Approaches to Customer Service

“Customer service means not reading from a script but reading the customer. It means knowing when to pay attention and when to give space.” – Erica Allison

There may be many approaches to customer service, but the common thread would be to interact positively with customers and provide them with a level of customer service that wows them. There is no escaping that there will be unhappy or disgruntled customers despite your best efforts, but in the current gamut of things there is no reason why companies cannot address their issues and make customers happy again. The least your customers should be able to expect is that you hear what they have to say. Companies that have formidable status and impenetrable reputations are the ones who have repeatedly exceeded their customer’s expectations. They have become benchmarks but all these positives did not come by easily or over short periods of time. They also did not make their mark by random acts of customer service. Their approaches to customer service were focused – on keeping the customers satisfied, using the service lapses to get better, actively listening to customers to ascertain needs and being courageous enough to be innovative and challenging traditional methods of doing things.

Customers of any company would either be from the older school of thought, the generation after that and the current breed of Gen X and Y. Each group has different mind-sets, unique expectations and distinct identities. Their ideas of customer service are thus also therefore very different. It is crucial for companies to know which approaches to customer service would best suit each group. Knowing your customers and giving them what they expect is only topped by exceeding those expectations and a mix of approaches in customer service will not only solidify your brand’s presence but will also build strong relationships with customers. Using different approaches will improve service and satisfy the multi-generation customer base that every company has.

Good or great customer service is a relative term since what is good for one customer may not be good for another and this is true also from one company to the next. The approaches to customer service must be based on your company’s particular customers and their expectations. Companies are also different and operate from different levels and budgets. There are some who charge at the higher price spectrum because they can. Some are efficient and low cost and fall in the lower portion of the price spectrum. The majority of companies fall in a middle bracket in which neither is the product that great nor does their brand have clout and neither is their customer service good. As a result of all this they don’t have an infrastructure or cost structure to earn profits based on what customers and the market will pay.

Depending on which part of the spectrum your company is at, your approaches to customer service will and should vary. The companies that are at the low cost side of the scale are not really worried about customer service and customer expectations since customers expect the very minimal from them. These companies can easily get away with shoddy service like long hold times and no responses.

Companies that charge a premium are the ones that must remain on their toes all the time to service their customers with the highest quality of customer service. Customers of such companies expect that their calls will be answered on priority and they would always receive responses to their queries. Such companies must have the requisite manpower, capacity and technology to serve these high-end customers or face severe consequences. Their approach to customer service is one of constant attention to customers.

Amongst the more interesting approaches to customer service, a sound judgement and discerning approach is worth using. This approach advocates treating customers in the way that people in the company would like to be treated if they were the customers. Start with the kind of people you hire – people who have caring and courteous attitudes, are team players and not egotistical and those who would take responsibility of how customers are treated. Companies that wish to treat customers well will invest in training programs and ensure that the front end employees are constantly coached by their supervisors and managers. It must be remembered that sales representatives of such companies would get a monthly salary and don’t mislead customers to buy simply because they would get a commission. This approach of discernment allows companies to regularly recognize and reward deserving staff members in public forums for their superlative standards of customer service. Such companies would also ensure that their employees are well equipped with the latest technology to match the standards that their customers would be accustomed to using.

The approach or approaches to customer service that your company uses will depend on the customer base and using the wrong approach could have serious consequences. Every business has customers and hence in some way is a service business. Use the approaches to customer service wisely.

– Active listening to the customer. Remember not to make assumptions about a customer or their issues and also do not treat the smallest of issues as insignificant. It could be of consequence to the customer.
– When a customer presents a problem or is having trouble dealing with an issue, it would go a long way to focus on the solution and provide it in the shortest possible time.
– Ensure that your company and its representatives have an empathetic and concerned demeanour that will allow customers to be more forthcoming with you. Showing disregard will simply make customers unhappy and they may leave.
– Communication via all channels must be consistent and clear. It must be simple and focused on the customer.
– Deal with situations assertively but keep out rude and discourteous behaviour. Aggressiveness with customers always backfires.
– Customer service is not about being defensive. It should rather be one of pro-active problem solving and any feedback provided by customers must be treated with respect. Customers are not always forthcoming with feedback unless they are coaxed, so when they do, sit up and take notice.
– Use the requisite skills of persuasion and influencing when providing solutions and getting the customer to see the situation from your company’s point of view.

Those in leadership positions must know how to guide their employees in order to get the best results from customer service. It begins with right hiring and then subsequently with the training and coaching the base-line employees receive. There are many modes of instruction that can be used to ensure that the different approaches to customer service are pressed in to action for the highest quality of service.

Start with the most basic of methods – imparting information through talking to the employees. Ensure that they take notes and keep the session interactive so that they are encouraged to ask questions and do away with doubt. This approach takes up a lot of time but proves helpful to new employees who would be hesitant to raise queries while on the job. This mode encourages them and gives them the comfort that the manager is listening to them.

Get the customer service staff to listen to recordings of actual customer interactions to get a feel of how their company responds to queries, complaints or other interactions. You would have heard the recording in the IVR stating that ‘this call may be recorded for quality assurance purpose’ – these are the calls that these staff members are made to listen to so that areas for improvement can be spotted and worked on.

Get the new employees to practice answering calls and resolving issues that mirror actual customer interactions. Different kinds of customers and their styles of making complaints could be used to enable these new members deal with the real issues when they are on the job. After all ‘practice makes one perfect’!

Every customer that calls hopes that they are dealing with people they can trust and who would take their issues seriously enough. Customers want to build positive and long-term relationships and hence it is the responsibility of the companies to use approaches to customer service that would make the customers stay with them for long and also be profitable enough.

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