Providing Excellent Customer Service in the Digital Age
How to navigate between traditional and digital customer service in an increasingly connected world.
Outstanding customer service has always been the number-one way to attract and retain customers, clients and members. In recent years, the notion of great customer service has changed as a result of high expectations from informed consumers. This switch has occurred in large part because people can “connect” with a company easily and quickly through a multitude of channels, both offline and online.
The basics, though, remain the same: The customer is king or queen, expecting politeness, friendliness, competency, quality service and a wonderful experience. For years, customer service was based primarily on interactions between human beings—for example, a company employee and a customer talking face-to-face or over the telephone.
What has changed in the last decade, and certainly in the last five years, is the intersection of customer service and technology. Nowadays, clients interact more with devices, apps and platforms than they do with a live person. In many instances, these online interactions make for rapid, efficient service. In other cases, they may lead to frustration, inefficiency and confusion.
As the owner or manager of a fitness business, you are faced with having a multitude of touchpoints where clients come into contact with your company. And with the number of digital channels increasing, it has become more difficult to maintain top-quality customer service. (Note: The word client is used throughout this article, but it applies to members and customers of all kinds.)
So what can you do? First, keep reading here to discover strategies for managing and improving your digital customer service.
What are clients looking for these days? More and more, they expect to have a “seamless” customer journey—where every aspect of their experience with you is perfect, with no glitches along the way.
Further, as people are now using their devices (smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, laptops, etc.) to communicate, make purchases and interact with businesses, they expect to be able to do all of it (1) anytime, (2) anywhere and (3) on any device! If they can’t do that, having a seamless journey or experience becomes almost impossible.
Customers are also looking for efficiency, rapidity, personalization—and no guesswork. Most importantly, they expect their experience online to mirror the experience they have offline.
Here are five strategies for guaranteeing top-level customer service for your business in this increasingly complex and crowded digital world.
See also: 5 Steps for Inspired Customer Service
Strategy #1: Evaluate the Efficiency of Your Business’s Customer Channels
To assess how well you are doing, start by taking inventory of every way that clients (and potential clients) come in contact with your business. What and where are these channels and touchpoints before, during and after the purchasing process? (See “Types of Customer Channels and Touchpoints,” below, for examples of both offline and online channels.)
Once you have determined all of your channels and touchpoints, evaluate the efficiency and necessity of each one. For example, look at the company’s social media platforms and establish whether your clients are actually using them. Does it make sense to maintain a Snapchat account if no one ever interacts with you there? Probably not. Ask a friend or relative to explore your company’s app or website and determine whether the navigation is easy, logical and functional. You can also hire a mystery shopper to come into your facility to inquire about pricing and services; the shopper will then give you feedback on the face-to-face interactions that took place.
Remember that customers’ behaviors often change before a company’s behaviors change. Assessing what is important to clients is essential for staying ahead of the curve, creating a meaningful experience and promoting loyalty to the brand.
For example, if potential clients are accustomed to checking in and choosing their spot online for a barre class at a studio down the street, they will certainly expect to have the same experience at your facility. If you don’t offer such options, those clients will most likely stay where they are, and you will have lost the chance to engage them.
Strategy #2: Collect and Manage Data
To give clients top-notch service, you need to know as much about them as possible. Accomplish this by collecting data both offline and online. Offline, you may only need to have someone fill out a membership form or a survey, or you can acquire information during a phone call. Ways to collect online data include having people complete various “required fields”—to go further on a site or an app, or when they make a request or a purchase.
When people consult a website or open an app, cookies are embedded on their computers or smart devices. Cookies allow the website to see how the user navigates the site and what he or she is looking at or searching for, as well as other indicators that basically disclose the person’s preferences and likes. We’ve all had the experience of searching for an item to buy or information about a specific vacation destination and then almost immediately seeing ads on our social media platforms that are about those recent searches.
More importantly, that data needs to be analyzed, often by a data management platform, and then used to properly target potential customers, personalize their experiences and make the journey efficient and enjoyable for them. For example, Virtuagym is a data management platform specifically for fitness facilities. There are platforms available for every type of business.
Evaluating the customer experience with short offline questionnaires and surveys helps fine-tune the knowledge you’ve collected from the online data. Offline also assists in identifying the needs and wants of customers, allowing you to provide excellent service. Offline surveys can be used to collect general information that, in turn, could help “personalize” your clients’ journeys. Or you may want to create surveys based on data collected online.
Strategy #3: Personalize It!
Personalization has become one of the most important aspects of customer service. The use of data has made it easy to add that personal touch to client interactions. Customizing marketing and services to individual interests and preferences is what will make the difference between you and your competitors.
Personalization comes in all forms. Two of the simplest are to address clients by their first names in correspondence, or to send them a greeting—and possibly a discount on future purchases—during their birthday month.
As companies are taking a multichannel approach to marketing, communication and customer service, having a Single Customer View (SCV) may be beneficial for personalization.
An SCV is an aggregated, consistent and holistic representation of a customer’s personal data and behaviors that allows you to analyze past behaviors to better personalize future interactions. It enables businesses to track customers and their communications across every channel. Making good use of SCV means being able to assemble the huge amount of data that from all these various channels and then using that data in a meaningful way.
This in-depth knowledge allows you to understand how clients would like to be contacted or what their typical road maps are when they’re making a purchasing decision. Thus, you can better anticipate and target your clients’ needs.
Strategy #4: Invest in Technology and All That Is Digital
It’s almost impossible to know what technological changes will occur over the next few years, and what the fitness industry will look like 10 years from now. But despite being a bit in the dark, we do see—with the proliferation of smartphones, smartwatches, mobile apps and tracking devices—growing trends and the direction that digital is taking.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality are positioned to play important roles in customer service. Already we see an increasing number of virtual assistants and chatbots popping up on websites. Companies use them to reply efficiently and consistently to frequently asked questions such as facility hours, locations and pricing.
When it comes to your company’s future technology needs, strategic budget planning is a necessity. You must anticipate increased technology costs, since technology will be vital to facility operations. Allocate money for items like data management platforms, “connected” machines and possible software updates such as facial recognition for client check-in. Be informed about what’s happening in the fitness industry and in all industries in general.
Strategy #5: Get Your Staff on Board
An essential aspect of providing excellent customer service is to inform, educate and engage your staff members. Because digital is evolving so quickly, staff must be kept up to date on marketing campaigns, changes in policy and new products, services and procedures. They also need to know the “why” behind any changes you make.
You should be transparent with your staff, include them in decision-making and show them that they’re being heard. Regular and frequent communication should be a priority!
When your staff is on board with the mission and culture of your company, the road to excellent customer service is easily traveled. When they are not on board, be prepared for a bumpy ride!
Types of Customer Channels and Touchpoints
Here are some examples of where we come into contact with current and potential clients during the customer journey. These channels and touchpoints need to be evaluated, monitored and measured.
- social media
- help centers
- payment and checkout
- mobile apps
- text messaging
- VoIP (Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, WeChat)
- face-to-face experience
- self-guided experience
- print materials
- word of mouth
- delivery services
- magazine and newspaper ads
- business cards
- promotional pieces
- direct mail
- vehicle signage