LESSON 9 - BUSINESS BASICS PART II - OPERATIONS MANAGEMENT, CUSTOMER SERVICE, IS & HR

Customer Service – Customer Care and Technical Support

 

Customer Service covers a vast array of support functions.  It can be associated with technically supporting the customer, taking orders, collecting payments, booking flights, etc.  Customer Service provides support to customers before, during, and after the purchase of a product or service.  The rapid resolution of customer complaints about quality, defects, and delivery is essential.  Customer service can either save or lose the account based on how the situation is handled.  They also know the everyday problems customers face and learn more about product strengths and weaknesses than anyone else in the company.  They will then be able to provide input to the design engineers, who can then make future products easier to use.  In fact, customer service trends should be the first item discussed during management meetings.

 

On the other hand, word of mouth about bad customer service spreads just as it does about a good product.  A potential future customer might not buy the product or service based on just a few negative comments, blogs, etc.  Poor sales and possible churn (losing customers) can have nothing to do with the quality of the product or the sales-force selling the product, but poor customer service.  Good customer service, however, can lead to better sales and retaining customer loyalty, thus increasing company longevity.  Customer service is more than just supporting a customer, it can be a tool to improve sales or be the culprit of financial loss.

 

Even though customer service might fall under sales or marketing’s responsibility, it can also be considered part of the back office operations group.  For that reason we will discuss customer service in this lesson.  You can also relate customer service to marketing and sales, which will be discussed in lesson 10.

 

First, lets determine what is a customer and who are they?  In its most basic terms, a customer is an individual or organization that will benefit from the products and/or services the company offers.  Customers may fall into one of three customer groups:

 

  1. Existing Customers who have purchased or used the company’s products and/or services within a designated period of time.  For some organizations the timeframe may be short, for instance, a restaurant may only consider someone to be an existing customer if they have purchased within the last couple of months.  Other companies may view a customer as an existing customer even though if they have not purchased anything in the last few years, for example, a computer manufacturer.  Existing customers are extremely important since they have a current relationship with the company, and they give the company a reason to remain in contact with them.  They represent the best market for future sales, especially if they are satisfied with the relationship they presently have with the company.  Getting these existing customers to purchase more is significantly less expensive and time consuming than finding new customers, mainly because they are satisfied with the company.  They should be easy to reach with promotional appeals such as discounts for a new product.
  2. Former Customers who previously purchased from your company, however, they are not considered and Existing Customer anymore because they have not purchased within a certain timeframe.  In most cases it is due to competition or because they did not receive good customer service. 
  3. Potential Customers who have yet to purchase, but have the requirements to eventually become Existing Customers.  They have a need for a product, possess the financial means to buy it, and have the authority to make a buying decision.  Targeting markets to find these potential customers will be discussed in lesson 10.

By understanding the different customer types, it is clear to see that it is not only marketing or sales that should be concerned, it should also be customer service.  An Existing Customer might turn into a Former Customer if they receive poor customer service.  A former customer will most likely never come back due to poor customer service.  A Potential Customer might be put off if they read any negative blogs or hear bad comments.  Bad word of mouth can potentially kill new customers.

Quite often the customer will complain directly to the sales person, who will then try to resolve the issue the best they can.  This should not be the case.  The customer should have high confidence in the customer service department and not even have to bother the sales person.  Besides, sales should be selling, not supporting.  One issue regarding sales, however, is when a sales person promises something that can’t be delivered, or that they do not fully understand just what it is they are selling. 

It is so important that the constant drive to satisfy customers is a priority for the customer service manager.  Customer service must appreciate the role customers play in helping the company meet its goals.  Customers are the reason a company is in business.  Without customers, or the potential to attract customers, a company is not viable.  The more customer service realizes this fact, the better the customer service will be given.

The most common form of customer service is the support of a service in a call center environment.  Queue theory is used to determine how many agents are needed to minimize wait time, thus increasing value and providing a better customer experience.  For example, if a customer has to wait on hold for longer than 30 seconds, there is loss in value.  Queue theory can be used for any type of service related situations, for example, how many checkout counters are needed at a store, etc.  Basically, when people have to wait there is loss in value.  However, if there are too many employees in too many checkout stands, there is higher cost associated with the service provided.  The goal of queuing theory is to find the perfect balance where the wait time does not lose too much value, and the costs are not too high.  There are many software programs, such as Blue Pumpkin, that analyze these types of formulas and algorithms. 

The most important aspect of customer service is the high level of customer satisfaction based on the customer’s expectations, as described in the examples used in lesson 2.  No matter the type of a customer service organization, the goals of service excellence are the same:

 

  1. Customer friendly attitude.  This includes creating a positive experience by being happy and willing to help, respectful, communicating with the individual as a person, relating to the situation with empathy and understanding, developing a personal connection, going the extra mile, following it to the end, and having grace under pressure.  A communication style that builds a bridge instead of a wall is key.

 

  1. Technically proficient.  Being a customer friendly representative is important, but if the representative does not know what they are doing, it will create a bad customer experience.  Proper training, providing the right materials, and using the right tools, is essential in providing excellent customer service.

 

  1. Understands the expectations, values and goals for the self and company.  Representatives might be friendly and technically proficient, however, they also need to know what is expected of them, and what their company is all about.  Clearly defined goals, clear expectations, knowing just who their customers are (internal and/or external), and understanding the company’s values provides the awareness needed to understand the employee’s role in the company.  The more motivated the employee, the higher standard of customer service will be given.

 

Customer satisfaction surveys should be given to measure the success of the customer service department.  Data should be gathered in an objective and consistent fashion.  The data should never be manipulated, and to ensure objectivity, be given by a third party outside observer. 

 

An interesting paradox regarding customer service surveys is the hidden traps between a “completely satisfied customer” and a “satisfied customer.”  A completely satisfied customer will be very loyal, whereas the satisfied customer is easily swayed to switch to a competitor.  Although the overall results of the survey will still look positive, you should still be concerned of the “satisfied” or “average” results.

 

Customers are used to outstanding, low cost, quality based products and services.  They now expect outstanding customer support.  This is where many companies fail.  Many times customers will not even state the reason why they stopped doing business with a company.  However, in many cases, research shows it was due to previous trouble reports, which then pointed to poor customer service.  When customers have to deal with customer service, they want, in this order:

 

  1. Knowledgeable employees who can identify the customers’ true needs.
  2. First call resolution (no repeat issues).
  3. To be treated with respect and that they are truly valued.
  4. An employee who is truly trying to meet their needs.
  5. To be taken care of as quickly as possible.

 

These five attributes, in conjunction with the three service excellence goals as previously stated, are the core basics in providing an excellent customer experience.   Structuring the department to its optimum and building a strong motivated team will increase the possibilities in providing service excellence.

 

Even when excellent customer service is provided, there will still always be an upset customer.  Whether it is a customer service representative, or even a member of upper management, the next 5 steps are very useful when dealing with an upset customer:

 

  1. First, just listen.  Let the upset customer get it out of their system.  In time they will start to calm down.  If they start being abusive, just calmly state, "I understand you are frustrated, and I want to help you, but let's please remain professional."

 

  1. Be sympathetic and empathetic.  Make sure the customer knows that you understand their frustration.  Recognize how it must have felt to be the customer in this situation.   Reiterate the customer's complaint so that they know you are truly listening, understand, and care about the situation.  Let the customer know you are sorry they have had such a tough time.  Even if it's not the company's fault, many times an irate customer just wants to know someone cares that they are inconvenienced.  A simple, "I'm so sorry this happened," will normally do.  If you find that your company is at fault, definitely apologize again.  Be sure to be sincere.

 

  1. Let them know that you want to fix the problem and make them happy.  A good rule of thumb is to put yourself into their shoes, and between the two of you come up with a solution.  The customer will feel that they were heard.  Once everything has been stated, it is a good idea to recap the agreed upon solution.  Thank them for taking the time to speak with you.  It is all right to say you’re sorry, even if the problem was not related to you or the company.

 

  1. Document everything.  This will let the next representative who might interact with the customer know what the customer has previously experienced.  It could be a touchy credit request or repeat issue in which they will not want to have to explain everything all over again.  It can also be used to track for possible trends if the problem happens to other customers.  Excellent documentation cannot be stressed enough…

 

  1. Follow up with the customer.  Let the customer know they can get a follow up call or e-mail to make sure all is resolved.  If you have the resources, you can follow up on every customer issue, whether requested or not.

 

A positive approach is especially needed in customer service.  A representative should not say, “I don’t know,” but should say, “I’ll find out.”  They should not say, “No,” but should say, “What I can do is…”  Customer service should be thought of as a the group that provides the expected service from the customers point of view, makes an unhappy customer happy, provides the answer to a confused customer, be the calming shoulder to the upset customer, and all the while making the customer feel like gold and somewhat enlightened. 

 

It is an art to turn an angry customer into a loyal patron.  It is the art of service recovery.  If you respond rapidly and creatively to address a precarious customer service situation, you can often stabilize that relationship and turn the individual who might have become your worst enemy, into your best friend.  Go the extra mile and take the blame, even if unwarranted.

 

Companies need to take a systematic approach to develop a customer experience strategy as described in lesson 2.  Although customers prefer speaking directly with a customer service representative, options should be given to the customer like a web based knowledgebase, FAQ page, e-mail interaction, chat, and IVR (Interactive Voice Response) with automated phone keypad or speech activated menu systems.

 

Here are some proven phone techniques that will help to make your phone conversations more effective.  These basic soft skills should be used during every customer interaction:

 

  • DO speak clearly and slowly; also lower your voice if you normally speak loud.
  • DO use the customer’s name.
  • DO listen clearly and limit distractions.  Concentrate on the customer, not any non-job related activities.  
  • DO always ask permission when placing a customer on hold.  Two examples are: "Would you mind holding while I get your information?" and "Can you hold briefly while I see if (persons name) is available?”....
  • DO always thank the customer for holding.  Keep in touch with the customer during long holds, even if it is just to say you are still working on the issue.
  • DO keep all conversations professional and not personal, unless the customer initiated the personal conversation.
  • DON'T talk with anything in your mouth.

 

Quite often, the manager or a trainer will listen in on customer service calls.  They also randomly record these calls.  The form that follows shows some examples on what to look for regarding soft skill performance: 

Example – Phone Monitoring Form
Click the icon to the right to download this file  >>>
Once the file is open, you can save it like you would any other file.  You will need to click your backspace button to return to this page.
Click the icon to the right to download this file  >>>
Once the file is open, you can save it like you would any other file.  You will need to click your backspace button to return to this page.
Example - Customer Service Survey Presentation
The text of these materials, or any part thereof, may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, storing in an informational retrieval system or otherwise, except for students own personal use. The author does specifically disclaim any responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk, personal or otherwise, which is incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application of any of the contents of this course.


© 2009-2017 MasterClassManagement.com  All Rights Reserved
Certification is the key to success
This course is also available in book format.
Online Management Courses Certification
Management Skills