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 Customer service in a technology driven world

 Retaining customers in an evolving, competitive environment

 In a world dominated by fast-paced, on-demand service - both online and offline - local businesses need to evaluate the role social media and technology play within their business and whether their customer service strategy is up-to-date and meeting their customers’ growing expectations.

Businesses are no longer competing during typical business hours, but 24-7 as consumers increasingly demand convenience. Jeremy Lang, regional general manager at Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), says that this has presented both opportunities and challenges for local small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

“Increasingly business are having to compete for a continually decreasing slice of the pie as economic conditions remain under pressure, thereby SMEs must take heed of rising trends that can retain and attract customers, such as maximising their online presence to adapt to the new world of how customers engage with brands and businesses. Without this, local businesses can lose clientele to competing businesses who are offering accessibility and value in the form of readily available product / service information online, or regular customer engagement across social media platforms.

Lang points to the recently released 2017 Global Online Consumer Report by KPMG International which cites that 64% of South Africans stated that being able to easily contact a company was a top trust factor for them. Furthermore, 65% of all respondents said that excellent customer support was the number one loyalty-earning attribute.

“While this report surveyed retail and manufacturer consumers, the takeout for all types of business is evident - brick and mortar strategies are no longer enough to retain happy customers, and instead local businesses need to be evolving their marketing strategies to incorporate new technologies and social media if they wish to retain their customer base, attract new customers, and ensure business continuity.”

In terms of social media presence, Lang says that this can’t be under estimated, or ignored, in a business’ marketing strategy. He points to a global study by Conversocial which revealed that customer service interactions over Twitter increased by 250% since 2015 and that answering a social media complaint increases customer advocacy by 25%.

He warns that businesses shouldn’t just be present for the sake of having an online platforms though, but rather to use these platforms to seek meaningful relationships with clients and to improve how their products are accessed or experienced. A customer service report by Forrester Research revealed that 72% of people say that the most pivotal thing a company can do in terms of customer service is to value their time.

“Businesses need to realise the importance of responding efficiently and to use these platforms to create a competitive advantage for their business. “Customer service is also evolving from merely providing solutions to delving further into customer engagement territory, where consumers are expecting their issues to be dealt with in a personal and timeous manner,” says Lang.

Lang adds that customer service is essentially marketing for a business and that by using social media and other such public platforms to engage with customers, other potential customers are able to view the way in which the business engages with its market and customers - ultimately influencing the decisions of potential customers, driving them to or from the business. “The more business owners embrace technology and use it to become more innovative, the further their business will grow and thrive,” concludes Lang.

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