What Is Virtual Customer Service?
Virtual customer service combines all traditional customer service tasks on an online platform. While conventional service agents worked in physical locations to answer customer questions, solve problems, and forge strong customer relationships, virtual customer service reps perform all the same functions from the comfort of their own homes. Before, customers had to go to a physical location to receive information and support for their products. Now, they can call, text, email, chat, or instant message over social media to receive the same quality support without added inconvenience.
Benefits Of Virtual Customer Service
Virtual customer service boasts a variety of benefits that make it an ideal solution in almost any industry. Reduced wait times are one such benefit. People do not have to wait in line to receive support when your company has a virtual customer service team. Ease of internal transferring, escalation, and global agent availability allows your company to deliver a faster service experience. Today, the addition of AI-driven chatbots further decreases wait times because computer algorithms can automatically perform many simple service functions.
Virtual customer service is also much more accessible than traditional models. Some people find it difficult to leave their homes for service requests frequently. Others may work demanding jobs within your company’s service hours. Virtual functions allow these customers to receive the same quality service as people with the time and ability to travel to physical locations. Furthermore, people who cannot request service within a traditional working day can send an email or a chat message 24/7 and expect to hear back within working hours later.
All these factors combine to create higher customer satisfaction, the most vital metric to prioritize. Customers like to receive service on their terms, over their preferred communication channel, as quickly as possible. You cannot meet these demands without a robust virtual customer service model. When you respond to client needs with proactive, fast, and effective virtual customer service, your customer satisfaction will increase. With increased customer satisfaction comes a higher customer lifetime value and better word-of-mouth marketing, ultimately improving your bottom line. Virtual customer service is an investment in a better, more cost-effective company.
How To Adopt Virtual Customer Service
You may be wondering how to maximize the value of a virtual customer service model at your business, given its evident benefits. You can take several steps, depending on your company’s size, services, and operational business model. One relatively easy step is to turn your regular call center into a virtual one. A virtual call center consists of a centralized digital ‘operator’ that routes service calls to phones at any location instead of within a single building. Instead of spending money on physical office space, equip your reps to receive calls on company telephones at their homes. The escalation process works the same way, but supervisors are available over chat or phone instead of in person.
Another excellent strategy to convert to virtual customer service is the adoption of self-service chatbots. You can install these bots on your website to automatically prompt customers to ask questions. These bots can lead customers through a series of prompts to direct them to the relevant self-service FAQ or user guide. They can also recognize keywords and use them to automatically direct inquiries to the correct service department.
More companies are also using live chat to provide faster virtual support. Live chat allows a rep to respond to customer questions within the website interface instantly. The best live chat software also allows you to integrate your conversation into SMS, email, or social media messaging if the customer prefers. Live chat agents can quickly and seamlessly transfer chats to other agents through a centralized working interface. The software also automatically stores all the data from the live chat conversation so the next rep can pick up right where the last one left off. If used correctly, it is faster and prompts higher customer satisfaction than call or email services. The best part? Your service rep can interact with the customer from their own home—no physical office space required.
6 Most Important Skills When Hiring Virtual Customer Service
Hiring virtual customer service agents should look different than traditional models because there is less direct supervision available for at-home service agents. As such, there are six crucial skills any hiring manager should look for in potential virtual customer service agents.
Make the customer feel validated using only oral/written messages.
Break down complicated processes and explain everything using only oral/written messages
Fully understand every aspect of problems using only oral/written cues.
Be confident enough to make decisions without supervisor approval.
Interact with customers while simultaneously searching for solutions.
Deescalate angry customers and deliver high-quality service under stress.
Virtual customer service agents must have high-quality digital communication skills. Since they cannot forge in-person relationships, they must use just their voice or written messages to make the customer feel heard and validated. Since they cannot physically demonstrate how to fix an issue, they must also be excellent at breaking down processes and explaining them step-by-step to customers of all skill levels.
In the same vein, since virtual agents cannot use all their senses to understand customer queries, they must be excellent at absorbing oral or written statements and coming up with the most comprehensive solution possible.
Since supervisors are not directly accessible to virtual customer service agents, they must make decisions using their discretion. The nature of the virtual supervisor-agent interaction means supervisors may take some time to respond to questions, so virtual agents should respond to as many situations as possible without confirmation from a supervisor.
Unless you offer years of product knowledge training, your agents will likely need to regularly search your web interface for specific solutions. Agents need to communicate with the client on one channel while simultaneously diagnosing the problem and crafting an answer on another channel. While in-person service agents might have been able to put the customer on hold and ask other people in the office for help with a specific problem, efficient virtual agents must complete all these tasks simultaneously without help from others.
Often, service agents must interact with angry or frustrated customers. These interactions may become magnified in virtual space because people find it easier to yell at people they cannot see. Virtual service agents must be able to keep their cool in high-stress situations while calming down the customer. Simultaneously, they must offer high-quality service to reassure the customer that your company is right for them.
Most Popular Virtual Customer Service Jobs
Virtual customer service agents can wear many hats and perform a variety of functions. Depending on your company’s size, you may choose to combine several of these roles or have them report to separate departments. Either way, it is essential to ensure communication and collaboration between these roles and the rest of the company. As the front-facing facet of your brand, service reps know your customers and their needs better than anybody.
Customer Service Representative
The most standard tenet of the virtual service job sector is the virtual customer service representative. These reps must have in-depth product and policy knowledge because they may handle questions about anything from product comparison, basic troubleshooting, return policies. Virtual customer service representatives may handle inquiries over the phone through a virtual call center, by email, through chatbot software, or more likely some combination thereof.
Customer Support Representative
Another typical facet of the virtual customer service job suite is the customer support representative. This job category is more common in SaaS and other tech industries where products may require higher degrees of remote tech support jobs. These agents must be experts in every aspect of the company’s products. They must diagnose, solve, and explain the solving process to customers in simple language, all without ever seeing the product in person. Similar to service reps, support reps work with some combination of call, email, and chatbot interactions.
The chat agent is a newly emerging field of virtual service. Since the purpose of chatbots is to respond to customer inquiries as quickly as possible, some companies are choosing to hire agents specifically for chats to ensure rapid response times. These agents may have more opportunities to search for responses online and send FAQs and user manuals as part of their responses, so they may not need to be as savvy about every aspect of the company.
However, an exclusively virtual job means they must have high computer support and communication skills. They must be good at breaking down processes and building connections with customers over messaging platforms since they cannot hold a real conversation over the phone. Another key benefit of this position is that chat jobs work from home, so no physical office space is necessary.
Social Media Manager
The social media manager position is another job that has gained popularity over the last decade. Part of this job description is to put out original, engaging marketing content. For this reason, social media managers often report to the marketing department. However, an equally important part of the job is responding to instant messages over social media. Customers, especially young customers, will often seek service for their product through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or other social media messaging platforms.
The social media manager must respond professionally and helpfully to these messages. While it may be easier to direct inquiries to other more defined service rep channels, the most dynamic and customer-oriented companies will be able to provide high-quality service right through social media networks. Therefore, social media managers should be well-versed in all the same skills as traditional service representatives.
Virtual Customer Service In Your Industry
Today, you will be hard-pressed to find an industry that is not taking advantage of virtual customer service. Let us go through a few industry examples where virtual customer service is helping companies succeed.
eCommerce is a classic industry that benefits from virtual customer service. Today, more customers than ever before are choosing to shop online. You must maintain high customer satisfaction even without in-person sales reps, which is why virtual customer support is so essential to maintaining brand loyalty for eCommerce businesses.
Software as a Service, or SaaS, companies are also using virtual customer service models to a high degree of success. SaaS products often require a high degree of support post-purchase due to their complex nature, and SaaS customers are often globally instead of locally based. Since SaaS companies often offer downloadable instead of physical products, many do not operate many physical sales or support locations. All these factors make virtual service and support imperatives for successful SaaS companies.
FinTech and Banking
FinTech and banking are other industries that are embracing virtual customer service. A high level of industry disruption from online-only small banks is causing even the largest legacy institutions to develop virtual strategies. Virtual assistants can help in all the usual ways. They reduce wait times, make banking more accessible to those who cannot access in-person services during bank hours, and enhance customer satisfaction. Additionally, virtual assistants can use computer algorithms to detect fraud, ensure regulation compliance, and perform a host of banking-specific tasks more efficiently and effectively than in-person tellers.
Similarly, insurance companies find that virtual service helps them provide quotes and evaluate claims faster than ever before. In an industry where circumstances change abruptly, and large amounts of money transfer hands, efficient and accurate service is paramount. In addition, shorter wait times and more attentive virtual reps will help improve the satisfaction of often-distressed customers who call or chat to receive support and service.
Media and Telecom
Media and telecom are another two industries where virtual service quality separates the businesses that succeed from ones that struggle; after the automobile and upscale hotel industries, telecom businesses are the third most susceptible to changes in revenue based on customer experience. Virtual customer service, when used correctly, can significantly contribute to enhanced customer satisfaction. Therefore, it is imperative to businesses who want to generate the most revenue using the fewest resources.
Virtual service is also a boon to the education industry. For example, in higher education, various faculties and departments traditionally exist in silos. Higher education institutions can use virtual service tools to support students and staff within one platform.
Finally, travel companies from airlines to Airbnb use virtual customer service tools to enhance the traveler experience. Travel is an example of an industry where people are generally unable to access in-person services because they are out of the country. Furthermore, since travelers may be in a different time zone from the travel company, they will often need support at all hours of the day and night. The rapidly changing nature of travel plans (think, flight delays or a hotel mis-booking) also means that customers must receive immediate service when they request it. All these reasons make virtual models attractive for travel companies.
These are just a few broad industry examples. Virtual customer service is becoming more pervasive by the year due to its capability to enhance customer satisfaction and improve companies’ bottom lines.
Benefits of Customer Service Software
Customer service software automates simple, repetitive tasks and allows agents to focus on the interactions that matter. This software drives customer satisfaction and loyalty because customers can better connect to agents who are not distracted by these small tasks. Furthermore, the agents will find they can form better relationships with customers when they feel passionate and motivated to succeed at work. This passion comes in part from a more engaging, skilled job description. When agents do not feel like robots because they are engaged in their work, their interactions will be less robotic.
Customer service software also performs simple tasks more quickly and efficiently than most humans, which means that customers will spend less time on hold and in queues. The combination of engaged customer service agents and quicker, more efficient service drives customer satisfaction and loyalty. Customers will be more likely to remain clients for more extended periods and purchase additional products or upgrades when they experience exceptional customer service. Hence, an investment in this software is ultimately an investment in your bottom line.
Customer service software also fosters a seamless agent experience. We all have experienced the frustration of explaining issues to service representatives, just to be transferred to another department to describe the problem again. Customer service tracking software collects customer data from the current and past interactions and saves it in one accessible location so that agents can easily retrieve all helpful information. This software can also negate the need to transfer from department to department because chatbots can collect basic information on customers' problem types and transfer them automatically to the department best suited to answer their questions.
Customer service software also makes the agents' experience much more seamless on the company's end because it stores all the necessary data on one interface. The software also seamlessly integrates with other platforms your company may use, such as email, SMS, and other customer service chat software, so that agents can perform all their tasks on one interface. Agents will perform better when they do not have to worry about keeping track of and transferring data over several platforms. Instead, they can focus on what matters: quality customer interactions.
Customer service software also gives businesses the ability to scale more intelligently and quickly because it automates communication at scale. While growing companies may find it challenging to ensure teams do not become siloed as they grow and diversify, customer service software can easily share data and facilitate communication between different departments worldwide. Customer service software also ensures that all teams follow the same protocols and operate under the same overarching goals and values because they have a standardized communication interface across the company.
Types of Customer Service Software
Just as no two companies are the same, there exists a wide variety of customer service software. Each type works well for different kinds of companies depending on their product type and customers' values. The best virtual customer service strategies will likely use a combination to appeal to the broadest possible customer base.
Customer service live chat software allows customers to interact with a customer service agent right from the company's website. Customers can send a message from a chat widget on the website interface. When a live agent is available, they can respond to the notification and conduct a standard customer service interaction. You can generally choose to keep your chat widget at the corner of your website screen regardless of the website page, or you can direct customers to the chat function on the 'contact' or 'support' pages.
This type of support is ideal for eCommerce or other businesses that rely heavily on website traffic to sell and support their products. The key here is to remember that most customers do not wish to spend hours staring at your website's contact page waiting for a reply. The most effective live chat strategies will either employ a large team or use multiple software such as chatbots to automate some chat interactions.
Customer service call center software is a more traditional facet of the customer service suite. Customers can call a phone number and dial through menu options to find the support team most suited to their questions. The first available agent on that team can then facilitate a high-quality verbal interaction, which may be preferable to some customers who appreciate the nuances of a spoken versus written conversation.
This type of support is ideal for companies who want to facilitate high-quality customer relationships. Still, it can quickly become inconvenient and irritating to customers if they spend large amounts of time on hold and in queues. Some companies use a call back option, wherein the customer leaves their phone number, and the next available agent calls them back later in the day. This option is often preferable because customers can go about their day instead of waiting on hold. It is generally preferable to use phone support in conjunction with automated services to free-agent time to respond to high-profile complaints while reducing wait times.
Another more traditional virtual customer service strategy, email support, is helpful because agents can gather all the available resources to craft a high-quality response instead of rushing through phone tickets. Some customers also prefer customer service email management software because they do not need to monitor their phones or computers for a response; they can check their email like on any other occasion.
However, email interactions have a reputation for being slow, especially if you have few monitoring agents and a high volume of emails every day. Depending on the nature of your product, customers may need a response faster than some email service strategies can provide, especially when the conversation requires more than an initial email and a reply.
Today, more customers than ever value the ability to self-serve. Some companies, especially SaaS and other tech companies, have chosen to create an online forum where product users can post strategies, codes, and conversations about the product. Your company may decide to hire representatives to monitor the knowledge base and flag out-of-date or inaccurate content, or even answer some user questions themselves. AI tools also exist that can scan your knowledge base for potentially erroneous information.
Knowledge bases are an excellent tool to build a global user community, thereby increasing product engagement and customer loyalty, all with very minimal financial input.
People want service fast, and they want it right where they are. Messaging tools make it easier to deliver on customer values because you can assist through their preferred messaging platform. Now companies can quickly provide service through SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or social media direct messaging platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. Like email, agents have the time to craft high-quality responses, and like live chat, the interaction is more informal and conversational. These factors are essential to ensure continually improving customer satisfaction.
7 Best Customer Service Software Tools
By now, you have learned a lot about what your company requires from customer service software. Now let us discuss the software on the market that can offer these and many other features. This customer service software comparison is a good starting point to identify some brands that may work for your company.
Ada is a disruptor in the customer service software industry. It boasts leading AI technology that can automate up to 80% of interactions and can integrate with other platforms such as Zendesk and Salesforce.
Zendesk is an industry leader and boasts an impressive customer history database, ticket prioritization, and comprehensive agent interface.
Salesforce is another industry leader specializing in multichannel communication and service analytics.
Intercom boasts impressive integrational, ticket optimization, and multi-channel messaging capabilities.
Hubspot is a quality customer service software with high-level knowledge base support, a shared inbox to encourage collaboration and efficient service, and comprehensive customer feedback collection tools.
Kustomer is a quality tool for companies that want to create streamlined, personal connections with customers all in one convenient user interface.
Mailchimp is an excellent tool for companies with a primarily email-focussed customer service strategy. It allows teams to create and personalize email newsletters, signups, and event invitations and segment mailing lists by customer type.
These are only a few of the many features that these softwares offer. Many provide live demos, free customer service software trials, or consultations to help you find the best fit for your company. Remember to research your customer preferences, business size, and operational strategy in mind to find the best customer service software to help your business grow and thrive.