About the Author
Demanding customer expectations, human error, and continuous change make it challenging to maintain consistently high customer service standards. Given all of these variables, it’s important to have a reliable model underlying your customer service practices and governing the relationships between your frontline employees and customers.
Many leading customer service organizations apply some variation of the following five-step process.
People appreciate it when you listen to them. When an employee is speaking over the phone, or communicating via chat, they can’t use their body language to show that they’re paying attention. One good way around this is, once the customer is done speaking, to repeat what they said back to them using their words. Even in-person, this is an effective tactic. The customer will know the employee was paying attention, and that will give the employee a chance to ask any necessary follow-up questions so they can make sure they understand the problem and the cause behind it.
This goes hand-in-hand with repeating the customer’s words back to them. Once the employee understands the problem, they can acknowledge it and, if necessary, apologize to the customer for it. Sometimes, the apology may simply be, “I’m sorry that happened.” Other times, the apology may need to be more in-depth, depending on the level of the problem.
This isn’t about taking sides, as in the customer vs the company. It’s about the customer and the employee working together to solve the problem. The employee should be willing to help the customer solve the problem in the way that works best for the customer. That also means the employee needs to have some freedom to make things right, and to understand what they are able to do. Can they give discounts or free shipping? If your employee knows how much freedom they have, they’ll know how much they’re able to help customers, depending on the level of their problem.
When a customer contacts your company with a problem, they want a solution immediately. With the internet, we have all come to expect everything instantly. Most customers expect one day shipping. If your company can’t do that (and many can’t, even if customers expect it), free shipping is a great alternative. Whatever the solution is, make sure your employees are trained to know exactly what they can do. The sooner they can give the customer a good solution, the better.
Even though the customer had a problem, your employee should still thank them for their business. No one wants their customers to have a problem, but that can be an opportunity to turn them into an advocate for your company. Depending on how well the resolution goes, that customer with a problem could turn into someone who loves the company now because of how well they were taken care of.
This basic model of great customer service is highly adaptable to nearly any customer service problem, and applying it comes naturally to most seasoned customer service professionals. Here are three examples to demonstrate the ease and effectiveness with which it can be applied.
Every business streamlines its phone support in one way or another. It’s a fact of life for customers and clients that getting to live help isn’t as easy as it once was. Today’s customer expectations reflect that reality.
There is, however, a fine line between efficiently routing calls and delivering a frustrating customer experience. If a customer complains about getting stuck in an endless electronic or even live help loop, your representatives should be prepared to listen, acknowledge, and resolve this very real problem. Representatives should be trained in understanding the phone systems so they can provide guidance on how customers can more efficiently get the help they need. This training may involve role-playing, in which one trainee assumes the part of the customer. Without a simple model in place, many service representatives apologize for the poor experience but move on too quickly from this complaint without acknowledging or taking the next steps toward a complete resolution.
Staff turnover is inevitable, and there will be periods for every SMB during which an unusually high percentage of customer service representatives are not fully trained. During these times, complaints about a lack of agent knowledge are common.
Rather than simply mirroring a customer’s dissatisfaction with a prior representative’s lack of knowledge, put our model into place. Listen carefully to the customer’s tone and try to empathize with the frustration and the problems that a lack of knowledge may have caused the customer. In acknowledging the problem, explain how your business values employee training, and has a rigorous process. Let the customer know that several employees have been going through the instruction sequence and are close to reaching proficiency.
Your customer will understand that the lack of agent knowledge on a previous call was only the temporary result of a short-term transition, rather than an ongoing lack of training and support. Thank your customer for understanding as your company works toward completion of the training exercises.
Unresolved issues create negative impressions and build distrust in customers. If a problem isn’t adequately and quickly resolved, a customer will lose faith in your training, processes, and personnel. However, if a problem is resolved quickly and completely, you may end up with a customer who is more loyal than before their problem happened.
The “listen” step is especially important in the prevention of this issue. Customer service representatives should have the software necessary to document problems on the spot and quickly call in backup or management support for complex problems. Acknowledgment and willingness include communicating who will be involved and how the process will proceed to arrive at a solution. Customer concerns are alleviated when you communicate that processes are in place to deal with difficult-to-resolve issues, and they are generally more forgiving of a mistake when specific expectations for a resolution are set.
Employing this model quickly becomes second nature for professionals with the natural skills to succeed in customer service. These are, after all, the same basic steps required for success in any relationship, professional or personal.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 22, 2018, and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
If you liked this blog post about resolving customer service complaints, you may like these as well
Stay on top of industry trends and insights.
Subscribe to the Big Ideas for SMBs blog.
About the Author