Five Essential Customer Service Elements
by Jeremy Graves
Is Your Company a Soulless Machine?
I read a great article earlier this year from Stephanie Amini, and I thought I would share my thoughts on what she claims to be the five critical elements of customer service. Now more than ever in our online world, it’s too easy to become disconnected from our customers. Once you or your company loses the human touch that you’ve been known for, it will lose its soul and become a machine that will be unrecognizable to those it has served for years.
1. Respect. Respect the fact that customers actually pay our salaries and make our profits for us. Make them feel important and appreciated and treat them as individuals, not ciphers. Remain polite, even if they are asking irritating questions, and thank them every time you get the chance.
When something goes wrong, know how to apologize. It’s easy, and customers like it. The customer may not always be right, but the customer must always win. Make it easy for customers to complain, and take their complaints to heart. It’s an opportunity to improve your service and product.
Respect is especially important today. Let’s remember to show our utmost gratitude and thanks to all veterans and active military personnel throughout the day and every chance you have.
2. Understanding. Understand, identify, and anticipate needs. Customers don’t really buy products or services; they buy solutions to problems. The better we solve those problems, the more appreciative they are, and the better their experiences in dealing with your business. The better you know your customers, the better you can anticipate their needs. Communicate regularly: Engage in conversations and exchange ideas and you will become keenly aware of their wants and needs—and therefore better able to satisfy them.
Sometimes we feel so buried and overloaded with our schedules that we don’t take the time to really understand our customers. As a matter of fact, we expect them to understand us when we may seem distracted from their needs. Take time to focus on understanding the needs of those you serve more so than you ever have. There is only one way to truly understand someone, and it has to be done before the third critical element. We have to ask great questions. I find over and over that customer service teams seem afraid to ask their customers questions. To be honest, I hope it’s more fear on their part, but my sneaky suspicion is that they just don’t know what to ask or how to ask it. I hope you are reading this customer service managers. Spend time helping your staff understand what to ask, why they need to ask it and how it will make the sales process so much simpler.
3. Listening. Keep your ears—and eyes—open. Hear what the market is saying, open dialogues, and be a good listener. Identify customer needs by asking questions and concentrating on what the customer is really saying. Effectively listening to the customer and giving him or her your undivided attention, even in an online environment, are particularly important.
Encourage and welcome feedback and suggestions from your customers about your service and your product. Provide methods that allow them to offer constructive criticism, comments, and suggestions.
Are you a good listener? Ask those you work with for some honest feedback and be ready to hear the truth. I like to think I am, but I find myself ready to respond at a moment’s notice even before the person I’m talking to is finished with their thought. Just ask my wife!
4. Responding. Now you have to respond positively. This is not to say that you have to change your entire business model or product line to suit the demands of various customers. Seek ways to help your customers and give them what they are looking for without compromising your company or products.
In most cases, requests will be fairly straightforward and achievable. Even if they are unreasonable or appear impossible to fulfill, offer to look into the matter and promise to come back with an answer within a specified time period. Look for ways to make it easy to do business with you. And always do what you promise.
Responding positively doesn’t mean giving in. A bill credit isn’t always the answer. Opening that can of worms can create a long-term problem. Respond in a way that solves the problem, keeps your customer happy and keeps things fair for all your other customers.
5. Serving. Essentially this means fulfilling your promises.
Help customers understand your systems. Your organization may have the world’s best systems for getting things done, but if customers don’t understand them, they can get confused, impatient, and angry. Take time to explain how your systems work and how they simplify transactions.
Give more than expected. Since the future of all companies lies in keeping customers happy, think of ways to elevate your company above the competition. Consider how to give customers what they cannot get elsewhere. Offer them something that is totally unexpected—give them the “wow” factor.
And thank people for giving your company their valuable time, even when they don’t buy.
I’ve written and trained on giving customers an experience they will talk about to their neighbors. At our core as humans, we are made to serve others, which is why this last element is the most critical. Don’t forget that we are fortunate to be able to do this. We are blessed with being able to serve great customers with great products and services and more often than not, we have the freedom to create memorable experiences for those we serve. Let’s always remember this but especially so during this time of year.
Excerpts from: Amini, Stephanie. “Five Essential Elements for Great Customer Service.” DestinationCRM.com. 28 Jun 2013.