The Keys to Great Customer Service, Part 3: People and Customization
Providing excellent customer service on a consistent basis requires more than just luck and people answering the phones.
Articles published October 30, 2017 by Bobbie Jo Barry
In part two, I talked about good and bad customer service, and how it can impact your organization in a variety of ways. That is an essential foundation for our next discussion, which is all about what makes great customer service, and practical steps you can implement in your organization to ensure you’re delivering the best customer service possible.
What Makes Great Service?
It’s easy to say that you have great service. Lee Resources revealed that 80 percent of companies say they produce exceptional service, but only eight percent of their customers agree.
So, how do you practice what you preach?
Start by having a personalized experience with competent service reps. Results from a Genesys Global Survey revealed the two biggest things that make a customer’s experience satisfying are (you can probably guess) competent service reps and personalization.
Think about it: when you have the right people in the right place giving customers the right answers, that should drive up your customer satisfaction scores. When you add personalization into the mix and rely on what you already know about the customer (name, location, purchase history), it makes for an even smoother process in resolving their issue.
But how do you get competent service reps and a personalized experience?
Competent Service Reps
First, you need to hire the right kind of person. Having agents that naturally exhibit certain characteristics, coupled with the right training and support from upper management, can go a long way in changing the narrative. Here are a few qualities to look for in agents that help maximize success and keep customers happy.
This might just be the most important quality of all. People are calling in with a problem they need solved and an attitude that may be loosely defined as “frustrated at best, angry at worst,” so the agent is starting out in the hole. That’s why it’s important for the call center agent to come across as sympathetic right off the bat, and that starts with being a good listener. The caller needs to feel not like “just another caller” but someone with a unique problem that is understood by the person on the other line.
The fact that so many agents lack empathy and a personal touch is why customers still feel frustrated, even if their problem was solved. The problem may have been solved, but they didn’t feel like they were understood and respected. Hire people who are genuinely interested in helping others overcome their problems, not just those who want the lowest call time possible.
While it seems obvious that someone who spends their living on the phone should be a good communicator, that’s not always the case. For the customer to be satisfied with the service they received, agents must have a clear, proficient use of language, be able to process the information on the other end, and develop an accurate solution that is conveyed clearly and accurately. Particularly with technical support, which can be complex enough as it is, you need agents who not only know the product or service backwards and forwards, but can seamlessly transfer that knowledge to the customer, cognizant of the fact that the customer most likely doesn’t have that same knowledge base.
It’s an important part of customer service to find solutions to customer issues. This means taking the time to investigate customer issues and knowing your product well. Sometimes customers don’t ask the right questions and you must look past their questions and find solutions to their issues. When this happens, take the time to investigate the entire issue, otherwise you could lead the customer down the wrong path.
Customers are not always going to be happy, and they expect an easy solution, even if the solution isn’t so cut and dry. In fact, they may come into the call displaying some of the inverse traits of a good customer service rep: low knowledge base, not being able to effectively articulate the scope of their problem, and not being organized and having all the proper information at their disposal. That is why it’s important to have agents who are calm under fire, critical thinkers, and convey patience and positivity, even when the person on the other end might be failing at those things. Ultimately, the customer is seeking to feel validated and heard rather than hurried and dismissed, and a calm, reassuring, and patient demeanor can go a long way in achieving just that.
To personalize your customer service, implement contextual support, which is knowing your customers by referencing data about them. Depending on your product, the data collected could be what the customer bought and how the customer bought it (online vs. in-store, credit card vs. cash), their account number, or where they are located.
This helps make the process go even smoother, so the contact center agent isn’t wasting time asking the customer for all the details. While you don’t need to collect data that will make the customer uncomfortable, having a basis of who the customer is and what they’re trying to solve is important information to know going into a phone call.
Not only will this information help with your customer satisfaction levels, but it can improve phone calls in general. This type of contextual support also leads to higher performance metrics overall, because the customer experience is being optimized.
When it comes to contextual support and knowing your customers, it also helps to know what kinds of support they prefer. Whether it’s phone, email, or chat, everyone has a preferred way of communicating, especially when it comes to contact centers and getting their problems resolved. Make sure that you are providing multiple ways for your customers to contact you, and that you are providing the types of communication that they want. Knowing what most of your customers like lets you focus on one or two areas in particular, and provide the best experience possible.
As your customers contact you through different forms of communication, it’s important to carry contextual support through it all. If the customer is emailing you, reply asking for the information that you don’t know, instead of the information that you may already have, like product history or their account number.
Improve in These Three Areas
In addition to competent service reps and personalization, there are three more areas that can improve your overall customer service: first-call resolution, faster response times, and surveys.
Strive for First-Call Resolution
The Ascent Group reported 44 percent of companies that recorded first-call resolution results for a year or longer had considerable improvement in their performance rates. If you struggle with first-call resolutions, a good goal would be to work towards raising your first-call resolution percentage by 10 percent before the end of the next quarter and record those results. Setting a benchmark and encouraging your agents to work on resolving the customer’s problem right away is a good place to start. Another way to help increase first-call resolution is to have higher level agents available immediately, rather than creating a ticker for a follow-up.
Work on Reducing Response Times
Another area to improve upon could be cutting down the response time for calls, emails, or social media response (whichever mediums you currently use). A few practical ways to do this is to assign the ticket (this could be an automated response) and then provide an estimated resolution time for the case number or ticket, or know your typical call volume, arrival patterns, and length, to optimize staffing plans. When there’s a higher call volume than normal, and there’s not enough staff to get to all the calls, consider implementing a hold message that gives the caller an estimated wait time. If customers know what to expect and how long until their call is answered, they will be more understanding of high call volume wait times. Even better is to offer a “call-back” feature to give the customer the choice of being called back instead of having to wait on hold.
Conduct More Surveys
I’ve noticed that surveys are underrated in the customer service environment. Surveys are a great way to get an accurate picture of how your customers view your customer service and it shows you what you are doing right or wrong. When you’re looking for more ways to improve, send out a survey and ask the people on the other end of the line for feedback.
Some questions to ask are:
- Did the help desk resolve your problem?
- Was the help desk prompt and professional in responding to your problem?
- Were you happy with the help desk service you received?
You can always get more detailed than that, but these questions are good starting points to see where your customer service is currently, and which areas to improve upon.
An Overall Great Experience
Providing excellent customer service on a consistent basis requires more than just luck and people answering the phones. It takes knowledgeable agents that can help customers solve any problem across many different channels. It takes providing a unique and customized experience for the customer. It takes knowing your customers. And it takes reducing your response times to be as efficient as possible.
That’s a lot to do and keep track of, but taking it one step at a time and ensuring that you have these items in place helps improve your overall customer service approach, and can lead to happier agents and customers.
Stay tuned for part four in my series! I will be talking about what your customers want, and how you can provide it to them.
Which one of these areas could you incorporate into your customer service?