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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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: