Okay, I get it.
Just like every other business owner, you want your customers to keep coming back to you.
But here’s the big question:
Do you deserve having your customers’ loyalty?
You see, your customers don’t care how much you want them to come back. And it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been waiting for them to show up and buy again.
Customers go back to businesses that care about them. Businesses that see them being more than just a dollar sign by providing excellent customer support in every interaction- before they buy when they are buying, and the kind of support they deliver after customers buy.
While most of your customers will appreciate good service, few will end up talking about it to their friends, family, or followers. Excellent customer service is not a happy accident that ‘just happens’. You can deliberately engineer it into every customer interaction. Your executives are required to be proficient in customer service etiquette rules.
Sounds like hard work?
Good. Because that’s where 99.9% jump off the wagon.
The good news?
It’s not as hard as you may think – if you know what to focus on. That’s why I’ve assembled 30 tips shared across the most important aspects of customer service skills. They should help you identify where to focus on so you provide excellent customer service. Feel free to jump to the ones that are most appealing to you.
Ready? Let’s get started.
Build the Right Team
Tip #1: Don’t settle, keep looking
Throughout your business life, two things are bound to happen;
- Your best customer service rep will quit
- You’ll have to fire a customer service rep
No one knows when this will happen. If it finds you when you have to process an endless list of incoming requests from your customers, it will leave you badly exposed.
Their requests may take too long to handle, other reps may become overwhelmed, and some customers may feel ignored prompting them to walk away from you.
Faced with such a situation, it’s easy to become confused and vulnerable to making bad hiring decisions when looking for a replacement.
You’re the only one who’s committed to your company for life. Your employees aren’t. Since handling their departure isn’t easy, be prepared long before it happens.
Keep looking for potential customer service reps long before you have to handle that unexpected resignation or have to fire someone. Let potential candidates know that you’ll give them first priority in case a position falls vacant.
So, where do you look for potential customer service reps?
- Reach out to the biggest fans in your customer base and ask them if they would be open to working as your customer service reps
- Join customer service professional groups on LinkedIn and Facebook and connect with people who seem like a great fit for your business
- Reach out to your network of friends and current employees to see if they have potential leads
- Have a continuous internship program that gives you room to promote interns to fill a vacant position
- Attend customer service conferences and look for potential leads
When hiring customer service reps, it’s easy to get carried away by impressive resumes, achievements, and experience. But that’s one side of the coin.
Here’s the other side:
Tip #2: Read the fine print
Imagine hiring someone with relevant skills and experience but is always absent from work? Or someone who has claims to be an expert in customer service only to realize that they only read a few blogs about customer service and stopped at that? Bad hires are always a nightmare for your business.
Once you’ve identified a number of potential reps, make a point of getting to know them better; both as individuals and as professionals. Use every interaction (face to face or virtual) to assess them and identify red flags before it’s too late.
To help you do that, use the SEARCH Model from Sandler training to look beyond the cover and read the fine print.
Even with this in mind, the most popular advice out there is to rely on your gut when making hiring decisions.
Have you had instances where you followed your gut thinking that you made the right decision but ended up regretting it? Well, its because your gut can also lead you astray.
And here’s how to prevent that from happening;
Tip #3: Look Beyond your Biases
Making decisions by relying on your gut should involve more than just listening to your inner voice and taking action. In the past, you’ve made some good decisions in your business by relying on your intuition and had some remarkable wins. Great.
But you’ve also followed your intuition and made decisions that you got your fingers burned and lost some money.
It doesn’t mean that your intuition is flawed. In some areas, you’ve lacked the necessary expertise to make the right decisions. Here’s what Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow says about looking beyond your bias and developing expert intuition:
So, where do you find these experts?
- Share the information you have collected about your potential candidates with recruitment experts and listen to their advice
- Speak to other stakeholders in your business such as the management team
- Consult your peers and employees to get feedback on a potential candidate
Tip #4: Embrace diversity
Like every other business owner on the planet, you want to have the best employees on your team. Employees are human beings too, so they will always fall short in some areas.
So, rather than look for the perfect employee, create a list of non-negotiable qualities and skills that everyone joining your customer service team should have.
You’ll end up with a balanced team where everyone looks forward to learning from each other. People with different experiences, skills, and work styles make up a balanced team that provides unique ideas for providing excellent customer service.
A balanced team also allows you to leverage everyone’s strengths. In a diverse team, for instance, you may have someone who is good at coming up with exciting and innovative customer service ideas while another who is good at implementing these ideas.
Tip #5 Set SMART expectations
I get it.
You’ve hired a customer service rep. Since you know that they are good at their job, you assume they know what they’re supposed to do. Or, you are vague about what they should be doing in your business.
But you end up losing more customers due to unresolved complaints, unnecessary conflict within the team, low engagement, and poor performance. How do you expect your customer service reps to read your mind then do what you expect?
Setting SMART expectations with your customer service reps helps them know what they are responsible for and it allows you to hold them accountable.
Your expectations to your employees need to follow the SMART model: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. When setting expectations, make it a collaborative exercise so you also get to know what they expect from you, rather than dictating what you need from them.
It helps them feel involved and motivated to deliver excellent customer service in a positive work environment.
Tip #6: Deal with bad reps
Letting go bad
By the time you’re thinking of letting go of a bad rep, you plan to do your best to help them correct their behavior. You’ll probably give them several opportunities to improve their performance. You’ll believe in them and stay optimistic until they push you over the edge.
And by the time it gets here, your business will have suffered from a bad reputation, team morale will have gone down and you will hate yourself for being that patient.
If you’ve already identified team members whom you should let go, admit that either way, you’ll have to do it.
Inspire your team to love their job
Tip #7: Don’t treat your new hires like an afterthought
For a business with so much to do, on-boarding your new customer service reps is always incomplete and haphazard. Often, you’ll expect that the new people joining the team will find their way around and catch up with the work ahead of them as fast as they can.
Most new hires will start looking for a new job 6 months into their current one as a result of poor onboarding. So you likely have a rep who doesn’t care about delivering excellent customer service and your customers won’t have a reason to come back every time they interact with them.
New hires in your company find themselves in an unfamiliar environment. Faced with the challenges of adapting to their new place of work, help them make the transition. Instead of letting them find their way around, take some time and structure your onboarding process.
Show them around, introduce them to the team, and give them the resources they need to help them get settled. It will help them hit the ground running faster and make sure that they fit into their role without much hassle.
Tip #8: Professional and personal development
Professional development of your customer service team sounds obvious, but if you’re not doing it already, your customer service standards might be average.
Prioritizing your team’s professional development shows them that you care. In return, you’ll see them providing excellent customer service and being loyal to you. Here’s how to create a professional development plan for your customer service reps.
Your customer service reps are human too. They have their fair share of good and bad days. Other times, they’re sick or attending to a loved one who is ailing. These experiences will always have an impact on their performance at work, and if unchecked, they could boil over to your customers. Here are six ways to help them develop to become better individuals.
Tip #9: Offer competitive pay, benefits, and perks
You want to make the maximum profit from the goods and services you’re selling.
One way to do this is by reducing business expenses, which include employee salaries. Most businesses opt to pay as little as they can get away with, and in turn, employees always do as little as they can get away with.
However, if you decide to pay your customer service reps more, they will be focused on serving your customers instead of looking for a job that pays better. It is also proof that you care about them over the profits your business makes. Besides, better pay means that you expect more from them and so, they are inclined to excel in customer service.
On the other hand, customer service can be demanding. As seen above, your customer service reps are human beings, so they have a life outside work. To help them perform better, provide benefits and perks that are relevant to them.
If, for instance, you have a rep who just got a child, provide a flexible schedule that helps them achieve a work-life balance. A relevant benefit would be such as flexible hours for the first six months or a work from home arrangement.
Tip #10: Appreciate your employees
You don’t have to be dramatic here, but genuinely show employees that you are grateful for their work. Making your customer service reps feel appreciated is more than just paying them better.
Praise them in front of their colleagues for their work. Send them a handwritten note, thanking them for a job well done. Send them to paid training and conferences. Promote them. Acknowledge and implement their ideas. Get to know who they are. Give them a day off with pay. You get the idea, right?
Tip #11: No employee is indispensable
You want your customer service team to feel appreciated, so they make your customers feel appreciated too.
However, there’s always a fine line between making them feel appreciated and making them feel indispensable.
Ever found yourself giving in to unreasonable pay demands? Or unable to reprimand an employee when he/she makes mistakes? Or treating them better than other employees because you fear their departure?
If you answered yes to two (or all) of these questions, then you have an indispensable employee.
Once other reps must have noticed this, it affects their morale and leads to unhealthy competition at work which results in bad customer service.
In case you’re having a hard time identifying the indispensable employee on your team, for every team member ask yourself, “If they resigned tomorrow morning, what would happen?”
If your customer service department would come to a standstill, then you have a problem. So, how do you prevent yourself from having indispensable employees?
- Treat each member of the team equally
- Document institutional knowledge
- Give everyone access to the materials they need to grow and become better service reps
- Be transparent and accountable, so that they don’t find something to use against you
Every time you have a team meeting, spare some time and let everyone share their wins with the rest of the team. Sometimes, your team members have to deal with difficult customers, forcing them to come up with creative solutions to handle these customers and solve their problems.
Understand what the problem was. Listen to how they solved the problem and document it so that other team members can use it to deliver excellent customer service whenever they encounter such a problem in the future.
Tip #13: Have 101 conversations with the team
When was the last time you had a 101 conversation with your team members? When you interviewed them? When you hard to let go of a rep who had given you a couple of nightmares?
You never know when your team members need someone to talk to about work and other issues they could be facing in their lives. Active listening skills are a win-win for everyone, both for your team, as well as for yourself. And here’s how to do it:
Tip #14: Ditch the rules. Guidelines are smarter
According to the logic of having workplace rules, they should be followed because breaking them has negative consequences. That is fine as long as everyone plays by the rules.
What happens when an employee breaks the rules due to factors beyond their control?
…like getting in late because a child was unwell and had to be rushed to the hospital?
Congratulations. You just instilled fear into that employee which will affect the quality of service they deliver doubled with dealing with the stress of having a child who is unwell.
Guidelines, on the other hand, enforce positive behavior. They create a safe space for work, by letting your team know that it is okay to make mistakes as long as they own and correct them.
Tip #15: Encourage conflict
It sounds counterproductive, but this is one of the ways you help people grow.
Earlier on, we talked about embracing diversity to build the right team. Since a diverse team is made up of people who have different ideas and approaches to customer service, disagreements will occur.
For instance, you might have team members disagreeing on the best way to handle a customer while still delivering an excellent service to them. Once such differences emerge, the best way is to welcome them by creating an environment that allows healthy conflict to show everyone that you respect and value their views.
Tip #16: Set your customer service reps free
What happens when you have an incoming request from a customer who cannot figure out how to set up a new product they just bought from your store? Do you ask them to wait until you decide whether they should return the product or send someone to their home to fix it?
By the time you’re making a decision, the excitement of having your product will have fizzled out, and they may end up with a bad review.
With an empowered and autonomous team, they will make a decision that will avert unnecessary delays and turn a potentially bad experience into a memorable one. One of your agents might decide to go to your customer’s home and help them with the setup and come back to work.
Or, they might organize the delivery of a new product within a few days. Either way, an autonomous team is able to deliver solutions quickly to customers with lower pressure on management to solve every problem that is beyond their scope.
Provide excellent customer service
Tip # 17: Stop copying customer cultures from other companies
Creating a customer service culture is hard.
And it’s appealing to look at companies that have great customer cultures and copy what they have been doing. After all, customers are customers, right? So why bother reinventing the wheel?
And that’s where most businesses go wrong.
Customer cultures from companies such as Apple, Nordstorm, or Zappos have taken years of trial and error to build. These cultures are unique to their customers alone. You have a different business that requires you to handle customers differently. Copying what companies with established cultures have been doing makes you come across as fake because you’re treating customer service as an afterthought.
Tip #18: Personalize your interactions
If you can make an accurate guess on how a conversation will go with a customer in the first few seconds, you’re not personalizing your interactions enough. Instead, you’re approaching them with a rigid mindset that provides room for quickly solving their problem and moving on to the next request.
What if a customer is afraid to admit that they don’t know something and they are relying on you to create a conducive environment for them to speak up? Personalizing customer interactions go beyond addressing a customer by their first name. It’s about giving them room to express themselves freely, listening to them, and sticking with them until they solve their problems.
Tip #19: Make it cross-departmental
When it comes to solving customer service problems, not all your agents are skilled in every part of your business. For instance, a customer may have questions about an event you have in the company, or they may be wondering when you will be releasing a new version of your product.
Your customer service team may not have answers to such questions. And that’s okay. Let every employee in your company know that they will be called upon to assist the customer service department at one point or the other. Let them also know that customer service questions that are related to their department should be given first priority, so as to help in delivering excellent customer service.
Tip #20: Admit your mistakes
At one point or the other, your team will make a mistake. It’s what you do afterward that will set you apart.
Mistakes make us human. Whenever a customer points out a mistake on your team, be the first one to admit it and let them know what you’re doing to correct it.
Tip #21: Sweat the small stuff
It’s easy to get caught up with resolving customer requests and forget that small insignificant things contribute to great providing excellent customer service.
Like being clear in your communication with the customer. Following customer etiquette rules in every interaction. Or closing a conversation so well that a customer feels refreshed afterward. Remember, it’s the little small things that matter.
Tip #22: Develop Customer Personas
Who wouldn’t love to deal with the polite customer who shows up on your help desk wanting to have their problem solved and then go their way?
Unfortunately, such customers are hard to come by. You will end up dealing with different types of customers who leave you exhausted and annoyed. Since you have no control over who shows up on your support desk, you’re better off creating different customer personas and how to handle them. Let every customer service representative have a copy of these personas so that they are able to anticipate customer questions and consistently deliver excellent customer service.
Tip #23: Use Self-service portals
Ever notice how easy it is to get impatient when you have to wait for a customer service team to respond to your ticket?
But you know what sucks even more? Having to send a follow-up email to a customer service team with “What’s the status of this ticket”, and “when should I expect a response?” types of questions over a simple issue.
Over time, your customers will have to reach out to you with such requests and following up on all types of problems they have with your product or service.
So, why not create a self-service portal for them with a ticket area, knowledge base, and a community forum so that they don’t have to depend on your team to find all the solutions they need?
Your customers will know the status of their tickets once they log into your service portal making it easier for them to manage their expectations internally. If they have a question that almost every other customer has asked, they can find the answers in your knowledge base. And if they have a common issue that almost every other customer has experienced, they will find solutions inside the community forum.
Tip #24: Embrace omnichannel assistance
If you’ve only been relying on email to handle customer questions, then you must be falling short of providing excellent customer service.
Your customers want you to meet them where they are. No, they’re not being entitled, it’s just what works for them. If your customers interact with you on social media, have a dedicated FB group or Twitter handle or LI group which they can use to reach out to you whenever they have customer questions.
What if you’re averse to handling customer queries on social media because you can’t stand irate customers?
Acknowledge their frustration and request them to take the conversation to a private channel. This creates a win-win for both parties because you’ve been able to control damage to your reputation and solve their problems.
Some problems could be pressing, calling for the need for real-time assistance from your team. So, if you find customers getting easily irritated about your response time, it could be a sign that you should embrace live chat support on your site to handle any incoming request in real-time.
Tip #25: Use Automation strategically
The heart of customer service is genuine interaction between your team and customers to solve the problems your customers have.
Some businesses, however, tend to take automation too far thinking that it will help them solve problems faster and more efficiently. Once you lose the human touch in your service, then you’re nowhere near meeting your customer’s expectations.
Here’s how to be strategic when using automation in customer service.
Tip #26: Monitor brand mentions
That sounds like a popular business problem right? You’ve been in the game for less than two years and you’re sure that you aren’t that popular.
Furthermore, who among your customers don’t know how to reach you?
Okay. You have a point, but…
What if they’ve tried and failed? What if they simply want to go on social media and lodge their complaints there?
You may not be able to control what people say about you online. But it’s your work to know when they mention you and what they say by monitoring your brand mentions.
Getting started with monitoring brand mentions isn’t hard. And you don’t need to break the bank to pay for tools to help you monitor your brand mentions.
Tip #27: Make it easy for customers to solve their problems
How much effort do your customers put in to solve the issues they have with your product? Most of the time, they may not tell you so here are some few pointers to help you know:
- Are you always available via live chat?
- How long do you take to respond to customer issues?
- Does your team need to start from scratch when solving common customer problems instead of using templates with simple and clear instructions?
- How well does your team understand your product/service?
- Does the same customer send in requests over the same issue frequently?
Tip #28: Respect their wishes
Customer service and marketing activities are constantly overlapping. If you’re selling different products (or services) you may find yourself running marketing campaigns to your current customers. If they aren’t ready to buy any other product from you, respect that. They may be content with what they already have or not have enough money to make another purchase.
Stop using manipulation to make them buy because you’ll leave them with a bad taste in the mouth, and they won’t buy from you again.
So, here’s how to respect their wishes:
- Give them an option to opt-out of marketing campaigns of products they don’t need
- Segment your email list better to avoid selling the same products to customers who just bought from you
- Avoid being too salesy. Share valuable content to avoid watering down your brand
- After you finish running a marketing campaign and they never bought, send them an email asking why. Their responses might surprise you.
Measure your results and Improve
Tip #29: Act on the feedback you collect
It’s common for companies to ask for feedback after every customer issue has been resolved. Most companies, however, don’t do anything about the feedback they receive. It just sits there collecting ‘e-dust’.
Customers who take their time to give feedback means that they are interested in seeing you do better. So, if you do not act on the feedback they give you, it becomes harder for them to trust that you will offer them an excellent service.
So, just as you have a system to collect feedback, create another one that will help you take action on the feedback you receive. And if you’re looking for inspiration to get started, here’s how companies like Apple have been using customer feedback to provide excellent customer service and more revenue.
Tip #30: Audit performance
What is success for you? What must you achieve in order to declare your customer service team a success? How much do you need to do for your customers in order?
The easiest way to know is to check how many customers are coming back to buy from you.
But is it the only metric to rely on? I don’t think so. Here are some more ways to measure the success of your efforts:
- How many customers are recommending you online even without you asking them to do so? (Monitor brand mentions)
- How many positive reviews are you getting per month?
- How many customers have succeeded as a result of using your product/service? (pro tip: you should use their stories to sign up more customers)
- How many referrals are you getting every month?
So, which one will you try first?
Providing a good customer service experience isn’t a new concept. Hundreds- perhaps thousands of businesses have set out on a path to provide a memorable customer experience. Most of them, along with their customer service agents have given up because it required hard work, consistency, and willingness to learn from their faults.
Sure, providing the best service to your customers at all times can be a challenge, but keeping up with their changing needs and expectations has huge benefits, not to mention making more sales in the process. Don’t allow the challenges you encounter to slow you down. All you need is to be willing and open to change at all times.
Remember, you don’t need to implement all these tips at once. Even simple changes will put you on the path to excellence in customer satisfaction.
And you’ll soon discover that providing an average service to a customer takes the same amount of time as trying to go the extra mile to exceed their expectations.
It’s just a matter of making up your mind and starting with one tip.
So, which one will you try first?