By KEVIN GIBBONS at Search Engine Journal
The principles guiding search engine optimisation are sound business goals for all areas of a company, including customer service. From showing off how local you are, to putting quality of calls above quantity, here’s what your customer services team can learn from SEO…
A good SEO campaign is informed by feedback from your web analytics – highlighting the most valuable keywords on your site and helping to identify any areas that may have been missed.
If your site has a Frequently Asked Questions page or a Knowledge Base, however, analytics can also help you to understand your customers’ most common problems. Are they searching for product manuals? Perhaps your documentation isn’t in plain enough English. Discounts and special offers? Maybe you need to advertise your deals more visibly.
The point is, whatever your customers are searching for, you can use your analytics to predict the problems your customer service team will be asked to deal with, and take a proactive approach to identifying solutions before the phone calls start to come in.
Social networks redefine search – for a start, they give you a specific, engaged audience who will (in principle) see everything you post. On top of that, there are hashtags on Twitter and free-text searches that bring in more views from relevant but not-yet-engaged members of the network.
For customer service teams, both of these are key avenues to get a message out there – if you’ve had to issue a product recall, or you have a special offer available, social networks are an excellent place to advertise the important information.
It’s also vital to monitor social networks for negative mentions so that your customer services team can proactively respond. Often, a quick and friendly response to an irate tweet can turn a peeved off customer into a loyal fan.
Relevance is perhaps the most enduring aspect of SEO, and it underlines everything from your choice of keywords to raising your conversion rate.
For customer services, relevance is an important quality indicator for both outgoing and incoming calls, letters, emails and so on. Make sure your team is fully equipped with relevant information, even if that requires additional training.
Otherwise you’re simply going to alienate angry customers even further.
The concept of ‘spam’ has also developed massively from its original use to refer to spurious advertising mail. It’s not just about email any more – it’s often applied to the excessive use of keywords on a page, or to comments left on a blog purely for the sake of creating an inbound link.
Make sure your customer services representatives are not spamming your customers. The response to a support request should be helpful but concise. Solve the problem and move on. The customer can always reopen the support ticket (or simply call you back) if they need to – they don’t need endless callbacks from you to make sure things are still running smoothly.
Frequently updated websites rank more highly, in general terms. The search engines value ‘fresh’ and ‘new’ content – which is why unique text is also important, and why you’ll often see a ‘sort by date’ option even on the main search engine results pages.
But away from the SERPs, the same rules apply to your customer services team. Launch a new product or service, and you need to make sure your support teams are briefed on its features (and on anything that’s not included as standard). If you receive negative press coverage or social network mentions, make sure your team knows about it and understands the company’s official viewpoint on whatever’s gone wrong.
In short, updates do exactly what it sounds like they do – they keep things up to date. Whether that’s your website or your customer services team, it’s an equally important component in working towards ongoing success.
Where are you? Do you identify yourself as a northern or southern company? At town or city level? Or even more specific – a particular suburb or district?
Local search has made location a deciding factor in who shows up for certain geographically specific searches, right down to street level in some cases. For customer support, thinking of location as a many-layered onion in this way can be useful.
For a start, if you’re in a small town, the concept of customer service is probably more relaxed than if you’re a city firm. And that’s fine; a smaller local market gives you the chance to get to know your customers much better (more on that below).
Beyond that, though, even which country you’re in can be important for customer services. Do you have a UK-based call centre? Celebrate that fact, as many people have a real problem with being put through to an operator overseas. Is your helpline an ‘actual’ landline number, rather than premium rate? Make sure your nearby customers know it will be a local call.
There are all kinds of ways in which locality is important in what is rapidly becoming a truly global marketplace, so work out how your position plays to your advantages and tell the world.
Personalised search is changing the nature of search results – and it has clear and direct implications for customer service teams.
It is making word of mouth more significant than it has perhaps ever been – a positive mention on Google+ and you could find your website skyrocketed to the top of a whole circle of search results. But it’s not just this direct effect that has significance for your customer service department.
Think of personalisation in broader terms and there are clear benefits. Get to know your regular customers and you can establish rapport and loyalty. In turn, when they encounter a problem, those customers are much more likely to be rational about it, and to be willing to work with your customer service representatives to find a mutually acceptable solution.
Steve Jobs once said that you can’t connect the dots looking forwards – you can only connect them looking backwards. He was talking about life experiences – about how one thing leads to another – but it’s a good way of phrasing ‘the benefit of hindsight’. What he didn’t mention was that you can work hard to connect the dots in the here and now.
The ‘O’ in SEO stands for optimisation, and making things optimal means making them the very best that they can be. This applies across all areas of your website, from your page titles and headings, through your paragraph text and image captions, to your URL structure and inbound links.
For customer service, this connected-dots way of thinking is crucial. If lots of customers are asking the same question, you’ve got a problem that you may be able to solve simply by issuing a product update or including a usage tip in your next newsletter. If you’ve dealt well with negative publicity via one medium, or you’ve had positive coverage without the negative aspect to come before it, make sure customers know about it across all media types.
The more you connect the dots, the more cohesion your company and your customer service function will have – and you can go a step further by making sure all of your departments are working together to identify and resolve any customer problems as and when (or even before) they occur, so your most skilled employees are involved in problem-solving even if they are not technically a part of your customer service team.