The Ultimate Guide to Customer Service
“The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls. The result of a business is a satisfied customer”
The United States is definitely a consumer culture, which means there are countless businesses selling vast amounts of products and services to a large population of people. With this much competition in the marketplace, having fantastic products and services is simply not enough to earn loyalty and repeat business. What companies must do is set themselves apart from their competitors, and one effective way to do this is through providing great customer service.
Customer service may be defined as the ability of an organization or company to tend to their customers’ needs and wants, and to meet – and even exceed – their customers’ expectations. In that sense, customer experiences should be more than just the purchase of products and services – companies need to focus on satisfying customers and making them feel happy. This is the key to return business, loyalty and word-of-mouth advertising that a happy customer will provide. Great customer service is like a recipe with the most important ingredient being a meaningful relationship between businesses and clients. This will help companies achieve their main goal, which is keeping the old customers and attracting new ones. Businesses can reach their clients through a variety of channels, including telephones, websites, online chats and face-to-face interactions. It does not matter what type of channel customers use – what matters is that they always have a pleasant and hassle-free experience.
The aim of this guide is to get into many specifics of customer service in order to help companies and business owners recognize and enforce quality customer service. The guide will cover many aspects of service and offer tips and other types of advice on how to handle customers, train customer support teams and promote loyalty through memorable experiences. It can also serve as a helpful tool for actual customers when they need information about this topic. There will be truly valuable information for anyone who has any type of business interaction, which is practically everyone in this consumer culture.
Specifically, this guide will break down the topic of customer service into eight chapters. The first chapter will cover some general information, emphasize the importance of customer service, and identify the difference between good and bad service.
The second chapter will focus on the importance of emotions in customer service, as well as on the importance of relationships, communication and human interactions.
Following this information, the focus of the third chapter will shift to the training of agents, i.e. the frontline staff. It will also discuss interpersonal skills such as empathy, confidence, friendliness and responsibility, all of which are essential for providing quality customer service. Knowledge of products and services is very important for sales representatives, but in this chapter, it will also be shown how much interpersonal skills are important when it comes to quality service.
After these skills are discussed in great detail, the guide will move on to how trained agents can put their skills to good use. The fourth chapter will therefore divulge tricks and tips that agents need to employ in order to ensure customer satisfaction. For example, the chapter will cover the importance of listening, keeping promises and showing respect in all types of communications, to name a few tips. All of these things add to the recipe for customer satisfaction.
The fifth chapter will begin to discuss specific language that should be utilized when providing quality customer service. In that sense, it will list both phrases to use and phrases to avoid, and it will provide explanations as to why certain words need to be considered.
After the detailed chapter on word choice, in the sixth chapter the guide will move on to defining and describing different channels of customer service: face-to-face interactions, emails and chats, call centers, and social media, with a special emphasis being placed on the latter two channels. There will also be a mention of a multi-channel approach.
As different channels require different communication modes, the seventh chapter will cover some tips on how to communicate through all the channels mentioned in the previous chapter.
Finally, the eighth chapter will emphasize the importance of improving customer service, and provide some proven ways to do so.
This informative guide will provide many examples and statistics to make the material more engaging and understandable. After reviewing this guide, companies, agents and clients will have a firm grasp of all the keys concepts of successful customer service. If all the information in this guide is considered, and if the given pieces of advice are appropriately applied in practice, customer satisfaction will assuredly soon follow.
Chapter 1: Why is Customer Service so Important?
“Forget about the sales you hope to make and concentrate on the service you want to render”
Customer service is often a byproduct of the personality of your employees. However, the truth is that good customer service is something that can be achieved through the proper application of people, processes and technology. How good customer service will be depends on several factors – the proper hiring and training of your frontline staff, the technology tools that allow them to do their job efficiently, and the repeatable business processes.
All these factors enable customers to feel like their needs are being met, no matter who is attending them. Businesses that focus on how to achieve optimal customer service don’t have to rely on strategies like making goods and special offers to keep their customers. When they treat their clients with dignity and respect, they always have a steady stream of satisfied customers even when there are problems. In fact, the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer estimates that 62 percent of people believe businesses actually do meet their customer service expectations. However, that’s simply not enough – best in class companies aim for 95%+ satisfaction rates. Word-of-mouth can help a business generate sales, and it also needs to be managed to avoid situations where you may have negative feedback affecting your business. In all, according to the 2015 Aspect Consumer Experience Survey, 76 percent of consumers see the customer service experience as proof of how much a business values them.
The Benefits of Good Customer Service
What benefits do you get for establishing good customer service? Consider the following:
- Loyal Customer Fan Base
- Up-selling to Existing Customers
- Good Reputation/Word-of-Mouth
- Influence with Buyers
- Recognition in Your Field
- Less Stress on Your System, Employees and Customers
- Customer Trust
- Brand Recognition
As it is 14 times easier to sell something to an existing customer than to a new one, it pays off to cultivate a feeling of good rapport and connection with your current customers through good customer service.
What are Some Key Goals of Good Customer Service
In order to institute good customer service measures, you will need to have an idea of what constitutes good service in the first place. Here are four different goals you can set to make sure you have a sound basis for a positive customer service experience:
Identifying Customer Needs – To provide an excellent customer experience, it is most important to listen. You and your staff cannot meet the customer’s needs if you don’t know how to properly ask about them and listen carefully. Customers call for all kinds of reasons, and it is important not to jump to a solution without understanding the problem first. The best customer experiences typically consist of more listening than talking.
- Meeting and Exceeding Those Needs – Don’t just offer one solution. Dig deep to find out how to meet and exceed the expectations for a solution. Remember, you are the expert in your field and customers are coming to you expecting that their specific needs will be met and their problems resolved. If those needs are exceeded, customers will become even more satisfied.
- Successfully Addressing Issues That Arise – In a similar manner, when a person has a problem, the proper customer service approach is to try to resolve the issue to their satisfaction – not sidestep it or throw it under the rug. The problem might be the budget, a product, knowledge, or even a type of payment issue.
- Forming an Ongoing Relationship After the Sale – Maintain courteous communication, with or without a happy resolution or a sale. This makes them feel special and appreciated. It’s this type of relationship that leads to a loyal customer base and the much needed word-of-mouth referrals.
Good vs. Bad Customer Service
Now, let’s take a look at a couple of examples to illustrate both good and bad customer service. When you read the bad example, ask yourself in the end: How could this customer service experience have been made better using the goals discussed above? Think about it before reading the good example.
Problem: Customer Making a Call to Report Problems with her Laptop
The Bad Customer Service Example
Alice is having problems with her new laptop. She makes a telephone call to the contact center of the company from which she purchased the laptop. First, she calls several times and nobody answers. Though growing slightly frustrated, she doesn’t give up and keeps calling. Eventually, an agent answers. When Alice tells him about her problems, he says that it is not his domain and that he will transfer her to another agent. Alice is not satisfied by his lack of competence, but has no other choice but to talk to another agent. While being transferred, Alice has to wait for 5 minutes before the other agent answers, which makes her even angrier. The second agent does seem to know how to address the issue, but he talks down to Alice and is generally arrogant. Moreover, he explains the problem using too many technical words, so Alice doesn’t understand him quite right. Because of that,Alice feels bad and unappreciated. Due to her bad customer experience, she returns the laptop and buys another one at another company. She also tells her friends about the poor customer service she received.
The Good Customer Service Example
Alice is making the same call. After only one ring, an agent responds and politely offers his assistance. While Alice is reporting the problem with her laptop, the agent is listening carefully and paying attention. He then apologizes to Alice about the problem she is having, tells her he understands her frustration, and informs her that he will help immediately. After that, he explains in a simple and comprehensive way what she needs to do in order to get her laptop to work again. Alice follows his guidelines and quickly solves the problem. After the call, she feels as if her needs have been adequately met. Staying loyal to the company, she even informs her friends about her pleasant experience, encouraging them to buy products there.
Checklist for Good Customer Service
What did the second call center do right that the first one missed entirely? Here is a checklist:
- They answered immediately
- The customer was not transferred and made to wait
- The agent apologized for the inconvenience
- He listened and expressed empathy
- He was competent and had sufficient knowledge
- He used the appropriate language
- He was friendly and considerate
Can you remember a time when you had a good or bad service experience? What happened? How did you feel? Was your problem solved?
How Customer Service Affects Companies
As it can be seen by these two examples, good customer service comes with many advantages, while bad customer service can decimate your business without you ever knowing about it. If you do it well, there are multiple benefits both for your staff and your organization, as well as your customers. Let’s check a few of them.
Benefits for Your Staff
By putting in place good customer service experiences, your staff can reap the following rewards:
- Higher Income from More Sales
- Recognition for a Job Well Done
- Higher Job Satisfaction
- Less Stress on the Job
- Greater Authenticity and Connection with Customers
- A Happier Life Overall
Benefits for Your Organization or Business
Not only do your customers and employees benefit, but it also goes a long way to creating a better business. This is what you can expect for your business with good customer service practices in place:
- More Repeat Sales and Referrals
- Fewer Returns and Complaints
- Less Legal Problems
- A Better Reputation
- Happier Employees (Improved Staff Morale)
- Lower Employee Turnover
- Higher Productivity
- Better Teamwork
- Increased Profits
- More Success Competing in the Market
- More Energy for an Active Business Development
- A Positive Trend Towards Market Expansion
Avoid the Harmful Effects of Bad Customer Service
With no training and no supervision on best practices, employees with poor customer service skills can do more damage than good. They can make your customers feel unsatisfied and give you a bad reputation. This can produce bad word-of-mouth, which can affect your reputation. It can also make your employee morale decline and contribute to a bad working environment. However, if you follow the example of companies like L.L. Bean and USAA, you will create business practices that facilitate the customer experience of your callers because you understand their needs to the minutest detail. Once you get that type of reputation, you will be able to bank on a sterling brand reputation, like American Express and IBM which are recognized as world class customer service providers. In the end, when you make your customers feel good, they reward you with their loyalty and business. When they’re happy, everyone’s happy.
Chapter 2: Employing Emotions in Customer Service Behavior
“The purpose of a business is to create a mutually beneficial relationship between itself and those that it serves. When it does that well, it will be around tomorrow to do it some more”
As we continue to break down the components of customer service, we will now shift the focus to its emotionally driven nature. First of all, it is important to emphasize that receiving customer service always entails both rational and emotional responses. Since all human behavior is principally emotional, customer interactions with a business are also based on feelings. For that reason, businesses need to understand their customers’ emotional states as well as their business issues. By understanding this concept, businesses can assess the emotions of their customers and give them exceptional service with the use of a customized training model for their staff. When customers´ emotional needs are met, businesses grow and profits are boosted.
Forming Emotional Bonds
As previously stated, human behavior is primarily emotional, and because of this, it is the most important concept to understand in relation to customer service. Accordingly, it cannot be overemphasized that the human component of service is essential to addressing the customer’s needs and meeting (or exceeding) their expectations. It does not matter how perfect the product or service is – if the human connection does not exist between the client and the staff, loyalty will suffer.
Typically, customers only reach out to contact centers when they feel they need a person to help them. At this point, they may be frustrated, upset or angry. By implementing customer service that recognizes the client’s feelings, as well as the inherent need to be appreciated by the company of their choice, companies can provide a great customer experience. A client will be happy to return to a business where they feel special, whereas in a business that does not appeal to their feelings through quality emotion-based customer service, repeat business may not follow. Instead, the client will look to fulfill that need with a new company that offers the same services, but which makes them feel better about the service they receive.
When considering these facts, it is safe to conclude that companies that choose an exclusively rational approach to customer service are missing out on a great deal of business simply because they do not take a client’s feelings into account. On the other hand, companies who understand the psychological aspects of their customers´ behavior are more likely to be successful and profitable. This is because customers make crucial purchasing decisions when driven by positive emotions. Therefore, a successful company will create customer service guidelines constructed with regard to human interaction, impeccable communication between customers and the staff, and strong emotional bonds. If such guidelines are successfully applied in practice, customers will always feel important and make decisions that are profitable for the company in question.
Experiencing Positive Emotions
As explained by Paul Ekman, a renowned American psychologist, there are six universal emotions – anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. All these emotions are responsible for determining daily decisions, so they are important when providing customer service with a memorable moment. If the emotions of happiness and surprise are brought to the surface, customers will have a positive experience and advertize the company by word of mouth. Of course, such experience will make them come back and do repeat business. Both happiness and surprise establish an emotional connection that drives loyalty, so it is important to elicit them by providing quality customer service.
A well-treated customer whose needs are met is generally a happy customer, and surprise can be drawn forth by offering an unexpected reward such as a discount or free product. For instance, a lawn care business may give their valuable customers a free cut or a discount on future services, and a credit card company may waive fees to surprise their customers. Adversely, poor customer service will elicit anger, sadness and/or disgust, which will translate to a negative experience. The negative experience causes low levels of repeat business and unfavorable word-of-mouth advertising within the community. This results not only in a failure of customer service for the company but also in lackluster future success. It is thus essential to always make customers experience positive emotions.
Emotional Competence during the “Moments of Truth”
With statistics provided from a recent study by MORI, which is one of the leading international marketing research companies, the impact of quality customer service on the profits and success of a company is immense. Clients that have experienced emotion-based customer service will make three times as many purchases than those that are not emotionally attached to a business. They are also more likely to tell their friends about the company and shop with competitors less often. Because of the emotional bond, customers are also willing to pay more for a product from a business that they trust and that appreciates them.
This research verifies the importance of establishing an emotional relationship with customers and providing impeccable emotion-centered customer service in any company. By understanding what a customer wants, and by feeding the emotions of that consumer, a company can create a bond that is not easily broken. Finding out about customers´ desires, which can be determined with quick and easy surveys and/or follow-ups after services have been rendered, is therefore very important. However, in order to satisfy customers emotionally, the staff members or agents who provide services also need to be emotionally competent.
Emotional competence is, without doubt, the key to giving quality customer service. For this reason, the staff members need to be trained to maintain emotionally availability for clients, especially when the client has an issue that needs to be urgently addressed. These are the so-called “moments of truth” as described in the McKinsey Quarterly. A “moment of truth” can be any situation where a customer is emotionally charged by a situation – a lost credit card, a cancelled trip or the purchase of a defective product. It is vital at this point of the business transaction that the frontline staff understands the customer and empathizes with what they are feeling at that moment. Handling the issue with emotional intelligence, which is defined by the ability to put the customer’s feelings first, will make this specific moment a shining moment. If it is not handled with this tact and empathy that is necessary to maintain a long-lasting relationship, the business could lose a customer.
All things considered, it is crucial for a company to evoke a high level of emotion from their staff to ensure a high-quality performance in tricky situations. With an adequate response to such situations, companies will make customers happy, and even above 85% of such customers will purchase more products or services. Alternatively, 70% of customers who feel unhappy with their service when confronted with a “moment of truth” become less valuable to the company by purchasing less products or services.
Emotionally Intelligent Frontline Staff
In order to ensure that the staff members handle these situations correctly, the management must take care of them too. Therefore, they should always pay attention to their employees´ feelings and thoughts, their beliefs and values, and their own personal needs. If satisfied themselves, the frontline staff will connect more easily with customers. Of course, they should also be emotionally intelligent. Emotional intelligence equips the staff with confidence, a positive outlook, and empathy. It also puts them in control of negative emotions such as anxiety and fear. With these traits, they can think more quickly on their feet, respond more appropriately to issues, and be more aware of others’ feelings. These traits can be assessed with personality and psychological testing before employment. However, they can also be trained to improve the skills that are lacking in this department. Once emotional intelligence has been implemented, businesses can improve customer service immediately.
Training for emotion-based customer service includes a variety of methods. First, the management can explain the process of handling “moments of truth” on both an emotional and intellectual level. Instead of following specific scenario scripts with predetermined responses, the frontline staff will be able to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and react according to the emotions that they feel themselves. This promotes a bond between the client and the company that will withstand many things. Management should also teach their staff through example. The way the management makes an emotional relationship with employees will reflect on the way those employees bond with clients. They can also offer incentives and awards for the employees who give “shining moment” customer service and are recognized by clients. This will spur all the staff members to handle situations in the same manner.
By using emotion-based customer service to handle business, companies as well as the customers that they serve, will benefit from interactions. This will increase profits, build loyalty and promote repeat business.
Chapter 3: Critical Skills in Agents and How to Train Them
“People don’t want to communicate with an organization or a computer. They want to talk to a real, live, responsive, responsible person who will listen and help them get satisfaction”
In the last chapter, the importance of emotion-based customer service was discussed in detail. The frontline staff, also known as agents, should serve customers using emotional intelligence as well as a variety of interpersonal skills. To promote this type of service in a successful manner, agents need to have adequate training in these areas. Not only should the training give them the knowledge about their company, but it should also teach them to develop some interpersonal skills that are critical for handling situations correctly, compassionately and with consideration for the customer’s emotions.
First and foremost, it is crucial to train customer service agents to achieve loyalty and success in business. According to a Genesys survey, almost 80% of customers believe that the quality of their service is directly related to the amount of training the company’s agents have. Competence is a key component here – without it, agents may come across as uneducated, rude, and even untrustworthy. This is further enhanced if they cannot provide adequate information about the company’s products or services.
For these reasons, it is essential for agents to possess sufficient knowledge about the brand they are representing. They should also be able to use the right language, i.e. they should know how to talk to both businesspeople and other companies, as well as with customers. While showing knowledge and using the right language, it is also important for them to have the right attitude and apply adequate effort. Without these four essential factors – language, attitude, knowledge and effort (which can be abbreviated as the so-called L.A.K.E. concept) – agents will not perform their tasks in a satisfactory manner.
With proper training, however, these four elements can be taught and improved. Training will allow agents to be professional, informed and trustworthy, which will boost the client base in any company. Once frontline staff is trained, they will exude characteristics such as positive attitudes, great communication skills and competence about the company’s products and services. When agents are armed with the knowledge of how to perform their jobs, and when they apply the effort to do so, the customer service level will be exceptional in any business.
Crucial Interpersonal Skills for Customer Service Agents
The importance of training has been covered in general terms throughout the last few paragraphs, but now it is time to hone in on the specific interpersonal skills that agents must learn to be effective spokespeople for their companies. Although there may be more than the ones mentioned below, these are definitely the most crucial interpersonal skills for agents to possess in terms of providing great customer service.
Ability to Listen
This one is being listed first, because it really is one of the most important customer service skills. Without a good listening ability, agents will have difficulty providing quality customer service and compassionately responding to the customer’s needs. Listening, in respect to customer service, includes the ability to receive messages and interpret them accurately. This skill is therefore essential in the communication process, because without good listening, customers might feel misunderstood. Consequently, they will experience emotions such as frustration and irritation, which will make them unsatisfied with the business. To be good listeners, agents must first stop talking and then use non-verbal queues to show the customer that they are receiving their messages. They must focus not only on customers’ words but also on their tone of voice and body language. This will open a good channel of communication between the client and the employee, and enhance the formation of a long-lasting relationship.
This skill is also vital for customer service, because without proper communication, the customer cannot get service. Agents must always communicate clearly and accurately. They must also articulate their words and written correspondence well to properly convey ideas. Non-verbal skills, such as body language and facial expressions, should also be clear and concise to avoid miscommunication. For example, a client enters her bank to explain why she needs a replacement debit card. The agent should receive her with a smiling face and focus intently while listening to her issue. The agent can utilize an occasional nod during the customer’s explanation to reassure her that they are listening. This is an example of a good communication style for the purpose of quality customer service.
Positive and Friendly Attitude
In all aspects of life, a positive and friendly attitude can go a long way. This is especially true in customer service. People with pleasant personalities and happy dispositions are more approachable and can carry on a conversation with ease. By training agents to keep positive attitudes, clients will feel relaxed and comfortable while communicating with them. The frontline staff can also help shed light on the bright side of the situation. For example, a woman enters the bank very upset due to the loss of her debit card. As the agent listens to the issue, they can help to calm the upset lady by displaying a positive attitude. The agent could say something like: “Don’t worry; the bright side is that we will protect your account by canceling your old card. We pride ourselves on taking care of our customers, and it will be my pleasure to handle this problem for you. I’ll get a card on the way so you can get back to your holiday shopping“. This is a use of humor with a positive approach to help the client feel appreciated for being loyal. It also sends a message to the customer that expresses how much her business is valued.
Responsibility and Fair Approach
This is also a crucial element for providing quality customer service for the clients of a business. A good agent must be able to make promises and keep them while adhering to time constraints. It is very important for a business to be responsible for its actions and fair in its approach. In that sense, agents must be able to solve problems and find answers for their customers while being honest and forthright, and apologizing when necessary. Otherwise, they will seem incompetent, which will cause the customer to question the company’s value.
Patience and Self-control
This interpersonal skill is vital for all aspects of life, especially in the customer service field. People are different, so their approaches to problems that arise within their business relationships will be different too. Some clients can get anxious or angry when confronted with a problem. This is where patience and self-control can help to resolve an issue. If a client is unhappy, it is necessary for the agent to be patient at all times. If not, the unhappiness will escalate and the company may lose a customer. Frontline staff must put themselves in the customer’s shoes and handle them tenderly and with their undivided attention.
In the previous paragraph, patience and self-control were presented in relation to dealing with customer issues. Along with those skills, good customer service agents will also be resilient, which means they can maintain a sense of self-worth while performing under pressure. In certain situations, it is necessary to detach from the customer to avoid reacting too emotionally. An emotional reaction on the part of the agent, even when the customer is unruly, will only lead to more problems. The agent’s job is to solve problems and please customers, and at times resilience is necessary to achieve these goals.
Understanding and Empathy
All interpersonal skills are important, but empathy and understanding will simply make agents better at their jobs. Showing understanding of customers´ needs displays respect and compassion, which allows customers to trust their agent. When an agent sees where the customer is coming from and expresses the right amount of empathy, the customer becomes satisfied. Such an interaction will only strengthen the agent-customer bond in emotional-based customer service. Customers will trust agents and know that they are understood and appreciated, which goes a very long way in loyalty and repeat business. It will also make agents feel good about themselves, which will increase their self-worth and self-confidence. With these skills, they will be become better assets for the company as well.
Assertiveness and Self-confidence
A self-confident and assertive agent will be a good representative for the company because they will exude competence and give the client assurance. For example, when a customer walks into a store unsure of what product is best for their needs, an assertive agent will help guide the customer through the shopping experience, which makes it an easy and enjoyable trip. If the agent seems confident while showing the customer products, the latter will feel more comfortable with their own decisions. Although agents must be careful to avoid being over-confident and coming across as arrogant or rude, they must always exude assertiveness to show knowledge and competence. Without that, the customer may distrust the agent or feel like the received information is unreliable.
Curiosity and Creativity
In life, curiosity and creativity are necessary to achieve bigger and better things. This is equally true in the business world. Agents who are curious will want to learn, which will increase both their knowledge and their worth. Additionally, creativity will allow the frontline staff to think outside the box, which will lead to better products, services and solutions for the company as a whole. A creative and curious customer service agent will seek better and more efficient ways to serve customers through their own experience and knowledge. While doing so, they will inevitably increase the value of the company in which they are employed.
These interpersonal skills, which are also called soft skills, are crucial for providing exceptional customer service – the key goal of every successful company. Proper training, in conjunction with these skills, will produce self-confident and empowered agents who can boost customer satisfaction all the times. This is definitely an equation for success in business.
Throughout this chapter, the skills needed to achieve quality customer service have been explained in detail. Now it is time to figure out how to implement them within the business. According to the 2015 Global Wakeup Call Report, consumers generally feel that customer service issues arise due to improper training. Specifically, they believe that almost half of agents are poorly trained and, as a result, unhelpful and incompetent. Precisely because of this, it should be the top priority of any company to train their frontline staff. This is easier said than done, so the real question is how to properly train the frontline agents. The first step is to teach them about products and services extensively, which will give them sufficient knowledge and information to answer customer questions. However, they also need to be trained on how to treat their customers.
In teaching customer service, agents must be given many scenarios to practice so they are able to respond to requests and crises correctly. They should also receive support materials so that they can be prepared for any situation. After being given all the knowledge, the frontline staff should work closely with experienced agents to increase their interpersonal and problem solving skills. This can be done in a three-step process. The first step is teaching about services, products and the company as a whole. Next, the agent will watch an experienced agent to learn the ropes. Finally, mentors will watch the new employees as they handle their own customers. Due to this backup support, new agents will feel more confident.
Developing Interpersonal Skills and Teaching “Branded Dialogues”
Companies should always try to hire employees who are pleasant and conversational to ensure they possess the interpersonal skills required in the customer service field. Interviews can generally allow an employer to find new people who possess these skills with the use of role-play scenarios and testing. If a person has the skills, but lacks experience, it is not so difficult to train them – agents who feel empowered with knowledge and confidence will strengthen their interpersonal skills as experience and comfort grows.
However, interpersonal skills can also be trained. For example, employers can train empathy in their agents by encouraging them to spend some time with different types of people whom they should try to understand. Positivity can be trained by constantly using affirmative phrases and trying to look at each situation with optimism. Patience can be developed with the use of exercises that aim at controlling negative self-talk. The possibilities are endless, and it is up to a company to try to explore different and creative ways of agent training.
In any case, agents should always be encouraged to convey the brand’s value in a proper way. What this means is that they should know how to engage in the so-called branded dialogues. As opposed to standard scripted dialogues, branded dialogues are those conversations that always aim at presenting a company in the best possible way. In that sense, agents need to embody the trust that customers have toward the brand in question. However, it is not always easy to achieve that. One way of doing so is by placing agents in another’s shoes in staged scenarios.
For example, let’s say that a company which sells software to small businesses needs to train their agents so that they can properly convey its values. Instead of just teaching them how to use the technology (e.g. screens, function keys, etc.) or giving them a call guide, the company can do the following: each agent is given a dossier containing data about a small business which has certain issues (cash flow issues, growth issues, etc.). In a role-playing scenario, the agents are then instructed to try to imagine they were the business owners of the given businesses. By putting themselves in the position of a business owner who has problems, agents become more able to empathize with that position. Consequently, the next time a small business owner contacts them, they will be more understanding and respectful of their problems. As a final result, they will be more able to engage in the branded dialogue that reflects the values of their company.
Due to all these reasons, the priority of management should be to provide lots of training. The more practice a customer service agent has, the more knowledgeable and understanding they will be. Guides, scripts and sample scenarios should be used, but as guidelines only. This is because agents who read pre-written scripts will not elicit emotional responses from customers and, as already discussed, emotions are at the core of successful customer service. If properly trained and thus armed with both knowledge of products and services and interpersonal skills, an agent will be unstoppable when it comes to gaining customer loyalty.
Chapter 4: Tips and Trick to Make Customers Happy
“Merely satisfying customers will not be enough to earn their loyalty. Instead, they must experience exceptional service worthy of their repeat business and referral. Understand the factors that drive this customer revolution”
The top priority for customer service agents is to meet (and exceed!) the customer’s needs through competence and understanding, as well as through other abilities acquired while being properly trained. In the last chapter, interpersonal skills and agent training were discussed in great detail. These skills will help to take care of the client, which is very important because customers are the basis of all businesses. To reiterate, 89% of customers who receive a bad customer service experience will switch brands, according to a Harris Interactive Poll. This statistic verifies exactly how crucial taking care of customers is for future business success. The customers really are the bosses of the company – they are the reason why the company exists and the reason why employees receive their salaries.
Once agents are trained with the skills necessary to provide excellent customer service, they should put those skills into practice with the highest regard for customer satisfaction. In the following section, we will discuss some key tips and tricks to make customers happy, which can serve as advice to both business owners and frontline staff in future interactions with clients.
Top 10 Tips & Tricks
1. Know Your Customers
Building emotional bonds with customers is, as mentioned before, the key to good service. However, it is hard to build an emotional bond if you do not know anything about your clients. In order to anticipate the specific needs of each customer, agents must get acquainted with their backgrounds, habits, expectations, preferences, and so on. A good agent will recognize the regular customers and address them by name when they come into the business. This will make them feel appreciated, comfortable and valued, which will all lend to repeat business and brand loyalty. Let us apply this tip in a sample scenario.
For example, a new gym has opened up close to Bob’s house, and Bob is considering making the change. Although the location is closer, he receives a call from his old gym that causes him to reconsider the move. During the call, his old gym refers to him by name and offers Bob benefits based on his preferences. After this phone call, Bob decides to stay loyal to the old gym even though it is farther away from his home. In this example, it is apparent that Bob made this decision because the agent from the old gym treated him like a valued customer by calling him by name and being knowledgeable of his preferences.
2. Always Listen and Express Empathy
As discussed in the last chapter, listening skills are probably the most important skills for an agent. This cannot be emphasized enough because it is crucial for agents to give customers their undivided attention. The customer is ultimately the one responsible for the agent’s employment, so they must be treated with top priority. The frontline staff must also be attentive to the tone of voice, body language and the message being expressed by the customer so that they can show empathy to the customer who is having problems.
For example, Lisa is having lunch in a restaurant. She tastes her soup and finds that it is not warm enough. When she explains this to the waiter, he does not seem concerned and although he says he will reheat the soup, Lisa feels he is being rude and lacking empathy. Because of the waiter’s reaction, Lisa leaves the restaurant and vows never to return. She also tells her friends about her bad experience. We can see that the restaurant has lost at least one customer because of the customer service agent’s inability to listen and express empathy.
3. Be Friendly and Respectful to Customers
A friendly person can be described as polite, smiling and cheerful, which are all qualities that are essential to a good frontline staff member. By making eye contact and speaking with a friendly tone, an agent can show customers that they are appreciated and respected, and that the company is glad to do business with them. Agents should never interrupt a customer and should always follow the golden rule in business, which is “the customer is always right“. Customer service agents should always treat clients in the same manner that they wish to be treated themselves – this is another important rule to remember. By following these rules, respect and friendliness will be easy to convey to clients. Let us look at another example.
Jim has banked with the same brand for 15 years. Recently, he has noticed that the fees for his account have increased, but he has not been informed of the change by the bank. Jim asks the teller about the change and she responds that it has been posted on the door for a month. Then she rolls her eyes. Immediately, Jim withdraws all his money and closes his account because he is disrespected by the rude teller. Adversely, Susan always goes to the same grocery store even though it is not the closest to her home. This is because she is greeted by friendly staff and treated respectfully every time she walks through the door. As you can see, friendliness and respect do much for customer service loyalty.
4. Act Like a Professional
Being a customer service agent requires professional behavior, which includes courtesy and a certain level of formality. Agents should treat customers as if they are respected acquaintances, but not as childhood friends – the latter includes too much intimacy. This can be done with proper language and conversational tone, while also avoiding aggressiveness or lack of compassion. Through listening and other interpersonal skills, agents need to achieve a level of professionalism without coming across as stuffy or uncaring.
For instance, Edward, a recent widower, is calling the call center of a credit card company to cancel his deceased wife’s card. The agent realizes that she should be sensitive to the situation of the client and offers him her most thoughtful condolences. She also knows she must be professional so she tells Edward she will fix his problem immediately. The client appreciates the professionalism and efficiency of the agent because she made the experience easy during a difficult emotional time in his life.
5. Explain Everything
This tip is related to the importance of good communication, which has been discussed extensively in the last two chapters. The agent needs to use clear and concise language when explaining products and services to the client. If the information is not understandable, it is worthless. It is important that the agent has good knowledge about its company’s products or services because this will help them teach the client about the company’s offer.
For example, let us consider the customer service of a computer company. Amy has just bought a brand new computer, but she is not very technology savvy. She is concerned that it is going to be difficult to figure out how to perform some necessary functions, but much to her surprise, she receives an email from the computer company with step-by-step instructions. This makes the product easy to operate and Amy becomes a satisfied customer. She even tells everyone in her office about the great product and company, which spurs more sales within the same week. This is a great example of how clear and concise explanations are crucial for good customer service.
6. Address Customer Problems and Requests
One key to successful customer service is to help the client with anything that the agent can possibly do. When the client makes a request, the agent should try to grant it. The agent should be thoughtful and considerate when listening to the customer’s problems, and address those concerns to the best of their ability. In certain cases, the company may not be able to solve the customer’s problem. That is when a good customer service agent can give the customer a referral or other information to satisfy them. A satisfied customer is a returning customer.
For instance, Scott needs an additional part to repair his vehicle and he makes a call to the car company. Unfortunately, the company does not have the part that Scott needs. Instead of just telling Scott that they do not have it and end the conversation there, the customer service agent goes the step to find the part he needs from a different company. This makes Scott happy and appreciative of the agent’s extra effort, which causes him to tell friends and family about the help he received. By addressing the customer’s problem, the agent has formed a trusting relationship with the customer, who will assuredly return when he needs something else.
7. Serve Clients in a Timely Manner
A client should never have to wait for service because it makes them feel unappreciated and unvalued. Long hold times or a long wait in a retail store will make the customer look elsewhere. Prompt answers and quick greetings are crucial to keep clients happy, because if they have to wait to spend their money, they may prefer to go somewhere else. Let us see how that can happen.
Julie needs a babysitter for the evening. She calls the agency and gets voicemail. She leaves a message, but no one returns her call until the next day. By that time, Julie has found a different company who takes customer’s correspondence more seriously and responds fast and efficiently. At the first agency, they lost not only this customer but also other potentially new clients as Julie tells her friends about the new company and her good experience with them. Now, all her friends will use the new company because of Julie’s word-of-mouth advertising.
8. Deliver Promises
As previously stated, it is crucial to be honest with customers. This will build a trusting relationship between the company and the client. An agent should never embellish the truth about products or exaggerate the benefits or services of the company. If this happens, the customer will feel as if they have been lied to, which will cause them to do business elsewhere. When trust is broken, it is hard to repair the emotional bond. Also, if customers have problems, it is crucial for them to be solved. Even if it cannot be done immediately, it must be done eventually. Agents must give customers realistic expectations and time frames when handling issues, and never promise things that they cannot do. If they do not follow these rules, trust is broken and customers are unsatisfied.
For example, Robert enters his local lawnmower shop to purchase a new machine. The salesman tells Robert that the mower is top of the line and the best on the market. The agent also tells Robert that the mower will cut grass evenly each time he uses it. Robert buys the lawnmower and goes home to put it to use. Within 15 minutes, Robert realizes the lawnmower does not cut evenly and is not the best on the market. Now, he will shop elsewhere in the future because he was lied to by the company.
9. Go Above and Beyond
This tip is pretty self-explanatory. Agents should do their best all the time and exceed expectations of the company. This will make customers happy and satisfied. Exceeding expectations could include a lot of things – from sending a birthday note to the customer each year to giving special discounts to loyal customers. This helps customers feel appreciated, which will keep them coming back. Consider the following example.
Jessica asks her hairdresser to make her a special hairdo for her wedding. The hairdresser has never done it, but goes the extra mile and learns how to do it. On her wedding day, Jessica appears with the beautiful hairdo she has imagined. Later she posts some pictures on her Facebook page, and advertizes her hairdresser’s salon enthusiastically. By going the extra mile, the hairdresser not only keeps her customer happy but also receives free advertizing.
10. Follow-up and Get Feedback
Lastly, in order to treat customers better, it is important to gain some insight into how they feel and what their experiences are. For that purpose, agents can continue to contact customers even after the purchase. For example, they can offer customers their contact data and make themselves available, or they can make a follow-up call and see if everything is ok. This will show interest in the customer’s satisfaction. Agents can also ask customers about their experiences, as well as listen to their suggestions about potential improvements of the service. This ways, clients will feel appreciated and involved.
For example, Sarah receives a call from her mobile phone provider and gets asked if she is satisfied with the new tariff. She has a pleasant chat with the agent, and feels good because the company has expressed interest in her experience. She tells her friends about it over coffee and recommends the company to all of them.
What to Do When Things Go Wrong
While all these tips and tricks are indispensible when it comes to dealing with customers, customer service is not a perfect science. Unfortunately, following all the tips and guidelines will not guarantee 100% customer satisfaction rate. Some customers are difficult to handle, no matter how well they are treated. There will always be unpredictable situations with angry customers raising their voices and shouting. However, it is important for agents to keep their composure in order to avoid emotionally charging the situation in a negative manner. They need to extend every courtesy to the client, even if the latter are wrong. This is because arguing or appearing arrogant will do nothing but make the situation worse.
So what can be done? First of all, agents need to apologize for any inconvenience or a problem that the customer has encountered. They should never make up excuses or blame others – avoiding responsibility equals poor customer service. Next, they should try to calm the angry customer down and win their support with the mentioned tips and tricks – expressing empathy, listening without interruptions, offering assistance, discussing options, etc. By treating them adequately and doing the best they can, agents will relieve the tension and make the customer in question feel better and more relaxed.
All in all, customer service agents should always utilize the tips provided in this chapter. They should always use interpersonal skills to listen, empathize and respond effectively to their clients. They must also treat clients with respect, dignity and with regard for their emotions. Honesty and trust go a long way as well, and customer service agents must keep that in mind each and every time that they interact with a customer. These are all the keys to customer happiness and quality customer service.
Chapter 5: What to Say and What to Avoid
“Kind words don’t cost much. Yet they accomplish much”
In the last chapter, we learned about some specific tips which customer service agents should use in order to achieve customer satisfaction. These tips will guide the agents through interactions with customers and make them pleasurable for both parties. With that in mind, it is also important to take into account one more aspect of the agent-customer communication channel – the choice of words, i.e. the proper vocabulary. Agents may be as friendly and empathetic as one can be, but if the say the wrong things, customers will not feel good and satisfied, and will consider leaving the company to do business elsewhere. For this reason, the words that agents choose during conversations are of great importance for providing quality customer service.
Word Choice Matters
In all aspects of life, properly chosen words can make communication flow more smoothly. With respect to customer service, clear and concise language is the key to expressing ideas in a positive manner. The usage of key phrases will make a big difference in the way that customers view their service. When trying to achieve this goal, there are also phrases that should be avoided because certain words can portray the wrong image or give the customer the wrong idea. However, with the use of proper words and key phrases, the customer service experience can be heightened and become more satisfying. In the next several paragraphs, we will discuss what to say and what not to say while providing customer service.
“Yes” vs. “No”
Although these are probably the simplest two words in any language, they are also the most impactful. “Yes” carries a positive connotation and should never be underestimated. This word, which should be utilized as much as possible, opens many doors. Contrarily, the word “no” often closes them and has a negative connotation. “No” is a negative word, which expresses disinterest and refusal, and can lead to customers having a bad experience. For these reasons, it should be avoided as much as possible during conversations with customers.
“I Don’t Know” vs. “I Will Find Out”
The first phrase listed, “I don’t know”, sends the customer a message that the agent is incompetent and untrained. Clients never want to hear this answer. Instead of “I don’t know”, agents should say “I will find out”. Although the two phrases basically mean the same thing in theory, they are completely different in practice. When agents say “I will find out”, it sends the message that they are willing to get an answer for the client. This shows their willingness to go above and beyond to give the customer satisfaction and a positive experience. Adversely, “I don’t know” ends the dialogue and will cause the customer to leave without answers, which equals poor experience. This will make it unlikely for the customer to return. Instead, clients will look elsewhere for better service and more competent frontline staff who can better address their needs.
“I Can’t Do That” vs. “What I Can Do Is…”
For customer service agents, “can’t” is not an option in their vocabulary. Although there will be some situations that cannot be resolved, it is important to emphasize the positive aspect of the situation instead of lingering on the negative one. For example, Joan is having issues with her satellite television service and she cannot get any channels. She is planning a huge party at her home tomorrow night for the Super Bowl, but without the satellite functioning, her guests will not be able to watch the game. Obviously, Joan is a little anxious about the situation. When she calls the call center to get assistance, Joan explains that she needs service before the following evening. The agent will not have a repairman in the area for 72 hours, but instead of telling Joan “I can’t do that”, he says the following: “I’d be happy to help you. What I can do is try my best to get your problem resolved as quickly as possible. Let me transfer you to an agent who can troubleshoot your problem before we try to schedule a technician for a home visit.” This keeps Joan happy and relaxed while the company is doing their best to resolve her issue.
“I’m Busy” vs. “I’ll Help You in Just a Moment”
As already explained, customer service is driven by emotions and customers make their business decisions based on how they feel. When it comes to making customers feel good, the right word choice plays a significant role. For example, the phrase “I’m busy” sends the message that the agent does not care, which makes clients feel unvalued and unappreciated. Instead, agents can use eye contact, accompanied by a smile, to let the customer know that they will be happy to take care of their needs. These polite non-verbal gestures, along with the phrase “I’ll help you in a moment”, tell the client that their time is valued and that they will be served as soon as possible. If they know that help is on the way, clients will wait patiently without frustration.
“It’s Not My Fault” vs. “Thank You for Letting Me Know”
Although people naturally become defensive if they are unjustly held responsible for an error, customer service agents must resist that instinct. When a customer is unhappy with a product or service, agents must put their own feelings aside and focus on the customer’s problem. By handling issues with this in mind, agents can avoid an escalation of negative emotions. Let’s say that Helen has been charged twice for her cellular service this month due to a billing oversight. Helen, who is angry and frustrated that her checking account has been debited twice, calls the customer service line. When the agent hears Helen’s concerns, she says: “Well, I don’t work in billing, this isn’t my fault“. This is a true statement, but also an insensitive one because the agent is not being empathetic. Instead of responding with “I am so sorry, I will resolve this immediately and thank you for letting me know”, the agent has gone on the defense, which makes the customer feel unappreciated. This negative experience, and poor treatment by the agent, will cause the customer to look for a new provider. The error itself would not cause the business to lose a customer, but the inconsiderate reaction of the agent will. Not all customers will complain, but when they do, the frontline staff should treat them with respect and listen to their grievances. This will give the company a chance to fix the problem without losing business.
“Calm Down” vs. “I Apologize”
Customer service agents should never be condescending and arrogant when talking to customers. When a client encounters a problem with a service or product, agents should do their best to rectify the situation. Not only should agents listen intently, they must also use understanding and empathy to put themselves in the customer’s shoes. A statement such as “Calm down” to an angry customer will feel like a slap in the face. Instead, agents should use a calming tone and tell them they are truly sorry. Moreover, they should say that they will do anything in their power to fix the problem and make sure it never happens again. Even though agents are rarely responsible for customers´ problems, they should always apologize on behalf of their company.
“Will That Be All?” vs. “What Else Can I Do for You?”
By now, it is quite apparent that word choices make a big difference in customer service experiences. When closing an interaction, the agent should never sound eager to get off the phone, and a question such as “Will that be all?” might make a customer feel that way. A better choice of words is “What else can I help you with?” because it sends a message to the customer that the agent is willing to assist them in any way possible. Using such a phrase can also allow for additional sales or open up a dialogue for other issues. This type of question builds the trust of the client and makes them feel as if their business is appreciated by the company. Following up with a phrase like “Let us know if you are not completely satisfied” also adds positivity to the experience because the client will feel encouraged to express their feelings, which will increase their bond with the company. This will open the door for future honest and forthright communication.
Through these examples and the accompanying explanations, it becomes obvious how important it is to use the right words during the conversations with customers. Words are powerful, so agents should choose them carefully when speaking to clients. As much as the right phrase at the right time can help achieve customer satisfaction, wrong phrasing can fend clients off and make them seek satisfactory treatment elsewhere. Apart from these ones, there are many other phrases that should either be used or avoided, so this list is far from being exhausted. However, it provides some valuable insight into what types of words agents should consider when talking to customers.
By treating their customers properly and saying the right things, customer service agents can build strong relationships. Each time they interact with customers, agents should always use polite and friendly terms to promote memorable and honest moments. This is crucial when it comes to satisfying customers and, consequently, making the entire company more successful.
Chapter 6: Customer Service across Multiple Channels
“Be everywhere, do everything, and never fail to astonish the customer”
In the previous few chapters, we have discussed many aspects of customer service, including the importance of emotions, interpersonal skills, agent training, word phrasing, and so on. However, while covering all that, we have dealt with customer service in general. In this chapter, however, we will turn our attention to the existence of different channels through which customer service may be given. These include contacts in person, by phone, through email or live chat, via social media, as well as some other options. With so many options available, companies need to understand multiple channels so that they can better serve their customers and cater to them with convenient methods of support.
Although the advancement of technology made available numerous customer service channels, in reality less than 20% of customers have a channel preference according to a Corporate Executive Board research. This means that customers are predominantly goal-oriented. For those who do prefer specific means of communication, traditional channels – mainly telephone calls – are still the most obvious choice. However, even though this is true at the present time, it is not to be disregarded that the need for online assistance is constantly growing – a majority of consumers expect some sort of online service out of the companies with which they do business. Younger consumers, especially those in the age range between 18 and 24, use their phones at least once a month to access customer support. As these consumers get older, the days of traditional support as a preference will quickly disappear and be replaced by more technologically advanced methods.
It is also important for businesses to understand that many consumers will use more than one channel for customer support. For instance, if a customer needs a simple question answered, such as the date of their next bill, they will probably just make an online inquiry through live chat or email. However, if a customer encounters a more complex issue, such as a defective product or an interruption in service, they will prefer to talk to someone in person or through a phone call. Talking to a person often allows for better clarification and quicker resolutions for the customer.
Before we discuss multiple customer service channels in greater detail, there are some terms that are important to understand regarding customer-agent interactions – one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many types of communication. One-to-one communication describes a situation where one agent helps one customer, which can be done by phone, in person or through email. One-to-many describes situations where one agent will help multiple customers, which occurs on multiple channels including live chat, text messaging, video chat and/or the section of frequently asked questions (FAQ). Many-to-many communication describes multiple agents reaching out to multiple customers, which often occurs through online forums, social media or other customer portals. With clarification of the different types of interactions between customer support and clients, the following details about channels of communication can be more simply understood.
Different Customer Service Channels
As we briefly mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, there are multiple channels that can be used for customer support and communication. Now, we will discuss some of these channels more extensively. While doing so, we will place an emphasis on call centers, because telephone calls are still the preferred method of communication, and social media, because it is a rapidly growing trend.
Research shows that face-to-face service is desirable in some situations such as when customers have a complex problem. For example, let us say that a cell phone user is having a hard time getting some of the features of the phone to work properly. That customer will likely prefer to get customer service face-to-face because the agent can reset or update the phone while the customer waits. If the customer uses another channel to get resolution for the issue, they would have to do technical tasks and adjust the phone on their own. As shown, this is one of the most preferred methods of service for complex situations. The telephone is the only channel more popular than face-to-face when it comes to difficult problems. Moreover, when it comes to sharing their experiences, a majority of clients will convey their positive or negative reactions to others in a face-to-face manner, as research shows.
Email and Chats
Email is a very popular method of handling simple things when doing business with a company. Inquiries may include simple questions about services and products. Many customers also utilize the company’s website to get information such as account balances or to look for products. Chats are also a growing trend in providing customer service, and have been proven to boost company sales as well. According to a 2012 study by BoldChat, website visitors who take advantage of chat features offered by a company are much more likely to make a purchase than visitors who do not. Additionally, almost 90% of customers who used the chat option gave feedback that acknowledged their satisfaction with the feature. Businesses should also realize the importance of integrating a “click to chat” option for their websites, because it allows customers to get more clarification about services and products. As we have already learned, clear and concise answers, which can be received quickly through this option, will improve the level of customer satisfaction.
Call centers are used to handle telephone communication for companies, and are the most popular channel of customer service. Clients can contact a call center to resolve many issues, as well as to get answers for their questions. It is a good method of communication because it allows for one-to-one interactions, which makes customers feel valued as the focus is directed solely on their issues. Through telephone calls, agents can provide their undivided attention to customers and engage them while using branded dialogues specific to their company.
As much as the rise of the Internet and informational technologies enabled the option of online chatting, the importance of call centers can never be replaced. By allowing clients to access agents through the chat option, businesses can cut down on costs, but it is also very important for companies to give a “click to call” option – this feature gives customers immediate assistance for situations that require one-to-one contact. This also gives a personal and human touch to web-based technologies, which heightens the experience of the customer.
We can use an example of a cable company that sells digital phone services and that increased their business by adding additional features to their website. Before adding the “click to call” feature to their website, they had many potential customers leave the site before completing their purchases. This was due to the lack of answers on the website – customers could not get all the answers they needed when they visited the FAQ section. Once the company added a “click to call” feature to the purchase page, which allowed clients to have one-to-one conversations and get the answers they needed, what the company witnessed was a major increase in their sales. This shows that a web-based customer service channel is simply not enough. However, when online channels and call centers are used in conjunction, the results in terms of business success can be amazing. For this reason, call centers should still be regarded as an irreplaceable channel of providing customer service.
Due to the rise of mobile phone and tablet usage, especially among the younger generation, social media customer support is becoming increasingly important. Just as these young people have integrated social media into all facets of their lives, they expect the same out of the companies to which they give their business. With this change, customers are starting to shift from one-to-one communication to one-to-many communication. In the past, social media were used primarily as an advertising platform, but now they have become one of the predominant customer service channels as more and more customers use them for support.
The specificity of social media is that both good and bad news travel quickly and reach a larger audience. For this reason, poor customer service and customer dissatisfaction can be very harmful to any company. Research shows that 53 percent of customers go to social media to praise a company, while 50% use it for complaints, mostly through Facebook and Twitter. For this reason, it is extremely important for customers to provide good customer service on social media because many other people are able to witness it.
There are, of course, both advantages and disadvantages of using social media for customer support. On the good side, social media allow companies to get free advertising and marketing out to large amounts of people very easily. Agents can also handle a much higher caseload than through traditional telephone channels, which lowers customer support costs. Adversely, this channel has a lot of content, which can cause agents to sift though needless information to get to the root of many inquiries. It is also risky to provide customer support in this manner. Because it is a one-to-many interaction, a mistake can affect multiple customers, which can lead to a catastrophic series of events for the company.
Instead of using only one channel, companies can also opt for multi-channels support. This is important because different people have different preferences – some prefer talking by phone while others prefer online support, etc. By being offered many different channels, clients have options for one-to-one, one-to-many or many-to-many interactions in their customer service, which leads to a higher number of satisfied customers. Moreover, companies that only provide online support often have a high dissatisfaction rate – statistics show that about 5 out of 6 customers require additional support when utilizing a website for purchases. Besides this advantage, the multi-channel support also improves efficiency, raises the number of loyal customers and increases sales opportunities.
There are disadvantages as well. For example, a customer has a problem and begins the process of a resolution online, but soon realizes they will need one-to-one communication through a phone call. Even though the customer has already explained the issue to an agent through the chat option, the call center agent also needs to hear the problem. This causes the client to have to repeat information to the phone agent, which causes frustration on the part of the client. It can also cause confusion because oftentimes two different agents will provide inconsistent responses. Due to such inconsistencies, it is important for agents to communicate amongst each other and offer a unified solution.
However, if such issues are resolved, the multi-channels support becomes a valuable addition to providing great customer service. When different channels are interconnected in a way that makes the customer receive an adequate solution, the customer will be happy to have multiple options. As already discussed, a great way of offering multi-channel service is integrating the “click to call” or “request a call” features into the website. This promotes additional means of cooperation and alleviates a lot of frustration on the part of the customer. With these features, websites, emails, chats and social media can be connected to a call center, which is still the primary method of communication. This allows the entire communication process to flow much smoother and with fewer issues.
With a good amount of research, experience and strategic planning, companies are able to construct the best system for each specific situation, which will help them to build relationships with many different customers – either through their preferred channel of communication or through the combination of several different channels.
Chapter 7: Dealing with Customers through Specific Channels
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression”
In this guide, we have already discussed many aspects of customer service – the skills necessary to provide excellent service, the training of agents, the proper word usage, different support channels, etc. Although in Chapter 4 we already presented some important tips and trick for satisfying customers in general, it is also noteworthy and interesting to see how to deal with customers through different channels, each of them containing their own specificities. In this chapter, therefore, we will present and analyze agent-customer communication through several customer support channels – face-to-face, email, telephone, and social media.
When it comes to communication, as we all know, it is not only what you say – it is also how you say it. In customer service, the first impression that an agent makes on a client is crucial. This first impression comes within the first 30 seconds of communication. To make it a good one, agents need to be friendly and offer immediate assistance to the customer. Adversely, a bad impression comes when agents behave condescendingly or provide an insufficient amount of help. Once a bad first impression is made, it is very hard to overcome and change it.
The following sections will provide examples of both good and bad communication. Some of the information we will discuss comes from a customer service manual released by the University of Cambridge. We will expand on some of the tips found there, as we find them most useful.
First of all, when attempting to make a good impression face-to-face, physical appearance is important. Therefore, agents should always be clean and dressed neatly. With this channel, furthermore, many of the cues used by a successful agent will be the non-verbal ones. In that sense, clients must be greeted with a smiling face and eye contact, as well as with an inviting posture, such as leaning toward the client to show attentiveness. Agents should always be focused on the client so that they can read their body language and react accordingly. They need to speak in a friendly tone and use hand gestures to emphasize the words they are conveying to the client.
In a sample scenario, Richard enters a cell phone store to look for some accessories. He looks around and finds the staff member who appears disheveled and in need of grooming, slumped over the computer with his focus on the computer screen. He never looks up to greet Richard or even make eye contact with him. Richard feels irritated and decides to go elsewhere to buy accessories. So what happened? The agent did not make a good impression or provide quality non-verbal communication. Richard will not return to this cell phone store, and he will tell his coworkers about his negative experience.
In a different scenario, Gina walks into a clothing store to find a nice sweater for her mother. As soon as she enters the door of the business, the saleswoman greets her with eye contact, a nod and a polite “hello”. Gina has been shopping all day and is so glad to find a pleasant person to help her. The saleswoman is clean, neat and well informed about the store’s products. Gina finds the perfect gift for her mom with the woman’s help and is so ecstatic with the customer service that she buys a few more gifts at the store. Moreover, she tells many of her friends about her experience, who then decide to check out the store as well. The clothing store will see increased sales and loyalty due to the excellent service given by the staff member.
As we mentioned before, technology-based communication channels are growing in popularity. For this reason, it is crucial to utilize them to their fullest extent. Unlike in face-to-face or telephone communication, in written communication there is no way to use body language or tone of voice to let customers know they have the agent’s undivided attention. Customers do not get instant support in this channel either. Therefore, other tactics should be used to provide good customer service via e-mail.
The key to good e-mail support is to respond quickly and show customers that their needs are top priority. It also shows that the agent is trustworthy, competent and ready to help. The e-mail staff should use concise and clear language to express ideas, which should always be conveyed with proper grammar and a positive word choice.
For example, Samuel sends an e-mail to his credit card company expressing his displeasure over the recent interest rate increase. He states that he was not informed previously, and demands an explanation for the increase. In this scenario, the agent does not respond to the customer for one week. By this time, the client is infuriated and has transferred his balance to a different card company. In recent Jupiter Communications research, over 40% of clients who do not get a response in 5 days will go somewhere else. Evidently, responding quickly makes all the difference in the world.
In a different scenario, the agent replies to Samuel within 12 hours, using clear and professional language. With the use of polite words that convey a friendly tone, the agent shows regret and is apologetic for the surprise rate increase. After that, he goes on to tell Samuel how much the company appreciates his loyalty, and offers a cash back program to offset the increase in interest rates. As the agent not only solved Samuel’s problem but also made him feel valued and appreciated, Samuel decides to accept the offer and stay with the company. This example shows how important it is to use the right words and convey the right tone in the e-mail communication channel.
As with e-mails, agents cannot use body language and gestures to convey ideas to clients in telephone communication. However, they can use the right tone of voice, which is a key component of providing quality customer service.
Firstly, the phone needs to be answered within three rings so that the customer doesn’t wait. While talking over the phone in call centers, agents should try to use a warm and pleasant tone of voice to convey friendliness and respect. Moreover, they should identify themselves to the client, which makes them appear more trustworthy and the whole experience more personal. Agents should also listen carefully to the client’s problem so that the client feels valued and appreciated.
Furthermore, a Loudhouse research shows that clients expect their issues to be resolved within the first 30 minutes, and are more loyal if this time limit is fulfilled. Because of this statistic, agents should always strive to help clients with all the available resources and never leave them on hold for more than a minute. If the call load is too high, companies should employ more agents. Otherwise, quality customer service may be sacrificed, which will lower the number of returning customers. Another important tip to be considered is the use of positive language, which we covered in great detail in Chapter 5 – there are many phrases that can be used to elicit positive feelings in the customer. Let us take a look at the following pair of examples that show both good and bad phone customer experience.
Jim calls a call center because he is having an issue with his video game console. The good experience begins with the agent answering the call on the first ring. She greets Jim by saying: “Good morning, my name is Amy and I would be happy to help you today.” Jim explains his issue to Amy, and she listens intently while providing verbal cues that prove she is attentive. She is able to troubleshoot a few things with Jim, and gets his console functioning properly within 15 minutes. Of course, Jim is satisfied and tells his friends about his experience.
In the second scenario, Jim’s call goes unanswered. He tries to make a second call, and after 5 rings, an agent picks up and says: “Please hold.” This makes Jim angry because he is feeling unvalued by the agent. The agent finally returns to the call after making Jim hold for 5 minutes. Upon hearing Jim’s issue, the agent says: “Well, there’s nothing I can do.” Because of the agent’s negative word choice and the hold time that took forever, Jim returned the console for a full refund. As you can see, the agent fell short in displaying good interpersonal skills such as patience and listening, which caused the client to have a negative phone experience. He will no longer be loyal to the company and will probably not return in the future for more purchases.
As we discussed previously, social media allow both good and bad word-of-mouth to travel quickly and to reach many people. Although they give companies free publicity, if not handled properly, they can cause negative feedback to spin out of control. Therefore agents should respond quickly and sympathetically to customer issues through the social media channel with brand promotion in mind. Agents should always post using proper grammar and good word choice much like in other communication channels. Companies should also invest in social media training for their agents so that they can approach them with knowledge and mastery of the channel.
What agents need to do is pay attention to all the content on social media, i.e. filter through customers´ messages in order to find inquires that need to be answered, complaints that need to be resolved or positive comments that need to be thanked for. Social media also give companies the opportunity to communicate with customers when they are happy instead of just when they have a problem. It is also important to react promptly to all customers´ comments, because tardy responses will be available to everyone. Agents can also stay in touch with customers through individual conversation whose public nature allows the company to present itself in a positive manner to many people who can see those conversations.
Facebook and Twitter, for example, are the most popular social media platforms, each of them having many pros and cons. First, they both have a large following, which allows businesses to reach millions of potential customers at once. On Twitter, there are many search functions that can let companies get specific with content and issues, which is very helpful for customer service. On the other hand, Twitter only allows users to post 140 characters, which is often not enough to convey complete ideas or issues. Facebook allows companies to post FAQ’s and other resources on their site, which is very helpful to the consumer. Adversely, some Facebook pages may be disabled, which does not allow customers to post information about issues or problems.
In general, companies should look specifically at their customer base to determine the right social media platform to use for reaching out to their clients.
In conclusion, there are many channels for customer service. Companies should try to integrate as many as possible because consumers like to have lots of options. Whichever channel is used, agents must give good first impressions because making a bad impression can be detrimental to the future of the business. Secondly, agents should be trained in multiple channels so they are confident and competent when they give quality service to their customers. Finally, they should always use the right interpersonal skills to show concern, empathy, and trust. By doing so, customers will be pleased regardless of the channel through which they choose to communicate.
Chapter 8: How to Improve Customer Service
“Customer service is just a day in, day out, ongoing, never ending, unremitting, persevering, compassionate, type of activity”
Throughout this guide, we have discussed many aspects of customer service. In this final chapter, we will delve deeper into some ways to improve the support and service given to clients, aside from the already discusses issue of agent training. The 2015 U.S. Multi-channel Customer Service Report has shown that poor customer service equals dissatisfied customers who stop doing business with a company: almost 70% of clients will walk away if they are not treated correctly. Additionally, customers expect good service, even more so than in the past, according to statistics. With many channels of communication available at this time, consumers hold companies to a higher standard of service, so companies need to recognize this fact. If they do not, their businesses will not be successful and the number of repeat customers will be very low. Another research shows that the customer service departments of most companies, nearly 80%, realize that they need to improve to keep up with future growth trends. By requesting feedback, measuring the customer experience and building cooperation between customer service and marketing, companies can improve service to reach a high level of satisfied customers.
When companies try to improve their customer service, they must first know how they are doing at the present time. The most logical way to get this information is by requesting feedback from customers, which can be done in several ways. First off, it is important to realize that most customers will not volunteer information about their experiences unless they are trying to get a problem resolved, so agents must ask if they want to know about those experiences. In person, agents can inquire about services through casual conversations or through interviews. They can ask a simple question such as “How would you rate your service and support with our company?” and add something like “Your input will help us to improve so that your service will be even better.” Agents should be sure to take good notes on the customer’s responses. Companies can also employ investigators, which are often in the form of mystery shoppers, to gather information about the customer experience.
Another great way to receive feedback comes in the form of surveys or questionnaires, which should ask specific questions about company-client interactions. Susan Ward, a small business expert, suggests implementing a rating system for several categories such as friendliness, courtesy, competence, and timeliness. Customers can rate each category by selecting if the service was excellent, good, average, fair or poor. A few open-ended questions can also be added to the survey such as “How could we improve our customer service?” and “What do you like best about the customer service that you received?” You never want to overwhelm the client with questions, because they will lose focus and interest, but using a few questions of this nature will give accurate and personalized feedback to the company. Complicated surveys will not yield an equal value of results. This means: the simpler, the better. For this reason, web-based surveys work great, because they can provide instantaneous feedback to the company.
Finally, the business can also follow up after a sale to get quality feedback. Agents should always remember their interpersonal skills when talking to customers, especially listening and empathy, and react appropriately to customer comments. Companies can use satisfied customer feedback to form testimonials or success stories, which will encourage others because it is a powerful marketing tool. Adversely, unsatisfied customer feedback should be used to improve future customer service experiences.
Measuring Customer Experience
Customer experience can also be measured in other ways. Let us begin with an example. Billy has called the call center of a toy company to ask a question about a product that he recently purchased. The phone system is not functioning properly, which left Billy holding 15 minutes before he reached an agent. The agent did everything correctly in terms of customer service, but Billy is irritated and agitated because of his long hold time before he reached the agent. For this reason, he considers his experience a negative one, even though the agent used all his tools and interpersonal skills in the manner in which he was trained. How does the customer find out about this negative interaction if the customer does not tell the agent?
A situation like this is can be handled by the company hiring an independent consulting agency who can measure every aspect of the customer experience. They can provide the company with something called a Customer Experience Snapshot, which measures service in three dimensions: emotional connections, rational connections and customer effort. The emotional connection refers to how friendly and empathetic the agent is, which elicits how the customer feels. The rational connection refers to how competent the agent is and what the customers think about the agent’s competence level. Finally, customer effort refers to the amount of effort a customer had to do to get service – for example, how long they had to wait or how many times they were transferred. This last dimension adds a valuable piece of insight into the overall customer experience.
This is done when a consultant company uses trained representatives to place live calls to the company, implementing several detailed scenarios created by the company itself. This allows the company to get customer-centric feedback instead of agent-driven feedback, and detailed results instead of vague ones.
Other Ways of Improving Customer Service
As we have learned throughout this guide, there are many ways to improve customer service. Agents can help to make this happen by informing customers of new services and products, as well as announcing events or changes in the staff. This makes them feel more valuable and connected to the company as a member of the team.
Businesses can also make clients feel more appreciated by involving them in the decision-making process. For example, Brand X is looking for a new logo. They decide to let their customers pick that logo, which will promote loyalty and brand recognition, by voting on the company’s website. This should also boost sales and growth, because clients who feel like they are part of something will be more apt to invest their money into it, by way of purchases and word-of-mouth advertising.
Another way to improve customer service is to make transactions easier with policies that enforce things such as simple returns and refund practices. When a company has clear and concise policies, it makes the client feel more comfortable with their purchases. They also feel like the company is more trustworthy, which has already been proven to be an essential part of customer satisfaction.
Companies can also do research to find out what perks and incentives other successful businesses offer, and try to follow their examples. This will help a company to be more competitive, as well as to provide over-the-top service to gain business.
Expanding operations is also a good way to improve customer service. For example, Ace Tutoring is a small business that used to have limited customer service channels – an office and a two-line phone system. However, the owner decided to expand his customer service channels by way of launching a company website. The business can now be accessed by many more potential customers and is immediately inundated with website visitors. Within three months of the website launch, business increased by 200%, which can be directly attributed to the new communication channel. Additionally, customer feedback shows that clients are much more satisfied with their interactions because they can find tutors and schedule their appointments online, which is much more convenient. This example shows how small changes in operations can quickly lead to improved customer experiences and company success.
Another effective way to improve customer service is to treat staff at the same high level that customers are treated. This will boost morale and provoke employees to give clients the same happy and positive experiences that they feel when at work. Motivation tools include adequate salaries, healthy work environments and the ability to express their ideas. Employers must use their interpersonal skills when interacting with agents in the same manner agents should use them to give quality service to customers.
Cooperation between Customer Service and Marketing
Finally, another important aspect of improving customer service should not be forgotten – the cooperation between marketing departments and customer service teams. Because these two departments often speak different languages, it is important to get them in the same page – they must be able to collaborate to improve service. For example, by way of listening to agents´ experiences, marketing departments can learn ways to better understand the needs of customers. On the other hand, the customer service team can learn more about product improvements and new product release dates. They can announce these items to customers, which improves marketing goals as well. Overall, marketing and customer service agents in collaboration will equal a successful and growing business for everyone involved! This is crucial when it comes to customer loyalty and return business.
In conclusion, if companies work to improve their services using these tips, even an unhappy customer will often give the company another try. Because of this reason, it is essential for companies to engage in strategic planning, develop ideas, follow trends, and research about their customers. Generally, they should always pay attention to their customers and stay proactive at all times. This is a proven key to success.
“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so”
After reading this guide, you have certainly learned much about the many aspects of customer service. By now, it is apparent how very important quality customer service and customer satisfaction are to the success of any business. To reiterate, good customer service translates into good word-of-mouth advertising and repeat business, whereas poor service means no repeat business and no growth of a loyal customer base, which boils down to a loss of profits for the company. To state it another way, if customers are satisfied, their positive experiences will result in more sales for the company. Conversely, unhappy customers will leave the company and make their purchases elsewhere.
Probably the most important concept to get out of this guide is that customers are the key to any business. They are essential assets, and without them, the company cannot exist. For this reason, companies must strive to keep customers happy and satisfied at all times. If they do not, customers will find a company who will. The emotion-based service that a business provides to their customers is a primary goal, and an integral component in doing business. Human connections are necessary to achieve this primary goal. These connections are formed when agents apply all the necessary interpersonal skills, such as listening, empathy, respect and friendliness. These skills, in conjunction with proper training, will allow companies to keep their clients satisfied and happy at all times.
When customers have problems, they expect efficient resolutions. In that regard, the key role of customer service agents is to meet this need by paying attention, expressing empathy and listening to address customers’ issues. This problem resolution can be performed through various communication channels. In this guide, we have defined face-to-face interactions, emails and online chats, telephone call centers and social media interactions. We have also emphasized how crucial it is to treat customers with a human touch at all times, regardless of which communication channel is used for the interaction.
The human component is essential to serving customers in a satisfying way. Many businesses do not recognize this fact and if they do not make the necessary changes, they will not grow or be successful. Even though many companies will spend exorbitant amounts of money to perfect products, advertising and services, without adequate customer support through quality service, it is all being wasted because customers will remain unhappy. Since profits are directly related to providing great customer service, it cannot be overemphasized that customers always need to be top priority.
This extensive compilation of tips and information has covered many different aspects of customer support and service. The provided analysis includes examples and statistics to prove to business owners just how crucial customer service is for their future success. The advice in this guide applies to any size business, and can be used either to improve existing service or to formulate a new customer satisfaction plan. The investment that a company makes in a quality customer strategy will never be a waste because it is the essence of a successful company. Therefore, we encourage all companies to develop long-term goals for excellent service, and success will fall into place. This will help to expand the brand, operations and new concepts.
Additionally, a close cooperation between departments such as marketing and customer service is also vital for success. Companies must also adapt and change as technology does, which occurs everyday. For example, as social media rise, companies should incorporate it into their customer service by adding this channel as a form of communication. The more modes available to the customer, the more convenient it is for the client. However, as shown, telephone conversations that convey the value of the brand are still very important when it comes to providing great emotion-based service.
What this guide has tried to achieve is convey the necessity for customer service to always be exceptional so that customer experience will always be positive. The given information will help you every step of the way in giving your customers the kind of service they deserve. By implementing the advice provided in this guide, you can make your customers feel pleased and satisfied. In turn, they will share their experience with others and boost positive awareness of your company. As a result of this free advertising in the form of word-of-mouth referrals, new customers will be attracted and your business will grow.
As a final remark, let us restate that customers should always be at the heart of every successful company, and should always be treated with adequate respect. Since human behavior is driven by emotions, employing the human touch should be the basis of all interactions. When customers receive exceptional customer service, they feel happy and remain loyal – in the business world, there is nothing as important as this achievement.