By Beth Borrego / Published May 2016
Providing excellent customer service is an important part of your business and may be the key to keeping your customers happy. From the time your customer first contacts your company as a prospect until the day their job is completed as a customer, they should be receiving professional service that will encourage them to repeat purchase with your company. It’s important to remember that it’s not just the product or service that keeps your customer satisfied and returning to your business. The experience with your staff from beginning to end is a critical part of the experience and will help to define your brand in the customer’s mind.
Training your staff to handle customers in a positive manner is perhaps the cornerstone of building a memorable customer service experience. Oftentimes, the attitude of your staff and the delivery of your message in a positive manner will make the difference for the customer. Let’s look at a simple phrase: “I can’t.” The use of “I can’t” is negative and says “no” to the consumer. It is possible to deliver a message without using something that means “no” and making it sound more positive and appealing. Let’s look at a couple of examples:
Negative: “I can’t ship you that part for about three weeks. It’s backordered, and we don’t have any left.”
Positive: “That item will be available in about three weeks. If I place your order today, I can ship it to you as soon as it becomes available. Would you like to do that now?”
Both messages contained the same information about a delay. However, the first message contained the words can’t and don’t. The second message addresses the obstacle without using negative language and immediately offers a solution using positive language. Teaching your staff to use positive messages when communicating with both prospects and current customers is an important part of providing excellent customer service.
Now let’s look at an example as simple as handling an inbound phone call with a question the representative can’t answer.
Negative response: “I don’t know. Hang on, I have to transfer you.” (Click to hold)
Positive response: “That’s a really great question. You’re asking about (repeat back the question), correct? (Wait for response) Would you mind holding for just one moment while I connect you to (insert name) who can answer that question? I’ll let (insert name) know why you are calling. Thank you so much!”
In the first example, the caller has to explain himself twice, and will most likely be frustrated when he reaches the second person because he will have to explain himself again. In the second example, he is given positive reinforcement and made to feel understood even if the person answering the phone doesn’t have the answer he is searching for. They’ll let the next person know what the inquiry is about so the customer doesn’t feel exasperated when he begins the second conversation. The second representative should also confirm what they believe the call to be about once they get the customer on the phone to help ease the transfer and confirm the needed information.
Keep your customer happy. If your customers have an issue with a product or service, it’s important to take care of the issue. We all know that, and it seems as though that should go without saying, right? Remember that your customer will expect you to take care of a problem and will be scrutinizing your company even more closely than they might normally throughout the resolution process. Make sure that your staff apologizes on behalf of the company for any errors or miscommunication that lead to dissatisfaction. There are a few things you need to do in order to ensure a positive outcome. First, let the customer know you care about the issue, and you want to make it right. Listen carefully to what he has to say and also to how he is saying it. Repeat back to him what he has just told you to let him know that you understand the situation. This helps to put the customer at ease. Next, let him know that you will follow the situation through to a successful resolution. If communication is needed throughout the resolution or if he requests it, do what you can to provide the additional communication. This may be viewed as expected initially, but as the issue works toward resolution and once it is resolved, it may also be seen as excellent service where you went above and beyond. Some situations are more complex and reaching a satisfactory outcome is harder to achieve. In these cases, you’ll need to find out what would make the customer happy, and then see if there is a realistic means of reaching that goal. Set up guidelines for your staff so that they know when they need to escalate a customer service issue to a manager.
When your staff is able to handle a customer service call completely, make sure they know how to end the call. It’s not as simple as just saying goodbye and hanging up. A positive statement followed with a simple question at the end will make the experience more complete. Try something like: “That’s great! I’m so happy we were able to perform that extra service for you today (or get you the replacement part, as the case may be, or whatever). Is there anything else I can help you with while I have you on the line before I let you go?” Again, this comes down to positive statements, and letting the customer know that you continue to be there for them.
Customer satisfaction surveys are an important part of the customer service process. A well-designed survey should briefly hit the salient points of the business transaction while providing feedback about how the customer felt about the experience and ultimately letting you know if they would repeat purchase or not. The surveys may be paper or electronic and should be provided as soon as the transaction is complete. If this is not something you are currently doing, it’s worth implementing.
Sometimes, there is just no pleasing a customer, and no amount of friendly, warm, caring service will warm them up and calm them down. All small business owners should have a policy in place for addressing angry or abusive customers, and your employees should be trained on how to navigate those calls. Many businesses address abusive callers by simply telling them to calm down so that a civil conversation can be held, but in the event that this doesn’t happen, it should be okay to simply notify the customer that you are going to terminate the call due to abuse and that until they can speak in a professional manner, you are unable to help them. Never allow your employees to be subjected to a customer who is yelling or screaming, belittling them, cursing or swearing, or making hateful remarks. It’s important for the employee to know that they must remain calm and end the call, and that they should not respond in a like manner. Some companies place abusive customers on the do not call and do not mail lists and will not do business with them anymore.
Thanking your customer for their business and for the opportunity to correct a problem is important, too. Thank you notes, either mailed or electronic, a personal thank you if you are face-to-face, or a gift in appreciation of a recent purchase are all appropriate measures of gratitude that go a long way in conveying a professional thanks and desire to continue the business relationship. A gift doesn’t have to be a tangible item given to the customer either. For example, you could send a note and let the customer know that a donation to a local charity has been made in their name. This is especially nice if the company has a fundraising campaign for a specific charity they support. There are many opportunities to thank your clientele, and a thank you is always welcome and appropriate.
Go above and beyond to wow your customers because it’s the right thing to do. In 2014, Entrepreneur magazine reported examples of excellent customer service. The article mentioned an 89-year old man in Pittsburgh, PA, who was about to be snowed in and had no way to get his groceries. Desperate to help her father and too far away to do it herself, his daughter called grocers in the area trying to arrange for delivery and to pay for the food he needed. Just when she was about to give up, she called Trader Joe’s, who also said that it was not their policy to deliver, but that they would make an exception and deliver his list of items. Next, they went on to suggest other low sodium items he might enjoy that fit his dietary needs. Trader Joe’s then delivered all of the groceries free of charge within 30 minutes, and wished the daughter a very Merry Christmas. The spirit of giving and good will should live within all small business owners throughout the year, as they serve the community. Your customers will appreciate your company more for going above and beyond, and your employees, too, will feel better about the work that they do.