Growth is among the goals of every company and is even more significant for startups and small businesses. But with growth come challenges. Scaling customer service is among the thorniest of those challenges. According to Forbes, A startup’s most pressing problem initially is product-market fit. At this stage, customers provide feedback that can help you tailor your product or service to the market’s exact needs. However, eventually, customers will want something more from your company; they’ll want better support. Most small business owners know that excellent customer service is the key to a success in any sector. They will tell you that their customers are their #1 priority, but customer experiences often paint a different picture. As Friedrich Engels put it, “an ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.”
One Story: The mother of a local cable company customer had recently passed away. The customer, Ann, called the cable company to shut off services at her mother’s home and close that particular account. Ann explained the situation to the representative who in turn, responded with a scripted answer. “I would be happy to help you with this problem, but to gain access to the account, I will need to speak to the account holder,” he replied. Angered by the rep’s poor listening skills, Ann answered by asking him if he had a direct line to heaven and then demanding to speak to a manager. A supervisor was able to help Ann close her deceased mother’s account, but the damage was done. Ann and several of her family members closed their accounts. On top of that, the company earned a small-town reputation for being cold and uncaring.
This story and so many others told by unhappy customers highlight the effect excellent customer service or lack thereof can have on a business’s success. Ann is not alone. In fact, research shows that over 80% of customers have left a servicer because of just one customer service experience. So, what can a small business owner do to make sure that customers like Ann don’t end up frustrated on the phone with your representative and decide to connect with a competitor? The key lies in the company’s ability to manage incoming calls in a way that leaves the customer feeling as if all their needs have been met.
Excellent customer service provides numerous benefits for companies, including increased customer loyalty and enhanced brand image. It also builds customer relationships and improves customer satisfaction. In short, excellent customer service boosts profitability. Getting your customer service team to provide epic service, however, it’s easier said than done. Many executives and managers find it among their toughest business challenges. The best way to provide good customer service is getting to know your customers and getting closer to them.
Customers often have unique behaviors. Helping team members understand customers thoroughly is critical to providing good service and earning the trust of loyal customers. Search and determine how they like to be served. It will help you decide where to prioritize actions—live chat support, self-service, social media, or phone support and avoid poor customer service experiences that will reflect badly on the entire company.
Develop personas of your customers to get to know them better. Customer feedback surveys often prove to be instrumental when it comes to getting to know what customers expect. Moreover, surveys play an important role if your company needs to come up with a successful customer service strategy.
Another action your business could take is to try revisiting customer segmentation. Segmenting your customer base in a new way can help you see them from a different angle and will eventually lead to a different approach to your customer service strategy. Look across all customer segments and identify unique ways to reach them with offers and educational materials.
Engaged employees deliver an engaging customer experience. How do your customer service agents respond to customers? Are they excited to speak with them or are they apathetic? Do they know how to turn a bad experience into a positive one?
To boost employee engagement, offer meaningful incentives encouraging specific behaviors. Gamification and coaching programs are great ways to do it. Also, map out customer journeys and then outline the steps your customer support team needs to help them get there.
Your customer service department shouldn’t be overloaded with work they can’t handle on time. Overworked and overwhelmed customer service teams rarely provide services that meet customer service standards. Your team’s effectiveness will be damaged if you don’t correct this scenario before it happens.
Hiring a new employee or outsourcing your customer support should be taken into consideration on a reasonable timeline. Finding, onboarding, and training new customer service reps takes time. It may take as much as two to three months until your new employee is ready for primetime.
Customers expect your team to be up to date with their accounts and needs. The more data you give your team, the better they can help customers and the more satisfied customers your business will have. Customer satisfaction increases even more when your clients have access to data in real-time.
One way to make sure accessibility is on point is to beef up technology-related support. This can come in several forms, including mail fulfillment and web intake. Discovering services by industry can be a great place to start, especially when trying to decide which internet or tech-based products are needed the most.
Build systems that capture critical customer information and provide it on-demand when your team needs it. Also, share information between departments, especially marketing, sales, and product development. Implementing software that everyone can see helps track things and accelerates response time. By using transparent software, when one shift leaves, the next can pick up where they left off. This also helps agents learn from each other.
Tools such as AI tools, chatbots, helpdesk software streamline processes. Thus, customers get answers faster, and your agents solve problems quicker. Streamlining your support effort also reduces your customer service team’s workload—not to mention its stress.
Some companies lose track of their customer service goals and get caught in a constant cycle of change. Your business must focus on evolving strategically. Also, commit to learning about your customers, and leveraging the feedback from customer complaints to enhance your services.
Evaluate your services from time to time. Make sure you’re not relying on impersonal methods, like Likert scales alone, to generate feedback. Instead, get your customer feedback by asking them directly how their experience was. Once you get that feedback, use it to make the changes needed, improve your customer service, and set the foundation for customer retention.
Your agents’ customer service skills should be continually upgraded. Emphasize continual learning and improvement by employees. Invite speakers to come in to talk about customer service topics. Have senior managers discuss how customer service fits in with the company’s overall goals. Also, try revisiting the department and personal goals and what they need to do to meet them. Then create an action plan to achieve them.
Remember that not everyone is cut out for customer service. Because receptionists and others managing inbound calls are the first contact point for customers, they have a direct influence on whether or not a customer-client relationship continues.
Businesses should have a well-trained staff that understands the dos and don’ts of customer service, even if it means hiring professionals that can provide exceptional service. Customer service should never be left up to a multi-tasker. Instead, it should be front and center.
How do your employees sign off with customers at the end of phone calls? Does the agent say “Bye” and hang up? Instead, have them acknowledge the customers. Ask employees to make sure customers have everything they want and keep the door open for a return visit.
Let your callers know that your team is always happy to help and that they’re welcome to return. The end of a customer’s call is just as critical as the beginning. That is why it is crucial to make it memorable.
Phone etiquette is one area of focus when improving customer communication. But it would be best if you were looking at all channels of communication, including social media, chat, and in-person. How you communicate is one of the key strategies for customer service improvement. Your strategy should outline which channels you will utilize and protocols for how to deliver customer service.
Making customers happy should be a priority for every business. If customer service isn’t a priority at your company, you need to make it so. Sometimes, this means hiring an answering service to take calls for you full-time, 24-7. Other times, the product that is needed most is an overflow service that takes all the calls your full-time staff is unable to handle. And then there are businesses that only need after-hours support to cover calls that come in when the office is closed.
What is most important is to provide accessibility and staff that can deliver appropriate responses that are both accurate and timely. Use these customer service tips to help your team members get closer to customers and go that extra mile. Getting closer can help employees exceed expectations when engaging with customers. Doing so can enhance relationships with customers, boost loyalty, and increase profitability.
Editors Note: This article was updated on November 24, 2021, originally published on September 18, 2018, and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.