Reputation is everything to a business. In an era where customer reviews can make or break a brand, having a dependable customer service team can turn an up-and-coming company into a trusted name.
The key is to build your presence across different channels at critical points of the customer journey, whether the person on the other end of the line is just asking for information about a product or service, ready to make a purchase, or in need of help troubleshooting. Great brands maintain their connection throughout.
As every good business knows, there’s a science behind the best customer service practices. One example is the influence of the “recency effect” on the way customers recall positive and negative experiences with a brand depending on their most previous interaction.
Another factor is the impact of so-called “peak moments” or instances when customers act at the height of their emotions, whether they are happy, disappointed, or irate. Such episodes often become etched in their minds and end up defining the entire conversation for them.
There are nuances to the practice of good customer service. How can a business improve its standards? Here are tips to guide your team:
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1. Listen and be proactive
Do your customer service representatives (CSRs) go the extra mile to provide a positive experience? Gone are the days when agents simply speed through the process of replying to inquiries and complaints to get things over and done. These days, they should not only address the customers’ immediate concerns but also proactively look for ways to ensure customer retention.
If a customer, for example, approaches you with an issue about their transaction and you are sure to be at fault, it may not be enough to resolve only the initial complaint. Offering them a small discount on their next purchase as compensation for the hassle can help foster brand loyalty despite the setback.
Listening to a customer entails empathy—it’s not about spewing memorized spiels that make the agent sound indifferent to others’ predicament. This is why call center companies hire not just problem-solvers but agents who put people first.
2. Hire people with the right skills
As you gain a deeper understanding of the customer experience, you’ll have a clearer picture of different touchpoints between your employees and customers and how you can improve them.
One way is to hire people with skills that suit your business needs and match your customers’ interests, too. This can spark authentic interaction between your customer service representatives and your target market.
Suppose your business is in the food and beverage sector. In that case, recruit agents who have a background in culinary arts or hotel and restaurant management (particularly in customer-facing roles) or those with a passion for food.
Failing to vet the right agents could end up damaging your brand reputation. As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has learned, your frontline employees will shape your company’s overall customer experience. “Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com’s success,” Bezos tells investors.
However, recruitment takes time, especially when you’re aiming to onboard dozens or hundreds of agents in one go. How can you then guarantee that you’re deploying good representatives? If your business is quickly expanding and you want managers to focus on critical growth areas, outsourcing customer support may be the best solution.
Consider partnering with a trusted firm that trains agents and monitors their performance, manages a range of inbound and outbound service, and invests in state-of-the-art tools that deliver your brand message across platforms. Through outsourcing, you’re guaranteed a seamless customer experience without having to hire several agents in-house.
3. Invest in the right tools
In the digital economy, your brand presence will depend primarily on how extensive and diverse your communication platforms are—and how proficient your customer service team is in using them. What should be included in a customer service agent’s technology stack?
• Social listening tools
Because of the advent of social media and instant messaging apps, businesses now need agents who can respond quickly and tactfully to online feedback. That’s because some customers, especially younger, more tech-savvy generations, prefer to tag or mention brands in public platforms and draw attention to their concerns openly and immediately.
For one, negative feedback on social media and review sites can spread like wildfire and hurt your reputation before you realize what’s happening. Businesses need to stay two steps ahead of the game and monitor conversations in real-time using social listening tools such as Google Alerts and third-party hashtag and mention trackers.
• CRM software
Customer relationship management (CRM) software ensures all possible touchpoints, right down to the individual customer level (e.g., social media tags, mentions, private messages, phone calls, live chats, emails, etc.), are monitored quickly and consistently.
A good CRM solution lets the agent track past and ongoing exchanges and helps them pick up the conversation where it left off. It may also collate sales and marketing data, such as the customer’s transaction history, for easier verification.
Most CRM solutions will offer any combination of the following features:
O Built-in phone call/click-to-call systems
o Dashboard monitoring
o Social media monitoring
o Email and live chat integration
o Database management
o Document management
• Quick references: Manual, lexicon, product guide, and dashboard
CSRs need the information to be available right at their fingertips, so preparing manuals, lexicons, and product guides in a quick-access format is essential to their daily tasks.
You can opt for simple documentation, such as a PDF guide with clickable links that jump straight to individual sections or topics in the manual. Or you can design custom dashboards right on your CRM solution to allow agents to get a bird’s-eye view of processes and monitor their queue, helping them manage their workload better.
Agents also need to cultivate their knowledge of the products and services they are offering, as well as the terms and conditions and frequently asked questions from customers about promotions, discounts, and troubleshooting concerns.
Managers need to ensure these product guides and FAQs are built into their agents’ digital libraries. They need to be updated as new promotions are launched and product iterations are developed.
4. Watch your language!
It’s not always easy handling customer concerns from all sides, especially when each customer has unique preferences and requirements. However, businesses have to remember that the foundation of excellent customer service is authenticity and that their commitment to customer satisfaction should always resonate throughout the process.
These are evident in the overall decorum, attitude, tone of voice, and word choice of the agent when speaking to a customer. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
- The opening spiel makes a difference. If an agent comes across as bored, exhausted, or indifferent the second they answer the call, then they are likely to get beaten down or upset with the words of an angry or disappointed customer. Remind agents to stay upbeat and in high spirits—it’s the first step to defusing the other person’s anger or frustration.
If they’re dealing with a customer who’s been having a bad day, the agent must be able to empathize but also step back and view the situation from a distance.
- Walk the customer through the process. Agents should confirm with the customer that they understand the situation by repeating some of the vital information provided. This act of repetition signals to the other person that the agent is invested in their welfare and has taken note of specific details.
After confirming with the customer, the agent can offer solutions and all other possible workarounds unique to the situation.
- Describe circumstances in a positive light. Certain phrases might trigger a negative response from the customer, so it’s important to stay on a positive note. Instead of saying, “We’re no longer offering this product,” agents should try to re-phrase the idea: “Our development team is offering an updated version. Would you like me to go over the features?”
- End the conversation well. Failing to tie together loose ends during the initial call might lead to bigger issues in the long run. Before attempting to close the conversation, the agent should ask the customer whether they are satisfied with the resolution. In addition, assure the customer that the team is available to help them again should other concerns arise.
Great customer service isn’t limited to a one-off encounter with the customer. It’s about building trust over time and establishing rapport with your target market. As seen in the examples above, customer service relies on connecting with individuals on a human level—and it starts with demonstrating empathy and authenticity.
When Customers Behave Badly: Ways To Respond
Infographic created by Clover Network, a retail POS system provider