Wikipedia defines customer service as “the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase.” Although that definition captures the essence of customer service, it lacks a few important elements.
I suggest a more complete definition: “Customer service is the act of meeting your customers’ needs through the provision of high quality support before, during and after the transaction. Good customer service adds more than just monetary value and helps build long-lasting customer relationships.”
The first question that comes to mind when thinking of customer service is cost. Investing in excellent customer service can be expensive. Companies that choose to put the customer first may see an impact on their bottom line. On the other hand, businesses that choose to cut costs on customer service often see a reduction in acquisition and retention rates.
An excellent customer service strategy, by its nature, must be dynamic. The perfect policies today will be obsolete tomorrow. In the world of CS, there is no end all be all. Instead, businesses must be prepared to adapt to the changing market conditions and customer needs. Being flexible in the provision of service is the surest way to earn customer loyalty.
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1. Customer service is as important as sales and marketing
The customer service department should never be at the bottom of your organizational priorities. Marketing and sales are great for acquisition, but customer service is where customer bases are retained and grown. Further, in the current marketplace, customer service is the key differentiator between companies. If your sole growth strategy is to target your potential customers through huge billboards and sales calls, you’re doing it all wrong.
Customer service representatives should be treated and equipped as the front-line of your company. Teach your customer support team that they are the determining factor in your success. They set the tone for your customer experience and should be treated as high-value assets within the company. The better your customer service is, the more brand promoters you will have and that’s the point of marketing, isn’t it?
2. Put the customer first and create an unforgettable experience
As defined by Forrester, a customer-centric culture is “a system of shared values and behaviors that focus employee activity on improving the customer experience.” More than 90% of executives say that improving customer experience is a top strategic priority for their business. But how can this be achieved?
One of the most important ways to instill a customer-centric culture is to start with your company’s mission statement. New hires should be trained to understand and appreciate what a good customer experience looks like. The next step is to engage and empower employees to an extent that they have the freedom and will to make every customer interaction memorable. Last, customer should be consulted where possible and organizational decisions should be made from their perspective.
Lindsay Willott, founder of Customer Thermometer, once said that, “A brilliant support team acts like and is viewed as a team who has an innate understanding of, and care for, customers. Bad support teams think of themselves as simply responds providers.”
I cannot emphasize how important it is to make every customer interaction, even the most common ones, unforgettable and remarkable. This is the key to fostering customer loyalty. Excellent customer service representatives see their care and attention as part of the value given to the customers. They recognize that the customer experience can be more valuable than the product or service itself.
3. Minimize customer effort, wherever possible
A Bain & Company study found that a customer is 4x more likely to defect to a competitor if the problem [they face] is service-related rather than price or product-related. No business wants customers leaving them because their customer support representatives are inaccessible or unsupportive. Excellent customer service leaders put themselves in their customers’ shoes by investigating the ease and accessibility of their customer support and then investing in methods to resolve any inefficiencies.
Going the extra mile in terms of providing customers with an omnichannel solution will not only charm them but will promote upsells. Channels that may appeal to the younger generation of consumers, such as live-chat, SMS, social media and email can revolutionize your customer service.
Don’t forget that adding channels to your customer service strategy does not always represent an improvement. Extra channels are useless if the customer service representatives who man them are not properly trained and equipped. Customer service departments should never operate on from a mindset of “bare minimum” service. Agents should be passionate about delivering high quality responses to every customer, every time.
4. Be reliable
Reliability is closely related to consistency in customers’ minds. When you make a promise to a customer, make sure to stay committed and deliver on it. If you don’t follow through, customers may assume that you do not value them. Set a tone in your interactions with customers and stick to it. For example, if you answer an initial email within an hour, you should continue to answer subsequent emails within an hour. The worst outcome would be for a customer to initially rave about how quick your response time is and then have their expectations shattered and proceed to spread negative word of mouth about your company.
Research by American Express showed that 74% of customers are willing to spend more money with a company that provides excellent and reliable customer service. When you maintain a certain level of trust with a customer, their loyalty towards your company can only grow. Make your company is known for its sincerity and efficiency.
Customer service is not just about resolving customer complaints. A successful customer service manager knows that their support team defines their brand image in the eyes of customers. Their level of passion is what can make the difference between customer retention and customer churn.