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Maybe it's the time of year, maybe it's reflection after a busy holiday season, maybe it is just more availability in the labour force, but we've been getting a lot more requests for our Front Line Customer Service training.
So in light of that I just wanted to pass along some important ideas when it comes to outstanding customer service.
Expectations are the foundation of customer service, and the basis of everything that will happen in any customer interaction. So it is vital to give this real thought and consideration because you, no matter where you work in your business, are being held up to scrutiny to those expectations.
The other thing to keep in mind is you are actively setting the customer's expectations as well.
Every customer has a basic understanding of what a transaction should look like, and because they are parting with time and money to do business with you, they want those expectations met whether they realize it or not.
This means full attention, promptness, friendliness, listening skills, cleanliness (personal and environmental). These are the absolute basics, if you are missing these in any aspect you are costing yourself credibility and goodwill before you have even entered into the transaction. Then exceed expectations by going above and beyond. Exceeding expectations, even in small ways, translates as quality.
In setting expectations your job is to communicate what to expect.
Your marketing should help outline what makes you worth doing business with, but should also set up the right expectations. Make sure that you reinforce what it is that you provide and how. Continue to communicate at every point what is going to happen next. Get clients/customers to ask questions, ask them questions, find out what they expect.
If the customer expects more than you offer, let them know immediately, or properly adjust your budget to include it. The customer needs to know so that they can adjust their expectations on either price, ability, or service before they commit. Whatever it is be sure you can provide it before agreeing. You have a lot of input in this… use it.
To make expectations work for you:
Make sure that all of the basics are covered. Don't erode good will by letting any of these slide. Every one of those little expectations which aren't met are points against you.
Exceed expectations. There is a reason that that phrase is on customer service forms. Meeting expectations is... well, expected. The only way to stand out is to exceed them. Little things go an incredibly long way for customers, find ways to take the next step up, and in a future post we will go further into this, but start with the foundations and then surprise delight and inform.
Communicate everything and communicate it well. Time-lines, deliverables, guarantees, return policies, etc. Keep making it clear. Expectations are basically a contract, view them that way and negotiate them accordingly... and then go beyond.
Ask questions. Be sure that what your customer believes, is what is.
There is a good reason why Staples advertises with an 'easy' button, easy is what we want. Ever hung up the phone on hold? Ever stopped filling out a survey on the second page? Ever started raising your voice at your banks answering service which doesn't seem to understand what it is your saying? Ever walked into a government office only to look around and walk right back out? And how do you feel about doing business with them?
We have a low tolerance for frustration, and part of the reason for this is that so much of our lives are already frustrating due to many factors which are outside of our control. Doing business with you or your competitor is controllable, and your clients will exercise that control with their feet and you will never know why, because it is unlikely that they will care to waste more of their time letting you know.
I want to put this out there on behalf of every customer because so many companies are missing this point...
If your 'policy' is getting in the way of 'ease' you are killing your company. I have another article on this called Let your values eat your policy for breakfast.
Every moment counts, if those moments fill up with idleness, or actions I have to take, or things I have to fill out, I.D. I have to show, information I have to give out, people I have to get approval from… you are going to lose me. If value isn't being gained or demonstrated, value is being lost.
(Speaking of which, Costco would have all my business if they moved those food sample vendors to the check-out lines… I understand why they are where they are, but if I had someone serve me snacks in line I could wait a long time.)
If you make things more difficult than they need to be, I'm gone. This applies to every part of your business, how you manage ordering, your website, your CRM, your salespeople, your technicians, your IT, your front line, The steps in front of your store (ease of access), the positioning of your front-line staff, etc. Ease makes us happy, ease keeps us coming back, ease puts us at ease.
How to make ease work for you:
K.I.S.S: Keep It Simple (and) Stand-out. Ask for only what is needed and no more from your customers or clients. Anticipate and give them what they want.
Don't waste their time: Don't make them wait. Don't bog them down. The time they are giving you has value... value that time.
Accessible: Make everything (and everyone) easy to get to, find, and discover. Easy to try. Easy to buy. Easy to get information. Easy to walk in or push a cart around. Take down barriers- watch out for anything that adds steps, people, or time.
This is where you really start winning me over from a regular customer to a brand champion. I want to talk to people who know more than I do, or at the very least have fast access to that information.
It doesn't matter who it is in your organization, make sure they fully understand, or have fast access to, any relevant information.
An "I don't know, I just work here" attitude isn't acceptable anywhere, at any time, period. Be vigilant on this, stand out among mediocre competitors, it isn't too much to ask of anyone in any position.
A friend of mine installs high-tech dental equipment. He has always been right into anything mechanical or electrical, so he loves this kind of thing and therefore he is passionate. He knows the equipment and operating systems inside out and can talk your ear off at length if you want or need to know.
Where he excels is that his clients can relax about the expense and change of systems because they know that he can make it work, explain to them and their staff how to use it in layman's terms, and can and will fix issues honestly.
I have another friend who works creating and deploying systems integrations, and programming over several different applications and in many industries. He once told me that the reason he is so successful within his firm is that he is able to say "I don't know, but I can find that out so that both of us know." He is an expert at what he does, but he never bluffs if he doesn't know. If he can't tell you immediately… he doesn't guess, he finds out.
I know that part of troubleshooting is guessing and trying, but if I am at the receiving end of a lot of guesswork it is frustrating, possibly costly, and erodes my trust. Tell me why you think such and such, but if you don't know what the problem is… find out! Finding out will never make you look bad, and your customer will trust you more because you were honest and up-front!
So to make expertise work for you:
Train your people and yourself. Make sure everyone knows the products and services you offer inside and out.
Have a system and database so that your teams can easily access more information should they need it. Instil a culture of information sharing, start at the top, keep everyone in the know.
Tell me why I've made a good decision: I want to know that my jacket is made from a remarkable polyfiber which retains heat. I want to know about the quality craftsmanship. I want to know that the wine I ordered just won an award…
Which brings us to stories. Stories are everything. We as humans are exceptional story machines. We create, listen to, and believe stories all hours of the day.
What do stories have to do with customer service? Everything.
Assumptions: Assumptions can be dangerous things, but we will continue making them, and our customers will too. There is a good reason for it.
Assumptions are shortcut thinking. Without relevant information we rely on assumptions because decisions must be made all the time and quickly. If you don't provide me clear information to the contrary, my assumptions will be based on past experience or whatever information/bias holds the strongest place in my mind. If your marketing or salesperson has told me, or even implied things, it will hold precedence, and I will feel lied to if it doesn't hold true.
Expectations: We are back at expectations for good reason. Expectations differ from assumptions in this particular context as to how we see things progressing, this is the story which we as a customer are creating. We have visualized (even if it is for an instant) to some extent how we think things are going to go, we have a plan of action and if things go according to plan we don't give it much thought, all is well in our world. From our first contact we have made some assumptions, and we will go on adjusting the story as things progress, our level of engagement in this story between us is up to you.
Damage that story at your peril, but exceed those expectations and become memorable.
Intentions: We tell ourselves stories about why people did things or behaved in a certain way. We are social animals so most everything has a social meaning attached to it and we arrive at the social meaning almost completely unconsciously. Every action you take in an interaction speaks to an intention… intended or not.
-If you don't smile when I say hello, it has a social meaning and there is a story behind it which I (the customer) will then create.
-If you don't give me your full attention, it has a social meaning and I will find reasons why this interaction isn't valued by you, and decide what my self-worth is worth.
-If you can't or don't respond, it has a social meaning and I will make a story up unless I have heard a good reason from you.
If my expectations aren't met (on product or service), it has a huge social meaning because now I have to either accept it or confront you. You are now placed in opposition in my mind… it is very easy in this situation to be framed in a very bad light in the clients mind. That story will be at the forefront of their mind, and no matter how off track that person's story has become, it will be very difficult for them to let it go.
So to make stories work for you:
Manage your story. Make sure you communicate what to expect and do it well. Make sure what people are saying about your company is what you want them to say.
Tell great stories. I want to know why, I want to know who else, I want to know what will happen next.
Create exceptional stories. Take the customer off the usual customer experience script and surprise, delight, and inform them so that they have a story to tell about you.
Listen to stories. Understand that in a complaint a customer has a different story than you. If you dig properly you can get that story out of them and understanding their story completely is the first step in getting to a solution or common ground. People think and act the way they do because of reasons that are valid to them, find out what those reasons are.
So, hopefully these ideas can help you in developing your business and your teams towards customer service goals. And if you are looking for more we'd be happy to help.
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