Customer service channels: asynchronous and synchronous

There are many customer service channels out there and each customer has their preferences. So today we will discuss the two “branches”, per se, that there are: asynchronous and synchronous communications. This subject is very dense and I will do my best to cover the key points of each one.

There is a Microsoft survey conducted with 5,000 people, of various nationalities, which points out that 98% of them believe that customer service is important when forming a judgment about a brand, but that 62% have switched companies because of poor service! These numbers are from the US. 64% of people said that they feel that the process has worsened or remained the same when it comes to getting the information they need from the customer service team.

Therefore, we will discuss here about how to improve your customer service channels, focusing on two main aspects: synchronous and asynchronous communication. If you want me to enter specific tools, the difference between the channels or how to deal with each medium in general, leave the suggestions in the comments!

What is synchronous and asynchronous communication?

Synchronous communication is all that happens in real time, when you are interacting with the other side at the same time. And this is necessary, for example, in the service at the counter, via phone calls and chat on your website — it’s what most people expect at least.

Asynchronous communication occurs when people in the conversation do not need to be responding at the same time, such as e-mail, messaging apps and contact forms. Cool?

Here is what happens: The difference between the two is the customer’s expectations in relation to the type of interaction and the shape it takes. For example, in asynchronous communication, you expect more complete, elaborate responses, that can be resolved with as few interactions as possible.

In synchronous communication, however, that back-and-forth of messages is expected, maybe even with a more informal tone in the interaction. Often, the customer understands that it will not be possible to resolve what you want on the call, but they don’t expect you to call again later to ask more questions. There will be always that feeling “you could have asked me that before”.

Here we are getting more into the topic of Building Relationships in our SERVICE framework.

Preferences in customer service channels:

In the US, in the same Microsoft report, the three preferred ways for Americans are phone, live chat and email. It is also worth mentioning that this study is done by Microsoft, so it probably has a bias of having been conducted with a more technologically literate audience.

Another survey, from Aircall, interviewed 750 online shoppers who recently sought customer service related to an online purchase. 67% said they prefer brands that create self-help resources for their customers, like FAQs and tutorials. For general issues, phone, live chat and email were their preferences. The difference showed up when it was about an urgent matter: while phone was preferred as a first choice by 31% of people, in urgent situations, it raised to 70%.

It’s worth saying that preferences for customer service channels will change depending on the type of service you are providing. Is it purchasing a book, scheduling an appointment with a doctor, is it a $59 course available for purchase (wink), is it your pizza that should have arrived 30 minutes ago?

You can use these preferences in these reports when prioritizing your customer service channels, especially if you own an ecommerce, food delivery, B2B software, or other popular area. Since these areas tend to have extensive research and surveys for you to use as references. Or you can conduct your own survey with your customers, if you have the time, to have a more accurate picture of your specific customer base if you don’t feel represented by these studies.

How to deal with customers in asynchronous service.

The first step is to prioritize in order to make your work more efficient. Have a routine of organizing what’s urgent and important. The more urgent, the quicker the response has to be. The more important, the greater the impact of that on your company. You can use the Care and Attention framework as reference.

When answering, give complete answers and short sentences. Complete answers in the sense of even addressing what wasn’t asked and what you think they may ask next.

For example, you receive an email asking how to issue an invoice in the software you provide. You give all the instructions, right? Then, you can complement: “if you want to check the issued invoices or even cancel one, go to the corner of the software, click on the ‘List invoices’ button. To cancel, there will be an X icon next to each invoice to be canceled. Remember that you can only cancel an invoice during the month it was issued”.

Be thorough in your response.

Did it make sense? Give the possible scenarios. Since these more complete responses do take longer and may “not even be useful,” many companies expect the customer to ask first. This is where canned responses would do an excellent job.

Also take advantage of the medium and use formatting to make the messages easier to read. Use links, indentation, bulleted lists, etc. It all helps. In the end, proofread it, to check if there are no mistakes, no typos. Since I know I’m not the most detail-oriented person, I do proofread all my texts three times and still mistakes occur.

One thing we have to be aware of is: as many of these asynchronous communication channels have no voice and inflexion, it is difficult to notice the feeling or the sentences get confusing. Choose to write shorter sentences, as if they were steps. This is one of the differences that most cause problems: lack of emotion in asynchronous tools.

Quick tips on long asynchronous communication:

In longer conversations, like those that drag on for days or weeks — or even months for more complex issues — don’t count on memory. In a conversation that takes weeks, recall the previous taken steps.

You can get to the point of saying “so, just reviewing what we’ve done so far: X and Y happened to you in January, so I reported the issue to our engineering team, who noticed it was a bug in the system. Thanks for reporting that. We managed to fix it in 10 days, we put it for download on the 10th of February “.

At least, as I have a bad memory, I always remember the steps that were taken when the communication goes beyond 14 days. It is not an exact time, but an estimate.

In this specific case, the conversation apparently took a month, I would say to not be two weeks without contact, unless there’s a clear deadline. You may still report to the person, halfway through, that you are still working on the case. This all helps you to give the feeling of a service provided.

The points of communication with clients in real time (synchronous):

The first thing about synchronous communication that is important to talk about is that you need to know yourself as a person. Know your mannerisms, how you react, your expressions. It is very easy for people to slip into these habits, regardless of the channel, but it happens even more in face-to-face interactions. People can see and understand your expressions.

It is very important that, as the person speaks, you show that you are paying attention to them, nodding your head, giving verbal signals such as “yeah, got it, right”. So they know that you’re following along.

Always focus on the subject at hand. Understand what’s on the agenda. If necessary, write it down so that you can address each one. When a person is talking, it may be that they bring up more than one subject. So you will want to keep track of all points. Then, you can repeat the points raised, confirm that everything is fine and go on addressing one by one.

Apply active listening:

I can’t avoid but to comment here on a skill essential in service: active listening. Listen to what the customer is saying with the intention of understanding and trying to help. Ask questions. Customers like to talk and it’s our role to give them the feeling that we are listening. Note that “to give the feeling” does not mean pretending. What happens is that it has little effect if you are actually listening, but the person thinks you don’t care. This is a very common mistake. Convey that you’re listening.

In the end, repeat what was decided, confirm that you are right on your assumptions and agree on the next steps. Not that you may not have to negotiate the next steps, but make sure the person is on the boat with you about what to do next.

Of course, formalize whenever you can. You may be using customer service channels that don’t keep records. So send them an email, for example. Record this in some way. As we may be subject to memory. Or even the customer may have different recollections about what happened. If you have a copy of what actually happened, it helps a lot. And it’s not that customers have bad intentions most of the time, but it’s that they are also subject to memory and I don’t like to rely on mine.

The conclusion about preferences on customer service channels.

The key point is not following mindlessly the guidelines of what these surveys say what good service is. But rather that you provide to your customers a good experience with your company, regardless of which customer service channels you and they choose.

They have to have the feeling that a good service is being provided. And that happens when you give them care and attention.

There are many tools and courses out there for you and your team to use and to improve your skills. The important thing is to be clear about what your service adds to your customer life and experience with your brand and how you can contribute to it through your service.

In my experience, your client doesn’t care so much about the medium. They care about the final message and the way you deliver it. I go even further and say that the way we interact with our customers is just as important, and in some cases even more so, than what we say to them. Cool? Better than that, just twice that.

The article’s treasure:

In the end of each article, I will write a final recap for you to memorize the main takeaways.

This is what I presented in this article:

  • We talked about the difference between asynchronous and synchronous communication.
  • Also some tips about each one, what the client expects and good practices.
  • I mentioned preferences for channels by Americans regarding customer service. I took two different surveys to cover more on the subject, which is complex.

In the next lesson, we will learn about how to craft the perfect message. And a script that works for most situations. Always with care and attention in mind.

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Always look both ways. See you in the future.



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Ivan Chagas

Proudly Brazilian, founder of School of Polymaths and obsessed with learning. Making Education more open and accessible.