Tips for excellent customer service.

When it comes to driving profits, sales is the obvious front-runner. If you’re not consistently converting leads into customers, then that’s certainly your number one problem. But once you’ve got them, you have to keep them. The way to keep customers coming back again and again isn’t just with a great product. You must also create a great experience for your customers – and it’s excellent customer service that steps in to ensure that, especially when a problem crops up. This seems like an elementary concept, but as Board of Experts member, Vanessa Nornberg, recently wrote about in her Inc. magazine column, the number of times that she left an encounter with a company feeling frustrated and like her issue was unresolved was beyond counting. She spotted a pattern with all of these instances of poor customer service.

“In each case, there seem to be telltale signs or phrases used that indicate that not only did the person I was talking to on the other end of the phone not know how to help me, but also that the company itself had a problem with these three issues: clarity, training, and empowerment.”

Vanessa took the time to break down each issue and reflect on how poor attention to these factors lead to substandard customer service and, almost assuredly, lost dollars. Here are the don’ts of customer service, and what you can do instead to create a stellar customer experience team.

  1. Clarity – “If your reps are repeating, they aren’t listening. If they aren’t listening, they will never get clarity, and clarity is key to coming up with viable resolution.” Vanessa isn’t a big fan of the playback approach, where the rep repeats back almost verbatim what the customer has said. Instead, she encourages a listen and follow-up approach that, I agree, sounds more natural and encourages understanding – a key factor in assisting your customer through their issue.
  2. Training – When a CS rep says that she’s “going to escalate” an issue, Vanessa points out “that you either have employees on the frontlines who aren’t trained on their products or processes, or that you have too much hierarchy and not enough knowledge flow.” The solution is to transfer responsibility to the customer service rep to resolve the customer’s issue, ensuring that your hierarchy understands that they must be a resource for knowledge while the CS rep is learning. This way, knowledge flows in the right direction, and the need to “escalate” disappears.
  3. Empowerment – Saying something like, “There’s nothing I can do,” is the kiss of death. It’s the easiest way to lose a customer who otherwise might’ve remained loyal. Vanessa encourages a “common sense” approach instead, where customer service reps put themselves in the customer’s shoes: “If a service rep is asked to think about the customer’s problem as if it is her own, rather than an abstract issue that should be covered in a manual, chances are good that she will figure out how to help.” There’s no doubt that hierarchy comes into play here as well. After all, if you create a toothless customer service team with no power to act, then they simply won’t be able to (See step 2 above). Striking a balance between the power to act and a good working knowledge of how to solve problems without breaking the company’s wallet ensures that your CS reps learn “how to find the most beneficial, but least resource-intensive solution.”

For more on employee empowerment, check out how Birthing of Giants Fellow Chip Mok is pioneering a meritocratic company, and how Board of Experts member, Bill Roark, created a 100% employee owned company worth over $350 million!

“As the leader of your company, you have the power to change the dialogue your service reps have with your clients.”

How knowledgeable and empowered your customer service team is when a problem arises will dictate whether you have happy customers who spread the word about your great product AND service, or unhappy customers who’ll do the opposite.

You can read Vanessa’s article in its original form at Inc. Magazine’s website.