customer interactions work, except that your business could suffer big-time if conversations go wrong. Below are the reasons why customer interaction is critical to your business.

Help understand customer behavior

Powerful customer interaction management is the foundation of any successful business. When you interact with a customer, you enable them to voice their concerns, provide feedback, and give insights on what you can do to improve their experience.

Positive customer interactions help analyze what is and isn’t working well for your primary stakeholders. This leads to understanding their pain points and purchasing habits, giving you real-time data on what can be done better.

Reduce customer churn rates

No one likes losing customers. When customers feel heard and believe you care, they’re more likely to speak their minds about their experiences. This helps businesses re-evaluate their customer satisfaction activities and review the existing strategies. Honest and transparent customer communication paves the way for low customer attrition rates and improves retention.

Refine business operations

Customer communication is a great way to get insights into your customers’ likes and dislikes. Every interaction offers a different perspective and is a learning opportunity to optimize your product and customer service.

When a business pays attention to the customer’s voice, it indirectly improves its current operations through regular feedback.

Increase referrals

Putting effort into creating a positive customer interaction also reduces the chances of negative word-of-mouth reviews. This improves your brand image and enhances the probability of getting referrals from existing customers.

Recommendations help grow the customer base organically and are impactful in acquiring new customers. It’s simple; if someone likes your product, they’ll recommend someone else to try it. Easy wins.

Improve brand reputation and loyalty

Reputation management can take years to get right. But managing interactions can make it easier to turn new and existing customers into advocates for your brand. This can be achieved by consistently providing a positive customer experience and responding to grievances across channels.

Loyal customers are often the ones who drive a business forward and repeatedly buy from you. Establishing strong relationships with customers who believe in your vision has a substantial impact on your bottom line.

Effective customer service interactions can also help win back lost customers, showing that you care about them and want to maintain a good customer relationship.

Types of customer service interactions

When interacting with customers, think of them as your friends. There is no single type of friend, and it’s only natural that every customer communication is also different.

Customers contact businesses for various reasons, from seeking information and upgrading services to registering complaints and providing feedback.

Here are some common customer service interaction types with a homage to the OG Friends.

The one who’s new to the market

Customer onboarding is one of the most crucial customer service interactions. It brings in new customers unaware of the product and teaches them how to use it. These interactions require regular review and feedback mechanisms to adapt to different types of customers.

New relationships offer great potential to reduce churn and negative reviews early on. Free trials and demos are also a good way to increase product awareness and improve first-time interactions.

Common phrases used during these customer interactions:

  • This is what our product aims to do...
  • We can set up a live demo or free trial for you to know more…
  • Here's how you can create your account...

The one looking for information

This customer is likely in the awareness or consideration stages of their buying journey, reaching out to customer service representatives for answers.

Your customer service and sales teams need to work together to educate such prospects using top-of-the-funnel content (TOFU) content. Direct users to product blogs, how-to guides, and checklists to provide more resources.

This type of customer interaction focuses on the product and customer needs and makes them interested in your offerings.

Common phrases used during these customer interactions:

  • Here are the features that can help solve your problems...
  • Here’s where you can find more details on our pricing and plans…

The one keeping their options open

These customers are further ahead in their purchase journey and have a fair idea of your deliverables and your competitors. Since they’re in a more advanced buying stage, this customer interaction has the potential to bring users closer to making their final decision.

Emphasize trust and professionalism and present yourself as a thought leader in your industry. Use middle-of-the-funnel content (MOFU) such as case studies, reliable data, and positive customer reviews as a way to showcase your success from a neutral perspective. Live chat and support options work well for this interaction type.

Common phrases used during these customer interactions:

  • Here’s what our product does differently...
  • Some of the success rates our users have seen are...
  • This product will work well for you since...

The one looking for clarity

Not all customers feel comfortable with the product as soon as they start using it. Some consumers are often confused and have questions and doubts about the product’s various aspects, such as installation or features.

The best content formats to help confused customers are how-to videos. Product guides and live chat support can also help resolve issues quickly.

Common phrases used during these customer interactions:

  • Our resources page has videos to help get started…
  • Make use of our customer interaction software for product-related questions…
  • Let’s work through this together…

The one who needs urgent assistance

These are mostly existing customers facing an urgent issue with the product and looking for a quick resolution. Note that customers are likely to be anxious and panicked in these interactions, so it’s important to be kind.

Listen to customers and offer quick solutions to avoid dissatisfaction and poor customer experience. Don’t keep the customer waiting. Give them a case number at the end of the conversation to avoid repeating the same interaction across the department.

Common phrases used during these customer interactions:

  • Our support teams are available 24/7...
  • We can send you additional content and product resources to help…

The one who's unhappy

We’ve all had unhappy customers yelling over the phone about their dissatisfaction with the services. These interactions, however difficult, are necessary to gain customer insights and improve their experience. Stay open, transparent, and empathetic to alleviate discomfort when talking to these customers.

Knowing how to deal with unhappy customers is a skill that is learned over time.

78%

of customers will overlook a mistake provided they receive excellent customer service.

Source: Salesforce

This proves how vital customer service interactions are in mitigating negative experiences. Be professional and polite while you apologize for the inconvenience caused to the customers. Make sure you ask for feedback at the end of the exchange to understand what went wrong and prevent an overall bad customer experience.

Common phrases used during these customer interactions:

  • I’m sorry you had a poor experience...
  • I’ve escalated your issue and should have a resolution for you within…
  • We can return or replace your product if you’d like…

The one who's loyal

Loyal customers are key to understanding customer retention best practices for your business.

65%

of most conversions come from existing customers.

Source: AnnexCloud

It’s no surprise that these customer interactions are just as or even more critical than trying to onboard a prospective customer.

These customers already love your brand and product, but they still need care and attention for that level of satisfaction. Provide personalized experiences through product recommendations, customized deals, and discounts, or simply by remembering their names when they reach out to you.

Use the purchase data and history of existing customers to help them try new products and promote brand advocacy.

Common phrases used during these customer interactions:

  • Thank you so much for considering us your go-to...
  • We’d like to thank you for your continued support...
  • Here’s a limited offer for our special members...

How to build a customer interaction strategy

As discussed above, customer interactions are super beneficial. But how do you implement all of this into your business model?

Enter: a customer interaction strategy.

What is a customer interaction strategy?

A customer interaction (CI) strategy is a well-thought-out and detailed plan on how your support teams and other departments handle customer conversations.

While every company has its objectives, certain goals such as increasing conversions, improving customer satisfaction, and providing excellent customer service are common for customer-centric businesses.

Prepare before planning

Before you start building out your CI strategy, make sure that your employees mutually agree to be part of the planning process. Aligning your teams with the vision and goals of your strategy sets the tone of how prepared they are to support customers and their needs.

One of the primary things to keep in mind is identifying the teams that need to be part of the planning process and regularly work with multiple customers. Although all departments should be well-versed with customer interactions, developing a customer interaction strategy is easier if you know who needs these competencies most.

Another important aspect is holding run-throughs and mock trials of the different kinds of expected interactions. Giving and receiving feedback during these practice sessions motivate employees to improve.

At the end of your training, provide your teams with the necessary resources to fall back on to encourage ongoing support. It takes time to get good results with customer communications management. These communication skills need to be constantly sharpened to adapt to changing customer needs.

The only rule to follow is personalization

It’s understandable to hand out checklists and pre-formatted talking points to your team for successful customer interactions, but don’t get carried away. Remember,  no script can beat the humane aspect of making customers feel they matter and not viewed from a transactional perspective.

Every customer interaction should be open, empathetic, respectful, and make sure your customers are heard.

Effective conversations rarely have much to do with weighty words; they flow through small gestures. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Making a point to remember the customer’s name.
  • Having the correct information to offer solutions and know who can help; if not you.
  • Focusing on making every interaction mutually valuable.
  • Reminding yourself that every customer is unique, even if the problems are similar.

Invest in omnichannel communication

Traditional communication channels such as phone calls, emails, and SMS continue to work well for customer interaction management, along with many other touchpoints.

When selecting your preferred communication channel (social media, live chat, surveys, or customer forums), assess what channel your target audience uses the most and how you can offer consistent customer service across those platforms.

If your customers are active on social platforms, engage with them by building a robust online presence and creating a safe space for customer interactions. Invest in researching which mediums work best for your customer interaction management goals and adapt to their algorithms.

7 ways to facilitate positive customer interactions

The customer interaction process can seem multi-layered and complex, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are seven ways to improve your everyday customer interactions.

1. Practice transparent communication

Every customer interaction must begin and end with powerful communication techniques. The two main ways of achieving this are practicing open and transparent communication.

Open communication refers to the equitable exchange of information between two or more people. When dealing with a customer,  provide them with the necessary details to get the most out of the conversation. This prevents misinterpretation and miscommunication, allowing for an honest exchange of mutually beneficial information.

Transparent communication is one of the cornerstones of positive customer interaction. It’s created through consistent, open, and honest communication management. This is most effective when dealing with an unhappy customer. Practice transparency by apologizing, highlighting the cause of the issue, and showing vulnerability and confidence in telling the truth.

2. Focus on empathy

We’ve all heard the saying, “put yourself in their shoes.” Well, when it comes to successful customer interactions, you can use this as a guiding light.

Regardless of your role in a business, you’re also someone’s customer somewhere. Look back at your interactions with customer support teams and leverage those learnings to interact with customers.

Being empathetic means actively listening, offering solutions (if any), thanking customers for their continued support, and owning your mistakes. Showing empathy with a positive attitude goes a step further in solidifying customer relationships.

Working with a drive to consistently deliver positive customer experiences is key to gaining customer loyalty.

3. Keep your commitments

It’s not okay to forego commitments, especially in customer service. How many times have companies promised they “would get back to you” within a specific timeframe, and you never heard from them again? Chances are, more than once.

If you’re serious about creating a positive customer experience, note the commitments you made during the interaction. These can range from resources you may have promised to send or answers to questions posed during the exchange.

If you cannot keep your commitment, let the customer know when they can expect to hear back from you. Automated email responses work well for these situations since they affirm a customer you have received their email.

4. Customer feedback matters

This one can’t be stressed enough! Feedback is essential for any customer experience activity. It can take various forms, such as customer reviews and surveys.

Encourage customers to provide regular feedback, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Simplify the feedback process with easy-to-understand rating scales and avoid using jargon in survey forms.

Most importantly, use customer feedback to drive customer satisfaction practices. Act on constructive feedback to add value to your overall CI strategy.

5. Think about customer satisfaction at all levels

Every positive customer interaction plays a part in improving customer satisfaction across the customer journey. While many of your interactions are problem-centric, sometimes it pays off to be kind to them without having a deeper agenda.

Make customer delight a part of your customer interactions by:

  • Sending a message on their birthday offering a special discount.
  • Providing a free home service for loyal customers.
  • Giving a shoutout on social media.
  • Setting up a loyalty program offering them a chance to win points and prizes.

Gratitude and compassion go a long way in the customer interaction cycle, and a simple thank you can build goodwill and strengthen existing customer relationships.

6. Leverage customer service technology

Using specialized customer service software for customer interaction management can streamline all your customer conversations. Customer service technology also provides real-time data based on your interactions, helping you make better decisions.

Live chat support and self-serving chatbots for customer support teams powered by AI are excellent tools to maintain customer privacy and track unique metrics. Use them to answer commonly asked questions and even get programmed to work with business-specific customer data.

7. Assess your customer interaction strategy

As with any business activity, reviewing your CI strategy can help identify new goals, areas of improvement, and the progress of existing goals.

Set time aside for re-evaluations on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis depending on your expected outcomes. Align strategic goals with overall organizational objectives to boost success.

Customer interactions are a goldmine

You can't claim to be a customer-centric company with mediocre customer interactions. Understanding the customer interaction process is the first step toward building a business culture that places the customer first.

Every interaction offers something valuable to learn from -  don’t miss out on customer insights that can potentially save your business.

The simplest way to understand customers better is by collecting and acting on customer reviews. Learn more about the future of customer reviews and how it is transforming customer service.

customer communication management software
Talk the talk in the right way

Streamline your interactions on the go with customer communication management software.

customer communication management software
Talk the talk in the right way

Streamline your interactions on the go with customer communication management software.

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