Ageism is alive and well when it comes to how brands should connect with their audiences.

While the telephone has long been the standard means of communication, younger generations are turning to the internet, and apps, in order to connect with brands.

According to Magnetic North, one in five young consumers prefer to buy from a business that offers multiple channels of communication. Impressively, even older cats are looking elsewhere to connect. Magnetic North’s study also reports that a mere 12% of 16-55 year-olds prefer to actually call a business.

So what’s this mean for franchisees?

Redefine your approach to customer service

Regardless of the type of business you run, it’s inevitable that you’ll encounter customer service “calls.” Either a customer has a question (such as, “do you carry this item?”) or has a complaint.

There was a time when customers would call your store directly with these concerns. While some customers still do pursue this traditional approach, more and more consumers are flocking toward other channels to get answers to their questions.

For larger companies, live chat reigns supreme. Live chats allow the consumer to, for example, continue on with work or a menial task (like folding laundry or, heck, watching TV) while reaching out to their bank to dispute a fee.

Consumers love how live chat doesn’t require their full attention, which is why most enterprises offer this service. Franchisees, however, tend to view live chat as a technology beyond their means or needs.

But don’t write it off so fast.

While large enterprises have entire teams of operators on hand to manage the hundreds or thousands of calls they receive each day, you likely don’t need all that.

Subscription-based systems like My LiveChat (which offers a free, stripped down version that might suit your needs) can make it easy for you to give your customers what they want – an easy, non-intrusive way to contact you – without having to spend a fortune.
If, for example, a customer visits your website and types in a question in your live chat feature, a notification can be sent to a dedicated business phone.

Whomever is in charge of that phone at the time can respond, immediately, to the customer’s request.

Not only does a live chat feature help your business stand apart from others in the community, but you’ll be offering a greater service to your current and future customers.

You can’t ignore social media – your customers sure aren’t

Social media is just as prevalent a customer service channel as live chat is.

As a franchisee, ensuring you’re responding to the customer service requests coming through platforms like Twitter and Facebook can be a challenge. It takes a lot of manpower to ensure you’re offering timely responses to a social account that your customers can access 24 hours a day.

That’s why some businesses have taken proactive measures to manage their customers’ expectations by posting average wait times and operating hours in their social bios.

Email support

Email communication is also a preferred means of communication for a growing percentage of the population. And while social media communication all but demands instant gratification, customers who contact brands via email still expect a pretty fast turnaround response.

Do you offer email support to both customers and non-customers alike? A lot of franchisees shy away from this service, because they fear the sheer number of emails they might receive on a daily basis.

That’s a valid concern; however, there are ways to minimize spammy and irrelevant emails while still catering to customers’ expectations.

For example, you don’t have to necessarily advertise your email address on your site or social media. Rather, create a dedicated contact page, with a contact form (that includes anti-spam features like captcha), to minimize bot-like junk mail.

Your contact form could also include radio buttons to help you identify the specific needs of your customer. For example, as part of your form you might include a sub-header that states:

Choose the issue that best represents your concern:

  • Problem with an existing purchase
  • Customer service complaint
  • Question about items you have in stock
  • Other

This could help you organize your emails into categories, which will streamline your response time.

Don’t assume customers will contact you directly!

Life was so much easier when all a customer had to contact you with was a phone.

Now, with multiple channels to choose from, knowing that a customer is reaching out to you may not be that straightforward.

Not every consumer is tech-savvy to the point that they’ll contact your Twitter of Facebook profile directly. Those dang (@) symbols and hashtags are so complicated!

They might, instead, just write a simple tweet that states:

[NAME OF OUR STORE] – When will you get the latest Harry Potter book in stock?

If you were able to respond to this request, you could win a sale. But how can you possibly find that Tweet among the millions of millions of messages flooding the virtual airwaves?

Rest assured, there are ways to monitor your brand. Social tools (ranging from Buffer to Sprout Social, Buzz Sumo, and Hootsuite) give you the power to monitor all mentions of your brand across social media and online.

Yes, this does take some time (although not much effort) to handle, but if the outcome is increased sales, wasn’t that time worth it?

It’s as simple as this: Be where your customers are

We have to admit, the title of this article is a bit cheeky. We don’t actually mean you should ditch your phone entirely. Particularly as a local, brick and mortar business, your phone is still valuable to you and your customers.

What we’re saying is, just for an instant, imagine you no longer had access to a business phone. How would you offer the same level of customer service now, as you did when you had your phone?

The answers you come up with could help you redefine your customer service strategy.