In today’s inside sales environment, customer service reps wear many hats. Often a blend between pure customer service, where reps take inbound calls from existing and potential customers, to an order taking role where those same reps also take inbound customer orders, all the way to being tasked with proactive up-selling or prospecting into existing accounts, today’s customer service reps have to be adept at handling a number of customer interactions. Across these varying job descriptions, one thing remains constant: giving customers an outstanding experience. But how do we get them to do this?
The problem with most training
While training is crucial to the development of a customer service team, and to the overall experience a customer service rep delivers, the majority of conventional training falls short. Most customer service training is ‘top end’ heavy and focused on product education and services training, often neglecting the fundamentals of the customer interface experience. Companies tend to take for granted that reps should know intuitively how to make the customer feel welcomed and cared for, but, as many of us know who have had to call in to our cell phone company or cable TV company, these fundamental, common sense courtesies are anything but common sense intuitive skills.
The solution is in proper training and measuring consistency
In order to develop a customer service team that consistently delivers exceptional customer service, we like to start with a definition of customer service and then break this down into training areas we consider to be fundamental to creating a great customer service team. Our definition:
Customer Service is defined as how well a company is able to consistently exceed the needs of the customer.
We then break this down into what we believe are the fundamental elements to effective customer service training:
• “Is able to” = Customer Service is a set of skills that can be learned.
• “Consistently” – Great Customer Service means doing it all the time (Not just when you feel like it).
• “Exceeds the needs” – Wowing the customer, not just giving them satisfaction.
• “The customer” – Great Customer Service treats the customer as an individual, rather than as a group or company.
In addition to fundamental training, follow up mentoring, coaching and measuring adherence to a set of best practices are also essential for the development, integration and delivery of a ‘GREAT’ customer service experience.
7 Secrets to GREAT Customer Service
While many elements make up an effective customer service training program, here are 7 Secrets we use as a base to introduce customer service reps to the fundamentals of delivering a great customer experience:
Secret #1: Consistency is the secret to great customer service
Think about where you consistently receive GREAT customer service. How about a high end department store like Nordstrom? Or a luxury hotel like the Ritz Carlton chain. How about your local retail shop, coffee shop or favorite restaurant? If you were to choose one word to describe what makes these experiences great, wouldn’t it be consistency of experience?
All customers have a baseline expectation they expect to be fulfilled on every interaction with your company. Consistency of a positive experience creates feelings of predictability, trust and feelings of security (your customers know you’ll be there for them and that they will be taken care of). The more consistently you’re able to meet and exceed your customer’s expectations, the more they will want to do business with you and recommend you.
Consistency of experience is the first Step to GREAT customer service.
Secret #2: Personality is more important than knowledge
Whenever a customer service rep picks up the phone, you immediately know whether you are in good hands or not, don’t you? Their tone and attitude projects what kind of experience you’re going to have. And which customer service rep would you rather speak to:
1: A customer service rep who knows everything but who is not friendly, or
2: A customer service rep who is warm & friendly and willing to help you and will find the answers you need?
As customers, we would rather speak to a friendly, helpful customer service rep whose attitude is: “Would you mind holding a moment while I find the right person for you to speak with?” rather than with a rep whose tone is unfriendly or disinterested. In customer service: Attitude trumps knowledge.
How do you get your personality across the phone? In one word: Smiling. People can hear it in your voice when you’re smiling, and they can hear it when you’re not. The secret of pushing your personality across the phone is to “Never stop smiling.”
If one of our customers comes into the store without a smile, I’ll give them one of mine. -Sam Walton (founder of Wal-Mart)
Secret #3: It’s O.K. to make the occasional mistake or not have all the answers.
Too many customer service reps feel like they have to have all the answers and are afraid to make the occasional mistake. And when they do make a mistake, they tend to defend or deny they were wrong. Both are incorrect.
The true is, we don’t have all the answers all the time and we are going to make mistakes or give out incorrect answers occasionally. The key is how you handy this. What to do when you make a mistake:
Admit it. Denying it only makes it worse….
“You know I think I may have given you the wrong (part #, extension, etc.). Let me try that again, please.”
“I’m truly sorry for that.” “I apologize for that.” “That was my mistake…”
Offer to try to help them again or to re-do what just went wrong.
“Would it be O.K. if I tried that again?”
Thank them for their patience…
“I want to thank you for your patience with this…”
Secret #4: Prevent a customer who is having a problem from becoming a problem customer
Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. – Bill Gates of Microsoft
A big part of a customer service rep’s job is to handle customers who are having a problem. From a company stand point, the key to dealing with these customers successfully is to prevent a customer who is having a problem from becoming a problem customer.
Here’s how you create a problem customer:
• You don’t acknowledge their problem or urgency of situation
• You don’t empathize with them
• You pass them off to voice mail
• You don’t update them on the solution
The key to preventing problems from escalating? In a word: Be proactive.
Proactive steps to follow:
• Acknowledge the problem
• Empathize with the customer
• Clearly lay out the next steps for the customer
• Regular contact with the customer in need of service
• Update them on the progress of the solution
• Check back to make sure the problem is solved to their satisfaction
Secret #5:: Focus on building a relationship rather than making a transaction
What would you say is the most important aspect of any relationship? We believe that trust is essential to developing an atmosphere of caring and competent support. And how do you build that? By consistently & courteously guiding your customer through every step of your interaction with them. Starting with:
Make your customer feel welcomed with a warm opening:
“Thank you for calling (Your Company) today”
“It’s a great day at (Your Company) …”
“Good afternoon, this is (Your Name) with (Your Company), how can I help you today?”
Continue this in: The Middle of Conversation
After your customer has stated their problem or the reason for the call, reply with:
“I can help you with that.”
“I’ll be happy to help you with that.”
“That’s something I can take care of for you.
And End by: Leaving your customers with a smile
“Thank you for calling us today.”
“Thanks for calling and you have a great day.”
“We appreciate your business and have a great day.”
“If there is anything else we can do for you, just give us a call.”
Always do more than is required of you. -George S. Patton
Secret #6: Courtesy is the #1 tool of every customer service rep
How do you feel when someone lets you in the lane in front of them in traffic? Or how about when someone holds the door open for you at the market, or lets you in front of them when you have just a few items? Probably pretty good. And that’s how every customer service experience should make you feel as well. Being courteous and polite are the most important tools to becoming a great customer service rep!
Your Top Courtesy phrases:
“I’ll be happy to help you…”
“Would it be O.K. if I put you on hold?”
“Thank you very much for your patience.”
“Could you please hold while I check that for you?”
“Thank you for calling us today!”
And the Key to using them effectively is Consistently!
Secret #7: Make Every Customer Experience a WIN
How would your customers describe their experiences with your customer service team today?
Would they feel underwhelmed, dissatisfied, satisfied, happy they called, or ‘this call was a WIN!’
The goal of all customer service training should be to get your team to consistently deliver the kind of customer service that will keep your customers coming back and recommending your services. Here’s how to Create a WIN:
• Be consistently courteous
• Make your customers feel welcomed
• Listen to and respond appropriately to their problem/request
• Present the solution and get their buy in
• Go the extra mile
• Make them feel special at the end of the call
There are no traffic jams along the extra mile. -Roger Staubach
As we mentioned at the beginning of this white paper, great customer service is a culmination of a set of skills that can be learned and measured. It starts with the proper training of these fundamental skills and then coaching their use on a consistent basis. The good news is that once these skills are internalized and become habits, these habits will then take over and the result will be the kind of consistent customer experience our customers expect and deserve.