Customer service is both an art and a science

“To my customer – I may not have the answer, but I’ll find it. I may not have the time, but I’ll make it.-Unknown”

Customer service is effective when the people responsible deliver it with creativity and innovation as art and follow the principles of carefully observing and applying its rules as a science. Exceptional customer service is both an art and a science. As an art, customer service is about making connections with customers and in a way that this evokes positive reactions ensuring a long lasting relationship with them. The science of customer service is about understanding the complexities involved, observing the words and expressions used, applying the theories of strategies and processes to translate to the kind of service the customers want.

However, if companies fail to maintain a fine balance between these two different streams, they can end up with wasted resources and a set of disgruntled customers or even customer attrition. Keeping customers happy through any way possible is a philosophy that only very large companies with seemingly endless resources can have. What about companies that need to keep customers happy with limited resources? This is where the principle that customer service is both an art and a science comes in to play. To exemplify this – A friend worked in a large insurance company. On afternoon, during the lunch hour this friend after finishing lunch at the office cafeteria, had time to spare (at the lobby level of the office) and so decided to go for a stroll in the warm sun. She noticed an elderly lady outside the office who seemed disturbed. My friend at first thought she was reading too much in to the situation, but then on closer observation realized that the old lady was actually upset. Walking up to the old lady she asked if she could help. It turned out that the elderly lady was a customer of their company but had an unrelated problem. The lady was desperate to get help as her car was giving trouble and she needed to get somewhere urgently. My friend swung in to action – first had someone from administration call up a car mechanic, ordered a cab for the lady, got the lady’s address where her car could be delivered and ensured that the lady was comfortable before she left. The old lady asked my friend her name and which department she worked in and then left in the cab. The old lady’s car was repaired and my friend ensured it was delivered to the lady’s home. The next day there was an all-employee meeting, and the President of the company applauded her and gave my friend a substantial cash award. The old lady was a rather important customer and had let the President know of the happenings of the previous day. Not just the employee, but the whole company was seen as an example of model customer service.

The art of making customers happy coupled with the science of managing issues outside the parameters in the best way possible, tells the customer that the company and its representatives can be ‘leaned’ on. In the example above, this friend used the art of putting the customer at ease and then executed the action with personalized attention, empathy and showed remarkable ownership of the whole situation. She took the art of human connections to an altogether different level. The reason for the entire interaction being one of warmth and appreciation is also because this friend produced tangible results. She ‘fixed’ the problem. Applying the principles of science – there was communication of facts, following of effective and efficient processes within the scope of the company, securing of proper approvals and having the problem resolved through teamwork and endorsing the values of the company. This friend as an employee, was clearly empowered by the company to make productive decisions and help a customer irrespective of whether the problem was related to the company or not. She displayed the highest level of customer service – personalized, efficient, speedy and with minimum customer effort.

For customer service representatives to always maintain a healthy balance between the art and science of service, these representatives must be empowered with training, guidelines and rewards. They must understand the vital connection between the customer’s expectations in conjunction with the company’s expectations to elimination any ambiguity and disconnects. Each representative must understand the value of their actions – this covers the science and asking how the customer would react or how they would feel when a certain action is taken. This represents the art of customer service. A combination of both these would result in a set of ‘wowed’ customers, willing to stay with the business and spread a good word about them. One approach must not overshadow the other as an imbalance would ultimately lead to bigger problems.

Any company that is able to empower their employees and assure them that they can and must give the customers what they need and also thank them for the business they give. Of course businesses are different but there are some common principles that if practiced can have a significant positive impact on customer service.

– The top executives of the company must teach and lead by example. This translates to treating every employee of the company with respect, care, trust and empathy as is shown to external customers. Excellence in customer service begins at ‘home’. If employees are expected to deliver excellence in customer service, they must experience it and learn it from the experts through example.

– Empowered employees instill trust and confidence in customers. It also helps to speed up the resolution process since customers do not need to wait till the customer service representative can ‘get the manager on the line’ to sort out the issue. Empowering your employees means that you trust them to make informed and accurate decisions that will be beneficial for both the company and the customer. When customers can trust your employees, they will trust your company and will return with repeat business adding volumes to the company’s bottom-line. Good news for everyone!

– Never assume that your company ‘knows’ what the customer wants or needs. These needs and wants keep changing and no amount of history can provide accurate data as to the current needs. Companies must constantly ask the customers directly. Forms, online surveys, social media discussions are some ways of approaching the customer and showing them that their expectations and opinions are valuable to your company.

The last point above deals with the science of customer service. The how – even though asking customers directly may be daunting and scary for some, it is required. Knowing from the customer directly makes it easier to fashion your customer service around those needs rather than doing something that may be completely useless for the customer. Asking is the only way to build the kind of customer service that the customers truly value and also helps to continually improve on it. Both the art and science of customer service will keep your company moving forward that is the key to sustained success.

Monitoring and measuring the processes and current strategies of customer service is not sufficient. They must be able to identify and reward the representatives that go the extra mile for the client, as in the example above. Through recognition and rewards companies can keep their employees enthusiastic and geared to achieving new milestones in customer service in the future too.
Gaining mastery of customer service and delivering top class customer experiences takes time but also involves being creative, innovative and enthusiastic. It is a combination of the nuances of science with the applications of art that will take a company’s customer service levels to a new high and one that will leave the competition scrambling to take cover. A careful and sustained balance between the two is vital. Understanding the customer’s needs and issues, balancing those with the policies and culture of the company involves skill, imagination and observation, making customer service both an art and a science.

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