Ever since Tom Peters published his seminal book “In the Pursuit of Wow!” back in 1994, providing exceptional customer service has become a part of nearly every company’s playbook.
Firms have fully embraced the idea that making the customer feel special is good for business. Customer service icons like Southwest Airlines have proven this: The company has been on Fortune’s list of the World’s Most Admired Companies more than 20 times. Zappos, the popular online shoe retailer, has built its entire brand on go-the-extra-mile customer service. And there are plenty of other companies that have made a name for themselves by treating their customers well. It’s pretty clear that providing an exceptional customer experience has become a pillar in the modern business world.
Yet “exceptional” is not how most of us would describe the type of service we receive from most businesses.
Indeed, the reality is that we rarely get the Zappos treatment when dealing with a business. Even though every company knows the importance of having excellent customer service, very few are actually able to pull off providing a memorable experience.
There are many reasons for this. First of all, it takes a core level, customer-first approach. If the leader of an organization doesn’t espouse this mantra, a superb customer experience is only a pipe dream. Secondly, it’s hard. Even for willing companies, capturing what it takes to make the customer want to stand up and clap is difficult.
But for those companies looking to provide an experience in which their customers say “wow,” there is hope. And it starts with self-service.
Let Customers Take Control
Self-service is all about empowering your customer. In today’s world, customers want control. They want to be able to research on their own, and they want to do it on their time. They don’t want to have to contact a company just to get an answer to a question.
Allowing a way for customers to accomplish self-service tasks is a great start to providing an outstanding user experience. A recent survey from Forrester found that 76 percent of customers used a company FAQ page for answers in 2014, up from 67 percent in 2012. Research from Microsoft backs this up: 90 percent of consumers expect a brand to offer some sort of self-service.
Beyond FAQ pages and other informational options that can be provided via a website, a trend that’s picking up steam for service-based businesses is online scheduling. It’s a simple way to eliminate a huge pain point for customers — having to call in to book an appointment. For businesses that meet with customers in any capacity — via phone, in-person, or even through online chat — offering online booking is a simple way to start giving customers more control over their experience.
Giving customers the ability to book their own appointments is the online equivalent of self-checkout. No longer do customers have to slosh through the slow-moving process of calling to make, change, and cancel appointments. Instead, they can pull out their computers, tablets, or smartphones and gain control over the booking process.
Online scheduling offers many benefits, but here are two of the most significant ones:
- Online booking meets customers where they already are.
It makes sense — consumers already do everything else online, whether it’s banking, shopping, planning vacations, or simply ordering takeout. Many people’s lives revolve around the internet. That’s why so many people now abhor the inconvenience of having to do things like call to schedule doctor’s appointments.
By providing customers with an option to book appointments online, you’re letting them complete a necessary task in a way that’s convenient for them on a platform they’re already on. They’ll no longer have the hassle of having to call during business hours to schedule their appointment. Plus, they’ll receive email or text message reminders before their appointment, reducing customers’ mental labor for keeping track of their appointments. Having a timely reminder is a welcome nudge in today’s busy world.
- Online booking increases customer touchpoints.
Businesses themselves benefit from online booking, too. It may seem on the surface that you’re reducing customer touchpoints by providing a self-service option, but it’s just the opposite. You’re actually increasing the number of touchpoints — and doing it without requiring human intervention.
Scheduling systems allow for several interactions from the time customers book to the time of their appointment. When customers schedule an appointment via a self-service portal, that’s a critical touchpoint. After they book, they receive an email confirmation — another point of contact. Then, prior to their appointment, they receive a another reminder email or text message. Schedulers can even be set up to automate a message to customers after their appointment to thank them or request feedback.
In each of these touchpoints, companies have the opportunity to promote their brand and build a bond with customers. The messages are all customizable, so a business could direct them to a recent blog post or advertise an upcoming promotion.
There’s also the financial return on investment. Xtime found customers who scheduled a visit with a car dealer generated an average of $54 more than walk-ins, and 76 percent of customers who scheduled their appointment online would do so again.
Give Self-Service a Try
At the end of the day, there’s no real downside to offering a self-service option like appointment scheduling. In the case of online scheduling, customers love the convenience of being able to book anytime, anywhere. And they appreciate when a business can keep track of their appointments for them. Companies love online booking because it reduces overhead costs while increasing customer visits, customer contact, and overall profit.
In our fast-paced world of quickly-changing customer expectations, the businesses that win will be the ones that focus on creating an outstanding user experience. It’s not easy to do, but a great first step is empowering your customers. By allowing them to do more themselves, like booking their own appointments, you’ll be well on your way to creating that “wow” experience that Tom Peters taught us all about back in the ’90s.