10 principles of great customer service
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The most valuable asset of any business is its team. And the most impactful action of any team is its interaction with your customer. Why is frustration the most frequent result of support calls?
The true reason behind this situation will be presented in one of our next articles, discussing what would happen if the IT services companies provided great customer support. In short, the point is that when the IT companies grow, the numbers of support requests outgrow the capabilities of their customer support team at some point, and the solution before was to maximize the number of support requests handled per shift. This leaves little time to deal with an individual request, which means the customers get frustrated quite often.
Therefore, if the IT industry knows about the problem — what steps can be made to correct it? Below are 10 principles of great customer service, supported with real-life examples.
- Provide multiple customer service access options, including simple to navigate self-service portals
- Provide product onboarding video materials to flatten the learning curve
- Empower the employees to create positive customer experiences by empowering positive employee experiences within the team
- Provide proactive solutions (not only for the issues the customer requested support with but for more deeper and fundamental challenges and bottlenecks)
- Foster the creative notions within your team, give them the time to step away from the tickets queue and analyze the whole picture and suggest improvements
- Actively implement customer feedback and quickly respond to positive and negative reviews
- Clearly define your company core values and what you stand for so that the customers can align with your principles and associate with the brand
- Build lifelong relations with each customer. When people feel they are valued, they become brand advocates, and personal advocacy from a friend is the best recommendation a business can get
- Fix your mistakes at no extra charge and make sure to avoid such situations in the future. Bad memories last long, normal service is not duly noted, only exceptional service gets remembered.
- Get to know your customers. Mentioning the details of their careers and achievements and going an extra mile to fulfill your promises makes all the difference between a frustrated churn and lifelong brand advocacy.
Let’s take a closer look at these principles, and how industry-leading businesses follow them.
Multiple customer service access options
A recent customer service benchmark report by SuperOffice highlighted an incredible customer service gap: while 80% of businesses believe they provide excellent customer service, only 8% of customers think they receive such a service. Why such a deep chasm?
- 2/3rds of companies don’t respond to customer service request emails. They just put the request into backlog and work on solving it. But for a customer, it seems their inquiries go down the drain pipe.
- 9 out of 10 businesses don’t notify the customers of receiving their emails, for the same reason, and with the same results.
- 4/5ths of companies fail to solve the initial request within a single email.
- 97% of businesses don’t follow-up with a service feedback form to ensure the customers are satisfied with the service they received.
- The average TTR across the IT industry is 12 hours, which is waaaaay too long. This is why according to Salesforce around 60% of Millennials — who form the majority of customers nowadays — prefer self-service portals to emails or phone calls.
Make sure a phone number or an email address is not the single way of reaching your customer support. To say more, make sure there are clear guidelines on using your products and services freely available to your customers online.
Product onboarding through video tutorials
People don’t like reading walls of text. Video information is better to comprehend and memorize, as compared to long instructions. Make sure the key features of your products and services are described in easy to grasp product support videos, so your customers can follow the steps to enable a feature or use a function themselves, without any need to contact the customer support, ever. This both reduces the workload for the support reps, who must not answer the same questions for the hundredth time, and fosters customer loyalty.
Empower positive employee and customer experiences
Did you know every Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company employee has a DAILY QUOTA for $2,000 for providing EXCELLENT customer experience? Not only an executive manager — a waiter, a room maid or any other lower-rank staff member can exert their powers to deliver stellar customer service. While not every company can issue the same carte-blanche, the approach is a 100% correct one.
Your employees must be appraised and congratulated for forming lasting positive customer experiences, not chided for making a step outside of their responsibilities. Only when every employee knows their extra effort will be appreciated by the company, he or she will deliver this extra effort. The forms of appraisal can differ — from monetary awards to monthly titles, certificates, and diplomas, company-paid trips to seminars and conferences, etc. One such example is a story of how a Warby Parker employee has won a lifetime loyalty of a customer by sending him a pair of reading glasses the latter forgot on a train.
Provide proactive solutions
With time and experience, especially after having answered the same question and fixed the same issue for the thousandth time, your customer support reps can go to the problem roots at once. What is even more important, they are most likely able to rectify not only the issue the customer is experiencing at the moment but to remove the core problem, the bottleneck that is causing the issue. The main requirement for this changing the company attitude to measuring support efficiency. Instead of the numbers of tickets processed or calls answered, the success must be measured through the customer feedback forms and ratings.
Such actions should be fostered and facilitated by the company policy, as it is a mutually beneficial feat. The customers get the issues sorted for good, the customer support employees have less headache on their shifts. By automating multiple routine processes and implementing predictive analytics, the customer support team can free up time for indulging in creative projects, analyzing their work and offering further process improvements.
Foster the creative notions within your team
This is the logical consequence of the previous points. Let’s imagine the majority of your customer questions can be answered through self-service portals and with tutorial videos, while the most frequently happening issues are identified and the response scenarios for them are in place. This means your customer support team gets some relatively free time during their shift.
They can devote it to smoking and talking around the coffee machine — or they can indulge in accomplishing their personal projects, like analyzing more areas that can be automated, fostering stronger customer relations through devising personalized solutions for their requests and inventing new ways of improving their working environment. This is actually the self-reproducing cycle of constant strive for perfection, which greatly improves the company culture and team spirit — but it cannot begin on itself, and the management must start it.
Kristin Aardsma, a customer support employee at Basecamp, shared her story about how the company decided to devote 2 hours a day to improve the internal processes. Basecamp encouraged the employees to start personal projects on gathering the data on the possible ways of improvement, researching and analyzing it and doing the pilot runs to test their ideas. This allowed to drastically lower the employee burnout and helped improve the customer experience, as the staff was more positive and motivated.
Ask for feedback, respond to it and actively implement it
The “your call is very important for us” phrase can cause irritation only, and the post-contact survey forms with a request to rate the service from 1 to ten are simply vulgar. The company that really cares about its customer can — and MUST — devote a considerable amount of time and effort to creating engaging and informative surveys, questionnaires, feedback forms, and social media polls. What is even more important, such a company must transform this feedback into new features or improvements quite soon.
For example, the healthy makeup brand Glossier has acted in response to the customer feedback from the very beginning. Its co-founder and CEO Emily Weiss has told the Entrepreneur that building new products around the customer’s feedback is the core principle of the company. This ensures every new addition to the product line is well awaited by the customers and their opinions are truly appreciated. In addition, the customers say that the gTeam or the Glossier support team redefines customer support.
The same principle must be applied to IT services. Monitor the social media and business rating sites for both positive and negative reviews from your customers. Thank for the former ones, inquire for the reason of the latter. Do your best to rectify the situation. Collect the opinions of your customers as to what features must be added to your product or services and align their feedback with your development plans. Seeing that their feedback is valued makes the customers your best brand advocates.
Clearly define your company core values and stand up for them
To become your lifelong partners, your customers must be able to associate with your brand on more levels than just using your products and services. Simon Sinek in his speech on the Golden Circle has explained the importance of declaring what your company believes to be right — and standing up to it. This attitude inspires true following and appreciation from your audience, as they are able to say — “I believe these guys do the right thing”, which morally justifies using your products and services and recommending them to their family and friends.
Build lifelong relations with your customers
Modern-day Customer Relation Management (CRM) systems enable businesses to stockpile lots of information about their customers. Not only their history of purchases and opened support tickets can be traced, but a ton of data from their social media accounts and other publications can be collected. This can be used to personalize the greeting emails and special offers, as people value most when the vendor spends time and effort to please them.
The other side of the coin is acting as if the customer is always right… especially when they are not. The most notorious example of such attitude is the famous fable of Nordstrom tire return. As the story goes, a man walked into a Fairbanks store of a clothing and shoewear vendor and requested a refund for a couple of winter tires, because he was sure he bought them here. Despite the fact that the brand did not sell tires at any point of its history, the return was paid by the clerk. The story has received ample coverage by the press and media and greatly improved the public opinion regarding Nordstrom.
The brand’s real refund policies cannot justify turning it into a dump for unused items sold by other vendors, of course. However, if the refund item is clearly of Nordstrom stock, the refund is paid without requests for any ID’s, cheques, sales slips or other proofs that the sale took place in this particular store. Such an attitude helps win the hearts of the customers and turn them into active advocates of the brand — and it can easily be applied to the IT services industry.
Fix your mistakes at no extra charge
Refunds and chargebacks are among the most painful moments in client-business interactions. Both parties are usually sure they are right and both parties refuse to yield. However, if the company turns out to be wrong in the end and is forced to issue a payment, the frustrated customer usually leaves for good and tries to spread the word. As a saying goes, a satisfied customer tells 3 people, a dissatisfied to 3,000. Bad publicity of such sort can be very damaging for the company image and can have a lasting negative impact, so it’s better to fix your mistakes rather sooner than later.
Amazon once delivered a parcel when the customer was not at home. The neighbor signed for the delivery and left the parcel at the porch, where it was promptly stolen. Leaving the neighbor’s idiocy aside, the fact that the parcel contained the PlayStation 4 intended as a little boy’s gift for Christmas was bad enough, and the frustrated customer contacted Amazon support service at once. The company delivered a new PS4 the very next day free of charge with apologies. While this happened about 10 years ago, the company has held to the same high customer service standards ever since.
Get to know your customers well
We mentioned this briefly in one of the previous points. Modern CRM systems enable the business to collect goldmines of data regarding their customers from a variety of public sources. Applying the Big Data analytics solutions to this data helps better personalize your marketing offers and come up with more detailed conversations while interacting with a customer. Mentioning a recent accolade achieved by the customer’s company or personally, quoting their recent social media post, congratulating them on some important family event — all of this can help form a steady bond and turn a customer into an advocate of your brand.
The reason is the same — people love to be treated personally, not as a generalized pool of customers. For example, Starbucks has recently launched a campaign, where their customers received free latte for introducing themselves to the staff. More than 350,000 coffee cups were given out and the coffeehouse chain received more than 60,000 frequenters, resulting in a decent increase in the company revenues.
The coin has two sides though and digging too deep into personal affairs can have very negative results. When Target sent discount coupons for baby care products to a father of a high school teen, the outrage of the customer was quite intense. As it turned out, the girl was actually pregnant but did not tell her father just yet. The general notion of the media discussion that followed was that the retail giant should not have used its Machine Learning technology to intrude such an intimate sphere of family life as pregnancy. This marred the company image for several years, despite the project was generally successful and helped millions of customers save money based on the history of their purchases.
Final thoughts on the principles and examples of great customer service
To sum up the points above, every business must invest a great deal of effort in optimizing their customer support. Keeping the support representatives motivated, automating the mundane tasks, providing the self-service features to please the customers and relieve the personnel — all of these approaches help keep the team spirits high. This, in its turn, means that the customers are treated better and gain lasting positive experiences.
If coupled with a solid product/service quality, this is a basis for the long-term success of your business, where your satisfied customers become your best advocates. Isn’t that the best outcome for any business?
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