Productivity & Effectiveness

The art of customer service

By 26/04/2022 July 27th, 2022 No Comments

It doesn’t matter what industry you work in or what role you have; we are all in customer service.

Customer service is the new marketing so why do so many people get it wrong?

Why is customer service so bad in 9 out of 10 organisations? I made that stat up. 62% of you knew that.

Why, when we receive amazing service, are we so surprised?

  • I worked in one company where the customer support team had a top-ten most hated customers wall chart!
  • I once sent a letter to a well known train company praising the train guard for his kindness and humour. They sent me a standard letter back stating how sorry they were for the incident and gave me £100. Shows how many complaints they get.
  • There is a well known high street herb and supplement store here in the UK where, at their busiest time over lunch, they have the fewest staff on the shop floor. They let queues form and people wait – rather than staff appropriately at the busiest times.
  • There is a famous baked pastry store in the UK where they provide seating inside the shop. By lunch time the seating is covered in flaky pastry and nobody sits there – yet nobody cleans it up? Why?
  • It took me over 42 phone calls and several strongly worded emails before I got the internet service I was paying for.
  • I was in my local supermarket and overheard two shop floor workers being disgusting about their personal conquests at the weekend.
  • There is a local tyre company here in Winchester who have delivery trucks and mobile repair units. It’s like being in a scene from Mad Max when you’re on the road with them. Nutters. Branded nutters.

It seems like every single interaction in a store, on the road or on a call is fraught with poor service. No eye contact, no smiles, no welcome, no solutions first-time etc

We are all in customer service. And, as you’ve guessed it, customer service is an outward display of the competency, communication, training, clarity and care of management.

What follows are some broad ideas I’ve learned building customer service teams.

Hire for the person not the role

I worked with a customor service manager who hired the cheapest people, in the cheapest location possible. She hired from a spreadsheet, took anyone who could do the basics and provided little in the way of training or good management. She saw her customer service quality drop but didn’t really care – she was all about simply dealing with incoming requests quickly – not effectively. She was measuring the wrong thing – and hiring to satisfy this wrong number.

She missed the most strategic thing a manager can do – hire well.

You cannot have great customer experience, without a great employee experience.

Instead, hire for the right people. Hire people who are positive. Who care. Who are nice people who are competent at what they do.

Then treat them well. This whole blog is focused on that very aspect – being a good manager and creating teams and companies that are great places to work.

Great customer service comes from a great product or service

The best way to provide outstanding customer service is to start with an outstanding product or service in the first place.

If you have a poor product or service expect lots of customers to contact, complain and return items.

This same customer service exec I worked with, pulled some reports one day. She stated that she had solved more cases than ever before and everyone lapped it up. Particularly the execs. She was given a bonus, everyone smilled – yet the cases kept coming in. More and more each day.

When I dug in to the data I discovered it was my very own development team generating many of the cases along with poorly designed products, (and plenty of second time calls – as people hadn’t had their first call resolved).

If you work with customer data, look for patterns.

Look for the frequency of similar issues, look at the impact they are creating and look at the root cause.

In this particular situation we had some software where people needed to log in. We hadn’t built in any self-service for those who forget their log in details – so they needed to contact the customer support desk if they got locked out. As more customers were using the software, more people forgot their details, more calls were generated.

The customer service exec solved this by throwing more people at the problem. And she could justify this by showing how more people could solve more cases. True. Like I said, the other execs lapped this nonsense up.

But what if we took away the root cause of the calls in the first place?

By adding a simple self-serve password-reset to our product we removed 65% of all support calls. By improving various aspects of the product we removed a further 5%.

The data is there. Anyone on the front line has huge swathes of data from customers. Study the data, then fix the problems.

What causes customer complaints and unhappiness?

Sales people selling stuff you don’t have. Poor product implementations and delivery. Services that don’t serve as expected. Bad code being deployed with little governance. Mis-sold outcomes. Poor staff training. Low quality products and services.

They all cause a knock on effect somewhere – and that is usually in customer support.

The most cost-effective way to improve the customer experience is to improve the product or service.

Improve the process from the customer’s perspective

Staple yourself to work and follow it through the customer service process. When a customer does need to get in touch, how effective are you at dealing with that request? How smoothly, quickly and effectively do you deal with customers?

Do you get it resolved first time? Or does it take several people and several days to get it done?

Measure it by stapling yourself to a customer case and joining it on it’s  journey. Follow a few cases/requests, map them out, then get to work making it better for the customer, not for internal reports, execs with opinions nor what makes your life easy in the business – but from the customer’s perspective. Unhappy customers increase costs.

Treat people like people

Hire good people for the front-line and let them make decisions to support the customer.

Exceptional customer service is just that – exceptional. It’s not standard. It’s tempting to codify the call process, script the responses and make it standard, after all it’s quicker and cheaper to do this and hire low quality people, but all you’ve done there is make the customer conform to your business rules – and not the business twist to support your valuable customers.

Customers keep a business alive. And customer demand comes in various shapes and sizes. This variety is what makes customer service so exciting, yet many companies remove this excitement and treat everyone as the same. Exceptional customer service requires you to treat customers as exceptional people.

Don’t use posters, banners, mantras and handbooks

Role model what great looks like and ensure you’re looking for ways to constantly make it easier and more enjoyable for people to support the customer.

Don’t replace good management, good role modelling, good improvements and good employee experience with pointless posters, banners, mantras and handbooks. Role model it.

And don’t talk crap about your customers 🙂

Don’t throw money at the problem of customer service

Too much money can stifle creativity and bring in a reliance on expensive techsolutions to solve what are basically human interactions. Too much money will lead you to a posh CRM system that is full of dross within a month. Or an expensive self-service system that frustrates your customer (and results in increased attrition or more calls).

Solve customer service issues with creativity, dilligence, care and attention – all of which are human qualities – hence, find employees who care, treat them well and let them improve every aspect of their working environment.

I can’t say it enough – you cannot have a great customer experience without a great employee experience.

People want to work in an environment of co-operation

Find levers to achieve this. Study, observe, optimise, experiment, help people. These are all ways to aid co-operation.

But one of the biggest things you can do is find out who needs to be involved in solving issues for the customer or supporting them. And when you do this it’s likely this customer demand work crosses functional boundaries. Study what these are and ensure everyone involved knows it’s their job to support the customer – and set cross team goals around this.

For example, in a tech company when a customer phones up to report something not working, it typically requires a combination of customer support and tech development to solve some of these issues. When there is no goal or working arrangement it can become a case of passing customer issues across a fence. Instead, ensure, like in this example, that Dev are primed and expected to support the customer at all times, not just when a case hits their queue and they get round to it. Even better, put those who can solve the cases first-time on the first-line support…..

Role model cooperation, demonstrate that learning is constant and show people how to mistakes.

Let people take whatever time they need with the customer feel exceptional

One of the worst things you can do for front line staff is curtail how much time they spend with the customer . The customer will notice that.

And with that – I hope you go forth and build great customer service.

And if you can suffer any more of my writing – you may find this Blazingly Simple Guide to Building a Support Team helpful.

Until next time.
Rob..