Excellent customer service has become an invaluable source of competitive advantage. It helps turn a bad customer experience into a positive one, boosts customer satisfaction and stimulates word of mouth without requiring large investments.
However, simply hiring a team of friendly people, providing them with some tools and making them knowledgeable about your products or services is not enough.
In order to provide great customer service, you must ensure your staff masters the art of communication. Clarity is paramount to amazing service. But how do you make sure you convey to customers exactly what you mean? How do you ensure your staff understands which style of communication and which tone fit best its current task?
We know it can be difficult to handle communication in a way that is both genuine and helpful. That’s why we crafted this list of 7 customer service tips that we hope will help you develop top-quality communication standards.
1. Speak as your customers do
Using a confusing slang or jargon, or using too many colloquialisms, are some of the most common mistakes we see in customer service. In order to ensure clarity, you and your customers must speak the same language.
However, every customer is different.
Not only customers can have very different personalities, interests, attitudes and behaviors, they can also have different levels of understanding of your products or services.
Depending on which stage of the customer journey they are currently going through, some customers will have basic, common questions, while others might have more complex issues that need to be solved.
You must be able to communicate effectively with all of them. As such, adaptability is essential.
The degree of emotional intelligence of your customer service employees’ is what really makes customer service stand out. Empathy is the key to first-class customer service: when employees can sense the customers’ mood and understand their profile, they can adapt their communication style and figure out the best way to approach their problems.
Big data can help you refine and optimize your efforts as it allows companies to collect tons of information on customers’ behavior and preferences. Data-driven customer service departments can easily find out which is the best approach to deal with certain clients, or which words, style and tone work best to answer some typical inquiries, and let the data guide their behavior.
However, it is important to train customer service representatives to treat customers as actual people with problems to be solved, rather than numbers on a screen. Employees should manage any conversation with any customer in a way that allows them to identify a common ground with the people they help and humanize the relationship. They should be friendly, personable, casual and, most importantly, great listeners.
In the end, the focus should be on the customers’ needs, rather than on their behavior. While this may sometimes require employees to be extremely patient, it will help ensure customer service consistency and effectiveness.
2. Always use positive language
A second common issue concerns the use of passive-aggressive language. This happens when customer service gets defensive and it’s a signal that something is wrong in how you deal with your customers’ problems.
Indeed, the tone and vocabulary used by your staff play an essential role in preventing escalations and avoiding accidental conflicts.
Using a positive language will help you manage the conversation so that both counterparts place their focus on solving the customer’s issue. Usually, when a customer feels the company representatives are competent and truly willing to help them, this helps de-escalate the tension and reduce the odds that customers will be upset.
For instance, when a customer sounds confused, rather than saying “Actually…” and explaining the customer’s problem from the company perspective, customer service representatives should try saying something like "I understand this can be a little tricky".
It is important that customers truly perceive your staff understands them, so employees should always sound collaborative and confident they can solve the customers’ issues.
3. To apologize or not to apologize
Whether you should apologize to your customers for their problems is the Hamletian dilemma of customer service.
Some say companies should always admit their mistakes and apologize when things go wrong in order to build trust and restore confidence. Companies are human organizations, and humans make mistakes, so there is nothing to be ashamed of. Sincerely apologizing shows respect and helps to refocus the customer’s attention.
However, not everyone shares this vision. While it may initially sound counter-intuitive, some customer service experts suggest to avoid apologizing, at least when facing roadblocks that employees have little control over.
Customers just want their problems to be fixed as quickly as possible. They care about the solution, rather than the apology, no matter how sincere employees try to sound. As such, when problems are not easy to solve, repeatedly apologizing might only frustrate customers.
Some will perceive the apologies from customer service representatives as an attempt from the company to disclose and maybe understate its flaws. They will get the impression that employees are not actually in control of the situation.
On the contrary, thanking customers for their patience transmits confidence that the problem can be solved. It’s a much better way to de-escalate the interaction and will help you appear more professional.
4. Know how to open and close a conversation
Customers getting in touch with customer service are usually angry and want their problems to be solved as quickly as possible. Therefore, customer service and support teams must be extremely proficient in opening and closing conversations.
When a customer gets in touch with customer service representatives, making a great first impression is essential. Employees should showcase professionalism, respect and a proactive approach since the very first moment. You can create a script to help least experienced employees while they improve their skills.
Learning how to close a conversation is equally critical. On one hand, you don't want to cut your customers off, as leaving them with unresolved issues can lead to further unnecessary problems. As such, it should be up to the customer to determine whether his/her issues have been solved or not.
On the other hand, you might have several other customers waiting for your help, so you can’t afford to spend too much time answering aimless questions. Once a customer’s problem has been solved, ask if he/she is experiencing other issues and, if not, move on to the next case.
5. Use data to keep your standards high
If you want your customer service department to be a major source of competitive advantage, you must set your standards high.
Your customer department should provide clear, concise and honest responses. Avoid providing misleading information in the hope of achieving a few more sales, as this will only hurt the company in the long-run.
Remember that the duty of customer service is to make customers feel important. Keep response times low and pay attention to details. Simple gestures of hospitality, such as addressing customers by their name, can really impact on the way external stakeholders perceive your organization.
However, while these tips are all valid, if you really want to keep your standards high, you need to embrace big data as soon as possible.
Data analysis is the only way for you to accurately measure the quality of your customer experience and therefore to improve the performance of your customer service. Indeed, data-driven companies usually develop a much deeper understanding of their customers and use that information to guarantee optimum customer experience at all stages of the customer journey.
Ask customer service representatives to create a scorecard so they can regularly review and grade the emails and phone calls they handle. Also, invest in a software solution that allows you to collect all the data from the interactions between the company and its customers.
Once you start collecting and analyzing all that data, you’ll quickly identify where you’re falling short and you’ll be able to establish an effective strategy to improve the performance of your customer service team.
6. Help customers help themselves
Today, customers want to be able to reach out to customer service 24 hours a day. They want to get the information they need easily and as soon as they need it. This is forcing companies to find new ways to support their customers.
You should take advantage of digital tools and written communication. You can create spaces, such as forums, FAQs, Q&As and social media pages, where customers can easily find user-friendly content that will help them solve their issues on their own.
This creates a win-win situation as on the one hand it makes customers feel valued, while on the other hand, it frees the customer service team from the burden of answering common questions over and over.
Indeed, creating communities helps customers support each other and lets customer service focus on the least frequent and more challenging issues. It is also a great way to provide both your back- and front-end employees with lots of insights about the customers’ issues and their preferred solutions. You can use that information to organize webinars or improve your help content online.
Another common best practice is to set guidelines to identify the most common questions and save your best responses to those inquiries. Saving your replies will allow you to gradually build on them and optimize your answers. Eventually, this will help you radically improve the quality of your customer service.
7. Collect feedbacks
If you really want to improve the quality of your customer service and support, you need to collect feedback. Knowing what customers think and giving credence to customer complaints is essential if you want to keep improving. Get ready to swallow your pride.
Many companies frequently assume they are doing good only based on their economical results. However, there is no way for them to clearly identify their strengths and weaknesses without keeping track of their customers’ feedbacks.
Feedbacks highlight which skills and touchpoints do not satisfy the clientele. Basically, feedbacks are the data that tells you where to focus your efforts. Collecting them also gives an opportunity to demonstrate to your customers that you care and that you strive to offer them the best possible service.
You can use a multitude of channels to collect feedback. Common approaches include email surveys, phone surveys at the end of a service call, and forms on the company’s website. Use the channels you prefer, just make sure customers can easily rate your service and share their opinions.
In today’s customer-centric world, customer service and support play a major role in driving and sustaining business results.
Being able to communicate clearly and effectively has become a critical skill, as bad communication can be costly in terms of revenues, customer retention and brand image. However, the right word at the right time can really make a difference.
Becoming data-driven, embracing a can-do attitude and being genuinely empathic are the keys to surprise your customers and turn their bad experiences into the seed of their loyalty. Follow the 7 tips in this article and we believe you’ll be able to deliver even more than your customers actually expect.