Influencer Panel: Proactive Customer Engagement for SMBs

In 2013, Freshdesk introduced the Customer Support Hierarchy of Needs. This same hierarchy applies to not just customer service, but most areas and sizes of businesses. For SMB’s the problems at each level in the pyramid are more acute because they have less resources to address them.

We’ve seen a proliferation of systems of record (like Freshdesk) that help SMB’s along the bottom of the pyramid: moving from chaos to order. The next step up is moving from reactive to proactive. To help SMB’s with proactive customer engagement Freshdesk recently launched Freshchat as a standalone engagement tool.

I’ve asked some CRM experts to weigh in on the challenges SMB’s face with customer engagement and what the future holds for helping SMB’s move from reactive to proactive.

Laurie McCabe, Analyst and Partner, SMB Group, @lauriemccabe

The digital revolution really is changing everything. It shifts power to the customer, and changes customers’ expectations of how vendors should interact and engage with them.Buyers are doing more research on their own before talking to sales reps, and your website is increasingly the primary gateway to your business.

If people visit your site but can’t easily find the info they need, they’ll leave. But if you can engage with them one-on-one and answer their questions via chat, you can significantly increase the odds of turning a prospect into a customer. By giving the information they need quickly and efficiently before the sale, and making a more personal connection, you can also increase their confidence that you’ll provide great service after the sale too.

Mitch Lieberman, @mjayliebs

In order to move from reactive to proactive, first an organization needs to be willing to move from transactional to engaging. Reactive responses are often rushed and lack personality. Proactive engagement suggests a well thought out approach to the situation at hand.

Prior to determining how to help an SMB to move from reactive to proactive, focusing on engagement, it is first important to create a distinction between interaction and engagement. The biggest difference is a really about outcome. Interactions are often transactional, simple, quick and that is all they are about. Engagement, like dating, good engagement is all about getting the second date. In an SMB, the challenge becomes how to scale engagement; not an easy task. In a small business, the desire to engage with customers is rarely a problem, the problem is figuring out how to make time to do it.

The second challenge is to figure out which channel customers would like to engage. Again, this is not overly complex, as there are many channels where you can actually engage, but some are better than others. In person is the best, but this is a digital conversation. I am not even going to suggest phone is a close second, I am not sure it is. The modern customer is becoming increasingly comfortable with — possibly prefers — SMS, Text and Chat type applications. They are all similar in nature, the main benefit being the immediacy of the communication; here and now.

The final (well, for the purpose of this discussion anyway) challenge is to determine how the conversation should start. I refer to this as the Home Depot conversation. I am staring at the wall of fasteners on a Saturday morning, and I want to pretend that I know what I am looking for, but not really. Along comes a nice person in a Home Depot uniform and asks if I need help; ask too early and I might say “no thanks”; ask too late, and I am likely frustrated. This is your customer on your website. Proactive is learning when to engage, when to stay away and how to approach the situation.

In summary — Engage, do not interact. Consider the proper channel for the conversation. Finally, consider the outcome you (or your customer) is trying to achieve.

Roy Atkinson, Sr. Writer/Analyst, HDI and ICMI UBM Americas, @royatkinson

Today’s customers are highly mobile and — if they are conversant with their mobile technology — extremely well informed about products and services. They want fast, easy access to any and all information about your product or service from wherever they are and whatever they are doing. If I am sitting in a Starbucks, for example, I probably do not want to have a customer service phone conversation. I would much rather be able to type my questions and read the answers, and be able to follow links sent to me to read additional information or provide payment.

While having a choice of channels certainly increases the opportunity for us to engage customers, multi-channel service does not ensure engagement.

In order to feel engaged, customers need to know that:

  • You are being honest with them — and they will check you against available information.
  • You will do what you say you will do — and they will look at social media and other sources.
  • Your product or service is “as advertised” — they will read reviews by their peers.

Regardless of the channel, we need to be prepared to provide customers with factual information that really helps them get questions answered, provides them with links they are looking for, and guides them through the purchasing or service process. Making it easy for the customer is the first step to engagement.

Thomas Wieberneit, CRM Consultant/Analyst/Influencer, aheadCRM , @twieberneit

Today’s customers are impatient. They want (and have the right to) get answers to their questions without much search. This holds true for service questions as well as for their purchasing intentions. If they cannot find what they are looking for — they move on. This holds true for organisations of all sizes.

These days, an integrated, intelligent, efficient chat offer is a good way to help customers getting to the information that they want at their pace. Efficient and intelligent are the key words here. The ‘chat equivalent’ of holding music is not an option. A reaction to a chat request must be near instantaneous with an appropriate reply; a proactive chat initiation must come at a sensible point of time, with an opening that is appropriate for the current situation; from then on the chat must go on at the customer’s speed, which is an opportunity for the business, especially for smaller businesses, as operators can scale beyond one conversation at a time. The amount of chat activity the system can cover without operator intervention determines the minimum size of businesses that can use the system

Additionally, it is important that the operator already has sufficient information about the customer and her intent. To do this she must be identifiable and her interactions with the site as well as past interactions need to be usable to the service. This, in turn, allows to proactively initiate a chat session in the right context which allows the assigned operator (or, if more mature, the software) to come from the right angle, be helpful right away, and to even allow for cross-, and up-sell activities. Even more interestingly, this data is useful for future marketing activities.

As more and more customers are not working from laptops but from tablets and mobile phones a solution must be able to cover a wide variety of platforms, without adding to implementation cost. Simplicity in installation and usage are key to an adoption in smaller businesses.

Where is it useful? Well, basically wherever products or services are sold that may require explanation and where the business itself follows a consultative sales- and service approach.

And last, but certainly not least, I want to leave you with an anecdote. Nothing brings a point home like a good story. — AB

Brent Leary, CRM Analyst and Managing Partner, CRM Essentials, @brentleary

There is no doubt that technology has never been more affordable, accessible and easier for companies to implement in order to provide better interactions/experiences for customers throughout the life-cycle. From chat bots to artificial intelligence, digital assistants to prescriptive analytics, there are so many things SMBs can use to more effectively engage customers and prospects.

Speaking of chatbots, with 4 billion people using messaging apps regularly, it’s no surprise companies are starting to use them as a way to provide quick turnarounds to customer inquiries. And with over a billion users, Facebook Messenger is leading the way.

I recently purchased a Mevo camera on the product website. As part of the process you can opt in to being communicated with via Facebook Messenger. After my transaction was complete I got the following message via Facebook Messenger:

Since I use it quite frequently, I was pleased to get the notification this way. It was a good move for them to ask for permission to communicate this way. But one thing I noticed made me question things. I’ve highlighted it in the image below:

When I use instant messaging apps, I kind of take that first word seriously — “instant”. And if I send a message I don’t really want to wait a few hours to get a response. And I think this represents one of the main challenges SMBs are facing today. No matter how affordable and accessible the technology is today, you have the right policies and procedures in place to use it in a way that will at minimum meet customer expectations.

This can be tough for companies of any size, but it’s something you have to anticipate and plan for in order to build long lasting customer relationships. Implementing the latest technology will only be successful if it is coupled with processes and procedures flexible/agile enough to move in the direction customers need them to — and at a pace they are comfortable with.

Going back to the Mevo example, I realized after thinking about it a bit more that I did buy the camera late at night. So it didn’t seem unreasonable for it to take a few hours to receive a response at that time. Which made the notification that it may take that long to hear something back much more acceptable.

I received several other notifications before receiving the camera. But what I noticed is something different when receiving them:

The “replies instantly” status was included on all the other messages I received. Which is more in line with what you’d expect to see when communicating via messaging apps. And even though I didn’t need to ask for help, it made me feel better about the experience knowing that it was there if I needed it.

It’s important for SMBs, and companies of all sizes, to figure out which technologies will help them run their businesses more efficiently and effectively. But it’s also important to understand how using these technologies will impact the expectations customers will have when using them. So it’s incredibly important to take this into consideration as you roll out whatever new technologies come down the pike.

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