Your business is hopping. You leave work each day huffing and puffing because of all the customer questions, and you’re afraid you’re losing momentum because you’re not open in the evening. Sounds like you’re ready to take customer service to the next level.
What your business probably needs is some after–hours customer service. While working late into the day might not seem enticing, you should realize that many of your customers work from 8–5 and can’t connect with you unless you provide a way. Maybe in the next few months you’ll hire more staff, but what about right now?
Let’s look at a few short–term solutions.
Establish Self-service for Customers
According to research by Forrester, 76% of people use the Internet to solve problems on their own. If you’re not looking into a self–help solution for your business, you are seriously short–handing yourself.
Desk, a multi–channel customer service tool used by many businesses, says you might only spend 10 cents on one self–help contact! A customer’s email or chat could cost you 5 dollars or more. Tossing money aside, think about all the effort your agents would save too.
Desk references one business, TicketLeap, who reduced the amount of time agents spent on phone calls by 60% simply because they implemented a self–service strategy. Obviously, you save big on time and resources if the customer can work out their own solutions.
You can provide customer self–service in several ways.
Build a FAQs Page
Many customers are just looking for an answer to a simple question. And if you’re noticing several customers asking the same thing throughout the day, list that question on your website’s FAQ page.
Design your FAQs carefully, though, especially if you direct potential customers to it. It had better be beautiful. Social Media Today recommends using FAQs as a last resort since many businesses just glob random information into one spot on the web.
I personally search a company’s FAQ page first when I troubleshoot a problem. But if it’s a hodge-podge of endless links with no search feature, I’ll likely look for contact info next.
Program Automatic Responses
I hope you already have an email contact available for customers, but you can take after–hours emails a step further. Tina Arnoldi, a Google marketing guru and online strategist, mentions scheduling automatic messages. She suggests an email generated with links to common issues.
This way may not satisfy all your customer’s needs, but at least simple questions won’t be left in the cold. Try listing your top five most frequently asked questions directly in the email or only linking to a couple FAQs from your website. Also, Arnoldi advises listing contact information at the end for those who have further questions.
Write Lots of Tutorials
Another easy way to connect with your customers at any hour is through tutorials. Often FAQs and automatic responses are answers to simple, short questions, but tutorials offer a way for you to explain a deeper process without being live.
Again, make sure your videos are actually helpful. Justin Seeley, Staff Author for graphic design at Lynda and LinkedIn, recommends solid planning for a great tutorial. Seeley says a good one breaks down the lesson into a single problem and states the issue you’re addressing at the beginning.
To be effective, spend ample time on the problem too. Otherwise, you’ll leave your customers rolling their eyes and looking for another answer that may or may not include your business.
Publish Great Help Articles
Remember TicketLeap? This company’s service strategy includes writing articles that address customers’ questions directly. Sometimes Community Manager Allison Berger will see a new question she hasn’t covered in an article yet.
“I click ‘new article’ and I start typing.” It’s as simple as that. Customer asks a question, and company publishes content about it. This strategy keeps you relevant and shows your customers that you care about their needs.
TicketLeap also updates their content regularly, making sure it relates to new products or services. Your customers won’t find you very helpful if the only article they see talks about last year’s product. The bottom line here is to create content in tune with your customers’ needs.
Establish Offline Chatting
Arnoldi suggests this short–term option. Although most customers do prefer live chats, your company can receive offline messages after the business day ends. Then, you can assign a few agents to check messages periodically through the night.
You’ll want this option to be temporary since customers usually expect a quick response, but it can work in a pinch. I recommend checking messages often to meet customers’ needs.
Don’t Leave out Live Service
While you should definitely create self–helps for the three quarters of customers who want to figure out a problem themselves, you’ll still probably encounter those complicated questions that only a human being can properly answer. Factor in live customer service to your after–hours strategy.
Post Emergency Contact Information
One old–school idea is to give your customers an emergency contact number if they have a question and draw sticks with your service staff to see who receives those calls that night. Merely offering a number might ease your customers’ minds about your service. But it won’t solve your service problems.
If you’re looking for high customer service ratings, giving out an emergency number should be short–lived. Most big businesses offer more accessible options like live chat and social media messaging. One dinky phone number screams small business.
Going Mobile with Your Service
Craig Bloem, founder of FreeLogoServices.com says, “We need to respond to customers within four hours in order to keep our reputation for great service.” And many customers expect an even faster response than that. Bloem’s company uses the mobile app from Desk to keep connected.
Five9, a call center company, recommends giving a service option directly through the app itself. Again, this means you’ll need one or two agents on standby who can answer any messages. But the app decreases the time it takes to answer a question since it’s connected to the agent’s phone.
Employ Virtual Assistants
Virtual assistants, or VAs, are becoming more and more popular as business assets. You can still interview and hire the best fit for your business; and you can basically train them to do anything you want.
The huge plus? You don’t have to pay them for 40 hours each week. You don’t have to find a place for them to work. You don’t have to provide insurance or holiday pay. VAs are self-employed; so they worry about themselves.
Here’s the kicker if you want to hire one for customer service, though. They might need some deep training for your business.
Entrepreneur suggests a few ideas to help you succeed at hiring a great VA. Basically, you should have a clear idea of the work you’ll give your assistant and enough time to train them well. If you can make a training video or job description of the task, you’ll help yourself greatly since you can use it for another VA if one doesn’t work out.
On the downside, you should realize that many virtual assistants are just looking for secretarial work. You could let your VA answer basic questions or have them respond to customer inquiries, letting customers know that someone will get back to them tomorrow.
The assistant could also sift through emails or messages and assign them to service agents for the evening. That way your agents would only need a quick minute to respond. With a little creativity, a virtual assistant could be a great asset for now.
Dish Out for Overtime
Putting in more time is an obvious solution, but it works. Although it’s not 24/7 service, you’ll be surprised how many more people you can serve in a few short hours. And your customers will love calling right after work instead of waiting for their next day off.
On the other hand, don’t expect everyone to work overtime nonstop for months. You could rotate who works overtime each week, giving appropriate rest to the others. Keeping your staff fresh for the entire week is necessary.
You could also schedule a few agents that start midday. They would then stay past traditional business hours to answer customer questions. Implementing this idea would keep your agents from feeling overwhelmed by an extra workload.
For a solid short-term customer service strategy, you should probably use several of the options above. They’ll get you through the next few weeks at least. If you cover enough bases, only the most complicated problems will wait for your fully–staffed business hours, and you’ll be on your way to stellar customer service.
Of course, your best choice is to have live agents available around the clock. Eptica surveyed social media users about their consumer expectations, and they found that 64% of customers on Twitter want a response within an hour. For Facebook and email? Most people want an answer no later than 6 hours.
You’ll find yourself at the top of your customers’ list if you rise to the challenge of 24/7 live service. Only then can you meet and exceed your customer’s expectations—and probably see your sales skyrocket too.
Sarah George is a flower–sniffing, homemade–cooking wordsmith who loves pounding out breathless stories until they fill with life. In her spare time, she loves designing her home with thrilling thrift finds and challenging herself with a good workout.