The Art of Customer Service, Part II
1. Use their name. Though it may seem obvious, you’d be surprised how much of a difference addressing a customer by name can make. If a customer has their name somewhere in their email (as well as in the actual email address such as firstname.lastname@example.org), start the email with “Hi Bob.” If someone is calling you, ask for their name, and then actually address them by name when appropriate (basically anywhere you’d use sir or madam). Another good way to make the customer service experience more personal is to ask for the customer’s name instead of just a reference or a ticket ID. If there’s a lot of people with their name, then ask for another personal piece of information like an email address or phone number. If all else fails, use the reference or ticket ID.
2. Don’t give them a sales pitch. Never give customers a sales pitch unless they’re calling your sales department. Most customers that call for customer service, technical support, or whatever are not in the mood for a sales pitch and they can be downright annoying. Avoid putting a sales pitch in your hold recordings or actually having the representative say “Would you like to hear about our special offers?” at the end of the call.
3. Have operating procedures, not scripts. You’ve probably called at least a few companies and you’re sure the representative is reading a script - it’s annoying and certainly not personal. Have standard operating procedures (SOPs) for common things like cancellations, frustrated customers, etc. to ensure the job is done properly, but never ask or train your representatives to read from an actual script or anything like it.
4. Use operators. Endless PBX systems (the push 1 for sales, 2 for billing, etc.) are extremely frustrating for customers. If possible, hire an operator. Make it so the operator can answer basic questions (like how do I signup?), collect information about problems, assign a ticket number or reference ID, and find an available representative to take the call. The operator should somehow communicate with the representative before connecting the customer to provide the reference ID (so the customer is not forced to repeat the problem), whether it be via some sort of chat system, in person, or by phone. If you must use a PBX system, keep it very simple. Have it be one level with three or four options as well as an option to be connected to an operator.
5. Keep customers in the loop. Customers should never have to ask what are you doing. Let them know what's happening as you're doing something (such as lookup up their account or researching an issue). Extend keeping customers in the loop beyond the actual communication as well - if you're having a service outage, post it right on the front of your support section. Be honest - tell them what's the problem, when service will be restored, and what you're doing to prevent it from happening again. Apologize profusely and don't be cheap (aka offer compensation). This way, customers feel that you appreciate them and do go out of your way to keep them in the loop.
6. Make customers feel important. Train your representatives to make customers feel important. If a customer makes a suggestion, the representative should note it and let the customer know they’ve noted it (see follow-up). Don’t hesitate to do things like give credits or say things like “because you’re a valued customer, we can probably do this for you.” Customers are often frustrated when they call customer service or support, so if you can make them feel good, all the better.
7. Ask them questions and keep the answers in mind. Somewhat like making customers feel important – ask them questions. Don’t assume and feel free to clarify. You should also ask questions like “What’s your level of technical expertise?” and if they say complete novice, give them some extra instructions and help. The same thing works for other industries – anticipate the questions beforehand and provide the answers and clarification without being asked.
8. Follow-up. Probably the biggest difference between acceptable and great customer service is how often (and how well) the customer service department follows-up. If a customer makes a suggestion, follow-up on it and give them a call or send them an email with the result. If a customer calls with a customer service problem and you believe it’s resolved, send them an email or give them a call asking if their problem has been resolved to their satisfaction. Make follow-ups personal (avoid “Our records indicate you had a problem on April 1, 2006. If you need further assistance, please contact us.”) and sincere and customers will truly appreciate it.
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