In the age of the empowered and informed customer, there’s increased attention on how to maximize a brand’s customer experience along the buying journey. However, while many improvements are centered on technological changes, there are existing historical silos involving people and information, rather than channels. These disconnects waste important customer-facing resources, hide relevant content and adversely impact the sales cycle.
The most common breakdown takes place between sales and customer service. While sales teams are tasked with engaging customers in the early stages of a buying life cycle, customer service teams have been traditionally used as post-purchase troubleshooting tools. According to recent research from Forrester, nearly half of all buyers still view customer service as a post-purchase resource, as the first three phases of the online purchase journey rank the lowest in terms of customer service participation.
The problem with this trend is that customer service departments possess knowledge that's timely and relevant in the pre-purchase stages. Consider the study’s top-ranked customer service requests: how to use a product for the first time, a product’s capabilities, and where to find support information. These are valuable pieces of information that are often key factors in purchase decisions. Since customer drop-off is most likely in the first three stages of the buying life cycle, pre-purchase customer service involvement could be vital to increasing sales and turning prospects into customers.
While organizational silos are part of the problem, they’re not entirely to blame. The study also found that companies face key challenges when delivering important pre-purchase information.
Lack of Technology to Effectively Connect Buyers to Crucial Content
One-third of companies surveyed said a poor customer experience within commerce or community channels impedes their ability to support buyers in making online purchases. These issues can make it difficult for buyers to access content during the pre-purchase phases. Additionally, 31 percent of companies said they lack the technology to track potential buyers between the phases of their purchase journey, hindering efficient support to buyers at the most effective moments.
Lack of Opportunities for Buyers to Engage With Companies
Buyers may not be engaging with companies because the opportunities or tools to do so are not available. If buyers had more opportunities to engage with the brand and have their questions answered during the early phases of their journey, it could reduce the need for post-purchase customer service calls.
Therefore, how do brands integrate more relevant information from customer service teams into the hands of prospective buyers? The answer is a combination of organizational, technological and cultural changes to bring all relevant groups into the selling process.
Understand Who Controls Relevant Information
Companies must audit their existing product-related information and understand which types of employees are sharing relevant details. This could include information from product marketing to engineering to service and support.
Empower Customer Service to Assist in Pre-Purchase Communication
Fifty-seven percent of companies are putting more customer service contact opportunities into pre-purchase channels, such as chat windows or “Ask for Help” buttons on product pages. In many cases, it makes sense to incentivize support professionals to participate in community forums where relevant questions are being asked. This allows relevant brand dialogue to take place “in the moment,” drawing a clearer connection between the online community and the buying process.
Streamline the Service Function by Promoting Increased Visibility and Knowledge Sharing
Customer service departments are constantly fielding important questions. The responses and knowledge must be better shared and housed in channels that promote self-service, such as FAQ sections in online communities. These tools free up the support staff from responding to repetitive queries and help them become assets within sales.
Develop More Immediate Ways to Interact With Prospective Buyers
Sixty-three percent of companies are trying to make customer service more immediate through methods such as chat and video. By streamlining information and improving a customer’s ability to answer their own questions, brands can raise their sales and customer satisfaction more cost and time effectively.
Create Streamlined and Accessible Areas for Community Interaction
Seventy-one percent of companies believe buyers that utilize community content have greater product satisfaction than those who don’t. By integrating content among communities, product catalogs and commerce sites, companies increase their likelihood of customer engagement and self-service, which in turn build sales and ease the burden on support staff.
There's a wealth of untapped organizational knowledge that can ultimately help buyers along in the sales process. By breaking down the technological and organizational barriers between departments, companies can maximize the value of their customer support teams and develop a thorough, streamlined customer experience.
Steve Hamrick is the vice president of product management, collaboration software, at SAP. He leads the product management, user experience and documentation teams for enterprise social software products.