“But your colleague told me a completely different story!”
Admit it, this is one of the most frustrating things a customer can say to you. It immediately pulls the carpet from under all your reasoning, leaving you in a weak defensive position.
What’s even worse, you’re suddenly no longer confident.
Did your colleague offer any special conditions that they forgot to put in writing?
Was there a change in the company policy that you missed somehow?
Or could the customer just be blackmailing you?
These simple examples show the importance of effective communication and the disastrous effect a lack of it may have. We are talking not only about agent-customer communication but also about communication within the team.
Let’s see which benefits you can get from improving both.
Why is team communication important for customer relations?
Effective team communication is critical in many ways, both for team-building purposes and business growth. In the context of customer service, though, team communication gains even higher importance, as the overall communication culture and style inevitably spreads to customer relations too.
Any customer-facing business worth its salt will definitely have a customer service department. Depending on the business, its relations with customers may be conducted in various ways: over the phone, in a live chat, via support tickets, or by email. But at their core, there is always a communication system. Here, the system means not only a set of special tools—although they play a key part too—but a complete ecosystem of rules, policies, routines, and metrics.
Effective team communication is the foundation on which this ecosystem sits. Customers contact the “company” on behalf of which customer reps come with the right answers. So if you want to improve your customer service, start with improving your team communication.
Note: If you are a small business looking for a simple online resource allocation tool, check this list of employee resource management software.
Benefits of effective team communication for customer relations
Improving the overall team communication, you are going to get the following benefits:
No lost context
In other words, the company becomes a “single source of truth” for the customer, no matter which department or employee they are talking to. The most straightforward way to always maintain the context of customer communications is to enable your team to be updated on the customer’s case at any time. How not to lose context in communication with customers:
- Maintain a common communication culture across the company, including the style, wording, terminology, response times
- Log conversations with proper tags for later reference
- Establish product knowledge sessions for your team, including new release information, so that everyone who is in customer contact is on the same page
Higher customer trust and conversion rate
Continuing from the previous point, proper communication is a key component to increasing customer satisfaction and trust. Have you ever had a disappointing experience of two employees of the same company telling you different things, for example, a different price for the same item? Admit it, your first – and quite justified! – response was to hang up and find another company who provides similar services. Here go your sales opportunities and possible conversions, all because you could not establish effective communication within your team.
What you can do to gain customer trust:
- Promptly communicate all customer-related information (product or price changes, special offers, promotions, etc.) to your service agents
- Maintain an up-to-date internal knowledge base
When communication is top-notch, the time savings can be truly astonishing. No searching, calculating, recalculating, asking your colleagues, verifying what you learned from them – everything you need is in one place with all previous interactions accessible in a common knowledge pool. Moreover, when you have complete knowledge of the situation, you are better equipped for making quick decisions, even under pressure.
Steps you can take to reduce the processing time:
- Implement knowledge management systems
- Establish a system of daily standups to discuss the current and future tasks
Uniform company communication style and format
Maintaining a common style in communication with customers always looks highly professional and inspires confidence. Style doesn’t refer here to only the general principles of correspondence and speech, but also to the common terminology and tone used.
How you can implement a common communication style:
- Put together a style guide and make it available to everyone via the knowledge base
- Set up answer templates of the most frequently asked questions
- Hold training courses for new employees and brush-up courses for tenure ones
Prevent the “silo effect”
Departments who don’t communicate with one another can become too self-centered, damaging collaboration. This is known as the “silo effect”. As a result, the overall company performance may suffer, as there is no understanding of the common goals and the role of each department in hitting them. As a result, customer relations will also be affected as well.
How to prevent the “silo effect”:
- Introduce all employees to the company structure and hierarchy for effective referral of cases and possible escalations
- Implement cross-department knowledge sharing, for example, the development team giving an overview of what they are working on or the customer service describing the most common customer concerns
- Share both success and failure stories
- Encourage non-work related communication – a water cooler space in the messenger, team-building activities involving multiple departments, etc.
How to prepare your team for customer communication
Setting up proper team communication, both internal and external, is a complex, multi-faceted process. It includes all sorts of activities, from training communication skills to adjusting the project management principles in the right context.
Here are the 5 steps that you can take to improve your overall team communication:
1. Train communication skills
Start by introducing regular routines that stimulate communication, such as daily standups where each member reports has a chance to speak their mind.
For example, a QA engineer can describe which features they have tested, which features they are planning to test today and which testing activities are currently blocked. This way, the whole team will be on the same page.
There are lots of communication training exercises and games. For example, you can have a session of “Crazy Comic,” a game that teaches communication. The team has to draw a comic strip, each member drawing one frame. They need to discuss the “project” and distribute the tasks before they start – no discussing and no looking at what the others are doing once the work begins. The game helps each team member to better understand their role in the project.
2, Analyze the current team performance
If you feel that poor team communication may threaten the company’s performance, gather together and analyze your current metrics. They can tell you a lot about whether your customers are satisfied with the way they are treated.
If you are using any customer communication, project management or analytical software, like HelpCrunch, Paymo, or Google Analytics, you are sure to get various reports. All sources of valuable insights help you analyze the performance of your company, particularly the state of communication both within your team and over the customer communication channels.
Customer support metrics
If you have a customer support department, you must be gathering and monitoring the important metrics showing the overall effectiveness of your support team:
- First response time (FRT). It shows how quickly each new customer request is picked up by an agent. If you notice that your first response time is unsatisfactory, it may be an indicator that your support team is too small or not in the same timezone as your customers. Keep in mind that depending on the communication channel, the FRT may differ. Customers are prepared to wait for as long as three minutes on the phone but expect the answer within less than two minutes in a live chat.
- Time to close. Shows how long it takes for your team to resolve each customer request. This metric may have a relation to our topic of team communication. Suppose in order to resolve an issue, the agent needs to search for information, ask other colleagues, or try to get additional information from the customer themselves. In that case, it will definitely take too long. If, on the other hand, all information on the customer is in one easily accessible place, the time to close will be as short as possible. Generally, customers are more or less OK if their case is resolved within 48 hours, but if you can do it within just 12 hours, you are highly likely to get a positive rating. In the context of communication, an important factor that may affect the time to close is the ability to prioritize. Here, the team manager should always know how many new and experienced members are in a shift, who can take up a critical task, and how to shift tasks between team members.
- The number of replies per customer request. This is a multi-sided metric giving more than one insight. On one hand, it shows how professional your agents are. On the other hand, it may also be an indicator of communication effectiveness. A low number of replies means that the requests are resolved quickly because the customer was initially connected to the right agent. A high number shows that agents are not prepared to help the customer and may transfer them to a different rep (customers hate that, by the way).
- Customer satisfaction rate. This metric is the most important one, as it sums up all your customer-facing efforts. 96% of unhappy customers never complain, but 91% of them never come back to you. Monitoring the customer satisfaction rate is a must for any business that offers customer services, as it allows catching important issues and preventing high customer churn.
Your customer communication has an impact on marketing too, which is also measurable. Gauge the effectiveness of your direct marketing campaign through the following metrics:
- Email conversions. Set up an analytical tool to track where customers head to after opening your email. You might want to see whether they go straight to your landing page, subscribe to your newsletter, or click the CTA at the end of the email. The benchmarks differ from industry to industry, but the average email open rate is around 20%, while the click-through rate rarely gets higher than 3-5%.
- Engagement rate. This metric is important both for email marketing and social media marketing. The engagement rate shows whether your marketing content is interesting, relevant, or in other words, “engaging” for your customers. You can measure it by monitoring how actively your customers interact with your marketing content. Whether they like or share your social media posts, forward your marketing emails, or follow you on social media. Different social media display different engagement rates with, for example, Facebook reaching only 0.09% and Twitter and Instagram 1.6% in 2019.
- Unsubscribe rate. While it’s nice to monitor the “positive” metrics, don’t forget about the “negative” ones. This way, you have less chance of missing an important trend and can respond quickly. In the context of customer communication, it is always wise to watch the unsubscribe rate – how many people click that “Unsubscribe” link at the bottom of your emails and how many users unfollow you on social media. A high unsubscribe rate or a sudden spike is often an indicator that your marketing efforts have taken a wrong turn. Maybe your emails are too frequent to become almost spammy? Or do your social media accounts post nothing but blatant advertising?
All your marketing efforts should be tied to your ultimate business goal – increase sales. Thus, in setting up your analytical tools, pay attention to sales metrics like:
- Lead conversion rate. Reflects the ratio of your leads that converted to sales opportunities. Depending on the specifics of your business, you may consider different events as conversions but, in any case, the lead conversion rate will show whether your marketing campaign is successful.
The average lead conversion rate is about 2.5%, with leaders in this category only hitting highs of 11%.
- Sales per representative. This metric helps you analyze the performance of your sales team and each individual rep. If low, that can mean that the team needs additional training or that the communication within the company is below standards, causing sales to suffer. This opens the opportunity for coaching sessions in areas that require improvement.
Project management metrics
The way in which you manage projects also has a great effect on the overall company performance. Project management metrics describe project effectiveness from various aspects, many of them dealing with resources. There are also other metrics that touch upon task completion and overall team activities:
- Planned hours vs. actual hours. This metric shows how your initial working time estimation fares against the actual time spent. Of course, you can never plan to the minute, but the landslide difference indicates that you have made way too optimistic forecasts which need readjustments.
- The number of overdue tasks. Monitor whether your team generally meets its deadlines. If the number is unacceptably high, you should either review the deadlines or increase the team’s headcounts. Of course, if you have the resources.
- Percentage of completed tasks. When you follow this trend next to the project timeline, it’s easy to see whether you’ll be able to deliver the project as scheduled. If you’re in the middle of your project but have completed only 30% of your tasks, it’s highly likely that you will not meet the project deadline. In this case, you will need to re-estimate the delivery time, increase the budget, or bring in additional team members.
What do all these metrics have to do with team communication, you may ask? In fact, quite a lot, as the success of the project hinges on effective communication. Poor customer communication will cause conversions to plummet. Lack of communication between teams will weaken the project coordination and affect its overall performance. Thus, it is important to gather, analyze, and use these metrics in parallel to set common business goals.
Align your team with the new goals
One of the great things about performance metrics is that they are measurable. Measurable metrics allow setting achievable goals. Share the goals with the team, and they will know what to aim for.
A company can implement several methods of sharing its goals and achievements with the team:
- Town hall meetings for the entire company. Such meetings usually require all employees to be present. The most frequent format of a town hall meeting is a CEO’s or other top manager’s presentation on the overall company performance and the goals for the upcoming period, followed by a Q&A session. Usually, town hall meetings are held on a quarterly basis.
- Team meetings. These are held within each particular team and concern the goals and challenges that are set for its unit. Team meetings are called and conducted by team leads or project managers, usually on a monthly or bi-weekly basis.
- One-on-one meetings. Each team member should get an opportunity of meeting with their project manager or team lead to discuss individual goals. In the course of one-on-one meetings, the manager and the team members set goals for the upcoming period (most companies choose the SMART approach) and evaluate the achievements in the past periods. The optimal frequency of one-on-one meetings can be anything from bi-weekly to a couple of months, depending on the size of your team.
Use the right tools
Choosing the right tools for your customer communication, team communication, and project management can make a lot of difference in the quality of your processes. The best option is to use the same tool or set of tools for the entire company.
This way, you can keep a common knowledge base, enable easy communication and collaboration between teams, and ensure quick and efficient customer support.
Project management tools
Of course, you can hand a few sticky notes on a Kanban board, but it’s much easier to manage your projects with a tool specifically designed for this purpose. Especially when your teams are distributed, and it is next to impossible to gather them physically in the same place.
With an effective project management tool, you get a visual representation of the entire workflow and how tasks get completed at a glance. This allows you to spot potential bottlenecks early on and even suggest ways of their prevention, for example, by redistributing the workload.
As a solution, Paymo is not just a simple tool but a comprehensive project management platform that bundles multiple modules. You can rely on Paymo to manage each stage of your project, from planning and resource scheduling to employee hours tracking software and invoicing.
This brings clarity to the whole team, which is more aware of how their efforts fare out against the initial estimations. In return, outcomes can be tied to business goals much more easily.
- Easy to use
- Modular design
- Native time tracking
- Resource Scheduling
- 1 GB of storage for all free accounts
- Integrations are only available with paid subscriptions
Customer communication tools
With customer communication tools, you keep all your communication channels in one place. Email marketing, live chat, automated messages, customer support environments, performance analytics – an effective customer communication solution will have all these.
The best customer communication tool is the one that allows you to communicate with your customers at the right time with the right message.
Customerly enables you to better communicate at any stage of your customer journey with the top live chat in the world, Email marketing, automated behavioral messages, customer support, help center, surveys, and performance insights.
Customerly is one of the best customer communication tools we have chosen for our customer support team. It’s easy to customize and install into your platform.
Thanks to dozens of templates, you can easily engage with your customers with in-chat surveys, help center articles and chat triggers to always stay on top of your communications with your customers.
- Behavioral messaging for better results
- Gather feedback from your customer via surveys>/li>
- Unified inbox for support inquiries and email campaign replies
- Lack of Whatsapp, Instagram DM, and Telegram integrations
Another software that fits the description is HelpCrunch. A single tool for customer communication, support, marketing, and sales, HelpCrunch meets the requirements of most customer-facing businesses. It is easily customizable and intuitive and can be seamlessly integrated into your customer communication processes.
HelpCrunch supports multiple customer communication channels allowing to build a complete marketing and support system. In addition, its analytical functions allow the monitoring of various performance metrics for quick and effective decision-making.
- Single tool for multi-channel customer communication
- Automated emails and templates
- Robust knowledge base
- Lack of social media integrations
Team communication tools
Team communication involves multiple activities – real-time chat, video or audio conferencing, direct calls, collaboration solutions, and file exchange. When all these functions are offered within one tool, the advantages are immediate. You only need to set up the tool once to enable all the available functions. Moreover, your team will need to learn only one tool, which may shorten the training time.
Check, for example, Chanty, an effective team communication tool. With Chanty, you provide your team with multiple information exchange options – from instant messaging to voice calls and file sharing.
Chanty also supports integration with other collaboration tools, such as GitLab or Google Drive. These add-ons enhance the functionality of the tool with options such as task management, file exchange, or version control.
- Easy configuration
- Free use
- Unlimited message volume
- Limited customization
Customer survey tools
The easiest way to get customer feedback on a product or a support request resolution is through surveys. Adding a small survey at the end of an interaction is perfect for finding out what the customer thinks of your service while the impression is still fresh. A simple question like “How would you rate the solution to your problem?” should do the job just fine.
One of the most established tools on the market is SurveyMonkey. It provides a variety of survey templates, supports different types of questions, and allows you to gauge data via graphical formats.
- High customization
- Wide choice of options
- Integration with Facebook
- Limited options in the free plan
Track your team’s progress on a continuous basis
Even when you’ve set your team goals and tools, this doesn’t mean that you can rest on your laurels. Continue monitoring the metrics to see what works and what doesn’t.
Keep your team aware of the progress they are making. When everyone is aware of goals and their current role in making them possible, they’re better equipped to work towards reaching it. It’s essential to schedule regular team meetings in order to evaluate past achievements and set new goals.
What to pay attention to
Today, customers are not what they were even a couple of years ago. They want different things, so to keep up-to-date with the common market demand, follow its trends. Besides, you should be able to adapt quickly to answer the latest challenges, which are listed as follows.
Customers love mobile
In 46% of cases, customers who had poor mobile UX said they would not purchase from that brand again. The market responds to this trend with mobile-first development and Progressive Web Apps trying to meet the growing demand for mobile UX. For customer support, this means using mobile-friendly customer support and communication tools.
Customers prefer self-service
Self-service means not only being able to find solutions to their issues on their own, but this is also an important aspect of customer service. However, customers also want to be in control of the situation. Thus they embrace automation with increasing eagerness using their own bots to communicate with businesses. Gartner predicts about a billion service tickets filed by customer-owned bots by 2030.
In the context of customer service, this trend points to the necessity to maintain a user-friendly knowledge base and implement a chatbot as one of your customer communication channels. To provide exceptional customer service, you should consider integrating an in-app chat API for Android or iOS, allowing customers to engage in real-time conversations with your business directly from their mobile devices.
Customers are more likely to share feedback on social media
47% of customers use social media to share their complaints about a product or service. Yes, they will rather complain via their social media accounts than on your website. This is a great challenge, as all your customers’ friends and followers will immediately know about their bad experience with you.
However, you can turn this challenge into an opportunity by responding just in time to the complaint and offering a solution. Since you will do it in the same public space where the complaint was placed, your response will become as widely shared as the complaint.
By establishing reliable, efficient, and flexible communication, you are making a huge step toward the success of your business. Smooth communication happens when all your channels form a single chain, with the marketing department knowing what the development team is doing and the support reps always being aware of the latest product updates and policy changes.
What you can do to establish great communication, both with customers and team members:
- Train and retrain your staff
- Make company knowledge available
- Measure performance
- Set SMART goals
- Use the right tools
- Most importantly, always remain positive and ready for change
Off-topic but cool topic: One question that keeps popping up is, “How do I become a project manager?” If you need training or want to hone your project management skills, read this how-to guide.
First published on March 11, 2020.
Daniil is a growth marketing manager at HelpCrunch, a customer communication software. He is passionate and loves writing about all things SaaS, growth, and customer success.