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“If you really want to know about business, you should refer to Scott Steinberg.” -Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group

3 Things Everyone Should Know About Customer Service

Customers are your most important strategic asset. But another of the organization’s leading assets, and one that is often taken for granted, is a confident, trustworthy and empathetic employee. Oddly, this is a concept oft-discussed in training classrooms and instructional programs worldwide, yet one that’s seldom implemented in practice. What we want to be doing is creating a corporate culture that prizes learning, insight and value, as well as growth and development, and making it known that ideas, ingenuity and going the extra are attributes to be rewarded. Frequently though, we place an emphasis on other attributes: Slashing response times, maximizing efficiently, and shrinking the number of actual conversations and human interactions required. Trust us when we say that there’s a better way.

What Customer Service Usually Looks Like

Customer service is a topic that comes up constantly, and in a variety of corporate contexts and industries. Given this prevalence, it’s both interesting and a bit frustrating to observe when the practice goes off the wheels.

Modern customer service tends to stop at, “Hey, here’s a website link you can go to if you’re having a problem,” or, “Here’s a form; send us an email,” or “Here, press 1, 2 or 3 to reach us”—even though no individual with which we can exchange commentary or empathize is waiting at the end of the line. Similarly, bombarding audiences with surveys after interaction may help with market research and analytics—but it can also be disruptive and discomfiting. Customers want reliable, speedy, and trusted service. They’re not seeking multiple follow-up emails or callbacks (i.e. having to spend more time discussing the problem they ideally just solved) or, even more annoying—a query asking them to take a survey and waste yet more time still.

That’s not really customer service, nor is simply providing live online chat functions, forums or online support databases—although all can come in handy. While all of these solutions are useful, and can help answer customers’ most common and basic questions, they should simply be one tentpole of a larger, more holistic customer service strategy. One of the biggest steps companies can take towards providing better customer service is simply to empower employees to make a difference. Think about all the times you’ve had a complaint about a product or service, and all you’ve wanted to do is get someone on the phone—sometimes, all it takes to win them over is a sympathetic and understanding ear.

What Customer Service Should Look Like

Obviously, you can’t offer live, face-to-face or instant one-on-one help with millions of customers all the time, every time. But what you can do is make the customer service experience as painless as possible for the person on the other end of the line, and acknowledge their needs, opinions, and contributions to the conversation. Minimizing hold or wait times, and having answers at your fingertips are well and good. But even more importantly than addressing customers’ concerns promptly and succinctly is to give your employees permission to meaningfully address the issues they’ve presented, and the power to satisfy their needs.

Consider the Ritz-Carlton luxury hotels and resorts. Employees are specifically trained to treat guests like family. They’re allotted up to two thousand dollars to rectify the problem for any customer who might be unsatisfied or irritated. Should you do the same every time? Unless you’re flush with cash (and if so, let’s do lunch!), it’s OK not to go overboard on the expenses. But when it comes to more practical aspects of this ability—i.e. the capacity to promptly surprise, satisfy, and delight—you absolutely can and should follow a similar model. The strategy is simple: Make it right.

One of many examples that can help improve the partnership between your company and your customers is to make sure that call center employees have the drive, skill, and wherewithal to handle a customer’s problem quickly and adroitly. That means providing access to sympathetic employees that offer real solutions instead of simply going through the motions and reading off a script—and who don’t force customers to slowly and painfully clamber up a chain of command in order to reach a decision maker, or get a solution to their problem. Enable your employees to get to the root of your customers’ concerns and pinpoint what’s upsetting them—then give them the wherewithal to fix what’s broken.

Customers aren’t necessarily clamoring to get their money back on a second’s notice; rather, they just want know their voice is being heard, and issues of pressing concern are being dealt with. Listen and deal with them fairly, and you may be surprised how they respond in kind: Today’s most successful solutions are less innovative than they are grounded in the concept of the golden rule—treat others as you would wish to be treated.

The Importance of Relationships

Never forget that we’re operating in a world of infinite competition. Anyone who’s dissatisfied with your business or brand can walk out of the proverbial door and change vendors with the press of a touchscreen or click of a mouse. If you want to keep a customer, you need to think about building a relationship with them. But with that in mind, remember that relationships are a two-way street. A one-way relationship with your customer is exploitative at best, abusive at worst. Think about how we respond to similar relationships in dating and everyday life—we tend to drop them at the first sign of a viable alternative.

Unfortunately, most employees aren’t trained to respect customers’ most valuable possession: TIME. We’re all increasingly being asked to do more with less, short on time on the best of days, and when those precious seconds and minutes are gone, there’s no getting them back. It’s vital to serve customers as quickly and as satisfactorily as possible —and, by doing so, you and your organization can swiftly stand out from the pack. Customers will remember when you go the extra mile, expend the extra effort, and respect their time and opinion. More to the point, they’ll come to respect and value you more for doing so—and tell others the same when asked.

As pointed out in Chapter 1, customers are your most important strategic asset. But another of the organization’s leading assets, and one that is often taken for granted, is a confident, trustworthy and empathetic employee. Oddly, this is a concept oft-discussed in training classrooms and instructional programs worldwide, yet one that’s seldom implemented in practice. What we want to be doing is creating a corporate culture that prizes learning, insight and value, as well as growth and development, and making it known that ideas, ingenuity and going the extra are attributes to be rewarded. Frequently though, we place an emphasis on other attributes: Slashing response times, maximizing efficiently, and shrinking the number of actual conversations and human interactions required. Trust us when we say that there’s a better way.

            What Customer Service Usually Looks Like

            Customer service is a topic that comes up constantly, and in a variety of corporate contexts and industries. Given this prevalence, it’s both interesting and a bit frustrating to observe when the practice goes off the wheels.

            Modern customer service tends to stop at, “Hey, here’s a website link you can go to if you’re having a problem,” or, “Here’s a form; send us an email,” or “Here, press 1, 2 or 3 to reach us”—even though no individual with which we can exchange commentary or empathize is waiting at the end of the line. Similarly, bombarding audiences with surveys after interaction may help with market research and analytics—but it can also be disruptive and discomfiting. Customers want reliable, speedy, and trusted service. They’re not seeking multiple follow-up emails or callbacks (i.e. having to spend more time discussing the problem they ideally just solved) or, even more annoying—a query asking them to take a survey and waste yet more time still.

            That’s not really customer service, nor is simply providing live online chat functions, forums or online support databases—although all can come in handy. While all of these solutions are useful, and can help answer customers’ most common and basic questions, they should simply be one tentpole of a larger, more holistic customer service strategy. One of the biggest steps companies can take towards providing better customer service is simply to empower employees to make a difference. Think about all the times you’ve had a complaint about a product or service, and all you’ve wanted to do is get someone on the phone—sometimes, all it takes to win them over is a sympathetic and understanding ear.

            What Customer Service Should Look Like

            Obviously, you can’t offer live, face-to-face or instant one-on-one help with millions of customers all the time, every time. But what you can do is make the customer service experience as painless as possible for the person on the other end of the line, and acknowledge their needs, opinions, and contributions to the conversation. Minimizing hold or wait times, and having answers at your fingertips are well and good. But even more importantly than addressing customers’ concerns promptly and succinctly is to give your employees permission to meaningfully address the issues they’ve presented, and the power to satisfy their needs.

            Consider the Ritz-Carlton luxury hotels and resorts. Employees are specifically trained to treat guests like family. They’re allotted up to two thousand dollars to rectify the problem for any customer who might be unsatisfied or irritated. Should you do the same every time? Unless you’re flush with cash (and if so, let’s do lunch!), it’s OK not to go overboard on the expenses. But when it comes to more practical aspects of this ability—i.e. the capacity to promptly surprise, satisfy, and delight—you absolutely can and should follow a similar model. The strategy is simple: Make it right.

            One of many examples that can help improve the partnership between your company and your customers is to make sure that call center employees have the drive, skill, and wherewithal to handle a customer’s problem quickly and adroitly. That means providing access to sympathetic employees that offer real solutions instead of simply going through the motions and reading off a scriptand who don’t force customers to slowly and painfully clamber up a chain of command in order to reach a decision maker, or get a solution to their problem. Enable your employees to get to the root of your customers’ concerns and pinpoint what’s upsetting them—then give them the wherewithal to fix what’s broken.

            Customers aren’t necessarily clamoring to get their money back on a second’s notice; rather, they just want know their voice is being heard, and issues of pressing concern are being dealt with. Listen and deal with them fairly, and you may be surprised how they respond in kind: Today’s most successful solutions are less innovative than they are grounded in the concept of the golden rule—treat others as you would wish to be treated.

            The Importance of Relationships

            Never forget that we’re operating in a world of infinite competition. Anyone who’s dissatisfied with your business or brand can walk out of the proverbial door and change vendors with the press of a touchscreen or click of a mouse. If you want to keep a customer, you need to think about building a relationship with them. But with that in mind, remember that relationships are a two-way street. A one-way relationship with your customer is exploitative at best, abusive at worst. Think about how we respond to similar relationships in dating and everyday life—we tend to drop them at the first sign of a viable alternative.

            Unfortunately, most employees aren’t trained to respect customers’ most valuable possession: TIME. We’re all increasingly being asked to do more with less, short on time on the best of days, and when those precious seconds and minutes are gone, there’s no getting them back. It’s vital to serve customers as quickly and as satisfactorily as possible and, by doing so, you and your organization can swiftly stand out from the pack. Customers will remember when you go the extra mile, expend the extra effort, and respect their time and opinion. More to the point, they’ll come to respect and value you more for doing so—and tell others the same when asked.

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