If you’ve been in business for a few years, then you’ve no doubt got your own tips for great customer service. When you’re working to serve the needs and preferences of customers, you get to learn the ins and outs of what they’re looking for. But there’s a big difference between customer service that’s merely good, and customer service that’s truly exceptional.
No doubt you can recall plenty of customer service experiences you’ve had yourself when using other businesses. Ask yourself this: which experiences are the ones that really stick in your mind? Most likely, it’s either the very good experiences or the very bad ones. The in-between ones are more forgettable.
So, this is a point you need to bear in mind when it comes to your own customers. If you want them to remember you for the right reasons, you need to offer a genuinely outstanding standard of customer service.
But, what constitutes outstanding customer service? Is it about individuals who go the extra mile, or is it about a culture that prioritizes the customer above all else? Is it a matter of ensuring your team is well-staffed enough to be properly attentive to customers, or is it about training them in what customers are looking for? The correct answer is that it’s a combination of all these things.
Of course, staff need to be trained to understand the overwhelming importance of attentive customer service, but they also need to be given the support (and the resources) to make that a reality. Otherwise, they won’t be able to do the job. If your team feels that it’s respected, valued, and supported, your customers will be the ones who see the benefit – and this can only have positive effects for your business’s reputation.
And in the modern consumer environment, reputation really does matter a huge amount. It’s never been easier for consumers to give their opinion or to find the opinions of others, thanks to online reviews. Think about it – when was the last time you tried a new restaurant, or bought a new product, without checking to see what other people had said about it first? So providing exceptional customer experiences, and the question of how to be better at customer service, have never been more important than they are today.
With the rise of the internet, customer reviews, and social media, reputation management – as well as the satisfaction of doing a good job – requires you to prioritize customer service.
Perhaps you’ve asked yourself, “how do I deliver world-class customer service?” To help you in your efforts to impress your customers, we’ve assembled our top 10 tips for customer service here. Read on for our list of customer service suggestions.
1. Listen to What Your Customers Are Telling You
This might seem like an obvious, elementary point, but you’d be amazed how many businesses don’t take it as seriously as they ought to. It’s very easy to tell your customers that you’re listening to them, but it’s quite another to actually take their feedback into account – and act on it. You really do need, though, to pay close attention to what your customers are trying to tell you, and if you fail to do so, your business is likely to pay a heavy price.
Again, put yourself in the customer’s shoes: if you’re asked for your feedback, and you go to the trouble of getting your thoughts in order and providing them, you’d probably be pretty miffed if your input wasn’t taken seriously. So, if you’re going to ask your customers to tell you what they think of the standard of customer service you offer, you’d better take it seriously. Customers are generally happy to provide feedback if you ask them.
However, you should respect the fact that customers are taking time out of their own schedule to provide their views – even if those views are negative. Indeed, even negative feedback can be useful; it may be that it highlights a genuine problem. Few people complain simply for the sake of it. If negative feedback hits upon an issue that genuinely needs resolving, then you need to take the requisite action.
2. Empathize, Empathize, Empathize
Another one of the most elementary ideas for improving customer service is that of treating customers with respect when they contact you to make a complaint.
It’s a simple fact of running a business that you will, every so often, receive some complaints from customers. You could run the tightest ship in the world, but there will be times when your business falls short of the customer service standards to which it aspires.
The point is to be prepared for any issues, and to know how to deal with these complaints when they arise. Firstly, you need to appreciate that when a customer contacts you to complain about some aspect of the experience they’ve had, whether that be that they think you need to provide a cheaper international calling option for customer queries or you need to reply to instant messages quicker, they’re probably already feeling a bit tense about the matter. They may even be angry. So your staff need to be thoroughly trained in how to handle these situations.
Whatever you do, you must ensure that your staff don’t lose their temper and snap back at customers who complain. People have a right to their views, and to express them. You should at the very least give them a polite hearing, even if you feel they’re wrong in some respects.
Remember the old adage, ‘the customer is always right’. You don’t necessarily have to swallow it whole yourself, but you must make customers feel as if you believe it.
3. Create a Customer Service Culture
The thing about customer service is that it’s not just about giving staff a list of dos and don’ts. Your approach to it has to go much further than that. It’s a matter of instilling a particular type of ethos, and ensuring as best you can that your staff embody that ethos in their approach to customer service. This requires creating an internal, customer-first culture that accords customer service the overarching priority it deserves.
In every aspect of your business, there needs to be a laser-like focus on meeting the needs of the customer, and ensuring that they have the best possible experience. Everyone in the organization must be made to understand that the work they do is geared towards this fundamental end. It’s not simply a question of training staff during the onboarding process and then leaving them to do the rest. There needs to be a continual emphasis.
Staff must be regularly trained in how to be better at customer service. However high you set the bar, you can never allow yourself to rest on your laurels. Likewise, they need to buy into that company ethos we’ve already discussed. This is ‘the vision thing’, to borrow a phrase. There needs to be a clear and comprehensive set of goals, as well as a broader mission in pursuit of which people can strive.
4. Communicate Clearly With Customers
We’ve already noted how the rise of the internet and social media have made it easier than ever for customers to give their views on your business. But, on the flip side, it’s also easier than ever to keep in touch with your customers. When a customer reaches out to you to raise an issue, you need to redouble your efforts to address it in a timely and clear manner, so there’s no room for ambiguity or uncertainty.
Make sure you pay proper attention to your social channels, because customers will use them to contact you. The days when people solely raise issues via a phone call or even an email are gone. Of course, people still use those channels, but social has come to take on increasing importance over the last few years.
The danger here is that everyone can see how you reply to a tweet or a Facebook post; this means that you need to be very careful in how you handle issues raised via these mediums.
When responding to a customer, keep them updated with any progress relating to the issue they’ve raised with you. Don’t bombard them with irrelevant updates as this will only antagonize them, but at the same time, don’t leave them in the dark. Your communications with customers need to be friendly but professional, and they need to be strictly relevant to the matter at hand.
5. Hire the Right People
Again, you’d think this was another self-explanatory point that needed no further elaboration, but many businesses are way too careless when it comes to their hiring practices. When thinking about how to improve customer service, you need to think about who you’re bringing into the team. Do your new recruits have previous experience of providing top-class customer service? Do they really buy into the ethos you’re trying to create?
Too many companies hire new staff out of necessity, indeed almost out of panic, and this means they don’t always take the time to assess whether newcomers are actually likely to be a good fit for the company. But the calibre of the staff you hire will have a major bearing on the standard of customer service you provide, and hence the customer experience as a whole.
It goes without saying that training can make a big difference, and previous experience isn’t necessarily the be-all and end-all. However, you do need to take a step back before hiring and consider whether the person you’re thinking of bringing in really shares your commitment to exceptional customer service. If you have any reservations at all on this score, it may be best to continue your search until you find the right addition to your team.
6. Honesty is Always the Best Policy
It takes a lot to build up a good reputation, but it takes nowhere near as much time or effort to knock it down. However well established you are in your field, and however many years you’ve been providing consumers with amazing experiences, all that can be undone remarkably easily. A surefire way of wrecking a good reputation is to be dishonest with customers.
You have to remember that your customers are intelligent people. They’re not stupid or naive Some may have years of experience of customer service, and they know the difference between good and bad. Trying to pull the wool over their eyes, or hoodwink them in some way, is a fool’s errand. If there’s a genuine problem, you need to own up to it and address it in a transparent and honest manner.
Mistakes happen: we’re only human, at the end of the day. So if you find that the customer is indeed right in whatever complaint they’re making or issue they raise, the best thing you can do is face up to it. This is a much more effective way of getting the customer back on side than kicking the can down the road or trying to pass the buck.
7. Respond to Customers Quickly
When a customer goes to the trouble of contacting you, it’s because they have a point or a query they want to raise. You need to demonstrate that you respect them enough to respond to them in a quick, timely manner. This is one of the top tips for great customer service: your communications with customers need to cover the issues they’ve raised in full, but they need to be as swift as possible, too.
As always in these matters, you need to think as best you can from the customer’s perspective. No doubt these are busy people, with plenty of other things to be doing with their time. This is why their queries and complaints must be addressed with the minimum of delay. If you fail to do so, you’ll probably find that the customer in question simply takes their custom elsewhere.
This is all the more important on social media, because – as we’ve discussed – other people can see your interactions. Respond to social queries quickly and always be scrupulously polite, but know when to take them private. Potentially thorny issues are better discussed in private messages away from prying eyes. This is as much about the customer’s privacy as yours. But again, always be absolutely polite and professional in private messages.
8. Answer the Phone!
If you’ve ever been frustrated in your efforts to get hold of a business by phone, you’ll understand perfectly well how people get so annoyed about it. There are certainly few things more irritating than being left on hold for hours on end, forced to sit through the same irritating music. Then there’s the businesses that don’t answer your calls at all, or fail to respond to your voicemails in a reasonably quick manner.
What we’re saying here is that you’ll have had these customer experiences yourself. So why would you inflict them on your own customers? You know already that many businesses make a big song and dance about how much they value their customers. Many don’t live up to this in practice, even when it comes to something as simple as answering the phone. Here actions speak much louder than warm words.
If you really pride yourself on providing excellent customer service, you need to prove it by answering phone calls in a timely way. Don’t leave people hanging around for ages. Make sure your team understands the importance of responding to calls – tell them not to leave any phones ringing out for more than a couple of rings. They must appreciate that your customers have their own lives to be getting on with. ‘One way to improve this aspect of your business would be to replace your old POTS line with a VoIP system or UCaaS (Unified communication as a service) set-up.’
9. Try to Avoid Escalations
Whenever a customer makes a complaint, it brings about a very sensitive situation – perhaps the most sensitive you’ll have to deal with in customer service. The fact that they’ve gone so far as to make a complaint already indicates that they’re not happy with your business. You need to start by getting to the bottom of why this is, and then assess exactly what you can do to resolve the problem.
If you’re determined to grow your business and build its reputation for outstanding customer service, you need to be prepared to make compromises in the face of customer complaints. This may require you to do certain things that you’re instinctively not comfortable with. For example, you might find yourself having to swallow an overall loss on a certain transaction. This may be a compromise worth making, if it helps to maintain your reputation for prioritizing the needs of customers at all times.
Even if you do find you have to make concessions like this, the chances are that it’ll pay off in the long run anyway. That’s because it’ll help you keep existing customers returning to your business, and it’ll also give you a good reputation for customer service in the eyes of others.
10. Preempt Further Questions
When responding to a customer, you must appreciate that the issues they raise may themselves create further questions. You should try to anticipate these as best you can. But make sure you listen to what the customer is actually telling you. If you start going off on a tangent, talking about things that have relatively little relation to what the customer has actually said, it’s unlikely to impress them.
Addressing customer queries and dealing with customer complaints can be something of an open-ended process. This is something you simply have to be prepared for. Depending on the complexity and the nature of the complaint or the query in question, all sorts of additional issues might crop up. It helps if you can thoroughly understand your customers. Be prepared to be patient, and don’t feel like you have to dispatch customer queries in double-quick time.
We hope that this list of retail tips for customer service has provided you with some useful insights and a quick refresher course about the fundamentals of keeping consumers happy. Needless to say, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution in this regard. Your customers will inevitably be a diverse bunch of people, with their own particular set of preferences and requirements.
Customer service, however, really can be the difference between lasting success and rapid failure. If you can keep your customers happy, you’ll also keep them coming back to your business, time and time again.