How to Improve Customer Service in 2017 (and Beyond)

Grow Your Business in 2017 by Improving Customer Satisfaction with Great Customer Service.

Great customer service is the key to ongoing business success. Though you have created a great product or service that your target market needs and/or loves, if you cannot provide the customer service they expect, they will defect to a competitor or replacement. Maybe not today, maybe not six months from now. But eventually someone will start to do what you do better and your customers will notice.

Studies have shown that increasing customer retention by 5% can increase profits by up to 125%! There are so many benefits to be had by providing your customers with great customer service, and yet it is an area that many companies still lack proper planning, training, and communication that can translate great customer service into a competitive advantage.

1. Align Customer Service With Customer Expectations

Complete the following statement: My customers are satisfied when…

Customer Service_Customer ExpectationsImproving customer service starts by understanding customer expectations to create customer satisfaction.Great customer satisfaction happens where customer expectations and customer service intersect.

This may seem a little strange at first, but think about it. Have you ever been in a situation where you expected something from a brand, and they provided all kinds of perks and incentives that you just were not interested in? They were offering “customer service” that did not meet your expectations. They could throw anything they wanted at you, but if you did not get those one or two deal or no-deal options, none of the rest mattered.

On the other hand, customers can have unrealistic expectations of a brand or a product. Those expectations may be financially, technically, or physically impossible for your business to meet. Those expectations will lay on the outside of the customer satisfaction intersection.

Do not simply ignore these expectations. View them as opportunities for improvement, innovation, and strategic advantage. Your job is to continually find ways to increase the overlap in customer expectations and customer service in ways that are feasible for your business and pleasing to your customers.

2. Improve Customer Touchpoints

Each touchpoint is an opportunity to meet or miss customer expectations. Think about all the touchpoints that your product or service has with your customers.

The touchpoints that most brands focus on are at the point-of-sale and at the customer service call center. But expand your thinking past these obvious ones and get into how your customers are really experiencing your brand.

Map your customer touchpoints into three categories of where they happen: before, during, and after the sale. If you sell a product, touchpoints include when your customers bring that product home and every time they use it. They can include things like social media, reviews, website, sales staff, billing, follow-ups, product use, and your customer service center.

Then, think like your customer. Why did they make that purchase decision in the first place? Is it achieving its intended purpose? What are they feeling toward their purchase decision—Delight? Relief? Disappointment? Where are you not meeting their expectations? What touchpoints are potentially in most need of improvement?

Survey your customers for reviews and feedback and take that feedback seriously. You won’t be able to implement every recommendation or suggested action, but your survey data will help you prioritize those areas that need to be improved and give you insights into areas for new growth or innovation.

Also work closely with your sales and customer service teams to get insights from the frontline. They are getting direct feedback from customers, likely on a daily basis, that is invaluable to improving customer service and business success. We like to train managers on using the ⅓ + 1 Rule technique, which is a popular method in uncovering your brand’s “coffee stains” and creating a prioritized list of initiatives that will improve customer experience while also creating buy-in from those on your team who will implement the changes.

Learn how you can schedule a facilitator to lead a ⅓ + 1 Rule meeting with your team

3. Improve Customer Service Skills

improve customer service skillsDeveloping an exceptional customer service culture in your organization must start at the top.

Exceptional customer service cannot be taught, it must be caught. Your team catches on to what is important to your company from their managers, supervisors, and you. They pick up on the cues you are demonstrating every day. So if you want your entire team to be highly engaged in providing value to your customers every single day, you and your management team need to model that and communicate it.

The most effective way to develop a management team that can accomplish the change management, communication, and motivation needed to influence a shift to exceptional customer service is through management training.

Customer service training is important to the development of an exceptional customer service culture, and when combined with other critical management skills you can expect to see significant positive changes within your organization. Your management team will have the tools they need to not only help you create an exceptional customer service culture but also be able to build consensus with their teams to improve engagement, motivation, and productivity. They will have the tools they need to recognize and reward employees who go above and beyond to embrace the cultural shift to customer service, encouraging greater engagement. They will have improved negotiation, conflict resolution, and planning skills, all needed to create and maintain a culture of excellent customer service.

When leadership and management teams develop and hone these skills, customers notice. Get started by scheduling a Leadership Skills Workshop.

4. Improve Employee Engagement and Motivation

Everyone on your team, whether they are frontline employees or not, have an impact on your customers’ experiences with your brand. Improving customer service goes well beyond the call center. It requires keeping your employees motivated and engaged to focus on improving your customers’ experiences.

Your logistics department may never talk to a single customer, but you know for a fact that their ability to deploy orders accurately and on time has a big impact on your customer’s experience with your brand. Similarly, your payroll department will never interact with customers, but if they are not able to accurately compensate those employees who do on time, you better believe that is going to have a huge impact on how your employees interact with your customers.

The moral here is to take a holistic approach to improving customer service within your organization. Recognize that your customers are what keeps the lights on, and your team—your whole team—keeps your customers coming back. Make sure every member on your team understands how they fit into the mission and the strategy of the whole organization and why their part in it is so important. Ideally, this would start during your onboarding process. But don’t let it stop there. Remind your people every day what the company’s mission is, and how they fit into it. Recognize and reward them for the good work they do to further this mission.

What gets rewarded gets repeated.

5. Create a Customer Service Plan

customer service planOnce you have an understanding of your customers’ expectations, you have mapped out your touchpoints (and perhaps found some areas for possible improvement), you have improved your staff’s customer service skills, and you have engaged your team to get on board, you are ready to create a Customer Service Plan.

Any customer service plan must begin with the acknowledgment of your Lifetime Customer Value. This sets the perspective for why retaining each of your customers is so important to the value of your business, and it helps you define your budget for how to deal with dissatisfied customers.

Then, look at those areas that you can proactively improve. If you run the ⅓ + 1 Rule exercise mentioned above with your team, the resulting list will give you a great head-start for this section of your plan.

Your touchpoints map should also be included in your customer service plan. A visualization of each customer touchpoint and how each department, position, and/or person on your team impacts that touchpoint is a great way to keep each of your employees and managers focused on their impact. It also allows members of your team to think of new ways that they can improve your customer touchpoints.

Include communication expectations in your customer service plan. How do you want your employees referring to your customers? How do you want them to answer the phone and complete a customer phone call? Perhaps you need to make it standard for each call to end with, “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” or something similar. How should your social media manager respond to complaints across social channels? What is the maximum response time to online complaints and kudos? Include all of these standards of practice in your customer service plan so that everyone on your team is crystal clear as to how they should be representing your brand across all channels.

Of course, any customer service plan must include a plan for working with dissatisfied customers. Think about dissatisfied customer issues as falling into two categories: predictable problems and unpredictable problems. How are your employees empowered to deal with both of these types of problems? Come up with protocols for each predictable problem, based on what you can realistically do and what you know about your customer expectations.

Then create a protocol for unpredictable problems. Define who is in charge of dealing with unpredictable problems—are your frontline employees empowered to decide on the solution, or does it go to the manager? What is the budget for creating solutions for your dissatisfied customers?

Customer Lifetime Value

The value of your customers extends well beyond their first purchase. Get the most you can out of your investment in acquiring a new customer by delighting and engaging them in wanting to come back for more. This requires an exceptional customer service culture that must permeate your entire organization. Customer retention is far too important to be left just to your customer service team!

January is Customer Service and Communication Month at Crestcom.
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