Though the term “customer service” has existed for years, it has recently undergone an evolution due to the increasing prevalence and importance of technology. Previously, companies worked on a nine-to-five schedule, five days a week and mostly only communicated by phone. In today’s world, companies can operate 24/7 and are contacted by not only phone, but also digitally through email, social media and online Live Chat features. While technology in the past, such as lethargic automated answering services, only inhibited the customer service experience, modern digital services aim to streamline and enhance these experiences.

With consumers becoming more accustomed to constant engagement through digital platforms, the efficiency and effectiveness of your customer service will only grow in importance. A recent study by customer intelligence firm Walker titled “Customers 2020: A Progress Report,” found that by the year 2020, customer experience will overtake product and price as the key brand differentiator. Currently, only a small portion of firms successfully employ modern customer service techniques. By using up-to-date practices, you can stand out and avoid being left behind.

Here are some tips to ensure you are well-equipped for customer service in the digital age:

1. Be Approachable:
Make it easy for customers to get in touch with you by setting up professional and active digital accounts. Facebook and Twitter allow businesses to quickly interact with people, as well as share timely information. According to J.D. Power, 67 percent of consumers have engaged with a company’s social media pages for help. Ensure your website is easy to navigate, make company contact information clear and easy to find, and be optimized for both desktop and mobile devices. Upon experiencing website issues, 56 percent of consumers either leave or go to a competitor, as reported by SuperOffice.

2. Have a System in Place:
Whether your customer service team is made up of two people or 20 people, keeping everyone on the same page is crucial for success. Set standards and define roles to assure that each customer receives consistent, accurate and timely assistance. According to Jay Baer, influencer and author, 57 percent of consumers expect response time from businesses through digital platforms to be the same, no matter if it is nighttime, the weekend or normal business hours.

3. Listen to Customers:
Customer service is a two-way street. Be sure to listen to your customers by constantly monitoring for any content related to your company, whether it be a social media mention, an online review or a relevant news story. Keep track of your social media profiles, routinely check review websites and set up Google Alerts for industry keywords. Encourage feedback from customers to gauge satisfaction and ensure you are the first to hear about any issues or complaints. According to recent research from the Professional Pest Management Alliance (PPMA), online reviews are important to millennials (90 percent), Gen Xers (89 percent) and baby boomers (83 percent) when making a purchasing decision. Aim to address any problems before they end up on review sites by setting up a digital review form on your website or by leaving customers with a survey to fill out after work is completed. PPMA’s research also found Facebook was the top ranking social media site when looking for company reviews. It’s important to have an active Facebook presence and to respond to messages in a timely matter.

4. Respond with Purpose:
Whenever a question, criticism or comment comes up online, be sure to respond promptly and appropriately. Never let a critical review or comment go unanswered. Express concern, take the conversation offline and try to engage directly with the consumer. Always refrain from arguing with or insulting someone online. A major benefit of digital communication is that you have the ability to calm any emotions and craft a well thought out response. However, anything and everything you say online will be archived and available for all to see, so choose your words carefully.

5. Act like a Human:
The value of social media in the business world is that it allows consumers to directly engage with companies. Use everyday language when communicating, rather than cold, scripted corporate responses. Speak in consumer-friendly terms rather than technical jargon when addressing pest-related issues. If someone asks how to identify a bed bug, give them information such as color and shape, as opposed to saying their front wings are “vestigial.” Humanizing your company will help develop consumer trust and also encourage future interactions through social media.

6. Keep Consumers in the Loop:
Don’t sit back and wait until a customer has a problem or question. Be proactive about providing people with the latest news and developments related to your business, as well as any useful tips or information. If you’re noticing an increase in rodent complaints, share that insight along with how people can identify an infestation at home. Ensure that customers can find the answers to simple inquiries by sharing content on social media and regularly updating your website with fresh, useful material.

Although the increasing usage of technology has brought many changes, companies should still follow standard principles when it comes to customer service in any form. Always strive to be as honest and transparent as possible. When dealing with questions or concerns, respond in a way that aims to solve the problem at hand by being clear, caring and knowledgeable. Finally, make it easy for customers to get in contact with you. Showing that you value them and want to help is a great way to build business loyalty. By applying these standard pillars to modern-day techniques, your customer service will be in great shape and will help build consumer trust and business growth.

Cindy Mannes is executive director of the Professional Pest Management Alliance and vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association. For more information about PPMA, visit www.NPMApestworld.org/PPMA.