1. Continue to get to know customers. You can’t know too much about your customers. Survey them, call them, find ways to see the company through their eyes, use reports to study customer habits and trends. Think of them as exotic wild animals you’re observing like David Attenborough. Divide them up into segments who share common traits. Look at them from all angles. You’ll see the darnedest patterns when you do this. And, customers will pay more for a product or service that meets their needs.
2. Concentrate on consistency in customer service. If your team has been cross-training, customer service won’t suffer when agents are absent. Put processes in place for peak load times and seasonal need for extra personnel in customer service.
Some time spent in figuring out processes in advance of stressful situations is a wise investment. “Knowledge is often trapped in somebody’s memory, or on their laptop,” says Justin White, Director of Sales & Customer Accounts for promising startup, SpeakerText. “It’s important to create a process so that anyone can pick up the task and move on. This creates stability and efficiency.”
3. Reinforce skills, reward excellence, and involve everyone. Is there an agent who needs more training or a superstar who consistently shines? These folks deserve time and attention. Front line overachievers deserve the Aeron chairs and the free pastries normally reserved for the Sales team. All employees should understand and participate in customer service—what Assistly calls Whole Company Support. Set goals, and then set out to meet them—with measurements. 37signals instituted an instant read on customer satisfaction with an easy Smiley system that customers can use to express themselves as they receive service. Everyone can see, in real time, how customers are feeling about the treatment they received. Genius.
4. Give the gift of your confidence. Make it easy for employees to up their game and take some ownership. Give them the option to make instant decisions and provide what the customer needs. Tell every employee it’s okay to go above and beyond to fix a customer issue. Let them know that you will support their judgment in attending to a customer issue. This puts a backbone to the idea that the customer is at the center of the company. Every single customer contact must be friendly, productive, and helpful. Every customer interaction is an opportunity to move the relationship to a higher (or deeper) level.
5. Words CAN hurt you. There are bad, good, and best ways to communicate in customer service. For example, customers hate to hear,”That’s our policy.” The customer shouldn’t “have to do” anything. “I’ll give you the information that accounting will want to see” is much more positive. Language is powerful, and what you say to a customer is public and can go much, much further than your one-on-one conversation. Make sure that anything quoted from any channel you talk to customers on is positive, not negative.
If you should have a foul-up in public, take a note from the Red Cross. An embarrassing personal tweet talking about a preferred beer brand recently made it into the Red Cross twitterstream.
The tweeter owned up to the error right away with an apology post, and the Red Cross then added, “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.” Donations went up, nobody got fired. Authenticity and transparency were rewarded and the kerfuffle fizzled out.
6. Don’t waste complaints. It’s not a great feeling to be involved in a complaint situation, but complaints are 100% valuable. Train your employees to understand the gift of a complaint. For every customer complains about something, there are many more people who didn’t complain, so fixing the basic problem is even more essential. Put complaints first in the resolution priority. Resolve the problem, offer compensation, offer an apology, and then follow up. Analyze every complaint to see how you can adjust messages to head them off in the future. As Anonymous said: “Customer complaints are the schoolbooks from which we learn.”
7. Spread the word that you want “customers for life.” Your employees may need to hear in very clear language that you want them to pull out all the stops to retain existing customers. Since existing customers are much less expensive to maintain and service than new acquisitions, they should be treated as VIPs. It’s okay to take the view that some customers are more important than others. Simply put, they are. The value of someone as a customer isn’t a value judgment on character, but rather a business assessment. Once employees understand this distinction, they can prioritize and triage their time more effectively.
8. Give your existing customers some love to show them that they are even more valuable than newly acquired customers. I left Martha Stewart behind after many, many years of loyalty to the lifestyle magazine, because I saw that new customers were getting great sign-up gifts and I, who was on board and a loyal reader right from the very beginning, was ignored completely. It eventually made me resentful and I just let my subscription lapse. Some ways to demonstrate that you value your existing clients: free gifts, upgrades, special discounts, loyalty program benefits, even an “out of the blue” phone call just to check if there’s anything you can do for them. Maybe your team members can only make five such phone calls every day, but those five people won’t forget the gesture.
9. Write the rules down. The elements of service that every front line agent should be providing—why not put them in writing, and train every employee on how to live up to that ideal. Leonardo Inghilleri, legendary customer service guru, recommends that managers let new employees know right from the start that they are part of the strategic competitive differentiation that great customer service provides. He says:
“Once you have made someone a part of the organization and on-boarded them properly, you must train them. Untrained staff cannot deliver a reliable, consistent, repeatable experience.”