Putting Together a Customer Service Department

“It’s very logical: There is proven ROI in doing whatever you can to turn your customers into advocates for your brand or business. The way to create advocates is to offer superior customer service.” – Gary Vaynerchuk

For any business – irrespective of size, industry, product offerings and other such differentiations – there is one department that is standard. The customer service department – and this department performs a crucial role for any business. It is the single point of contact for customers – whether they want a query answered, or have a grievance or anything else for which they would want to contact the company. A well-run customer service department is clear indication for your customers that your company is keen to serve customers and will do anything to ensure that the customers get what they want. To meet these lofty goals for your business you first must have a customer service department – one that will benefit you in the long run and prove successful in enhancing customer satisfaction and ensuring customer loyalty. Whatever you invest on putting together a customer service department, you can be sure that when it performs optimally, you will have more than the expected ROI. You’re your intentions of setting up a customer service department known to your customers and provide them with a tentative timeline by when you think the department would be up and running to serve them.

  • Before setting up anything, it would be prudent to define what you would like to achieve for your company through the customer service department. If in your current business operations the customer service function is spread over various departments, it would be a good idea to have a specialized team to handle all the functions related to customer service. Put together a plan and set of tasks that you expect the customer service department to handle and the outcomes expected from each task – your task list would have things like speedy responses, answering the phone in 2 rings, reducing the number of complaints, enhancing the service a customer receives and other such tasks that would make the customer’s life easier and encourage them to engage with your company.
  • For the customer service department to be specialized and deliver on the expected standards, the service staff would also be required to have certain qualities, skills and knowledge. Working under stress, handling complex situations, managing customer relationships, great communication skills, patient and empathetic – these are just some of the words and phrases that define the persona of a customer service staff member. Clear job titles and job descriptions will ensure that everyone in the department knows what their role is and what they need to achieve for the growth of the company and their own career growth.
  • Ensure that you not only have a great team but also that you are adequately staffed. Being short on staff will put extra pressure on the existing staff leading to frequent service lapses and friction within the team. Analyse and put together a workload schedule so that the distribution of work is even and each person understands their roles and responsibilities and also the concept of stretch.
  • While selecting staff, you could either re-allocate your current staff or hire new staff from outside. Whatever your hiring plan, ensure that the members of the customer service department have the right skills and knowledge and are have good product knowledge and some amount of technical knowledge as well. If hiring from outside, your best source of staff would be from the same industry and people with good administrative skills – multi-tasking abilities and customer service bent of mind.
  • For any function to run smoothly and to know how it is progressing there must be a set of measurable and accountable standards against which performance would be measured. Constant monitoring and checking will keep the performance in line with the standards set. To ensure improvement the company must invest in regular training programs and coaching material for the members of the newly set up customer service department. Training and coaching however, must never stop and should be a regular feature for any organization and for every function. Establish standards on the kind and amount of improvement that should be visible and set incentives and other rewards when the service staff meet and exceed those standards. In the event that the standards are not being met despite training being provided, ensure that you have in place remedial and punitive measures too.
  • Ensure that the reporting and escalation matrix is clearly defined and each person of the customer service department knows how and when to use it. Put in place steps to ensure that all the service staff is empowered to some extent and that they are aware of when a problem or service issue is beyond their purview so that they can divert the issue to the person equipped to handle it.
  • Once you are confident that your customer service department is ready to function well, confirm to your customers through every channel possible. Ensure that you provide the numbers to call, email id to write on and also the names of the senior persons who may be contacted in case of emergencies or when customers feel dissatisfied with the service. Also ensure that they understand the customer service standards and your commitment to ensuring the highest level of service. Put these standards on a prominent part of your company’s website too.

When setting up your customer service department remember that this is a long standing commitment you will be making to your customers. Also this department will be the key contact and bridge between the customer and the company and unless it functions seamlessly and efficiently, you could be setting yourself up for failure. Take time to set up and invest adequate resources in this vital function and save yourself huge costs in the near and distant future.

Your commitment to a customer service department will convey to customers that you understand their needs and are putting your best efforts together to ensure that they are happy doing business with you. Get feedback from your customers after some time elapses after the formation of the department. Checking back with customers reiterates your commitment to them and to excellence. Incorporate their suggestions where possible and let them know that you did.

Since your customer service department is the ‘face and voice’ of your company, ensure that everything that the department conveys amply reflects the company’s culture, ethics and values. Constantly monitor the department to ensure that there are no deviations from how you expect your company to be portrayed – this should be a zero-tolerance zone. To ensure compliance and also that service standards are met, formalize them by incorporating them into the performance appraisal documents and as part of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Formalizing the standards in this manner will ensure that each staff member takes responsibility for their actions and will strive to keep their performance up to the mark and also take adequate measures to improve personally and professionally.

It’s not easy running a business and providing top class service consistently. This requires skill, commitment and a lot of hard work relentlessly. However, once you do put in the time and effort, your customers will reward you for it and your business will soar.

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