Ask anyone for an example of great customer service and you’ll no doubt hear many tales about good experiences but more often than not they quote the bad. What really puts a smile on my face however are stories about when companies have clearly gone over and above what might be regarded as normal to provide an excellent customer experience because it encourages me to seek the same experience for myself.
This is ultimately why we all strive to hit the customer service sweet spot. We know that achieving customer service excellence requires a perfect blend of trust and empathy, combined with an immediate solution and exceeding expectations. At no extra cost.
If we don’t get it right, if we don’t live up to the promises made, leave a customer chasing us for resolution to their problem, or provide mixed and inaccurate messages, we’re likely to turn mild inconvenience into dissatisfaction and create detractors, not advocates.
So, given that excellent customer service is not just about having a great product or service, what can we do to deliver excellence to every customer touchpoint so that we are effective, consistent and honest in everything we say and do?
Here are five key things to consider if you’re looking to maximise the effectiveness of your customer service strategy to create a great customer experience.
Identify your weak spots
Customers will accept a certain amount of inconvenience and frustration, but only so long as companies are open, communicative and apologetic.
Do staff on the front line, on the ground and in direct line of sight have authority, and the knowledge, to solve immediate issues?
Lack of communication, or an attempt to remedy the situation after the event, can sour the entire experience, even if your frontline staff cooled the situation ‘in the moment’.
Our advice: own up, accept responsibility, answer customers promptly, solve their issue first time, don’t give out mixed messages and really make sure your processes work.
Pay attention to social media
Social channels are increasingly being used by brands not only to increase awareness and market their wares but also to interact with their customers as the public face of the company.
It makes sense to use these channels to aid customer service as customers are online and on social media a lot of the time and when they want to raise a query or solve an issue, it’s entirely appropriate to offer social media to help to address their needs.
Time is of the essence however. Customers expect a speedy response to enquiries made via social media, typically within an hour. And if they are complaining, an even faster response is wise. Get it right, and social customer service can help to turn a potential issue into a positive by identifying and addressing a minor problem before it becomes a major headache.
Our advice: Customers will often resort to Twitter if other channels have been ignored as they feel it is the only way to guarantee a response. So, if you are using it and want to avoid the complaint going viral, with the associated risk to your reputation and prospective sales, let customers know that you are doing something to address the problem, quickly!
Balance self-service with the human touch
The traditional role of the in-person customer service adviser and sales assistant is still essential, but technology is playing an increasingly important role in the form of Live Chat and self-service online portals.
It’s not just retailers offering this DIY approach to customer service but also banks, insurers, utilities providers, and many other businesses.
Whether customers want a ‘fluffy’ or ‘functional’ experience, the challenge will not only be delivering a fast and efficient experience that avoids time queuing or waiting on hold. It’s about ensuring that you are providing the level of convenience, trust, discretion and consistency between advisors, whether they be online or offline.
Our advice: understand that different customers and different circumstances are better suited to interaction with a human vs interaction with a machine. Either way, make sure the experience is consistent and good. Consider measuring customer effort of doing business with you as a primary KPI. Understand the key drivers to identify which factors have the most impact on customer satisfaction (or recommendation or dissatisfaction for that matter) and what you should prioritise for improvement.
Create a Customer Service Charter
Making a commitment to uphold strong customer service standards is important but clearly defining what good customer service looks like in a customer service charter will help you make it a reality. This has an impact internally and externally.
Internally, it will help you to encourage all your staff to meet these standards by making it clear what is needed from them.
Externally, by letting your customers know what sort of service they can expect to receive at every touchpoint, and by performing to these standards, you can improve customer engagement and increase the likelihood that they will choose you over your competitors and become loyal brand ambassadors. If you want to read more about a customer service charter, have a look at our other blog post here.
Our advice: whether you have a charter or not, be clear about what you are promising, internally and externally. To create a charter that truly meets the needs of your customers, base its content on insight from all key stakeholders. Only once you understand your customers will you be able to design and implement a customer service charter that can aid customer retention, engagement, and your bottom line
Remember it’s a team effort
The old adage: happy staff = happy customers is very true. But empowering your staff to solve a problem or surprise and delight customers is what makes the biggest difference.
As businesses grow, it can become more difficult to provide good customer service across the board, so it’s even more important to empower and encourage staff to become good ambassadors for the brand.
Our advice: consider the following points which have been proven to improve customer service time after time:
Empower your staff to make ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ – it can be cheaper and more effective than a loyalty card scheme.
Give staff freedom (and a budget) to make things right for customers if things go wrong – giving employees a sense of control and ownership can have a huge impact on customer satisfaction.
Trust staff to know what’s best – an ‘upside down’ management style can give your employees that serve customers the freedom to provide a great customer service.
Free up their time – find solutions to issues that eat up your employees’ time and reduce their efficiency day after day. If a simple, repetitive task could be resolved or avoided by a system update, get it changed.
Ask for their help – no one understands your product and services better, from a customer and staff perspective, than your customer service team. Ask for their feedback, opinion and input about every aspect of your business, not just about dealing with customers.
At the end of the day, great customer service is not something a company provides: it is giving power to the people who provide customer service.
As long as your culture and people are aligned to put customers first, your brand will thrive!