As a business owner, you’ve surely heard the message of the importance of great customer service from all sides. You’ve heard all the suggestions for improving customer service before—customers want you to be nice, respond quickly, and take care of their concerns.
These suggestions are, of course, all important and true.
But what do real customer service experts say you should do to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty? Here’s what they told us.
What’s the best way to exceed your customers’ email response expectations?
Tailor Your Responses
“Respond to questions or help requests with specific answers including pictures or videos tailored specifically talking to them,” says Eric Smith, COO of Cognitopia, a company that creates cognitively accessible web applications for self-management and executive functioning to help people with cognitive disabilities.
Improve Your Response Times
“Many businesses struggle to even meet customers’ email response expectations. I surveyed more than 1,200 consumers and found that the standard response time should be one hour. The average response time is closer to four hours, while many businesses take longer than that or do not reply at all.” So an email reply sent within one hour that thoroughly solves a customer’s issue might be about what’s expected, but it will also be far better than most of your competitors,” says Jeff Toister, CPLP, PHR, founder of Toister Performance Solutions, Inc. and author of three customer service books, including “Getting Service Right: Overcoming the Hidden Obstacles to Outstanding Customer Service”
Set a Standard, Then Set a Goal
“It’s simple. Respond fast. Set a standard that at a minimum will meet your customers’ expectations. Then set the “goal” for response time. For example, one of my clients sets a standard of one-hour or less response time, but then shoots for 20 minutes or less,” says Shep Hyken, customer service/experience expert and New York Times bestselling author.
Maybe you use email auto-responders or templates, which makes the process of responding easier, but you tailor them to meet each individual scenario. People’s expectations related to the immediacy of communication has changed. Using a collaborative email management tool can help your team reduce response times to an hour or less.
What’s the worst mistake small customer service teams make?
Having bad inter-team communication habits
“Not talking to each other to reveal solutions for customers, or letting personality conflicts outweigh teamwork to solve the customer’s desires,” says Smith.
Lacking a vision
“Customer service teams of any size frequently fail to create a shared definition of outstanding service. Managers assume this is obvious and tend to focus training and feedback on getting employees to comply with standards and procedures. The result is a group of task-focused employees who are afraid to use their own discretion. A better solution is to work with your team to create a customer service vision that will get everyone on the same page and focused on the customer,” says Toister.
Failing to empower your team
“We often see small teams lack empowerment. They are continuously having to get approval for what has been improved in the past. Let customer service reps do their job, which is to take care of customers. Empower them to make good customer-focused decisions. Coach them based on past experiences so they know how far they can go without having to go to a supervisor for permission,” says Hyken.
Disempowered customer service workers derail the customer satisfaction process, by more often giving insufficient answers, or just giving your customers different numbers to call rather than actually tracking down the information to help them.
What can you do to restore customer satisfaction when your company has made a mistake?
“Admit and accept complete responsibility for the mistake, even if it wasn’t 100% your fault, and ask what you can do to help resolve the current situation. If you already can think of a desirable solution, present it to them as an option and allow them to make the decision (“Would you like it if I can do _____ for you?”),” says Smith.
Prevent mistakes from happening again
“There are three things you should do to restore customer satisfaction. The first is to take ownership of the situation and offer the customer a genuine and sincere apology. It’s amazing how far a simple apology can go to repairing the relationship. The next step is to overcorrect the situation by doing something extra for your customer to demonstrate your sincerity. The final step is to identify what caused the mistake in the first place and find a way to prevent it from happening again,” says Toister.
Acknowledge, Apologize, Fix, Act
“I have a five-step process: 1) Acknowledge the mistake. 2) Apologize for the mistake. 3) Fix the mistake or discuss the resolution. 4) Act with an attitude of ownership. It may not be your fault, but it’s now your opportunity to fix the issue. 5) Respond and act with urgency. Remember, the goal is to not just fix the problem, but to also restore confidence. That’s what steps four and five do,” says Hyken.
Maybe a package was fine when it left your office, but was damaged in transit. Offer a genuine “I’m sorry” anyway, and work with the customer to find a solution that makes them happy. Then, work with your team to figure out if there’s anything you can do to prevent it from happening again, such as making a change to the packaging or shipping procedures.
What’s your best tip for training new team members on delivering exceptional customer service?
Place Value on the Role
“Help frame the valuable role the customer service person holds in the success of business sales. At the same time, let them know of the power of listening skills, rephrasing and clarifying communication techniques, and the high value of a smile, whether engaging in person, on the phone, or through email/text/chat,” says Smith.
Make Training an Ongoing Process
“Training should focus on developing one skill at a time, and be an ongoing process. A one-time training class has limited effectiveness because people will quickly forget what they learned and slip back into old habits. Thousands of customer service professionals subscribe to my Customer Service Tip of the Week email because it provides one tip that will make an immediate difference. You will be better at service if you focus on improving just that one area, and then come back the next week and start working on something else. Now you have a training program that lasts all year versus just a few hours,” says Toister.
“Remember that training isn’t something you did. It’s something you do. Once you’ve put new team members through initial customer service training, be sure to reinforce the training with continuous “mini-trainings.” It can be as short as ten minutes every week. The goal is to keep customer service “front-of-mind,” says Hyken.
Affirm and develop the worth of your customer service team, so they know how important you view them to the overall success of the company. Continuously talk to your team, review your customer service metrics, and integrate that into your processes.
It’s easy for most businesses to say that they value customer service. But HOW you put that value into action is what really matters. These business owners all agreed on the basics of that method: empower your team, make training an ongoing process, and keep the needs of your customers in mind at all times.
Posted in: Customer Service