Good customer service is one of those eternal values that consistently predict business success. In fact, it would not be going too far to say that customer service has been the primary value of people doing business for a very long time.
Is not the famous maxim “the customer is always right” one of the most ubiquitous cliches in business? If not the most ubiquitous? Into the 21st century, this is not something that has changed, although how the customer is served and the whole landscape of modern customer service is certainly something that bears striking distinctions with the past. Good customer service is still vitally important, but what it actually means is changing by the day.
Customer Service Today
Values are eternal, but methods adapt. And this is something which could not be truer of customer service and what it means in the modern day. One of the biggest shifts of course has been e-commerce and everything this has done to change the retailer’s interaction with their customers. When engaging with a virtual retailer, customer service becomes much more automated (with mixed results). For example, good customer service in the online sphere can mean a website that is wieldy easy to use (non-human), a chatbot for answering specific questions (non-human), or a helpline (human, but remote). As it turns out, customer service is all about human connection and, while that might not be possible in many business settings, it is always preferable.
Good customer service is, of course, more intimate when it comes to physical outlets, but here too there have been changes. For example, physical store staff will also consult databases and online sources to find a particular product for a customer – a product that might not be located on premises. Engaging in such tasks is one of the ways in which staff can go “above and beyond” (a customer service essential) in their service of a customer.
Of course, the eternal advice still applies. Customers will remember the person serving them much more often and easily than the product they actually bought. And customers need to be treated right, for the simple reason that if you don’t do this, then your competitors will.
The Physical Side
The rise of e-commerce and how it has redefined customer service is of interest when it comes to explaining the many different forms that good customer service can take today. As mentioned, the customer service of an e-commerce site can be the wieldiness of its website, the FAQ page, and the number of different options and features a user has when browsing the site. In other words, we are talking about those non-human elements. Moreover, while affirming that human connection is an essential part of good customer service, it is worth noting that there is a similar non-human element of customer service even in the case of physical outlets.
You can think of it this way: a customer requires help and information in order to find exactly what they want in a physical store. This can, of course, come from the staff, but it can also come from the general infrastructure of the premises. Generally speaking, customers prefer not to “have to ask”, simply because things go smoother if the store itself can give them all the information they need.
A good retail outlet requires many items of physical infrastructure, from good window displays to safety infrastructure like fire alarms and HSE-approved first-aid kits. All of this picks up the slack from the safety duties of staff. In a similar way, the actual physical layout of your store, the signage, the placement of products and so on can guide and “serve” the customer towards having an optimal shopping experience, thereby also picking up some of the slack from staff. While affirming the human connection is paramount, you can potentially give your staff more to do than they can handle, so customer service in the form of a well-organized premises is especially important too.
Customer Service Tips
So, with all of that out of the way, it is time to turn to the range of effective customer service tips which have been built up in the modern era. Some of these have always existed while others are more specific to modern business. All are important.
Have the Right Tools
We have all been there. You ask a member of staff a question pertinent to your shopping experience, or you ask a member of staff if they can locate a particular product for you, and what follows is a brief conversation before the staff member disappears into the store room, runs off to ask someone else, or fiddles about with a database for what seems like an eternity. Going back to the point about having a good infrastructure, the elements of that infrastructure which the staff actually use in order to serve the customer need to be up to job and tailored to your business. Get this right, and every encounter will be more human, simply because the staff will spend more time with the customer and less time doing something else.
Communicate Clearly with Customers
You should encourage your staff to bring the customer up to speed with how they are actually helping them. The “leave it with us” attitude leaves the customer wondering what is actually happening. Except in areas of specific expertise, it is usually easy to communicate to a customer what you are doing to help them – so be sure that you do.
Use Positive Language
Positive language when dealing with a customer is vitally important, and how to use it is perhaps best illustrated with an example. Say that a product the customer is looking for will not be available until next month. It is better to say, “this is product will be available next month, I can place the order for you now”, rather than “this product is unavailable, and I can’t get it for you until next month”. It is as simple as that, really.
Give Credence to Complaints
We all know that customers can, at times, be unreasonable and misunderstand the problem that is hindering their shopping experience. Even if your staff understand it much better, it’s preferable to communicate this to the customer in such a way that does not scream “you’re wrong and you don’t know what you’re talking about”.
Do Not Prioritize Speed Above All Else
This is a particularly modern problem with customer service, the idea that the customer simply needs to be served as quickly as possible and thereby satisfied and “got rid of”. That type of thinking is sure to repulse customers from your store. You can think of it this way: a cold, tasteless burger served in three minutes is not actually preferable to a good one served in ten.
Ultimately, the old maxims of customer service still apply and should be adhered to. But the modern world brings with it modern problems and, where customer service is concerned, some of these require fresh thinking.