Customer Service 101 - Part 2: 7 Practical Ways To Improve Customer Service
When customer service methods are implemented successfully in a business, it does more than make customers happy. In fact, there is a solid correlation between customer satisfaction and a company's bottom line.
However, adequate customer service doesn't simply happen for a new business without some effort. Instead, it requires a honing of specific technical skills. It's not difficult, but it does take time and intention to become a great customer service provider.
No matter where you are in your eCommerce entrepreneurial journey, there are steps you can focus on to become more proficient in providing above-average customer support. Let's discuss seven practical skills that lay the groundwork to improve customer service.
1. Thorough Knowledge of Your Product
A merchant who lacks familiarity with his product is like a singer who forgets the lyrics to a song on stage. In the same manner, a business owner loses credibility and respect in the eyes of a customer if they cannot accurately provide assistance for a product or service they represent. In fact, there are few things more irritable to a customer than inquiring about a product and receiving an incomplete or nonsensical response.
Therefore, it is essential that you and your staff have a thorough knowledge of your products and services. This should be the case with all employees, even if their contact with customers is minor. Strive to teach your employees:
- What your product is
- How your product is used
- Why your product benefits customers
- How customers can implement your product in their lives
- Special care or assembly details of your product, if applicable
A knowledgable staff member is better equipped to handle customer inquiries and issues with ease. Build on this foundation by periodically providing new training in order to always keep improving customer service.
2. Use of Positive Language
Learning to use positive language doesn't mean adopting an artificially optimistic voice. Instead, it refers to phrasing statements and questions in a positive way, thus avoiding a negative customer reaction. When contacting you with an issue, clients don't want to hear what you cannot do for them. They want to know what you can and will do to solve the problem at hand.
It only takes a few, simple adjustments to learn to implement a solution-focused conversation style. For example, making accusatory statements can quickly heighten customer dissatisfaction and increase tensions. Instead, consider you and the customer as a collective team, working together to find a solution. For example, saying, "You said..." insinuates blame and responsibility. Alternatively, "We previously spoke about..." establishes a record of past communication, but doesn't sound like a finger-pointing lecture follows.
"You need to..." is another negative expression that should be rephrased. This straightforward wording places the burden on a customer, making them feel as if it is their responsibility to fix the problem. Instead, use remarks such as, "Can I suggest that you..." or, "Let's take a look at..." to invite them to collaborate with you on a solution.
3. Appropriate Situational Tone
When it comes to proper business communication, there are two important components to keep in mind: the voice and tone of your company. Though similar in theory, the two differ in practice. The voice of a company is comprised of a selection of words, attitudes, and values that create a uniform style for your brand. The tone is a representation of the company's voice that varies depending on the circumstances.
While the voice of a company generally remains consistent, your tone should adjust appropriately to the context of a situation. Additionally, endeavor to use a tone similar to the customer with whom you are communicating, especially if he or she has a unique conversational style. Consider voice as your brand's foundation of core characteristics. Then, the tone should adjust appropriately based on the customer's reason for contact.
For example, perhaps the representation of your brand is enthusiastic, entertaining, and lighthearted. If a customer reaches out with positive feedback, a fun, amusing response could be appropriate per your voice and tone. However, if that same customer contacts you with a complaint, responding in the preceding manner may come across as rude or apathetic.
Instead, stay consistent with voice, but strive to adjust your tone based on the reason for customer contact. Applying a bit of conscious personality mirroring in communicating with customers goes a long way in making them feel understood and taken care of by your company. This is a guaranteed method to improve your customer service and retain clients longer.
4. Straightforward & Clear Responses
Using creative and witty language may represent your brand's personality. However, there is an appropriate time and place for that, as it sometimes comes at a large cost. When communicating with customers, especially in response to service issues, your principal focus needs to be on clarity. Instead of charming customers with clever wordings and phrases, endeavor to utilize language that cannot be easily misunderstood.
Additionally, what is often coined as the 'curse of knowledge' has dangerous results: assuming your customers know everything that you do. Remember, you are likely an expert in your field. However, your customers may not be so familiar with your product, regulations, services, or website. For that reason, treat customers with dignity, but do not assume that they know everything. Avoid speaking in a condescending manner, but explain things clearly and in sufficient detail.
Improve customer service by putting these helpful tips to practice:
- Use simpler wording that your customers commonly understand.
- Offer enough detail without adding unnecessary, distracting, or irrelevant commentary.
- Phrase directions in a step-by-step manner, with specifics when necessary.
- Format your written message for clarity, including boldface type, bullet points, numbered lists, and line breaks where grammatically appropriate.
- Before sending, proofread any written correspondence for potentially confusing typos.
- Ask for clarification before assuming, if you are unsure as to what a customer needs.
Customers reach out to you when they have an issue. By streamlining the communication and reducing confusion, you can resolve issues more effectively and provide better customer service for your clients.
5. Proactive Customer Support
Customers quickly sense if a company representative is showing passive or active support in response to an issue. Empathy, for example, is a good first step when a customer approaches with a complaint, but it doesn't actually solve anything. A quick apology, if not followed closely with affirmative action, appears uncaring and blasé. Instead, actively pursue potential solutions, showing your advocacy on behalf of the customer.
First, ask questions to ascertain the full story and pinpoint the true dissatisfaction. Next, analyze all of the possible resolutions, showing the customer throughout the processes exactly what you are doing to help. Explain to them the logical steps you are taking, and share with the customer why a potential fix succeeds or not. Even if an issue cannot be resolved to the customer's contentment, they are more likely to leave with a positive opinion in mind if they are assured you did all that you could to help. Then, if you do arrive on possible solutions, decide with the customer what would be the best way to proceed.
Mitchell Rossit-Lavigne, a support lead on Shopify’s Guru Team said it best:
"Even a sincere apology delivered on its own can often feel like a "dead-end in disguise" to a person who's asking for help. It's important to remember the reason they've reached out for help in the first place is that they've come to a dead-end already. They often aren't sure what their options are for moving forward, or how to decide which option is best.
Following up a sincere apology with [the] next steps is key to navigating tough interactions empathetically. First, this approach acknowledges the complexity of their situation and any emotions they may be feeling. Second (and more importantly), it shifts the focus and tone of the conversation back towards addressing the problem at hand. It builds common ground instead of focusing on how frustrating dealing with said problem may be."
After all, you are trying to build a long-lasting, profitable relationship with all of your customers. Let them know how important they are to you by championing any concerns and actively advocating for solutions.
6. Deliver Frugal Wows
In the business world, a "frugal wow" is an inexpensive yet thoughtful gesture that makes a customer feel appreciated. These often have very little to no monetary value for the customer themselves. However, when someone feels recognized, their sense of loyalty to a brand grows exponentially. Improving in this realm of customer service can lead you to higher customer retention and increased business growth.
Here are some simple examples of frugal wows you can use to impress customers:
- Creative or hand-designed packaging
- Handwritten notes or cards
- Free samples that complement a purchase
- Suprise "post-purchase" discounts
- Short, personalized video messages
- Kind messages or "shout-outs" on social media
As your company grows, ponder how you can provide frugal wows to more of your clientele. Strategically, you should aim to please more customers in small ways, than please a few customers in a major way. After all, a company that provides exceptional customer service in this manner creates a tremendous reservoir of loyalty and positive word-of-mouth marketing - and, that is priceless.
7. Set The Proper Expectations
To improve your company's quality of customer service, it is vital to understand the role played by customer expectations. While meeting a client's expectation creates a positive experience, not following through on a promise does the opposite. Leverage this concept on your website by setting proper points of expectation before your customers can do so.
Utilize the ideas of "under-promising" then "over-delivering." Since unfulfilled expectations negatively impact a customer's perception of your company, a good rule of thumb is to create smaller expectations that you are guaranteed to meet. Then, when your normal business functions exceed these forged expectations, customers are likely to feel "wowed."
Be wary of setting expectations too high in circumstances such as:
- Chat availability. Avoid phrases like "instant" or "24/7" if you are not staffed to fulfill this guarantee.
- Email response times. Sometimes communication via email is instantaneous, while other times it may take hours or days. Eliminate customers' own expectations by setting up an instant automated reply with your realistic response time - and then be sure to stick to it.
- Refund and return policies. Ensure customers have the proper expectations when it comes to refunds or returns by clearly displaying your policies, terms, and conditions. Placing these items where they are easily seen eliminates unfulfilled expectations after a purchase is made.
Set the proper expectations in your business by cautiously considering what you promise, indicate, or even suggest to your customers. Though it may be tempting, resist the urge to make large promises. It is usually better to "under-promise" and fulfill, than "over-promise" and have to deliver bad news.
So consider the expectations you set for clients, striving to leave buyers with a sense that your company fulfills every expectation.
Why Improve Customer Service
Always remember: happy customers stay customers and make customers. In other words, pleasing your current clients through exceptional service and support increases customer retention and word-of-mouth marketing. As customer satisfaction grows, so does your bottom line.
Implement these seven simple tips in your business to improve customer service and sustain the lasting, successful company of which you've always dreamed.