If you’re trying to elevate your customer service (and your customer service reputation) the trick is making changes that will generate the most impact.

For instance, everyone hates the ear-cringing experience of hold “music,” but simply offering a better distraction while you keep customers waiting isn’t going to solve their real pain, which is that they’re not getting help. You’ll make far more progress with friendly, helpful agents who are knowledgeable and easy to reach. Concentrate your efforts—and investments—on improving these areas to see the greatest payoff.

Poor Customer Experience Damages Your Business

According to a survey of 3,000 consumers by Vanson Bourne for Serenova, customer experience can make or break your reputation with new and prospective customers. Ninety-four percent of people surveyed say their service interactions impact their decision to stay with a company or switch to a competitor. In fact, after a poor interaction, 62% of respondents would not make additional purchases, and 56% would dissuade family and friends from buying.

On the other hand, in 2018, 66% of customers in the US did more business with a company due to good service. And given that 77% of the Vanson Bourne survey respondents had poor service in the last year, any business that makes meaningful improvements will outpace the competition and claim customer service leadership.

Reduce Agent Stress for Happier Customers

Seventy-nine percent of the consumers surveyed by Vanson Bourne have had a bad experience with rude or dismissive agents, and 73% had problems with agents who didn’t seem to care about them or their requests. One way to address this problem is to focus on helping agents lower stress at work. Consider what you’re asking them to do on a regular basis. They have to handle calls quickly to keep wait times down. They have to listen to complaints and respond with patience and kindness. Because of improved self-service, customers often resort to calling the contact center only when they have complicated issues or have been frustrated by other channels. So, agents are dealing with the most difficult cases.

Yet, in trying to reach resolution, agents are often wrestling with inflexible and disconnected tools that don’t give them customer history or transfer information from self-service. They may have to switch from one application to another to access the customer’s history and to fully understand the issue. Even after they’ve identified the problem, they may not have the ability or authority to solve it. And, of course, they will seem unhelpful if they genuinely cannot help the customer. It’s a no-win situation.

It all adds up to a lot of stress. Who can blame an agent who comes off a little tense?

Reduce the stress by giving representatives usable, powerful agent tools that offer visibility into key information about the customer’s recent transactions and account details across all channels. For example, embed your contact center solution in the agent’s CRM interface so they have access to customer and interaction history in one place. Ensure they can access transactions across communication channels such as text, email and web forms. With all the relevant customer details in one place, they can focus on building rapport and finding the fastest resolution. Customers will come away feeling like your company cares about them.

Put Information at Agents’ Fingertips for First Contact Resolution

Aside from rudeness, people are most dissatisfied with representatives who don’t know how to help them. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed in the Vanson Bourne research left unhappy when agents had poor product or company knowledge. Most companies have complex processes for handling billing, purchases and returns. In addition, supporting technical products often requires specialized and detailed expertise. Even with good training, agents may need years of experience to build a serviceable knowledge base.

You can analyze patterns and identify points in the customer journey when people most need specific information, updates, tutorials or tips. Rather than waiting for customers to contact you, proactively send support at appropriate times. You’ll lighten the workload on the contact center and cement your reputation as a customer service leader.

Connect Agents Quickly to People Who Need Help

It’s inevitable that mistakes happen and customers get upset. How you handle complaints can make the difference between losing business or creating a loyal fan. In the Vanson Bourne research, 61% of respondents noted that difficulty reaching a person when they had a complaint tarnished their experience overall. And 59% said the same of long wait times. Respondents felt they were poorly served if they had to wait longer than seven minutes in a phone queue or more than 20 hours for an email response. And roughly two-thirds of them had experienced unreasonable waits in the last 12 months. Of course, there are only so many agents, and it’s not always possible to connect people as fast as you’d like.

However, you can handle more customer contacts quickly by developing omnichannel capabilities. Give agents the ability to receive and respond to text messages, emails and web chats. Many customers prefer one of these options for service, and one agent can work with several customers at once over text, email or chat. Handling customer requests over other channels reduces call volume, lowering wait times and frustration with the phone queue. With integrated communications channels, agents engaged in chat, text or email conversations can seamlessly switch the customer to a voice conversation if needed. Customers don’t have to call in, wade through the menu options, wait on hold and start over with a different agent. With an omnichannel experience, there’s less wait-time frustration and higher levels of satisfaction.

Go Beyond the Traditional Contact Center to Serve Modern Customers

Based on our research, if you want real improvement in your brand reputation, go beyond the phone and coordinate interactions across all channels. While that’s not a trivial task, innovative companies are closing their customer service gaps with cloud solutions that support omnichannel service and data integration, making it easier to keep customers happy and your brand healthy.

To learn more about the potential and real impact of customer service on brands and revenue, read our white paper, Contact Centers: The Moment of Truth for Your Brand.