Importance of a Standard Operating Procedure in Customer Service

In the not-so-little mind of your customer, consistency is absolutely essential in delivering a world-class customer experience John H Fleming

 Consistency is the key to building good relationships with customers. Customer service consists of pre-transaction elements, transaction elements and post transaction elements. When companies create a standard operating procedure for each of those phases of customer service, customer satisfaction ensues. If you’re your sales executives and your customer services representatives treat your customer with the same degree of enthusiasm, politeness and willingness to help before, during and after the sale, this fosters trust and confidence.

In  one word, a standard operating procedure is consistency! These procedures, also known for short as SOPs, are step by step instructions companies compile to help employees function and to respond appropriately in a variety of scenarios. These are meant to increase efficiency and reduce miscommunications. They also help deliver certain uniformity in performance and help an organisation comply with industry regulations and achieve quality standards. These set operating procedures also help to enhance workplace and operating safety.

They say, customer service should not be a department. It should be the entire company. In other words, all the procedures that a company follows need to conform to a consistent attitude across departments, across all units or branches. So, if your sales team is responsive, approachable, knowledgeable and enthusiastic about responding to customer queries and requirements, so should your customer services department. Such consistency not only helps cement a good relationship with a customer, it helps build your reputation and your brand. In general, creating and implementing these standard processes saves time, improves communication, prevents mistakes and empowers the workforce. A standard operating procedure benefits the company by reducing training costs, ensuring consistent results and supporting quality goals. Having established that SOPs are beneficial for the organisation as a whole, consider the benefits of implementing a set of SOPs for the customer services department as well.

The most important benefit of setting a standard operating procedure for customer care personnel to follow is the facilitation of clear and effective communication between your company and its customers. Standard answers to standard questions, clarity about when (and if) a customer should be referred to a supervisor, ways to greet a caller and the way to identify oneself; standard ways to handle various queries and common complaints… all these are laid down for the customer services rep, giving them confidence and ability to perform their job effectively.

SOPs can also clarify aspects such as whether it is acceptable to put a customer on hold, whether (or not) you can offer to call them back and what to do if the caller is speaking in a language unfamiliar to the customer care representative. So not only do your employees know what to do, your customers also know what to expect when you lay down a standard operating procedure.

It is this sense of comfort or familiarity that develops; a certain degree of care that your customers start to expect from you. They expect that their query will be answered and issues addressed in a set amount of time by polite, professionals who know their job. SOPs can ensure that your customer is met with the same degree of polite professionalism, knowledgeable people with the willingness to help; whichever branch or location of your company your customer deals with. The customer expects and gets consistency every time. It is a good idea to project this consistent image of your company.

A standard operating procedure translates into consistency and uniformity; which in turn translates to consistent customer service. A good level of training, clearly written answers to common queries, unambiguous instructions as to politeness when dealing with a customer and training refresher courses can all help to offer customers a positive customer care experience. SOPs help to keep the organisation running smoothly and also cause fewer day to day problems. A positive customer service experience means that your customer is more likely to recommend your product or service to others and also more likely to buy again from you/ your company.

Create clear and concise questions and their answers. Formulate appropriate responses to common (and also uncommon) complaints. Frame rules with regard to customer privacy and clarify how to protect sensitive information about customers. Clarify rules and procedures to be followed for ordering, packaging, dispatch and other aspects of order processing. The customer service representative should know how to respond in any given situation. A set of standard operating procedures would help them do this.

They would need to have detailed information about the features and function of the product. They would also need to be fully aware about warranties and replacements as well as the circumstances in which warranties are triggered and replacement options come into play. What support is routinely offered by the company and what isn’t? Where is the fine print that clarifies all this? SOPs help pass on this valuable information to team members so they are not caught unawares when they are faced with curve ball from an irate customer.

If clear instructions are not given, an employee may perform variably and may have to rely on guess work to do their job. This leads to uneven performance and stress. The customer services representative is not sure exactly what they are expected to do in a given situation. However if the procedures are clearly scripted and set out the employee gains a great deal of confidence and knows exactly what is expected of them.

They know how to react in a situation and are not stuck for answers when faced with a challenging query. To put it simply, there are fewer nasty surprises for our employees. This helps keep up motivation and increases productivity as well. Directly or indirectly, quality standard operating procedure helps in employee retention and lower attrition rates.

Once proper, well thought out SOPs are in place, this reduces the effort or ‘retaining’ employees or having to give frequent instructions and reminders. Customer services personnel can function better and with greater autonomy. SOPs also help reduce reliance on a few, talented members of the team. In the absence of a few key players things ought not to go to pieces! They can and should continue to run smoothly and with few hiccups because everyone knows that is expected of them. SOPs also help to create a paradigm within which employees can be evaluated. Managers or evaluators are better able to judge deficiencies in performance and to identify employees who perform well. In other words, the standard operating procedure becomes a yardstick to measure and evaluate employees and their performance by.

Employees who are already well trained and experienced in their day to day functioning can be helpful in fostering a appropriate work environment. Additionally, if you are thinking of widening your reach and increasing the size of your team, it is easier to take new members on board with set SOPs already in place. The training process can be easier to replicate and may even be facilitated by other experienced team members. New employees attending on-job-training can continue in a professional atmosphere that fosters learning and growth. Does your company have a standard operating procedure in place?

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