Customer Service and a Culture of Helping

“Thanks for contacting us with your question.  We’ll reply within 3 business days.”

When people discuss the “helping” careers, they are usually referring to honorable fields such as social work, teaching, and psychotherapy. Rarely does selling shoes come into the mix. Yet Zappos has built an online empire, growing in little more than a dozen years into one of the largest retailers of shoes in the world. How did they do it? By helping people. Helping people to solve their problems. Helping people to get the best fit. Helping people to use the product. Helping people to make an everyday activity enjoyable, productive, and easy.  Mostly by recognizing that businesses don’t exist just to make a profit, but exist to solve people’s problems.

Many businesses small and large neglect customer service in their business operations. Sadly, responses such as the one above (3 days? Seriously? Just to answer a simple question?) are more the norm than the exception and when a company answers a customer like that they are missing the opportunity to build a relationship, seal a deal, delight a customer, and create positive word of mouth. The trick is to build a company culture that values and celebrates customer service.

Here are 10 things to consider as you build a culture of helping:

1. Make it easy.
Helping your customers every day in every way starts with making it easy for them to reach you. If you have a website, prominently display your phone number, your email address, or a link to a support request form. Use your social media platforms to deliver, and let your followers know that they can always reach you through Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or whatever platforms you prefer. Think of every possible way that someone might want to reach you and do it: install a chat service for those who like to type in real time; have a toll-free phone number (crowdSPRING is 877.887.7442 – put that on your speed dial today!) and extend your phone hours for as long as possible; keep the email address for your customer support simple as pie (; make your webform stupid-simple and so easy a 3rd grader can use it; monitor your Facebook and Twitter so you know immediately if someone contacts you there.

2. Don’t keep ’em waiting.
Is there anything more frustrating than sitting on hold or waiting for a response to your email when you have a problem you really want to solve? It is critical that you respond quickly when someone reaches out. Measure your response time in minutes or hours, not days and you will have gotten off to a good start. Better still, pick up the phone on the 2nd ring, answer that email while it is still hot from the oven, type that chat greeting before the ink is dry and you are on your way to putting a smile on your customer’s face.

3. Make it a part of your fabric.
At crowdSPRING every single member of the team is trained in delivering customer service and everyone is expected to participate. This doesn’t mean that senior managers are answering the phones all day everyday, or that developers are using all of their time in responding to emails. What it means is that everyone on the team has responsibility for doing their share and keeping a finger on the pulse of our users. By doing this we all gain appreciation for the problems customers are having, and share in the pain they feel as well as the delight they experience.

4. How can I help you. And mean it.
This is a message that can be literal (for instance in a phone greeting) or implied. The literal part is easy, the implied is less so, because it is about being proactive. Anticipate your customer’s questions ad work your tail off to reduce the number of problems they might experience. For instance, if your business is web based start today to build a Help Center and get to work writing answers to their FAQs. Then post the most common of those in a way that they can access simply and quickly; remember, every question you anticipate and answer is a ticket or phone call you don’t have to.

5. Let your personality shine.
Let em know who they’re talking to and don’t be afraid to make a personal connection. Start off with the simple stuff: use your name when you answer the phone, post your support team’s photos where people can see them, and always do what you can to learn not just about the issue a customer may be having, but also who they are. Make people feel special by caring about them and understanding that each of them is unique. This can be tricky – sometimes a customer will call and just want to chat it up and shoot the breeze with the agent on the line. These people can eat up a lot of capacity telling you about their kids or their favorite sports team, but remember that this is the cost of doing business –  don’t lost sight of the fact that this is a valued customer (or potentially valuable). But these people also appreciate that they are speaking to a real person, and by taking the time to have that little chat you are letting them know that you care and that you are there.

6. Celebrate the wins and dissect the losses
Like everything else that can be measured statistically support requests will fall into a loverly bell curve: within the normal distribution will fall 80% or more, but at either end of the curve will be the requests that end in a crazy-happy customer or those that end with someone leaving you for the competition. Both of these extremes should be closely focused on. At crowdSPRING we celebrate the biggest wins and the happiest customers by printing out the interaction and posting it in our office on the “door of fame” for all to see and smile upon. When it is a big-time lose, we focus equally intently by taking the time to understand what went wrong and figuring out how to fix it, whether by making a change to our user interface, having a co-Founder make a personal call to the user, or adjusting a policy to address the situation.

7. Track it carefully.
Make sure that you are collecting and analyzing your customer service data. How many emails did you receive last quarter? How many phone calls? What were the topics of each of those? What was the most common problem? Which of your agents has the highest satisfaction rate with customers? These important questions are simple to answer if you are collecting the data and the answers you discover can be incredibly important to how you grow your business, market to your customers, and improve every day.

8. Build it for the most difficult requests.
The easy ones are easy, and can even be fun. But the true test of how good your customer service is will be in how you respond to the angriest, most frustrated of your customers. Your customer service training has to start with 3 key lessons: 1. listen closely to the customer and understand exactly what they are saying, 2. stay off script and never respond like an automaton, and 3. apologize and mean it. The best way to respond to a extreme unhappy customer is by putting yourself in their shoes and truly feeling their pain. If your support system is built to accomplish this and your support team is trained to deal with these folks you will be well on your way to delivering the highest quality support and defusing the angriest customers.

9. They come first. And Second. And Third..
Never ever lose sight of the fact that without the customer, you do not have a business. What does this mean? It means they come first, second, and third in your list of priorities. If you can tend to your customer’s needs, solve their problems, and make buying your product or service as pain free as possible you will know that you’re on the right track.

10. Say please. And thank you. And don’t forget I’m sorry.
Mom always said to be polite, and she meant it. When a customer reaches out to you with a problem, the first thing to say is. “I’m sorry.” Sorry you ran into this issue,; sorry we didn’t communicate more clearly. Remember that from their viewpoint the problem they are having started with you and they deserve an apology for that. But it doesn’t end there. Understanding and solving the problem is paramount – ask questions, do research, dig down into their account. Take the time to make sure you understand the issue and then attack it; problem solving is at the heart of what great customer service is and it is our job to do just that: solve the problem and do it efficiently, intelligently, and politely. At the end of every single interaction, always remember the magic words – say “thank you” to every person who you are in contact with and mean it!

Image: Jane Addams 10¢ stamp, 1940, Wikipedia