How To Offer 24/7 Customer Service & Why It Matters
The Customer Is Always Right
That’s the old adage when it comes to customer service – but how far does it really apply?
Is the customer right if they expect to talk to you after you’ve closed up for the day?
What about if it’s half past 3 in the morning?
Increasingly, customers expect to receive customer service at a time that is convenient to them.
If you can offer this, your customer satisfaction ratings and retention will go through the roof.
Business owners beware though – 24/7 customer service is as much of an art as it is a science.
Get it wrong and your round the clock cover could see massive negative ROI.
But it’s ok – we’re here to help.
By the end of this guide you’ll see why 24/7 customer service matters and how you can offer it to your customers.
So let’s get started.
What is good customer service?
Let’s start off by thinking about what good customer service actually is.
Traditionally, good customer service meant having friendly and professional staff with great product knowledge.
The sort of people who would go to every length to help the customer.
It meant living by “the customer is always right”, and it meant making everyone who stepped through the door into your business feel welcome.
All of this is still true of good customer service today.
However; This alone is no longer enough.
Today, there are two other factors that sit alongside customer service, and they are customer experience and customer journey.
Thanks to technological advances, people want more than just great customer service, they want it in a way that is convenient for them.
Without providing a great customer journey it doesn’t matter how good your customer service is, your customers simply won’t be there when you’re offering it.
How does this relate to 24/7 service?
So how does offering 24/7 customer service relate to customer service as a whole?
To put it simply, without offering 24/7 customer service you can never offer a satisfying customer experience.
Today, people are too busy to get customer service on your terms.
To provide the best experience, you need to provide maximum flexibility to support your customers when and where they choose.
Why do people want 24/7 customer service?
While it’s clear that people want more flexible customer service options, in order to provide the best experience it’s important to know exactly why they want them.
The better you can understand your customers, the better the journey you’ll be able to create for them.
- Are they at work all day and unable to contact you?
- Do they want an urgent resolution “right here, right now”?
- Are they a London cabby on the night shift who suddenly remembered it’s his anniversary tomorrow and needs to know if you can deliver those flowers on time?
Ok, maybe that one’s a bit specific, but you get the idea.
The more you can understand your customers’ needs the better, and we’ve found the need for 24/7 customer service boils down to these 3 things:
- Lifestyle – Lots of people work while your business is open, so they will need to contact you in the evening.
- Technology – If you’ve got a website your business is always open, so people want to talk to you.
- A Global Audience – Just because you’ve got your pyjamas on doesn’t mean the rest of the world has.
But Where’s The Proof?
But where’s the proof you say?
After all we could just be making all of this up. Well here are the facts:
- 57% of consumers expect the same response time at night and on weekends as during normal business hours.
- 40% of people are still doing work after 10pm
- 32% of consumers expect a response within 30 minutes at night and on weekends
It Fits Their Lifestyle
One of the main reasons people want customer service 24/7 is lifestyle.
To put it simply, people have other things to do in the middle of the day than get on the phone or come into a store.
Here are just 3 examples why:
- Everyday, 18 million people in the UK work nine to five
- In 2016 there were 9 million families in the UK
- People spend up to 26 hours a week doing housework
And that’s just their job, childcare and cleaning!
Imagine all the other things people would rather do than chase up a customer service enquiry and it becomes clear that taking time out to phone you isn’t a priority.
24/7 customer service means customers don’t have to prioritise making that call, and they can simply chase up their customer service enquiries at a time convenient to them.
The Online World is 24/7
Another reason behind the need for 24/7 customer service is technology.
Thanks to the internet, smartphones, and social media we live in a 24-hour culture.
If you live in a city and you have a smartphone there is nothing you can’t get within 24 hours.
Because of this, if someone comes to your website and realises they can’t get a response to their enquiry, the chances that they’ll think “oh well that’s fair – everyone needs some time off” are slim.
It’s a Global Market Place
Finally, there’s the simple fact that just because it’s the middle of the night for you, it doesn’t mean it is for everyone else.
If you’re online and you’ve got a business that doesn’t require meeting face to face, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t hawk your wares around the world.
The challenge is, when New York is ready to get online and buy buy buy you’re just slipping on your night cap.
If you’ve got an international target market, you need a customer service plan that reflects that, and one that your customers can use at a time convenient to them… or at least when they’re awake!
So why should you care?
So why should you care?
After all, you could run your customer service department from 9 to 5 and if your customers need to get in touch – tough.
Well for starters – that’s not very nice – but here’s the real reason why you should care.
Customer service is what makes and breaks businesses.
Thanks to the internet, it’s harder than ever to have a unique product.
Today you are in direct competition with every other business around the world, and customers are becoming less swayed by products and price points because there’s always someone else offering the same thing or slightly better.
What customers do care about is customer service and customer experience.
86% of buyers will pay more for a good customer experience.
That’s why 24/7 customer service matters.
Better Customer Retention
Providing a better customer experience through 24/7 customer service can help you get more of the holy grail in business – repeat customers.
- Loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase
- It is 6-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one
- 86% of consumers would quit doing business with a company because of a bad customer experience
If you can provide your customers with a fantastic customer experience at a time convenient to them, whether that’s at 8pm at 6:30am, you’ll increase the chance of them using you for their next purchase.
And, if you can offer this to them consistently, you could have a customer for life.
More customers from more places
As we’ve mentioned already a good reason for extending your hours of customer service is to engage with international markets – but just how important can international markets be to small businesses?
Very, it turns out.
Take for example this case study of Quantum Beauty Company.
Quantum Beauty Company went from having 100% of its sales made in England in 2001 to now having over 50% of sales coming from foreign markets.
If you want to replicate this success in foreign markets you need to have the infrastructure to respond to customer enquiries from those markets, whatever time they come in.
How can you offer 24/7 customer service?
The good news is that it’s relatively easy to provide 24/7 customer service.
The challenge comes from making good ROI while you’re doing it.
After all, it’s easy enough to employ someone to come in overnight – but unless you can make enough money overnight to cover the costs it isn’t a wise investment.
Balancing the different ways to provide out of hours customer service is key to providing a great service while still making a profit.
So where do you start?
Start with a gap analysis
If you want to provide 24/7 customer service, the place to start is with a gap analysis.
A gap analysis means looking at your business and finding out where the skills and infrastructure gaps are that you need to fill.
Start off by looking at what you do during normal office hours.
- Do you normally answer enquiries by phone or by email?
- Do you use social media for customer service?
- Do you have dedicated customer service people or do you manage it yourself?
The second process is identifying which of these can be done out of hours.
- Do you have on call staff who can take calls once the office has closed?
- Do you have a webmail client so your staff can log in from home to manage emails?
- Would any of your staff be willing to do this if they were given the right incentives?
Once you understand the processes in your business it’s time to compare them to other businesses.
Typically, you’ll look at your competitors, and at a company that you know is already providing great customer service 24/7.
When you’re looking at your competitors, focus on things they do differently to you.
- Do they promise a reply to enquiries in a set time frame?
- Are they using different customer service channels to you?
When it comes to the company who is already offering 24/7 service, focus on how they do it.
Look at the infrastructure they have in place and any software or services they are using to provide cover out of hours – for example and out of hours telephone answering service.
Once you have this information you can compare and contrast what you’re currently doing in the day, what you can potentially do at night, and what your competitors and other companies are already doing.
That way you’ll know what skills and infrastructure you need to bring into the business to provide 24/7 customer service.
Identify common queries and choose the right channels
Next you need to work out what customer service channels are going to work best for your customers.
You can do this by looking at the type of people your customers are, and the type of enquiries they make.
- 74% of people prefer the telephone for complex financial questions
- 56% of people aged 18 to 34 prefer live chat to phone
What that means is if you’re a company whose customers are making big decisions you need to answer the phone at all times.
If you’re an online retailer targeting younger people with high fashion items they might be better served with live chat and social media.
Understand your audience and their needs so you don’t waste money putting systems in place that they will never use.
But what channels are available?
Pick up the phone
When it comes to providing customer service, the telephone is often still the best and most popular choice.
In fact, despite all the technological advances the telephone still counts for 68% of all customer service interactions.
The reason for this is most likely to do with first contact resolution.
While emails may be more convenient than a phone call (as you can send an email at any time) trying to resolve customer service queries via email normally results in a back and forth.
With the telephone this doesn’t happen.
The customer service agent is right there, logged into the CRM system, with all the information they need to solve the caller’s enquiry first time.
But is it worth the investment?
Improvements in first contact resolution alone typically improve customer retention by as much as 15-30 percent.
As we’ve already covered, retaining customers is far more profitable than acquiring new ones, which makes using the telephone a worthwhile investment for your business.
The problem with 24/7 call answering in house
So if you are going to offer 24/7 phone support, the question is how are you going to do it in-house?
If your standard operating hours are 9 to 5 that means you need to employ people to cover the 16 hours in between, plus the weekends.
Even if you pay the out of hours staff minimum wage at £7.50 an hour, that’s £960 a week just to make sure there’s always someone in the office to answer calls.
While that would be a nice option, it’s unlikely you’ll ever see good ROI on that amount of spend.
While providing 24/7 customer support is important, it doesn’t change the fact that you’ll get significantly fewer out of hours enquiries than you do during the day, meaning employing people full time to manage them isn’t cost effective.
Fortunately, there are many other options available when it comes to managing your phone lines out of hours.
Outsourced call answering
Full disclosure time – we’re a telephone answering service, so unsurprisingly we’re pretty big advocates of outsourcing your out of hours calls.
But we’re not going to pitch our business here – all this information applies as much to our competitors as it does to us.
Basically, if you want real people to answer your telephone calls, outsourcing to an answering service is the most cost effective way to do it.
When you sign up with an answering service you divert your out of hours calls to them, and they’ll be answered in a 24-hour contact centre.
The type of service you can get varies from company to company with some offering just message taking, and others offering complete customer service solutions.
The reason it is so cost effective is that you only pay for the time spent answering your calls.
What that means is that if you only get a handful of calls a night, you’ll only spend a few quid having them answered, as opposed to the full night’s wages you’d have to pay someone in-house.
And the best part is an answering service will answer the call just as your own staff would, so your callers will never know you’ve outsourced the call. For more info check out our blog on outsourced switchboards.
Tech and IVR
Another option many businesses turn to is an IVR system.
This stands for Interactive Voice Response, which in layman’s terms are those machines that tell you to “press one for customer service” or “say the name of the person you want to speak to after the beep”.
The main problem with IVR systems is that people find them annoying. In fact studies have shown that only 3% of people like using IVR systems.
However just because people don’t like them doesn’t mean that they don’t work.
We’ve all been on enough phone calls to automated systems to know that 1000’s of businesses up and down the country use them on a daily basis.
If you simply can’t afford a call answering service, an IVR system is still a better option than just letting the calls go through to an answer phone.
And, if you’re using on call staff to answer calls, an IVR system can be a great way to qualify and route the calls to the right people.
On Call Staff
Using on call staff can be a great way to manage 24/7 customer service enquiries.
It bridges the gap between having staff on shift at all times, and an option like a call answering service where you only pay for the calls you use.
Having on call staff is also useful if you’re in a highly technical industry like IT or the legal profession where the callers will need someone with a lot of knowledge to effectively manage their enquiry.
The problem with on call staff is that often it can be hard to find people who want to do it, and you’ll typically have to pay staff to go on call even if they don’t end up managing any enquiries – so it isn’t always cost effective.
One of the best ways to use on call staff is to use them in conjunction with an outsourced call answering service.
The call answering service can manage the majority of the enquiries, and the ones that require technical knowledge can be transferred across after having been fully qualified by the answering service.
Today, email is ubiquitous in customer service, and you could argue that it is just as important as the telephone.
When it comes to providing 24/7 customer service, email also has the advantage of giving you a bit more wiggle room when it comes to answering enquiries.
With the phone, if you promise your customers 24/7 cover, you need someone ready at all times to answer the phone.
If you promise 24/7 customer service via email, you can get away with a couple of hours gap between an email being sent and your company providing a response.
Because of this it is much easier for you to manage your email customer support yourself.
The most important thing to have is a webmail system that allows your staff to easily log into their work email from wherever they are.
The challenge becomes making sure that the quality of service is maintained when multiple people from your business are managing the same email account.
That is where a ticketing system comes in.
With a ticketing system, every new customer enquiry will create a unique ticket.
From that point on, every contact made between the customer and the business regarding that enquiry will be logged onto that ticket.
This is important to have as soon as you start managing email around the clock, however all other interactions should be added to the ticketing system too including social media and phone enquiries.
The importance of the ticketing system is to ensure a good customer experience. It keeps all the information from the enquiry in the same place so that there’s no need for the customer to repeatedly explain their issue every time they talk to a new agent.
One of the most popular ticketing systems at the minute is Zendesk, and they’re particularly good when it comes to explaining how you can use their service.
If you think a ticketing system would be helpful for your business, Zendesk’s website is a great place to start researching.
When it comes to customer service the most up and coming channel is social media.
If your business is designed to appeal to young people then social media should definitely be a part of your wider customer service strategy, and should be considered as part of your 24/7 plan.
Social media customer service effectively works in two ways, either by people private messaging you directly or by people posting their query on their feed for everyone to see.
This is an interesting development in terms of 24/7 customer service as it makes having your social channels covered 24/7 essential.
After all, you wouldn’t want someone posting an angry tweet about a late delivery and having it sit on your feed all night (or worse, all weekend) for your potential customers to see.
But which platforms should you use?
Which platforms should you choose?
The platforms you use will largely depend on which channels you’re using for your marketing. After all, if you’ve got an account to promote yourself with, people can just as easily use that account to make enquiries and even complaints, so you need to keep an eye on it at all times.
The channel that best fits your business depends on what you offer and what your target audience is like.
What was once the place to be for the young and trendy people of the internet is now far more important to people past the age of 30.
However, Facebook is as ubiquitous as Google so regardless of what you’re selling you should be on Facebook.
Twitter is a place lots of businesses, marketers, and influencers go to promote themselves, so if you’re in B2B services it’s a good place to be.
Twitter is also renowned for its trolling and general negative attitudes, so if you are on Twitter be extra alert, if someone’s going to completely lose it about your business in a public forum, it’s likely they’ll do it on Twitter.
Until recently Instagram was the up and coming social network but since being bought by Facebook it has become much more mainstream.
The visual nature of Instagram means it’s great for retailers and anyone selling fashionable, desirable products.
Due to the nature of Instagram it’s a bit harder for people to publicly bash you, but watch out for negative comments or people tagging you in pictures of damaged or faulty items they’ve received.
Snapchat is the new kid on the block and has stolen Instagram’s crown as the chosen social media platform of Generation Z.
With businesses still finding their feet on Snapchat it’s yet to be seen how customer service interactions will play out on this platform.
There are however some businesses using Snapchat as an effective troubleshooting tool, as customers can easily send pictures showing any problems they’re having.
Live Chat came on the scene at around the same time as social media customer service, and it is used in much the same way.
It is preferred by younger people and often generates enquiries of the quick and easy type rather than the complex questions that you’ll get over the phone.
One of the interesting things about live chat customer service is that despite it not having been around for a long time it’s already proven to improve sales on websites.
Studies have shown 62% of customers were more inclined to purchase products online if customer support is available via live chat.
But providing live chat 24/7 is a challenge. Much like the telephone you need someone there all the time to man it, meaning it isn’t very cost effective to do in-house.
Fortunately, there are already many options for outsourcing live chat, with a number of organisations offering live chat services.
One benefit live chat outsourcing has over outsourced call answering is that a skilled live chat operator can manage up to 4 live chats at a time, while of course you can only take one phone call at a time.
This means live chat outsourcing can handle more enquiries, more quickly, for potentially less money than a telephone answering service.
Often the best solution can be to outsource both live chat and call answering to the same provider.
This provides a smooth customer journey between live chat and the telephone, and it also keeps two of your customer service channels covered at all times.
How to manage ROI
At the start of this book we said that 24/7 customer service is a highly valuable service to provide, but it can quickly become a costly and inefficient process.
At points, we’ve discussed how to get maximum ROI out of individual channels, however across all channels there is one key point when it comes to getting the best ROI.
To get the best ROI out of your 24/7 customer service channels, you need to minimise paid down-time as much as possible.
Because fewer enquiries come in outside of traditional office hours (especially during the graveyard shift of 12am to 7am) as soon as you start paying someone on an hourly basis you’re at risk of seeing negative ROI.
That’s why outsourcing is so effective when it comes to managing enquiries out of hours – you only pay for the time spent managing enquiries.
If you’re a small business owner, you can likely manage email and social media enquiries yourself.
However, when it comes to the phone and live chat, outsourcing to a dedicated provider will get you the best service at the lowest price.
And that’s it!
So what have we learned?
- In today’s 24 hour culture people want to get customer enquiries answered at a time convenient to them.
- There are lots of customer service channels to choose from, and while you don’t have to use them all, it’s important to choose the right ones for your customers.
- When you’re trying to manage 24/7 customer service, costs can quickly spin out of control. Outsourcing providers and the right technology can help you make good ROI.
Soon, 24/7 customer service won’t even be a choice for businesses, it will simply be the standard.
Rather than waiting till you’re forced to adopt a 24 hour customer service strategy, start implementing one now and you can experience the boost to sales and customer retention that 24/7 customer service brings.
Still want to know more? Check out our outsourced customer service blog.
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