The Keys to Great Customer Service, Part 3: People & Personalization

Having the right people in place and creating opportunities for personalization are key to providing excellent customer service on a consistent basis.

Articles published October 30, 2017

In part two of my series on great customer service, I discussed the differences between good and bad customer service and how they can impact your organization in a variety of ways. That knowledge is an essential foundation for part three of this series, which focuses on the qualities of great customer service and the practical steps you can implement in your organization to ensure you’re delivering the best experience possible.

What Makes Great Customer Service?

It’s easy for a company to say that you have great service, yet Lee Resources found that while 80 percent of companies say they produce exceptional service, only 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. The Gladly Customer Service Expectations survey revealed that a high-quality customer service and personalization are two of the factors that consumers value most when it comes to the customer experience. 

Think about it: when you have high-quality service reps in the right place giving customers the right answers, that should improve the customer experience. 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

A high-quality customer experience starts with hiring the right kind of person. Competent agents that naturally exhibit certain characteristics, paired with the right training and support from upper management, can go a long way towards improving the customer experience. Here are a few qualities to look for in agents that help maximize success and keep customers happy.

Empathy

Empathy might just be the most important quality of all for a service agent to possess. Customers are often calling in with a problem they need solved and an attitude that may be loosely defined as “frustrated at best, angry at worst.” It’s important for your call center agent to come across as sympathetic right off the bat — that starts with being a good listener. The caller needs to feel not like “just another caller,” but a valued customer with a unique problem that is understood by the person on the other end of the line.

The fact that so many customer service agents lack empathy and a personal touch is why customers feel frustrated. Even if their issue is resolved, a lack of empathy leaves customers feeling like they weren’t understood or respected. 

Look to hire people who are genuinely interested in helping others overcome their problems — not just those who want the lowest call time possible.

Communication

While it might seem 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 provide a 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 also seamlessly relay that technical knowledge to the customer in layman’s terms.

Investigation

Solving customer issues is central to providing good customer service. This means having agents who are willing to take the time to investigate customer issues and who know your product well. Sometimes customers don’t ask the most straightforward questions, so agents must be prepared to ask additional clarifying questions to find a satisfying answer. When this happens, take the time to investigate the entire issue, otherwise you could lead the customer down the wrong path.

Patience

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. You want agents who are critical thinkers and convey patience and positivity, even when the person on the other end might be failing at those things. Ultimately, the customer wants to be validated and heard rather than hurried and dismissed. This is where a calm, reassuring, and patient demeanor can go a long way.

Personalization

To personalize your customer service, implement contextual support. Contextual support means knowing your customers by referencing data about them. Depending on your product, that data 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.

Contextual data helps the process go smoother, so the contact center agent isn’t wasting time asking the customer for details they already have. 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 valuable information to have going into a phone call.

Not only will this information help with your customer satisfaction levels, but it can improve customer service interactions 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. All customers have a preferred way of communicating, whether it’s phone, email, or chat. Make sure that you are providing multiple ways for your customers to contact you, and that you are offering the communication channels they desire. Knowing what most of your customers like lets you focus on one or two channels in particular to provide the best experience possible.

Improve Customer Service 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

Data collected by the Ascent Group over 16 years shows a strong correlation between customer satisfaction and first-call resolution. Typically, a company that improves first contact resolution also sees improvement in customer satisfaction. If you struggle with first-call resolution, 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 ticket for follow-up.

Work on Reducing Response Times

Another customer service area to improve upon could be cutting down the response time for calls, emails, or social media responses (whichever mediums you currently use). A few practical ways to do this are 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

Surveys are an underrated tool 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 where you might be able to improve.

An Overall Great Customer 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 where 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?