Without customers… what kind of a company would you have?
It may seem obvious, but the customer (the person who buys our products or services) should be the number one priority for any business. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case and it is only recently that companies have begun to talk about “customer-centric” businesses.
In this article, we are going to tell you everything you need to know in order to improve customer service in your company. We will talk about the strategies your company should implement, the best customer service techniques and the most effective training courses.
What is customer service (or what should it be)?
Before we begin, let us clarify what we mean by customer service. The term refers to the way a company interacts with its customers, and encompasses everything from the initial contact, presentation of a product, closing of a sale, provision of a warranty and the handling of complaints and problems. Whenever there is direct contact with a customer, we are talking about customer service.
While this is the basic definition, the fact is that the concept has much wider implications for the whole company. In recent years, the term “customer experience” has become a buzzword; it refers to the entire customer journey and the creation of a unique experience in their relationship with the company. A host of companies all over the world are striving to enhance this experience in order to build their reputation, increase customer loyalty and drive sales. Indeed, when asked about the company’s main competitive advantage, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was quick to define it as:
“Creating a customer experience superior to anything my competitors can create.”
6 invaluable tips for creating a successful customer service strategy
Wanting to place your customer at the center of your business sounds easy, but it is much harder than you think. For years, companies have been developing a specific company culture and have pursued a set of priorities that are difficult to change. Very often, putting the customer first means relegating shareholders and employees to second place. So, how can we bring about this transformation? Here are six strategies that will help you to achieve it:
1 – Demonstrate that the customer is important
Many of your co-workers (and even your boss) will tell you that the customer is the number one priority, yet two seconds later they are making decisions that do not take the customer into account. To really change the culture of a company and the reasoning behind important decisions, you have to prove to the entire company (without exception) that the customer is the lifeblood of every business.
There are a host of arguments you can use: it is the customer who pays everyone’s salaries, awards bonuses at the end of the year and even serves the shareholders. Good customer service has a direct impact on the company’s bottom line. A company is nothing without its customers; they are its most important asset. Repeat these techniques over and over again (for example, begin each meeting by talking about a particular customer) and provide numerous examples to demonstrate that this is true.
2 – Establish fast and user-friendly customer service processes
Many companies have spent years building barriers and bureaucratic hurdles in customer service. If you want to make the customer the real boss in your company, you have to knock down all these walls and make communication as smooth as possible. Ensure that customer service is fast (no customer should have to wait more than 30 seconds on the phone), set up different touchpoints (telephone, chat service, email, face-to-face contact, etc.) and processes that allow you to deal quickly with product returns, customer complaints and inquiries.
3 – Hire professionals that care about the customer
If you want to create a customer-centric company, bear this in mind when hiring staff. Ask candidates about their experience in customer service (even if they are never going to see a customer!), take advantage of the interview to tell them about the company’s values and look for people who are empathetic, friendly and good communicators. If you want to provide the best customer service experience, you have to hire the best.
4 – Empower employees
John Tschohl, regarded as the guru of customer service, never tires of repeating this: employees should have the freedom and power (empowerment) to make quick decisions for the benefit of the customer. Very often, employees dealing with the public are obliged to check with their supervisors or seek their approval for product returns. In Tschohl’s opinion, this is one of the greatest bottlenecks of customer service. Employees must be empowered to make decisions at top speed, on the spot, and always for the benefit of the customer.
5 – Use new technologies
While face-to-face contact is always important, when you have hundreds, thousands or even millions of customers you are going to have to invest in technology. And we are talking about technology developed specifically to enhance the customer experience. This might include a live chat service 24 hours a day, automatic options for product returns (with a simple click), online warranty services or free delivery. The goal, once again, is to ensure that your customers enjoy your service (and become fans of your brand).
6 – Measure, measure and measure again
If you want to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your customer service, you will have no choice but to measure, measure and then measure some more. This exercise will help you to understand the importance of the customer and the huge impact they have on your organization. To do this, assess basic indicators such as the Net Promoter Score (NPS, or recommendation rate), use the mystery shopping technique, measure the number of complaints, average waiting time, number of interactions needed to resolve a problem and the key performance indicators. This will not only help you to enhance the customer experience, but also to raise awareness of the “cult of the customer” throughout the organization.
The 12 best customer service techniques
While all of the above are essential for setting general guidelines within the company, how should we treat customers on a day-to-day basis? How can we stand out when presenting a product to a customer or handling a complaint? Here are 12 tips to help you improve your service that every employee should know about:
1. Take it seriously. Get training. Many people think that customer service is something that comes “naturally”. At the end of the day, we all deal with people in our day-to-day life. However, this attitude is a big mistake that could cost your company millions of dollars. Customer service is far too serious and important a business to be left to chance; your employees need to take it seriously, receive the appropriate training and learn.
2. Listen carefully. The first customer contact is about what the customer has to tell us. They may be interested in a new product, have a problem that needs solving or demand that their money be returned immediately. We should always pay close and careful attention, and listen calmly and attentively so that we don’t miss a detail. You’d be amazed by the number of people who constantly interrupt the customer or let their minds wander during the conversation.
3. Be human. We all like to be treated like people, so don’t speak like a robot. Always ask the customer for their first name and tell them yours, whether you are behind a counter or at the other end of the phone or online chat.
4. Apologize. While you are probably not to blame for your customer’s complaint, that is irrelevant: as the company representative, it’s your job to apologize. A company that apologizes is a company that cares about its customers. Don’t blame others and don’t be afraid to say the words “I’m sorry”… it’s often the best way to calm down a customer and show empathy before sorting out their problem.
5. Communicate. Firstly, try to find out what the customer is looking for (ask questions politely if necessary) and then express yourself clearly and concisely. Don’t be afraid to repeat things if necessary. Don’t use technical jargon. Speak the customer’s language.
6. Solve the problem. The customer needs and wants you to solve the problem, not make excuses or bombard them with technical explanations. Focus on finding out what they need and offer solutions (offer a number of alternatives if possible). If you can’t help them, find someone who can. Always look for a solution.
7. Be positive and upbeat. Customers like to deal with people who are polite, positive and upbeat. Never forget to say good morning and good afternoon, smile naturally and try to be cheerful. Show the customer that they are important and that you are happy to see them and be of assistance. If you are speaking to them on an online chat, before finishing, always ask if you can help them with anything else, and wish them a good day.
8. Never say “no”. While this is tempting, there are ways to avoid the word “no”. The result will almost always be a more positive and productive experience, focused on resolving the customer’s problems and concerns. Instead of saying “I can’t help you”, say “my colleague will attend to you right away”; instead of saying “we don’t stock that product”, take advantage of the opportunity to say “we’ll be getting it in next week” and “we’ll let you know by email or phone as soon as it arrives”.
9. Know the product. There’s nothing more frustrating for a customer than discovering that they know more about the product than the person who is trying to sell it to them. As an employee, it is your duty to be familiar with every feature of the company’s products or services, and the best product for each type of customer. Recommend and sell with conviction.
10. Stay calm. If you have direct contact with customers, at some stage you will have to deal with an irate customer. In these situations, the golden rule is: stay calm. If you get angry too, the conversation may become heated and it will probably be impossible to reach an understanding. What you should do is listen to the customer, apologize, understand the problem, show empathy and offer a solution. Above all, keep calm!
11. Watch your body language. If you deal with customers face-to-face, take care with your body language. The way you move your hands, head and body speaks volumes to your customers. Use body language to reinforce oral communication.
12. Put yourself in their shoes. In the end, the golden rule of customer service is very simple: put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Show empathy and treat them the way you would like to be treated. It’s that simple (and yet so hard!).
A final tip: training, training and more training
If you want your company to provide good customer service, you have to train and educate your staff. Training courses not only serve to teach new skills and knowledge, but to reinforce the idea that the customer is the number one priority and to learn to use new technologies related to your service. Luckily, there are currently numerous customer service courses on the market, ranging from traditional e-learning to game-based learning.
John Tschohl, president of the Service Quality Institute and the author of around a dozen books on the subject, is precisely one of the experts who attaches huge importance to training. In his opinion, you shouldn’t use the same courses time and time again (imagine if Coca-Cola made one commercial and ran it on TV for five years), but should come up with something new and fresh every four to six months. John Tschohl is also very emphatic about who should receive the training:
“You gotta train and educate your whole workforce. If you got 50 people, you gotta train and educate 50 people. If you have 500, 5,000, 50,000… every single person has to be trained on the art of service.”
No one said it was going to be easy: but if you follow these guidelines (and heed the advice of professionals such as John Tschohl), your company will be able to put the customer at the center of your business (and earn lots of money in the process!).