Small and medium businesses (SMBs) and mid-market businesses are always cost-conscious. So, it’s not surprising that in uncertain economic conditions, they rank controlling and reducing costs as their top business concern for 2023.
However, while they need to rein in costs, SMBs must also invest in growth. Customer-related challenges—attracting new business, improving satisfaction and retention, and keeping up with changing expectations—follow closely behind cost control on their list of challenges.
Zoho Desk, which serves more than 100,000 customers—many of whom are SMBs—recently introduced new capabilities to help companies better engage with customers and improve the customer experience—without breaking the bank. I’ll discuss these in detail after I briefly recap the challenges they’re designed to address.
SMBs Are Making Customer Service an Investment Priority in 2023
Great customer service is obviously important to keep existing customers happy. SMBs must be able to move a customer quickly and efficiently from an inquiry to an answer, or from a problem to a solution. It’s also increasingly important to woo new customers, who want to see what other customers are saying about how a company has treated them, and want companies to answer questions about products and services before they buy.
Many SMBs have been adding sales and service channels over the last few years to address shifting customer preferences—and try to keep pace with large companies who keep raising the bar in this area. COVID-19 only heightened customer demand for SMBs to offer customers more and better ways to do business with them.
However, SMB Group research indicates that overall, 60% of SMBs are still using spreadsheets, phone, email, and personal productivity software to manage customer service, instead of customer service software. The smaller the company, the more likely they are to rely on a patchwork quilt of software and manual processes to provide customer service—which of course gets more cumbersome as things get more complicated.
But ever-escalating customer expectations are making customer service a top priority for SMBs, who ranked customer service as the top sales, marketing, and service investment area for their businesses in 2023, according to SMB Group’s SMB Business and Technologies Priorities for 2023 survey.
The Benefits and Limitations of Customer Self Service
Over the last few years, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift towards self-service to help provide better support to customers and reduce service costs. Digital self-service solutions, such as messaging support (via SMS, messaging apps, and social media), chatbots, and knowledge bases help to deflect easy-to-solve inquiries and cases from human agents to digital channels. Customers can use them to get answers to simple questions, such as how to reset a password, get a status update on an order, or find out when an appointment is scheduled for.
However, while bots can handle and resolve some customer support issues, they can’t address more complex ones. Many customers get frustrated with their limitations, or they just don’t like dealing with bots. When needed, most customers want to be able to connect with a human that can help them solve their problems.
Zoho Blended Conversations—Connecting Bots and Human Agents
Zoho’s new Blended Conversations tool solves this problem by enabling bots and human service agents to work together in a more seamless way. Using Blended Conversations, human agents can delegate rote and transactional tasks to bots, while controlling the overall service experience.
Here’s how it works. A customer can start a conversation with customer service from an IM app. For instance, the customer may have questions about an order or want to make changes to it. Once they start the conversation, a bot collects basic details to authenticate the customer’s identity, and what the customer is looking for, and assesses their needs. If the bot can handle the inquiry on its own, it initiates a self-service workflow and addresses the problem.
But if the customer requires more help than the bot can provide, the bot routes the conversation to a human agent, who then takes over the conversation. The agent can delegate specific, simpler parts of what needs to be done back to the bot, who takes care of these tasks and sends the conversation back to the human agent. For instance, the agent could have the bot change the quantity of the customer’s order, change a payment method, or apply a coupon.
Meanwhile, the human agent can focus on managing more complicated or adverse parts of the ticket that require the human touch. By bringing together the bot and the human agent, companies can deliver more seamless—and likely more satisfactory—service to customers.
Behind the scenes, Zoho’s new instant messaging (IM) Framework is pre-integrated with messaging services like WhatsApp, Telegram, Line, WeChat, Messenger, and Instagram, enabling all these conversations to flow into Zoho Desk (as well as other Zoho CX solutions). Zoho plans to announce more pre-integrated messaging services in the future. In the meantime, companies can integrate other messaging services using Zoho’s IM Framework—and manage these different connections from one place
An Easier Way to Customize Service Workflows
Zoho Guided Conversations (GC) is a no-code and low-code self-service builder for building self-service workflows. Zoho GC is designed for business users, with a visual interface that makes it easier for people without an IT background to use. Once created, workflows can be initiated automatically or manually from within an IM conversation and reused as applicable.
A Simpler User Interface
Help desk agents need things to be easier too. To that end, Zoho has done a makeover on the Desk user interface to make it easier for agents to navigate and collaborate, and simpler for people with different needs and abilities to use. For instance, Zoho has added accessibility options for users with seizure disorders, cognitive and dyslexia challenges, and visual impairments.
No Sticker Shock—New Capabilities are Included with Zoho Desk
SMBs that are trying to control costs will be relieved to hear that these new enhancements are included with Zoho Desk—which is already priced very competitively. Standard pricing starts at $14 per user, per month for an annual subscription, with Professional and Enterprise Editions starting at $23 and $40 per user, per month respectively. To help startups and very small businesses, Zoho has also launched Express Edition, which is priced at $7 per user, per month for an annual subscription. In addition, Zoho offers a free account for companies with minimal support needs.
Many SMBs plan to modernize and improve the customer service experience in 2023—and for good reasons. A better experience will encourage existing customers to return for more, motivate them to spread positive reviews to potential prospects, and help service teams get more done with less manual effort.
SMBs that want to differentiate with customer service have hundreds of solutions to choose from, and one size does not fit all. However, Zoho Desk offers a very attractive, comprehensive, and affordable customer service solution, making it one that many SMBs will want to put on the shortlist to evaluate to take customer service to the next level.
This post was sponsored by Zoho.
© SMB Group, 2022