When it comes to customer service, you want to avoid settling for average. Even "good customer service" should be the first benchmark to clear, not the end goal.
Every successful company should strive for ideal customer relationships—and continue to do so for the entire life of the business. Here are a few ideas on how to improve customer service.
Defining Customer Service
What exactly is customer service? Simply put, it's the practice of providing support and assistance to all existing and potential customers.
Customer service is essential to the life force of your business. It's one thing to punch numbers into an accounting system or to count money at the end of the day, but maintaining strong relationships with the people responsible for your livelihood requires a different set of skills.
The in-person experience is a major factor, but depending on the nature of your business, other customer service branches might be just as important. Communicating with people over the phone, via email, or social media is often necessary. Your representatives should be skilled at handling whichever tasks are required of them.
Why It's Important
It goes without saying that customer service should be a cornerstone of your business. You're trying to attract customers and retain existing ones, after all. But if that concept seems too abstract, know that hard data is available that bears it out.
Researchers who have spent years gathering this information have come up with the following statistics:
- 94 percent of customers who have a great experience with a business are highly likely to return for repeat business in the future.
- 90 percent of consumers believe that customer service is an important factor when it comes to choosing a certain brand.
- 89 percent of consumers will only return to a business if they have a good customer service experience.
- 78 percent of customers are willing and likely to forgive a company for an error as long as they are provided with remarkable customer service.
- More than half of consumers have had higher customer service standards since the inception of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Top Ways to Improve Customer Service
Now that you know why you should work on improving your customer service strategy, let's find out how to go about it. Whether you're a business owner, manager, or sales representative, you will surely benefit from the following tips and guidelines.
Understand the Customer
If you want to know how to improve customer service, you must first understand who your customers are and what they care about. Many customer service teams overlook this key point: The better you know the customers, the better you'll be able to serve them.
At your next meeting or live chat, consider bringing up these key questions:
- What do we know about our current customers?
- How helpful is this information, and is there any other knowledge we might obtain that could help us better match their needs?
- Are there any long-serving team members who have insight into our customers? What details do they have to share with us?
- What methods do we have for storing this information? Is it compliant with current security practices?
- What tools do we have to help us capture and store this information, and how might we improve on this?
Set and Enforce Clear Standards
These standards should be basic and easy to grasp, but they must be understood by all your team members. You can even invite employees to cultivate the list themselves so they'll feel more engaged and motivated.
Provide examples of the type of language you'd like to promote when dealing with customers. Create a main customer contact point so that the consumer will know whom to ask for when they're seeking assistance. Even something as simple as a poster in the break room reminding people to smile when interacting with customers can act as a good starting point.
It's also a good idea to set timescales, such as answering the phone before it's had a chance to ring more than three times. Your own list will depend on the nature of your business and the services offered.
Promote Customer Feedback
Encourage your customers to share their thoughts about the company. This will foster stronger relationships and clear communication, making customers feel like part of the family.
There are several ways to invite customer feedback. For one, you might provide the opportunity to review your services and products online. As a bonus, these testimonials will give potential customers a better idea of what to expect.
You can also provide forms or surveys for in-person visits, with incentives offered for participation. For example, customers who complete the survey on this visit will be eligible for a discount on a return visit. Keep the forms short and sweet—you don't want to overwhelm them with a survey that takes a long time to complete.
Collecting customer feedback and using the information can improve your customer service relations and stand out from the competition.
Aim to Exceed Expectations
Remember—you don't just want to satisfy the customer; you want to provide an experience they'll tell their friends and family about. Exceeding their expectations and delighting them with your attention to detail is the best way to build your customer base.
In addition to meeting their basic needs, recognize that your customers aren't just dollar signs on a spreadsheet—they're real people. Recognize their loyalty by offering rewards programs or birthday clubs. Keep records of their past transactions, so you might be able to anticipate their needs in the future. These small steps will go a long way toward earning repeat business and lifelong customer loyalty.
Know Your Products
Each customer service agent should have a deep knowledge of the services and products offered by the company. This will give you the added benefit of learning how to increase sales from existing customers.
During your onboarding process, employees should spend time talking to product specialists and their own managers, so they can ask any questions about the items and how they work. This will give them a more layered background, allowing them to troubleshoot independently.
Admit to Mistakes
Customer service representatives need to admit to and learn from their mistakes if you want them to know how to improve customer service. Accidents happen, and if there were a misunderstanding or error on your part that resulted in time or money lost for the consumer, you'd need to own up to it.
Admitting to mistakes is often difficult, particularly in a professional setting. But transparency is the only way to go. Even if the error in question was the fault of the company as a whole and not you personally, your honesty and humility should help to resolve the matter quickly and positively.
Once the issue has been resolved, ask yourself what went wrong and if there's any way it could have been avoided. The answers will help you learn from the situation and hone your skills in customer service.
Keep it Simple
Have you ever heard of something called "the curse of knowledge"? Essentially, it means that the more we know about a subject, the harder it is to teach it. That's because we assume that others will have the necessary background to grasp the basics.
This might come up less often when dealing with customers in real-time, but it's critical if you frequently communicate via email or social media. Look over your messages to ensure you've been as clear and concise as possible while using positive language.
If you've referenced a product or service that has yet to come up in the communication, clarify by explaining what it is. You'll save time and demonstrate your knowledge and competence all at once.
The Bottom Line
No matter where you are in your business, you can always continue developing good customer service skills. Your product or service might be the best one on the market, but it will only go so far without great customer service to back it up. For more ideas on how to improve customer service, check out the E-Marketing Associates’ blog, and subscribe to our small business newsletter.