With so many channels available to interact with customers, there’s really no excuse for any business today not to provide consistently great customer service. Of course, there will always be unhappy customers to contend with, but there is no reason these customers should stay unhappy for long – or at least feel they aren’t being heard.
Companies that have earned a reputation for outstanding customer service are willing to go the extra mile to solve their customers’ problems. The best practices they have established didn’t happen overnight. Nor did they happen in a vacuum. Companies that approach customer service the right way have had to learn how to keep their customers satisfied – partly through trial and error – by listening to customers and determining how to specifically address their needs, and by daring to be innovative rather than following traditional models.
Through our experiences working with companies and the individuals within that drive those businesses, we have developed a successful approach and have honed in on what we believe are the three essential components to any customer service program:
This isn’t just about teaching the people within your organization to understand the importance of great customer service. It is instead focused on actively practicing and always “thinking” about how to provide outstanding customer service. It’s about providing customer service to each other first, internally, so you become immersed in it, and then going the extra mile by removing obstacles that prevent your team from reaching out and solving problems.
Many companies try to maximize revenue by charging customers for multiple services. But forward-thinking companies should fix or upgrade their offerings for their customers automatically. This approach, in and of itself, creates a culture of customer service. The financial incentive is then to be as efficient as possible, rather than to be as slow as possible (which would maximize revenue if you were charging for it). Looking at it from a customer’s perspective, which approach would you prefer?
This approach takes a long-term view on the returns – increased customer satisfaction, loyalty, and word-of-mouth referrals – that your organization is likely to see over time by not charging for certain or additional services. It works particularly well for SaaS-focused companies, where the value is in keeping customers long term, rather than concentrating on the initial sale.
It is also critical to be transparent. Services you decide to charge for should never be hidden. Look to a competitor with a less expensive product, and you’ll likely find they tack extra service fees on top. Those additional costs can add up quickly – and can cause you to lose your customers’ goodwill and trust.
A customer contacts your business with a question, comment, request or complaint, and your business responds. It sounds simple enough, right? However, with so many channels available for customers to post complaints, responsiveness today must be lighting fast. If you take too long to respond to a customer who has reached out to you – by phone, email or by posting a comment about your brand on Facebook or Twitter – that simple complaint can snowball into a major image problem for your business.
You must ensure someone is able to answer these complaints and inquiries as quickly as possible. Consider keeping the customer service inbox open all day, and sharing it among several key employees, including the most senior-level executives at your organization, which will build in a greater level of accountability. For example, I get copied on every support email. Another important improvement is to have a means of monitoring customer service emails from your smartphone or other device during after-business hours. Be as available 24/7 with your customer service as you can possibly be.
Being more responsive than the industry is an important way to stand out. Customers will in turn go out of their way to help build your reputation and provide the most valuable kind of free marketing.
Learning to treat each and every customer as an individual is a must if you want to provide consistently great customer service. This also ties back to culture (the way your organization views customer service) and responsiveness (understanding that there is an actual person out there, waiting for you to act). Each person and his or her story are unique. Therefore, your responses and services to customers must be tailored according to each unique story, challenge or problem.
Find ways to get closer to your customers so that when they do reach out to you, you already know a bit about them as individuals and their prior interactions with your company. For example, keep a detailed log of information on each customer. There are affordable programs that can quickly retrieve this information for your customer service representatives.
It also helps to personalize responses to customers and ensure you have a team dedicated to customizing solutions for them. Not all issues have a cookie cutter solution, and meeting all your customers’ needs will strengthen trust with them. For B2B companies, assign a dedicated team member to each account to regularly check-in and make proactive recommendations on improving the work they do with you.
Taking these important approaches to customer service can go a long way toward deepening customer loyalty and prompting your customer base to make future purchases, invest in product upgrades and refer you to other business prospects.
Shaun Ryan is co-founder and CEO of SLI Systems, provider of site search and merchandising solutions for eCommerce organizations.