Today’s article is a guest post from Gregory Ciotti of Help Scout. 

As you well know, having lackluster customer service is a surefire way to get passed over by the demanding customer of today.

The question then becomes, what actually makes customer service truly memorable?

Each experience is different from the next, but there are some iron-clad rules of great service that every support team should put in place.

Below, I’ll outline 8 proven laws of outstanding support that your company should apply today.

1. Default to “Yes”
Although not every customer request can be completed, the truth is that most requests from customers are very reasonable. That is why you should always default to saying ‘Yes’, or as Bob Farrell would say, “Give them the pickle!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISJ1V8vBiiI

The expression comes from a disappointing letter Bob received from a customer when they couldn’t get an extra pickle for their hamburger. At Help Scout, we call these “frugal WOWs,” or small instances of going the extra mile that should always be done for customers, with no questions asked and with no red tape to slow things down.

Giving little unexpected extras (G.L.U.E) is the key to long term success with customer service, because as L.L. Bean CEO Chris McComick would say:

A lot of people have fancy things to say about customer service, but it’s just a day-in, day-out, ongoing, never-ending, persevering, compassionate kind of activity.

2. Pick a Winning Platform
In a recent article, I outlined why I believe Help Scout has been able to achieve our initial success: because we “Work on our weaknesses, but compete with our strengths.”

This sort of thinking also applies to customer service, especially when it comes to selecting which medium you’ll choose to ‘WOW’ customers. Wistia is a company that is known for great service, and when they announced that they would remove their phone number from their homepage, I was curious as to why.

The answer was that they could provide even better care for their customers by utilizing the support channel they were best at (which was email).

A small team like ours simply couldn’t keep up with the volume of phone calls received (we only have 3 phone lines!). Without a change, the legendary support we had become known for would cease to be a reality. The system was simply not scalable.

While live chat may be of paramount importance for folks like hosting companies, you need to determine what medium is best for you and your customers and optimize for that experience.

3. Worry About Quality Over Speed
Multiple studies have shown that when it comes to service, customers care more about your company’s ability to get things right the first time around. In other words, “slowing down” service to provide attentive, competent care is the right way to go.

Derek Sivers of CDBaby would encourage staff to take a few minutes to look up information about customers when interacting with them. This allowed his team to better connect with the musicians and music aficionados that they regularly served.

This thinking even applies when customers are upset. Sure, speed is still important, but research from Lee Resources showcases how ‘first contact resolution’ is much more important than ticket time: 95% of complaining customers will continue to do business with you if you resolve their problem the first time around.

As business analyst William J. McEwen, Ph.D would so humorously put it:

What builds a stronger tie to Arby’s may not be whether a customer receives a sandwich in less than three minutes. Speed won’t compensate for a cold, tasteless sandwich or for rude and incompetent service.

4. Focus on Social Sensitivity
Recently, I spoke with Chase Clemons of 37Signals on training for customer service, and he emphasized that it’s all about “soft skills” (or social sensitivity) over protocol.

In short, most customers who reach out to your support staff are doing so because something is wrong. Since your team isn’t necessarily directly responsible for their issue (a late shipment, etc.), it’s important to remember that empathy and attentive treatment is what most customers are really looking for.

That means saying “I’m sorry” to upset customers, even if it isn’t your fault. Your apology to the customer is because the experience wasn’t up to their expectations, not necessarily because you are to blame.

That is the essence of cultivating social sensitivity among your support team–be more concerned with how reps perceive, empathize, and interact with customers, because the technical details (“learning the ropes”) will come with time, but social sensitivity needs to be a priority from day 1.

5. Always Use Positive Language
It’s tough to inform a customer that you simply cannot do something for them, but there is a way you can lessen the sting of saying ‘No’, and that’s by using positive language.

Here’s an example: let’s say a customer contacts you with interest in a particular product, but that product happens to be back-ordered until next month.

  • Without positive language: “I can’t get you that product until next month; it is back-ordered and unavailable at this time.”
  • With positive language: “That product will actually be available next month. I can place the order for you right now and make sure that it is sent to you as soon as it reaches our warehouse!”

Eschewing negative phrases (“I can’t…”) places emphasis on the solution, which is what the customer actually cares about.

Try to consistently utilize this style of communication throughout your contact with customers, and remind your support champions to do the same.

6. Close With Customers
One of the most underrated skills that a service rep can have is their ability to “close” with customers. Considering that the average business hears from only 4% of its dissatisfied customers, you have to imagine that many of these missed opportunities are after interacting with reps (and not finding satisfaction).

Your willingness to ensure that a customer is really leaving happy shows them three important things:

  1. You care about getting it right.
  2. You’re willing to keep going until you get it right.
  3. The customer is the one who determines what “right” is.

It’s important to implement ‘closing’ conversational techniques like the following:

I’m glad we were able to get that sorted out for you! Before you go, was there anything else I could assist you with today? I’m happy to help!

7. Give Credence to Each Customer
Much of your feedback from customers, though made with good intentions, will not be implemented when building your product.

That said, although internal innovation is important in turning your product into a ‘must-have’, it’s still important to listen to customer feedback.

According to research from MIT’s Eric von Hippel, customers do play an integral role in many successful innovations:

  1. In a study of 1,193 commercially successful innovations across nine industries, 737 (60%) came from customers
  2. User-created innovations have been successfully utilized to turn around “innovative slump periods”

He cites the huge role that customers played in turning around 3M back in the early 90s:

Lead-user innovations achieved average revenue of $146 million dollars in their fifth year, compared with $18 million for internally generated innovations.

So always remember to collect customer feedback and include your customer’s thoughts in your planning. Customers are often great for telling you about what you’re doing wrong, so that you can decide what you should do next.

8. Help Customers Be Better
The ‘hype’ around content marketing is that brands are now able to truly create relationships with customers by providing them with information relevant to their interests.

Content goes beyond traditional service by proactively helping customers get better at what they do. When you help customers better themselves, they are less concerned about price and won’t “date around” with the competition.

In short, to use content as customer service you must do the following: educate and motivate.

On the Help Scout blog, we constantly give advice about providing better customer service. By helping potential customers improve their service, we increase the likelihood that they’ll choose Help Scout for their email support needs.

KISSmetrics is able to sell their analytics software so easily because they constantly help startups and eCommerce stores with their marketing woes on their exceptional blog.

So don’t only provide reactive service to customers, get proactive with content and use your company blog to help customers be the best that they can be. You’ll be rewarded with a loyal community of readers who are happy to promote your product.

Your Turn
What additional rule(s) to you live by in order to provide outstanding service to your customers? Let us know by leaving a comment!

About the Author: Gregory Ciotti is the marketing strategist at Help Scout, the invisible help desk software for small business owners who love their customers. Get more data and insights on customer service from the Help Scout blog.

 

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