Norman Huckerby presents his top ten tips for keeping your customer service alive and kicking.
1. Hire the Best People You Can Find
The life blood of any service operation is the front line staff, the ones who have more contact with customers than anyone else – including sales people. Never settle for second best. Recruit based on a person’s competencies, values, and find the people who genuinely enjoy helping customers. Select people using a competency based assessment methodology – it is far more accurate than traditional interviewing methods.
2. Develop a Success Culture
The culture of a customer service organization is critically important. One or two bad apples can, and will, if not removed, ruin the barrel. Weed out the bad apples, recognize and reward the good people. Set a brilliant example yourself – otherwise your words will mean nothing. Make it OK to make mistakes, as long as they are learned from. Make it fun; stressed people don’t perform, go sick and finally leave.
3. Look for the Real Source of Initial Customer Contacts
Most customers don’t contact your organization because of a customer service issue – at least not initially anyway. Look for what has caused the contact. Some contacts are “good bacteria” as they help you to improve – cherish them and thank the customers for getting in touch. Most are “bad bacteria” – they are caused by systemic failures in products, services, processes or in communication – up-stream activities from your organization.
Gather the reasons for contact, analyze them and work with other departments (such as product development, marketing, sales, operations, billing, etc.) to help them redesign their outputs to remove the need for these contacts.
4. Look After and Empower Your Front-line People
Make sure your front-line people have the systems, information and processes they need to satisfy their customers during the first contact. Never force them to hand a call off to another person just because they don’t have or “can’t be trusted with” certain systems or information – this is a certain way to both demoralize the advisor and frustrate the customer.
If certain systems need special skills to operate, develop a simpler sub-system, if the data is sensitive or an operator mistake could cause major issues elsewhere, give your advisors “read-only access”. Empower them to make decisions there and then – obviously within defined limits – very often a small gesture of goodwill is all it takes to turn a complaint into a positive reaction that your customers will remember – and tell their friends.
5. Be Proactive
If you have an on-going customer issue, never wait for them to contact you to check what has happened about their problem. Make sure a proactive call or other contact is made – even if you can only say that you are still working on it. What customers hate most is being kept in the dark or left wondering if their problem is being worked on at all.
Many customers defect because they think you don’t truly value them and their business. For new customers, call them several times in the early weeks and months just to check that they are happy and to show that you care. Don’t wait for them to call you. Contact propensity from new customers is almost always much higher than from long standing ones – after all they aren’t used to you yet.
6. Give your Customers a Variety of Contact Media
I recently asked a contact center manager why she had so many calls every day. She said it was always that way around this time of year. When I asked what other ways customers could get their queries answered she said they could e-mail the contact center. So they had two contact channels. The problem was – e-mails weren’t being answered for days because the phone work took precedence. It turned out that a lot of the calls were complaints about a lack of response to their e-mails!
Give your customers a variety of ways of getting service. It might be just e-mail – but if so, make sure they receive a response the same day – even if it is to just acknowledge that a human has seen it.
Auto-responders add no value except to confirm message delivery. If you do have regular call queues, install a system that allows them to leave a “token” (name, phone number, account reference, etc.) and queues their token, allowing them to get on with their lives. Once the token reaches the front of the queue, an outbound call will automatically be placed and connected to a free advisor. This gives a much more satisfying customer experience.
7. Focus on First Contact Fix
Repeat contacts from the same customer over the same issue will destroy profitability, tie up your valuable people and therefore reduce the service level you can give to your other customers.
Focus on tracking, analyzing and removing the drivers of repeat contacts. Never fall into the trap of driving down contact resolution times to the extent that it risks not satisfying all of the customers’ questions or concerns. To do so simply increases repeat contacts.
8. Help Customers to Help Themselves
Let your customers serve themselves via IVR, web services, chat, etc. – this will reduce your phone calls and some if not most people much prefer to serve themselves rather than queue for an advisor. A great many queries can be requests for information – you don’t need an advisor to do this.
For queries about account balances, requests for billing details, status updates, account top-ups, changes of customer details, and a great many other things – add it to your website or make it an option in your IVR. Keep your IVR simple to use though, or it won’t be used, either your customers will get frustrated and choose the “Advisor” option or they will call back in through another (non-IVR) route such as their sales representative.
9. Treat Complaints as a Blessing
Complaints are a gift – cherish them. Every complaint is an opportunity to put things right, review and improve your processes, and impress your customer. It’s the customers who don’t complain that go to a competitor – so make it easy to complain and put your best people on your complaints desks. Clearly document your complaints procedure including what your customers can do if they aren’t happy with the way their complaints are handled.
10. Coach, Coach and Coach Again
Training and then frequent coaching and feedback are a key factor in supporting customer service advisors to quickly achieve competence, and to build upon that to become role models for other staff.
I believe that the command and control element of customer service team leaders and managers is, or should be a minor part of their daily work, whereas coaching their teams should be their major priority. A great coaching experience, not occasionally but very frequently, will elevate anyone’s capability and keep up morale and motivation.
Motivated advisors who enjoy their job and enjoy coming to work to be with their colleagues and friends will show this unconsciously to your customers. You can (actually anyone can) sense the vibe in a customer service operation within seconds of walking in – so can the customers sense it over the phone.
About the Author
Norman Huckerby is a Customer Services Management Consultant, Interim Manager and Skills Trainer. He has an extensive background of senior management within the I.T., telecommunications and utility sectors. He specializes in using his skills and experience to deliver lasting business benefits to his clients through a number of flexible means including: training & consulting, coaching, the project management of business and operational change and in undertaking interim management assignments.