What is the most important thing you can do to reduce churn and increase word-of-mouth referrals? The answer is obvious, but it’s often overlooked: improve your customer service.
No matter how awesome you think your product is, or how talented you think your team is, what your customers are most likely to remember is the direct contact they have with your company.
After years of working at UniTel Voice, in an industry saturated with competitors selling similar products, time and time again we’ve learned that customer service is our most powerful competitive differentiator. And if you’re not constantly looking for opportunities to improve your customer service, then your customer relationships will deteriorate and your growth will slow.
One of the methods we use to keep our support team on their toes and our company culture on track is a customer service tip-of-the-day. In this post we’d like to share our best tips with you, so you can use them to give your own support team a crash course in amazing customer service.
#1 Practice Empathy, Patience, and Consistency
Some of your customers will be full of questions, some just chatty, and others plain mad. You must be prepared to handle all of them and provide the same level of service every time.
#2 Understand that Good Customer Service is a Continuous Learning Process
Every customer is unique and every support situation is different. In order to handle surprises, sense a customer’s mood, address new challenges accordingly, you have to be willing to keep learning. Strive to have a deep understanding of your customer’s challenges and continue to search for better ways to address them.
#3 Ask Customers if They Understand.
Make sure your customers know exactly what you mean. You don’t want your customers to think they’re getting 25% off when they’re actually getting 25% more product. Ask customers if they understand what you’re saying. Use positive language, stay cheerful no matter what, and never end a conversation without confirming the customer understands and is satisfied.
#4 Show Your Customers Your Work Ethic
Customers appreciate a rep who doesn’t pass the buck and sticks with them until their problem is solved. However, you can’t spend too much time handling one customer while others are waiting. You have to stay focused on your goals to achieve the right balance.
#5 Don’t Be Afraid to Say “I Don’t Know”
Your customers rely on you to know your product inside out. It’s your job to stay informed enough to respond to questions or at least know where to turn if the questions become too technical for you to answer. If you don’t know the answer it is okay to say to your customers “I don’t know”, as long as you follow it up with “but I’ll find out”. Customers will appreciate your honesty and your efforts to find the right answer.
#6 You Have to Have Thick Skin
You know the old saying “the customer’s always right”. There’s truth to that. The best customer service reps have the ability to swallow their pride and accept blame or negative feedback…or handle unreasonable customers in an empathic way. No matter what, your customer’s happiness is your primary goal. If a customer is completely unreasonable, just be human and level with them. Let them know you’re doing your best.
#7 Pay Attention to Your Customer’s Experience
A negative customer experience at any point in the customer lifecycle can destroy your relationship. Pay critical attention to key touchpoints: customer trial periods, customer sign-ups, customer on-boarding etc. Make sure you have a full view of your customer experience, or you risk breakdowns in service that will hurt business. If you discover a lapse in service, make sure to bring it up with your management team so it can be fixed.
#8 Show Your Customers You’re Human
Do your best to identify common ground and shared interests with the customers you help. By humanizing your relationship you’ll make resolving conflict easier, your customers will like you more (and as a result, your business).
#9 Practice Active Listening
When you use active listening, your customers feel heard. Make sure your customers know you understand them by clarifying and rephrasing what they say. The key is to empathize with them and reflect their feelings by saying things like, “I’m sorry, I can see why that is upsetting” or “That is a problem and I understand what you’re saying”.
#10 Admit Your Mistakes
If you mess up, admit it, even if you discover your mistakes before your customers do. Admitting you messed up builds trust and restores your customer’s confidence in your service. It also allows you to control the situation, re-focus the customer’s attention, and fix the problem.
#11 Follow-Up After a Problem is Solved
Follow up with your customers to ensure their issues were resolved properly and that they were satisfied with the service. Give them a call, send them an email, or even a feedback survey is a great way to let your customers know you care and you’re still on their side.
#12 Be Real by Getting Personal
Your customers want help from real people, not just FAQs and automated emails. Take advantage of social media (Facebook, Twitter, and review sites) and respond when your customers post on your page. Display support team pictures and bios on your website. Show your customers that your company has real people working on their behalf.
#13 Be Accessible
Part of the personal touch is being available. You have to make it easy for your customers to reach you. Even if your business is largely online, try to meet in person with local customers or offer video calls (such as Skype) if face-to-face isn’t possible. The more ways you are accessible (via phone, chat, text, email etc.) the more trust you’ll build.
#14 Rollout the White Glove Treatment
Make sure you’re meeting your customers’ needs. Consider offering VIP treatment for your best customers to make them feel appreciated. You can also assign support reps to specific customers so they can build personal relationships. Make each of your customers feel like they have a friend in the business.
#15 Create a Customer Community
A great way to make your customers feel valued is to create a sense of community around your product. You can do this by bringing your customers together for webinars, interactive websites, social media, blog comments, trade shows and conventions. And even though your customers come to these forums to learn from you, it’s a great opportunity for you to learn from them.
#16 Make Sure Your Customer Service Team is Happy
Your customers’ happiness isn’t the only thing that matters. You need to know how your customer service team feels about their working conditions and compensation, opportunities for career advancement, training, available tools and resources, and their peers. Collect feedback from your employees and give them feedback as well. Set benchmarks and goals, and track performance.
#17 Make Collecting Customer Feedback Easy
The key to improving your customer service and growing your business is to learn about the good, the bad, and the ugly experience your customers have. But, no matter how on it you are, it’s impossible to get in front of every customer issue. The best thing you can do is create multiple touchpoints that are easily accessible for your customers to give feedback.
#18 Know Your Customers
There is absolutely know substitute for knowing who your customers are, why the bought your product, and what they love or hate about your company. Use a help desk tool like Freshdesk that makes tracking customer conversations and information easy, so when customers contact your support team, they have a meaningful interaction.
#19 Practice Clear Communication
How you communicate with your customers couldn’t be more important. Styling affects communication. Tone affects communication. Watch out for passive-aggressive language (“Actually…”). This will turn off your customers. Also avoid confusing your customers with slang, colloquialisms, or technical jargon.
#20 Don’t Be Stiff
When you speak or write to customers be personable, casual, and most importantly be friendly. Don’t treat customers like a number by using an overly formal tone. Too many companies have customer service teams that sound as if they are robots programmed to speak like a 16th century nobleman. Don’t be a robot nobleman. Have a real conversations with your customers.
#21 Don’t Use Negative Language
Here’s an example of negative language in a customer support setting: “I can’t get you an upgrade until next month. Our service is back-ordered and unavailable right now.” Next we’ll give you an example of positive language.
#22 Use Positive Language
Here’s an example of positive language in a customer support setting: “That upgrade will be available next month. I can put in an order for you right now and make sure your account is upgraded as soon as it’s released!” See the difference?
#23 Use the CARP Method
It’s important for customer service teams to stay consistent in the tone they use and the processes they practice. A great way to do both is to use the CARP method:
— Control the situation.
— Acknowledge the dilemma.
Refocus the conversation.
— Problem-solve so the customer leaves happy.
#24 Solve Problems on the First Call
One of the best ways to keep customers happy and be seen as a company who provides outstanding service is to practice first-contact resolution. In other words, solve your customers’ problems the first time they call in. There’s nothing your customers will appreciate more than getting their issues addressed the first time around.
#25 Always Close Conversations Correctly
Every conversation you close with a customer should end with you saying “Is there anything else I can do for you today? I’m happy to help!” and your customer saying “Yes, I’m all set!” loud and clear. Correctly closing a conversation shows the customer three vital things:
— You care about getting things right.
— You’re willing to keep going until you get things right.
— The customer is the one who decides what “right” is.
#26 Use Customer Service Templates
It’s important to keep your standards high and your response times low. Don’t waste keyboard strokes reinventing the wheel for every basic and common question. Build scalable templates so you can respond to these types of inquiries with ease and professionalism.
#27 Help Your Customers Help Themselves
Good customer support should always be available, even if you aren’t. Make sure you are offering a self-service help desk with top-tier support material for all to see and benefit from. Use screenshots, videos, and clear styling and make sure your how-to’s and FAQs get great reviews.
#28 Stay Informed with Customer Data
Don’t rely on “It feels like we spend a lot of time addressing this issue” when customer data can easily eliminate the guesswork. Tracking the frequency of issues as well as the average handle time, will give you the reporting you need to make better decisions on how to improve your business.
#29 Surprise Customers with an Offline Thank You
There’s nothing that says thank you like a handwritten note. Taking the time to send a personal thank you letter via snail mail is the kind of unexpected thing that builds rock solid customer relationships. For VIP customers, throwing in a batch of fresh baked cookies or even a Starbucks gift card is a nice touch.
#30 Remember that Customer Service is Everyone’s Job
Everyone should be feeling the customers’ pain points. When your whole company is encouraged to be involved in customer service, knowledge of problems, bugs, and features becomes illuminated for the entire team. There’s no faster way to make improvements that drive your business forward. It’s so simple, yet often overlooked: just talk to customers.