7 Proven Ways to Improve Customer Service

{In most situations, a customer’s only direct human contact with a company is through its customer service team.

Usually, the customer isn’t happy about something and needs help.

As a result, whether you run a Fortune 100 company or starting a new small business, it’s critical to have great customer service people on your team.

With increasing competition and choice, customers and prospects only offer their loyalty to a company if it gives them good reasons.

Happy and satisfied customers are often long-term customers.

If your company can show that it prioritizes the needs of its consumers, you’ll be way ahead of your competition.

Remember that retaining customers you already have is more efficient, profitable, and impactful than seeking new ones. 

The White House Office of Consumer Affairs found that on average:

  • Loyal customers are worth up to ten times as much as their first initial purchase, and
  • It’s 6 – 7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep a current one.

First impressions matter, and you only get one.

Customer support is almost always the first impression a customer will have with you, and it’s key to make it a priority for your business. Tony Hsieh from Zappos says:

Rather than spend a lot of money on marketing, we take most of the money we would’ve spent on paid advertising and re-invest it in customer experience…We really don’t think that customer service is an expense that you should try to minimize, it’s really an investment in your brand.

There will always be competitors with larger advertising budgets, lower prices, and other gimmicks designed to attract customers. Customers will often find a cheaper product or service with the click of a button or the swipe of a finger. But most customers look for great value, not simply the lowest price. And that’s where customer service can tip the scales your favor.

As we wrote previously:

Your customer’s problems represent a major opportunity for you to build a relationship with them, surprise and delight them, and build a great reputation and engender strong word-of-mouth. How can you do this? It’s simple, really; building great relationships with customers is little different from building relationships with friends. It is a mater of spending time, paying attention, listening and responding. It works the same with customer relations; just like you learn to appreciate your new friends as you spend more time with them and get to know them better, you’ll build lasting connections with your customers, too.

You will nurture increased trust and brand loyalty by providing the best possible customer service. Great customer service can mean the difference between your business thriving or sinking.

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Here are 7 proven customer service tips to help you put smiles on your customers’ faces. 

1. Align your customer service to your customers.

Your customer service must be aligned with your customer’s expectations. John Tschohl recently talked about this alignment of service strategy and expectations:

Why is it so important to understand your different customer groups and tailor an optimal mix and level of service for them? Provide too little service or the wrong kind and customers may switch to the competition. Provide too much service, even the right kind, and your company might price itself out of the market and struggle to balance the books at the end of the year.

Four elements make up a service strategy:

  • Determine the customer segments you want to target,
  • What are the expectations of customers within these segments,
  • What service expectations your competitors may have already established, and
  • What is your strategy for exceeding these expectations?

One way to align your company’s approach to customer service with your customers’ expectations is to make it a part of every employee’s onboarding and training.

Companies with strong customer service cultures make working in customer service a part of every new employee’s onboarding. This way, the entire company has first-hand experience with customers’ issues and feedback, which helps inform decisions across the organization.

2. Go where your customers are.

Customer service is an important part of what we today call customer experience.

Customer experience covers a customer’s entire journey interacting with your company. An effective customer service strategy and a regular customer experience audit can help at every step of that journey.

Whether it’s social media, email, phone, or chat networks like WhatsApp, you want to be where your customers are, and you want to provide a consistently high level of customer service that fits each platform.

If your customers consistently post support questions on your Facebook page, you want someone available to address their issues promptly and effectively.

If you put a chat widget on your website, make sure it’s integrated with your customer service team so questions made there do not vanish in the void.

The days of funneling all your customer services through one narrow channel are over; multichannel customer service is now the law of the land.

Multichannel customer service can be broken into three different forms:

  1. One-to-one: one customer service agent helps one customer at a time (via email, text/video chat, or phone),
  2. One-to-many: one agent helps multiple customers at the same time (via text or video chat, SMS, or through static resources like FAQs and knowledge base posts),
  3. Many-to-many: Multiple agents and customers can interact and help each other simultaneously via methods such as Facebook groups, discussion forums, or Twitter.

All of these can exist at the same time. By leveraging each one effectively, you can help free up your service team’s time to tackle more difficult issues.

For example, you can gather your most common issues into FAQs and knowledge base posts and use many-to-many methods such as Facebook to help customers find the answers they need. Crowdspring offers many FAQs to help our customers.

3. Maximize your customer interactions.

You might experience death by a thousand cuts, but the lifeblood of good customer service is found in a thousand small interactions.

Strengthening your customer service skills doesn’t have to mean a massive reset.

The “Thank You Effect” — always saying thank you when you respond to a customer — is a perfect example of a small action that can grow into a meaningful (and measurable) change for your company.

Before you start looking for these micro-improvements, knowing the places, or touchpoints, where your customers interact with your company is critical.

Creating a customer journey or experience map is one way to establish this.

A great example of a journey map is this one that traces the steps a Starbucks customer can take as they order coffee. It doesn’t just cover the contact points when the customer enters a Starbucks cafe; it also covers them before they leave their home or office and after the purchase. You can use Smaply, a tool to create visual and accessible customer journey maps if you need to create one for your business.

You can see from this journey map the number of touchpoints where customer service can play a role.

By creating your own journey map, you can start to work out places where small (or large) improvements could be made.

Just a few of the improvements you could potentially implement include the following:

  • Create a list of the top 10 “cringe items” to fix.
  • Follow up with a customer after an issue is resolved.
  • Review the analytics for your knowledge base to find the most and least used pages.
  • Redesign your knowledge base home page to highlight the most used.
  • Send physical thank you notes by mail.
  • Make sure your support team is well-rested and well-fed.
  • Ask your team and customers regularly, “how can we improve?”

4. Surprise your customers.

It’s important to treat your customers like they matter every day, but sometimes doing something special can take a good interaction and turn it into an outstanding one. As Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, said:

We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job everyday to make every important aspect of customer experience a little bit better.

Offering extra special treatment to your customers is a great way to let them know they are valued, and it’s one way of making their customer experience a little (or a lot!) better.

You can offer all kinds of incentives and promotions to keep clients assured of how important they are to you – run a survey with them to get some great ideas as to what they might like the most! They’ll appreciate knowing they were so important to your company that you asked for their input.

If you’re looking for examples of successful companies that have zeroed in on surprising customers with above-and-beyond service, look no further than Zappos.

Zappos customer service touts its amazing support as the foundation of its core values. They’re well known for going above and beyond to please their customers. Senior brand marketing manager Michelle Thomas says:

Our biggest efforts revolve around building likeability around our brand so that consumers turn to a brand that they trust, find reliable, and have an emotional connection with. That’s where service comes in!

Just what kind of service?

It’s pretty remarkable: Zappos sent flowers to a woman purchasing shoes because her feet were damaged from medical treatments. Overnight shipping is par for the course for Zappos, but how about the time they overnighted a free (!) pair of shoes for an unfortunately shoeless best man stranded at an out-of-town wedding?

These kinds of “stunts” aren’t just for publicity with a company like Zappos, and taking to heart their customer-first policy is a surefire way to win hearts (feet?) and earn brand loyalty forever.

5. Be more productive with what you have.

The science is clear: having stressed-out, exhausted employees will suck your business dry. Consider these facts:

  • More than 1/3 of (working) Americans experience chronic work-related stress;
  • 79% are not getting enough sleep; and
  • 69% struggle with concentration because of stress and sleep deprivation.

These issues affect the mental and physical well-being of the American workforce.

They also cost U.S. businesses $300 billion yearly because of lost productivity.

Employee self-care is a growing trend, and for excellent reasons. Encouraging employees to take care of their health results in several benefits for business owners:

  • Reduced absenteeism,
  • Reduced staff turnover,
  • Reduced healthcare costs,
  • Happier employees, and
  • Greater productivity overall.

We’ve written a lot about self-care for employees because, at crowdspring, we’re big believers that healthy, happy employees make us better. This is especially true in customer service because your team is often the first real contact consumers will have with your brand. No one wants to ask for help from a cranky, overtired employee!

We recommend keeping you and your employees in top shape in several ways. Exercise, meditation, and making enough time for a good night of sleep are all excellent starting points to get the most out of your team.

6. Invest for the long term.

To make your business succeed, you have to keep long-term relationships in mind. That means you need to cater to your customers’ needs. Trust, accessibility, and community are all cornerstones of thriving business/consumer relationships, and you’ll want to ensure you’re addressing each when trying to evaluate what your customers need.

The best way to do this is to make lasting relationships a key part of your business plan. This can differentiate you from competitors and build customer loyalty.

The first step in creating lasting relationships with your consumers is to be sure you are fully meeting their needs. Assigning members of your customer service team to specific customers so they can build a relationship is a great way to do this. Having a dedicated touch-point builds trust, and trust fosters strong loyalty. Feeling like you have access to one person also improves your customer’s feelings that they have access to you in a personal, reliable way.

And remember that the best customer service teams are empathetic, not merely sympathetic. There’s a difference between empathy and sympathy, which is important. As we explained:

Most customer service teams respond to customers with sympathy. A sympathetic response could be: “I’m also unhappy with the way that product works.”

Sympathy is rarely an ideal response to a customer’s problem. Instead, show empathy. Empathy allows to you be professional and caring at the same time. It also allows you to avoid becoming emotionally involved (like when you show sympathy).

Think about it this way: when you’re sympathetic, you simply feel badly for someone. Sympathy doesn’t communicate to a customer that you understand WHY they feel the way they feel – it only allows you to communicate that you understand their problem. A typical response – “I’m sorry” – is insufficient to solve a customer’s problem. You must do more.

On the other hand, empathy communicates that you not only understand the customer’s problem, but also that you can relate it to something you yourself have experienced.

And don’t forget to provide your customers with a physical address. Knowing that your company has a real, live address is reassuring, builds trust, and reminds them that your company has a legitimacy that others may not have. That kind of trust is invaluable in setting minds at ease about your business’ credibility and accountability.

Creating a community is integral to building a brand with staying power. Treating your customers as important community members will nurture your relationships and help them grow.

You can bring your customers together in many ways, including webinars, an active blog or message forum on your web page, using social media to reach out and stay connected, and appearing at any relevant conventions.

Remember, while your customers come to these forums because they want to learn more about you, the gift goes both ways. Learning about your consumers will ensure you know who they are, what they want, and how to keep them engaged with your brand.

7. Give your customers a way to provide feedback.

Knowing where your service weaknesses are is a great idea so you can remedy them, but sometimes things take you by surprise. If you want to cover all your bases, provide an easy way for customers to give feedback.

There are good ways to allow people to get in touch with you. Any of the following ways are easy, convenient, and inexpensive:

  • A phone survey at the end of a service call,
  • An email survey sent from your CRM tool (Mailchimp has a great tool for this),
  • An active presence on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, where quick responses are critical,
  • A form on the “Contact Us” page of your website.

Whichever of these methods works best for your business, remember that you can’t gauge customer satisfaction without authentic feedback. If you’re experiencing a problem with your satisfaction ratings and are unsure why getting direct feedback might be the answer.

These seven tips will help you improve your customer service and help your business succeed. Putting in the effort to have effective, friendly customer service will make your company shine – and a little extra sparkle could be just what your business needs to take it to the next level.

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