Don’t focus on being essential, proactive or anything else. Focus on being the best at what you do. Customer service is the only place left to beat your competitors.
There’s a force in most industries to be seen as a necessity. Companies want to be needed and to be essential in the daily routine of their customers. Just sit back for a moment and think about all the services you pay for that you don’t think you will get rid of, because you use them so often it has become a part of your daily, weekly or monthly routine, be it in your personal life or in the day-to-day workings in your company. Some of us take vitamins in order to be proactive and not get sick, but most, if not all will take medicine when we get sick. This analogy is what drives companies to be seen as the medicine, not a vitamin.
Very few services are in their essence essential. And for most companies who view themselves as essential, alternatives exist. Embracing what your company does without trying to be something you’re not will keep you from overpromising and under delivering. Being a vitamin and preaching yourself as a proactive service is only one of many ways to go, but to market yourself as “the extra mile” is even better. For every company out there, there’s a horde of competitors, and setting yourself apart from the competition happens in the less crowded extra mile. Competition drives us all to up our game and force us to perform better. If you don’t keep up with your competitors they will pass you and leave you ass up in the dust.
As companies are becoming more competitive and catching up with each other, very few factors actually separate them, be it price, product or service, it’s mostly similar. One of the few ways to outperform your competitors is to focus on customer service and differentiate yourself from the crowd. Make it personal for both yourself and your customers. As time goes by, customers will have more options to choose from, and those choices will mostly be based on who they like, rather than product, service or price. Show your customers that you care more about them than anyone else. A sale is all well and good, but creating and having loyal customers is where the real money lies, and loyalty comes from personal connections and real interactions. This is how you do it.
Personalisation and empathy in gifting adds value and sincerity to your actions. Wronging the wrong customer without making amends may cost you your company.
Nothing conveys feelings of indifference more than generic gifts without any meaning or story behind them. Imagine after arguing with your spouse you feel like you were (as usual) wrong, and you want to make it up to your spouse by apologising with a gift. What would work best, gas station flowers with a generic pre-made card, or handpicked flowers with a handwritten card? The difference is night and day. Use the opportunity to strengthen your relationship by showing that you care and that you truly are sorry for whatever happened.
This same principle is true for all gifting, be it diplomatic relations, personal relations, business relations or customer relations. The best customer service contains sincerity, empathy and personalisation. Things go wrong all the time for an infinite amount of reasons, and the way to repair the damage is to make the wronged party feel like that they are cared about, listened to and that they see sincere actions to mend the broken relationship. When a customer is made to feel like just another sheep in the herd, they notice.
Righting a wronged customer can be much cheaper than simply compensating them for their troubles with money. When a wronged person realize that the person who wronged them feel sincere regret and wish to make amends, they tend to forgive, and a stronger relationship will form. Being proactive is key. Having a plan, or preferably a system in place before the damage is done, and when the inevitable occurs, you’re ready.
Imagine for a moment, the worst possible experience a customer can have interacting with your business. Be creative and think how every point of interaction will fail them in the worst possible way. The website is not responding, they are overcharged, they have to deal with slow responses from your customer representatives, improper grammar, rude phone calls, failed deliveries, you name it. Feels bad just to think about it doesn’t it?
Our question here is: Is it fixable? Can you even hope for repeat business from a customer who has gone through all of the above and more? Can you prevent this customer from dragging your good name through the dirt? That one customer will not only cost you their business, but all their friends business and whoever listens to them through social media. Pissing off the wrong customer can cost you your whole business.
First of all, don’t let the cat out of the bag! The situation is fixable as long as you act quickly, sincerely and appropriately. Trust is immensely difficult to regain once it’s lost. Before the moment arises, make sure you have a system in place capable of disarming the situation at the root. At the first sign of an unsatisfied customer, set the system in motion and go above and beyond in regaining their trust and respect.
Show them that you empathise with their issue and make up for whatever hardship you put them through, even if you feel it isn’t really your own fault! Doing this will not only diffuse the situation, but will turn them from unsatisfied customers to loyal ones. Who wouldn’t come back to do business with someone who goes beyond the line of duty to maintain their reputation. It shows that you actually give a damn about them!
Simply hiring the best candidate is not always enough. They need proper training and supervision in order to represent your company. The training comes in more ways than courses, pamphlets and listening to recorded calls. Have your team working together whenever possible in order to synergize their vision, prioritizations and focus. Having your team learning to work together will educate them in your company’s culture and how your teams deal with problem solving. For every tool you require your teams to use, make sure they know how to use them to their full extent in order for them to complete all their tasks from start to completion
The right tool in the right hands can build skyscrapers, but the wrong tools in the right hands make for a frustrating experience for everyone involved. Being a decision maker, this responsibility falls on you. Making an educated choice is hard work and will require honest insight about the challenges you choose to focus on. Whether it’s communication, sales or customer service, you need to specify your problem and make sure that the tools you choose are created to solve your specific problem. Just think about what kind of screwdriver you chose for a specific kind of screw. Sometimes you have it in your toolbox, other times you have to go down to the hardware store and get the right screwdriver.
This is where your choices start bearing fruit. Having excellent customer service is one of the best ways to increase retention. Standing out from the competition is not easy, but serving your customers the best customer service will serve you better when offering similar products and services as your competition. Reaching out to your customers in a sincere and personal way creates a lasting bond that the customer remember and tell their friends and family about. Establishing a personal connection with your customer is not limited to thanking them, apologizing or wishing them happy birthday. Just think about what’s more special for you, receiving a birthday card from someone you don’t talk to very often, or to receive a card out of the blue saying thanks for being in someone’s life.
Imagine the last time you were at a restaurant where you thought the service was alright. We could define you as a satisfied customer. However, would you describe yourself as a loyal customer to that restaurant? Probably not. What does it take to differentiate your business from the crowd and create those returning loyal customers?
Customer service has the least effect on a customer when it’s just ok. The customer will forget about it very quickly. The only two forms of customer service that has a substantial effect on the customer is the really extraordinary service, and the absolute bull-poop service. Most businesses fall into the middle category of unremarkable service. Whenever you deal with a customer and you meet all their expectations, all their needs are fulfilled and they leave satisfied, they will quickly forget about you.
Now imagine you go to one of your many local mechanics for an oil change. You drop off your car, run some errands and come back to pick up the car. You pay for the oil change and start driving home. You notice the mechanic has not only changed your oil, but your interior is cleaned, windows are cleaned, and your whole car has been washed. You did not ask for this service, and neither did you pay for it. How would you feel?
Exceeding the customer’s expectations has a very strong and lasting effect on loyalty and repeat business. The trick is to identify any expectations you’ve already set, and go the extra mile where it’s less crowded.
Are you touching your customers? How do you like to be touched by companies? When looking to get that personal touch that CEO’s are always ranting about, an email or chat-bot simply won’t be enough. The best way to touch someone and give them a sense of value is being face- to-face with them. However, many companies never actually see their customers as anything other than their customer ID, or just their name on a form. The best way for these companies is to touch their customers through the phone.
Don’t be mistaken, the phone is not outdated. There is a very good reason companies are investing a lot of money into their customer service departments, or outsourcing that service to call centers. Customers want to touch you over the phone. Other than being face-to-face with your customer, the phone call is the only real alternative to create a meaningful and memorable experience. The tricky part is the execution.
You don’t want to shove or push your customers, you just want to touch them. Caress them with empathy for their issue, and wow them with swift repair of your relationship, making it even stronger than it was before. Every time the phone rings is an opportunity for your brand to grow, and to create loyal customers. Make it your company’s goal to exceed any expectations you’ve set for you customers. Allow yourself to be touched by your customers, and when it’s time to touch them back, do it properly!
We at Sorry as a Service love reading customer service related articles and blogs. We have some favorites, one of them being Shep Hyken’s Customer Service Blog. He is clearly an authority in his field. However, we have some comments regarding his post “Does This Dress Make My Butt Look Big”.
Shep, we 100% agree with you that honesty is the best way when dealing with customers. Lying to a customer is the equivalent of spitting on them… But in the same way we tell our wives that “that dress looks like it shrunk a bit in the washer” or how we tell our husbands that “honey, I love your beard, but you’re starting to look homeless”, it’s all about HOW we say it.
It’s amazing what we can say if we say it with empathy. Understanding that facing the truth may be an uncomfortable experience, and showing that we want to help the customer in any way we can, and that the customer feels that we emphasize with them is what customer service is all about. So all in all mr. Shep Hyken we agree completely with everything you wrote, we just felt the need to point out the importance of the execution when telling the truth!
After recently taking a peek at my remote control, I was left dumbfounded as to the need for so many buttons. All I use it for is turning the TV on, off, changing some channels, and adjusting the volume. All of this can be achieved easily with just five of them.
Sure, some people like to get fancy with adjusting their brightness, backlight, gamma, and even sharpness. Once in a blue moon, so do I. But considering how often I actually change those settings I don’t actually need the gamma changing functionality on my remote. Why don’t they just let us change these extra settings physically on the TV with physical buttons and just leave our remotes in peace?
What I’m trying to get at is that adding features to something built to make our lives easier may actually be counter-productive and overly complicate things. Remember the last time your parents or grandparents asked you to help them just make a call on their phones? All these glorious features on their phone just confuse the hell out of them and create more work for everyone around them.
Creating tools that make someone’s life easier requires keeping things simple and straightforward. Maybe some just need to accept the bittersweet pill that most users will never utilize every function your product has to offer?
Moral of the story: More functions does not equal better functionality.
Kevin is getting annoyed at companies sending him surveys. He has no problems answering them, it’s just that they keep asking him questions that they already have the answer to. Last week, Kevin received an email from a car rental company he used when he visited his family back home. “Oh jolly good!” Kevin thought, “Finally I can share my valuable feedback with this company so they can improve!”. But alas, Kevin was deeply disappointed. This is how the email looked:
Would you please help us improve our service by answering 4 short questions about your experience with us?
Thank you for your time!
Even Kevin knows how valuable customer feedback is for companies in order to improve. But why would a company ask questions that they already possess the answer to? Wasting a customer’s time will only annoy them, and by the time they reach your most important questions, they are too frustrated to even complete the survey! Certainly this rental company already knows Kevin’s name, considering they wrote “Hello Kevin!” and certainly they know Kevin’s’ email address considering they already sent him an email. That’s like asking for someone’s number after you’ve called them. And even Kevin would assume that they have some sort of system in place to track where their cars are rented out. This rental company should only be asking one of these questions, namely the fourth. That is the only question that is of any value to them.
These types of handcrafted surveys are often under-engineered and any feedback gathered is both poor and handled poorly. There are two things you should never waste, your customer’s time and money.
When a customer becomes committed to one specific brand, they are brand loyal. They become the promoters of your company’s brand and products. They exclusively purchase from your brand, often not taking into consideration offers from your competitors. Creating brand loyalty doesn’t have any “Top 10 Weird Tricks” or easy solutions. Brand loyalty requires focused effort, patience and a driven commitment to provide your customers with the best possible experience. Brand loyal customers are the perfect customers. The tricky part is knowing how to grow them into brand loyal customers.
Brand loyalty occurs with companies that are customer-centric. These companies actively work towards creating promoters for their products and their brand. Look at brands such as Zappos, the king of creating brand loyalty. Their focus on appeasing customers seem to have no limits with the amount of time and money they spend on them. They do not visibly spend anything on marketing campaigns, choosing to focus their effort towards appeasing their customers and building their brand from the ground up, through happiness and loyalty. They provide a legitimate reason for their loyal customers to come back, time and time again.
When starting your journey to grow brand loyalty, start with your best customers. Yes, yes… your sales department is important as well, but having them work in perfect synergy with your customer service department will drive your brand upwards and forwards, and eventually you will reap the hard earned rewards of brand loyalty through sales. Exceeding any and all expectations of your customer is an effective way to have them come back again for their next purchase. Positively surprising customers, showing that you actually care and appreciate their business works wonders through word-of-mouth marketing. When the time comes, and you’ve mucked up something and the complaint comes thundering through the phone, Facebook page or Twitter feed, act accordingly and apologise.
Treat your customer feedback like you would the cries of your own baby. Figure out how to make their lives easier through developing better products, services and drive your industry forwards through innovation. Your brand means nothing if you cannot deliver on the hype. View your competitors as the bottom line. If you reach the bottom line, you are no better than them. Whatever they do, aim to outperform them in every conceivable way. Brand loyalty does not happen without reason, and your goal is to provide your customers with a reason to be loyal. One act surpassing your customer’s expectation might go viral, and your one act of caring might translate into a free marketing campaign worth millions. But it’s important to take note, one poorly handled complaint could also go viral and stain your brand for years to come.