July 15, 2019

Customer Service 101: The basics for a great customer service experience

Article

Let's discuss customer service 101: the basics for a great customer service experience.

The customer service team is the backbone of every organization. The team that spends the most time speaking to your customers, understanding their needs, solving their problems and delivering the voice of your company. Each interaction is important and is part of a longer customer journey that builds trust and creates lasting relationships. Without customer service, we likely wouldn't have customers for very long.

Customer service, if done correctly, can also create one of the largest revenue opportunities – referrals from happy customers.Whether you're a brand new business or have been providing customer service for years, it never hurts to revisit customer service 101. Below we cover ten topics that you can start implementing today to ensure you are providing a great customer experience and will retain your customers for years to come.

Your employees are your best tools

Obviously Customer Service 101 should start at the beginning. You can't build a boat if you don't have the right materials. Same goes for customer service. If you don't have the right people in place, it's not impossible, but it is significantly more challenging to deliver exceptional customer service.

Hiring the right people

It all starts with hiring right. You need to find people with the right attitude, personality, and skill set to do the job well.The most important trait to look for is a can-do attitude. Customer service is not an easy task, and it takes a positive person with grit to make it through the tough times with a smile on their face. When interviewing candidates, ask for examples of how they stuck with something and remained enthusiastic even when the cards were stacked against them. Did they show perseverance or did they give up? It is critical that your team can stay positive throughout the day.As you interview candidates, be sure to listen not just to what they say, but how they say it. Do they make you feel appreciated? Your customer service team is the voice of the company, so you want to ensure they are easy to talk to and make you feel comfortable.Have them tell you a story. Does the candidate paint a good picture when telling the story? Do they explain the details or skip over them quickly? Being able to explain things logically is important for providing clear and concise answers to customers.Finally, catch your candidate off guard with an unexpected question. Ask them something about an unfamiliar topic. Watch to see if they remain calm or get flustered. You want to make sure they have the ability to think on their feet, especially when they don't know the answer.If you find candidates with the right attitude, diction and ability think on their feet, you're on your way to creating a great team.

Training your team for success

Once you find the right team, the first step is to make sure they understand as much as possible about your business. Don't skip the big picture stuff to go straight to the details. A company is more than just the products and services that it sells and supports. A company has a purpose and a mission. A reason for existing beyond just money. This knowledge needs to shine through into how everyone acts and talks. A motivated employee truly understands what the company is about, the mission statement, and the company goals.Think of this as building the foundation that will support the rest of the specific product knowledge.Once the foundation is in place, it's time for deep dive training into both the goods and services you sell as well as the systems and technology you use to provide support. Start with educational training – presentations, webinars, speeches, tests – and then move to shadowing.Take your best customer service employee and have the new team members shadow this employee while on the job. Have the new agents listen to how your top performers answer inbound requests, watch how they log details, understand the words and diction they use with customers. Choosing the right people to lead the new employees on the job will have a lasting impact on how your new team members interact with customers when they go live.Once you have the right team in place, it's time to think about mastering the rest of customer service 101.

Listen to what your customers are actually saying

The only way to correctly answer a question is first to understand it. Figure out what the customer truly needs. It's worth noting that what a client says or asks can be different from what they need to accomplish.For example, a client may say they need a certain feature to use the product. If you understand the problem they're trying to solve rather than just answering their direct question, you may be able to point them to a different feature in your system that isn't what they asked for, but solves the same problem.

"Don't just answer their question, help them find a solution to their problem."

If you can truly understand your customers' needs, you can achieve a consistently higher rate of satisfaction.A big part of listening to your customers is knowing what they need to hear. Note this can be different than what they want to hear. They want to hear that you'll fix the bug immediately or you'll build their feature request tomorrow. What they need to hear is that you have heard them and are working on a solution. When a customer is upset, a straightforward and sincere apology goes a long way, even if it's not your fault.As the customer service team, we should all embrace the complaints of customers. It's sometimes hard to hear, but it's valuable and gives us the opportunity to grow and improve. Always encourage and welcome feedback from clients and make sure you have a process in place to document this feedback in a structured way.

Value the time of your customers as you value your own

No one wants to feel like they are wasting time and everyone wants to feel important. These are two fundamental truths that are easy to deliver with a few simple steps. Customers don't expect the world when they contact customer service. They just want to be treated like people. A smile and a warm hello can go a long way.Make your customers feel important by treating them as individuals and not as tickets. Address them by name, reference previous conversations and tell them that you value their time. A few small words can show them that you care.If a customer is calling about an issue that they have already called about, let them know that you see the conversation and understand the problem and give them an update. Don't blindly ask for them to repeat their problem as this causes frustration and they feel like they wasted time in their previous conversations.If you have to put a customer on hold, be sure to give them an expectation of how long it will be and why you are putting them on hold. Waiting 5 minutes on hold is a lot less painful if you know up front that it's going to be 5 minutes and that the agent is addressing your issue. Waiting 5 minutes when you think it should be less than 30 seconds feels like an eternity and is an easy way to enrage even the most patient customers.

Be responsive – the easiest low hanging fruit

Boomtown Bots

Want to increase your customer satisfaction immediately? Respond faster.

It's no surprise that the number one thing people care about when trying to get help is response time. No one wants to wait on hold for 20 minutes, especially if they're not sure you can even help. If a customer chats for support and doesn't get a response within a minute or two, they will leave with a poor impression of your company.

This is where leveraging bots becomes valuable. You can have a friendly and helpful bot agent respond to a chat and gather information about the customer and their issue and seamlessly pass it off to the right agent. At Boomtown we spend a lot of time thinking about bots for customer service, and we would love to help you incorporate bots into your support strategy.

All that said, you need to know your limitations. While we are huge proponents of offering multiple channels for support, it's not for everyone, especially small teams. Don't just open up every possible channel and say you'll respond immediately to all of them if you don't have an adequately staffed team. It comes down to setting the proper expectations. If you communicate that you will respond to emails within 24 hours, then follow through on this. If you say you answer your chats within 1 minute, then that's great. As long as your customer knows when they will get a response, then they won't be disappointed.

If you're looking to increase response times with smaller teams, a quick win is to incorporate chat support as an offering and direct your customers to chat with you. Agents can respond faster, handle multiple conversations at a time and more efficiently provide support on the go.

Be friendly, personable and authentic in your communication

First impressions are critical. The first words out of your mouth set the stage for the rest of the conversation. If you're curt, you'll set the tone and likely get a similar response back. If you're warm and welcoming, your conversation will be much more pleasant.Don't underestimate common courtesy in the course of conversation. A simple please and thank you are appreciated. You are the one servicing your customer. Show them the appreciation they deserve for being your customer. This should really be at the top of the list for customer service 101.

Customer Service 101 - personable and friendly

One of the challenges that customer service teams face as they scale is how to retain the authentic and personal support style when-when you need to implement standards. While this is challenging, it's not impossible. It starts by equipping the agents with the right data. The more an agent knows about a customer, the more they can relate to the person they are helping. If your support platform pulls support history, information from social media accounts, technology IT footprints and more, you can use all that information to relate to your customers. It doesn't have to be creepy; it's just showing that you care enough to remember past conversations and know enough to save them from having to repeat information they have already told you or another agent.

Don't be afraid to let agents be themselves. While scripts are necessary to ensure consistent quality, your team doesn't need to read word-for-word from a script. Use scripts as guidelines and let the agents put their flair on it. This process will allow the conversation to flow more naturally and provide a more enjoyable experience to the customer.

Go the extra mile

Want to know the difference between good customer service and great customer service? It's the ability to go beyond just answering the question. Great customer service happens when you don't just give the answer they want, but when you go above and beyond. When you help them understand the cause of their issue, why it happened and how to prevent it in the future. Spend the extra minute explaining why you did what you did, so they understand the context. The customer will feel more attached to your product or service now that they have a slightly deeper understanding of the inner workings.

When you tell a customer you will help with something or fix something, do it! Never say yes just to get someone off the phone and then not follow through. While it seems easy at the time, it will come back to haunt you. In today's world of advanced technology, software solutions track everything, and there is no hiding. A bad experience can echo through social media and online reviews very quickly.It can be helpful to have a customer service team that focuses on longer-term projects and is not part of the inbound support queue. This team can complete those projects that agents say yes to but can't do right at that moment. This separate team dedicates their time to fulfilling promises so that your front line team can go the extra mile for your customers.

Finally, think about your particular business and ask yourself what you can do that other companies can't. Excellent customer service is a real differentiator in today's crowded market, and each company has a unique opportunity to add that badge to their brand with a little focus and care.

Customer service 101 - differentiate

Set internal standards

Providing exception customer service feels daunting when you need to make a decision every time a new problem comes up. To avoid this, think about all the possible escalation scenarios and have a playbook in place so when these situations arise, they're easy to address and don't cause stress. For example, if you deal with refunds, set a cap on what an agent can refund without an escalation. Standards like this will improve the number of first call resolutions across the team and enhance the overall customer experience.

Include these standards up front during the initial training. If they are new processes, hold regular meetings with the team to ensure everyone is aware of them. These procedures will reduce the need for your agents to make on-the-fly decisions and will allow the agents to handle more issues on their own by knowing what they can and can't offer customers.

Be aware of your physical surroundings

This is easy but often overlooked, especially for small teams that don't have large corporate professional workspaces.

While we recommend that your support team is physically close together, the noise can quickly become a problem. If a customer can hear other people talking in the background, it's time for new equipment. Background noise makes the customer think they're dealing with an amateur support team or a low-cost outsourced solution and their tone will change to match this perception.

The good news is that there are relatively inexpensive headsets that you can buy that block out all noise except for the speaking agent. These headsets can also seamlessly toggle between computers and mobile devices to provide support at a desk or on the go.

Use the right tools

If you're still working off a phone and a spreadsheet, you're making it too hard on yourself. Technology is advancing quickly and with modern tools, you can now answer 4-5x more inbound requests with the same size team.

Your customer service platform should provide your customers multiple ways to get in touch with you, but make it easy for your team to manage all these channels. Find a true multi-channel support platform that offers not only phone and email, but also live chat, video chat, SMS, Facebook Messenger and more. A good system will allow questions from all of these channels to flow into a single queue so you can answer your customers no matter how they want to talk to you. See how we're making this easy at Boomtown.

Multi Channel Support

It is important to use a system that is going to grow with your team. Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence may be new terms for you, but these technologies are changing the game of support. They add intelligence to your customer service team and help automate the easy tasks and empower your agents with the right answers at the right time. At Boomtown we build intelligence into everything we do. We call this Predictive Outcomes and you can learn all about it here.

Turn complaints into a learning opportunity

And last but not least, let's discuss using complaints and issues to our advantage.

As we talked about earlier, the customer service team is the real voice of the company. They have the best insight into how their customers are feeling, what their pain points are and what they love about your product or service.

When your customer service team receives complaints or requests, ensure that you have a process in place to capture and track this data. This will become a database of critical information that will help drive improvements in all other departments of your organization. Your product team will know what customers actually want, your sales team will know where they are over-promising, your onboarding team will know what they need to add to training curriculums and much more.

If you use this data that you receive every day, your customer service team will become the backbone that guides the success of the rest of the company.

That's a wrap on customer service 101. What are some of the other important foundations of a great customer service team? We would love to hear what has worked for you.