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Your company needs customers to succeed. Thus, the needs of your customers have to be your business’s focus. But how do you satisfy those seemingly endless needs without putting too much of a drain on your company resources or employees? The key is in optimizing customer service practices.
Here are seven customer service tips for your company to follow:
1. Set Expectations (and Meet Them)
Expectations don’t just come into play before you start executing work for a customer, they also need to be reinforced throughout the duration of your engagement. From the onset, you need to establish deadlines, processes, tools and points of contact. However, where those topics come up will differ from company to company.
For some products or services, it might make the most sense to have those conversations during onboarding or a kickoff meeting. For other businesses, setting expectations through marketing communications or during the sales process could reduce friction better.
The expectations you set shouldn’t just cover what you’re going to do — they also need to include how you’re going to do it. Establish a cadence of communication for your customers and their point of contact at your company, determining what channels will be used and how frequently you’ll reach out.
If your company provides a service, a service-level agreement between your service delivery team and your customers can be used to define explicit expectations for both parties. That document can then be referred back to later in the engagement if either group is failing to meet the terms they agreed upon.
Setting expectations is a good way to lay the groundwork for excellent customer service, but then you have to actually deliver on those expectations. Customer service involves not just handling challenges that arise but also creating a positive experience. Failing to follow through on the expectations you set can cause frustrations for your customers.
2. Know the Pain Points Your Customers Experience
Whatever product or service you’re providing, there’s always going to be points of friction that arise, whether those are in processes like onboarding or service delivery or things you can’t anticipate (but know may occur), like account transitions, point of contact changes or budget fluctuations.
Your knowledge of common friction points that occur in your product or service delivery should inform the expectations you set. Plus, identifying when problems will arise in advance will enable you to provide assistance immediately.
3. Listen to Your Customers’ Challenges
While there are challenges and pain points that you’ll consistently see occur from customer to customer, it’s still important to pay attention to the problems each customer is bringing up, because they won’t all be the same. As unique individuals, different people will be bothered by different things.
What does a pain look like? How can you know when a problem is about to arise based on your customer’s behavior? You need to be able to listen for problems that come up in the places you don’t expect and react accordingly.
Listening involves not only identifying what is upsetting a customer but also why that’s bothering them. A customer might call you and reveal their dissatisfaction, but fixing those issues alone won’t completely solve the problem. They’re frustrated because whatever went wrong already happened. To get back in the customer’s good graces, you need to not just solve the problem but also make up for the fact that something went wrong.
4. Collaborate on Solutions
Once you identify the source of your customer’s frustrations, work together to come up with a solution. Collaboration may not be easy for some products and services, but you should at the very least ask for their input and try to make them feel involved so they know their wants and needs are driving the solution.
Treat every interaction as an opportunity to move forward. It’s not healthy for your business to spend too much time in the past. Talk about what went wrong so you can learn how to prevent that in the future, but then pivot your interactions to focus on how you and your customers can move forward together.
Don’t get crippled by the fear of losing a customer. Fear tends to lead to reactive fixes that don’t address the deeper issue. Don’t allow points of friction to halt your customer’s journey. Work to continue progressing, so problem resolution becomes a chance to move forward and not a desperate grab to make them stay.
5. Be Proactive, not Reactive
Customer service will require some level of reactiveness, but if you’re taken completely off guard every time a customer needs something, you won’t be able to offer great service.
In order to be able to react appropriately in a timely manner when needed, you need to be proactive. You have to set the table before you can start serving everyone.
A level of rigidity is necessary to allow room for flexibility. You need to have processes and go after things that you see are important before they become issues, but in order to do so, you need to have plans in place for how to handle those points of friction and be able to anticipate what triggers could be for a bad customer experience.
6. Establish a Prioritization System
In order to provide excellent customer service, you need to have processes for prioritization and handling escalation. In addition to setting expectations for how you handle questions and concerns in your SLA, you also need to have operational systems in place to enable that customer service.
You want everyone to get the attention they need, but realistically, there are capacity limitations. If the cadence of communication you have with a customer isn’t indicative of the level of priority, you have to be transparent about your ability to respond. If something is outside of the project’s scope or budget, you can respond immediately telling them that.
The level of emotion can also impact the priority level of a problem. There can be times when the emotional situation a customer is undergoing will outweigh the priority level of the problem itself.
7. Apologize and Then Move Forward
When things go wrong, be urgent not just with your apology but also with the solution. You don’t want your apology to seem like an insincere ploy, but you also can’t wait to apologize until later on when everything is resolved.
Once you have apologized, work to bring the customer back toward the big picture. Review what went wrong and then move on. Tie what went wrong into the larger goals they have and show how they’ll still be able to reach those end goals in spite of the problem.
You can also reward their transparency by explaining how their complaints can contribute to their future success. Because they brought this issue to your attention, you can solve that problem for them and everyone else.
Putting your customers first is essential for your business's health. If your customers aren’t happy, they won’t renew or recommend your company to others.
But also consider how employee happiness translates through their interactions with customers. You need to find a balance between catering to your customer’s needs and protecting your employees’ health and happiness. Striking that balance will enable you to foster a community of people who love working for you and with, creating evangelists both inside and outside of your business.
This post was originally published October 3, 2014.
Tag(s): Demand Generation
Karin is Content Lead at New Breed. She specializes in developing content strategy and copy at every point in the creation process, from persona design to final edits