How to Improve Customer Service

How to improve customer service in 5 steps.

Why This Plan Works

Ready to improve your customer service? Great! Let’s begin. Implement our plan and you’ll start improving your customer service immediately. The sole caveat is… you must do the entire plan. Take a shortcut and you’ll jeopardize your success.

Why will our plan work, even if your past attempts at improving customer service have been dead ends? Because this is not a slapdash solution or a motivational speech.

Our plan provides concrete actions for your team. Plus, our plan posits and works from a core truth: customer service is an emotionally complex event. Most customer service improvement plans—whether involving big data, speech analytics, or outsourced monitoring—do not pay sufficient attention to this fact. The result? Companies can think their customer service is fine, when it’s not. Even worse, companies can fail to capitalize on the expensive people and infrastructure they already have in place.

The 5 Steps

  1. Decide what you will add.
    To impact loyalty and sales, satisfaction isn’t enough.

  2. Take a complete inventory.
    Customers and situations are different. Great customer service recognizes this.

  3. Define criteria precisely.
    You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

  4. Report your results frequently.
    Ongoing feedback—it’s key to success.

  5. Provide specific examples.
    Your associates seldom have the time or inclination to figure it out for you.

Step 1: Decide What You Will Add

To improve your customer service, decide where to add value.

First, you need to decide how you can add value to your interactions with customers. One possibility is to brand your customer service.

Many executives think of customer service only in terms of satisfaction, but this sets the bar too low. In fact, research from Gallup and others has consistently proven that satisfaction is not enough to impact sales. To actually impact sales, you need to create an emotional connection with customers.

Creating this emotional connection requires that you first address the customer’s immediate question or concern. Then, do a little bit more. A little bit is key because, without that extra touch, you have unmemorable sameness. But, if it’s too much, it comes across as awkward and forced.

What can you add? Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has popularized the idea of adding value by branding customer service. The idea is to find protocols that bring your brand to life in order to show customers that your brand is more than an image; it’s a set of authentic values. Certainly, for companies looking to demonstrate a unique identity, to brand customer service makes sense. But there are other ways to add value through customer service. For instance:

  • Educate Customers: Do you sell complex products or services?
    Demonstrate your expertise with recommendations and great explanations.

  • Increase Customer Loyalty: Do you aim for high re-purchase rates?
    The best experiences keep customers engaged and buying more.

  • Spread Happiness: Is “doing good” key to your whole approach?
    Happiness is viral. Use customer service to make the world a better place, one interaction at a time.

Get started! Improve your customer service.
Gather your customer service improvement team and decide what value you can add to your interactions that will support your company’s goals.

Step 2: Take a Complete Inventory

To improve your customer service, decide where to add value.

In order to improve your customer service, you need a clear picture of who contacts you and why. Don’t assume customers who ask the same question need the same answer. In addition, catalogue your interactions the way the customer experience actually occurs; that’s lots of different customers interacting through diverse company touchpoints.

Here’s how to correctly inventory your interactions

First, identify each and every type of customer question, or reason for interacting. While your CRM software can spit out a list of reasons customers are in contact, this list is not from the customer’s perspective. To isolate the real reasons customers are in touch, observe a statistically valid number of actual customer service interactions.

Next, because who contacts customer service profoundly affects the quality of the interaction, identify your various types of customers and their emotional states. Market research can be a good starting point for cataloguing the differences among your customers, but getting the full picture requires observing a large number of your interactions to see what kinds of customers you have, and how they feel when they contact you.

Finally, ask: could every type of customer and customer mindset occur with every reason for interacting? Probably not. For example, rushed customers probably aren’t asking questions that require detailed explanations. Once you’ve figured out the possible combinations of touchpoints and customer characteristics, you’ll have hundreds of unique customer scenarios.

Get started! Improve your customer service.
First, chart your various types and subtypes of customer inquiries. Then, using direct observations and customer research, list your different customer groups, mindsets, situations, etc. Ask yourself, which customer categories interact with which touchpoints?

Step 3: Define Criteria Precisely

To improve your customer service, decide where to add value.

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. So, deciding what factors to measure and how to measure them is key to good customer service evaluation. To decide what to measure, focus on the four dimensions that we’ve discovered (through our research) are common to all customer service interactions:

  • Timing—Treating the customer’s time as valuable.

  • Information—Providing complete, relevant and clear answers.

  • Connection—Showing interest in the customer and their situation.

  • Differentiation—Using branded language and articulating key differences.

To make customer service evaluation standards usable, break the four dimensions down into precise elements and weight these elements depending on what would make each interaction great. For example, when a caller asks a retailer where their package is, connection and information will be most important. But when a caller asks about products they have not yet bought, differentiating the brand will matter most.

You’ll also need to develop specific additive and subtractive scoring rules. This is the most time-consuming step because, to be accurate, scoring rules must be precise and provide examples. This way, no matter who scores, you’ll get nearly the same results.

Need help building your criteria? We’d love to build your customer service evaluation standards for you.

Get started! Improve your customer service.

For each customer inquiry scenario, identify what it would take to create the best response. Assign additive and subtractive scoring rules, and tweak the criteria until everyone on your team agrees.

If your customer experience is very complex, this could take hundreds of hours, but it will give you a powerful tool for getting accurate results from your customer service evaluations.

Step 4: Report Your Results Frequently

To improve your customer service, decide where to add value.

Ongoing customer service evaluations with clear reports are critical to improving your customer service. As the success of Net Promoter has demonstrated, publishing one easy number is a great way for executives to know where they stand. However, for managers and associates who need to know what to do differently, more detailed reports are necessary.

In order to get the most value from your customer service evaluations, your audits should be objective, independent, and emotionally intelligent.

  • Objective scoring is based on precise criteria and scoring a large number of interactions. How many interactions you evaluate depends on your goals, but strive for a statistically valid sample that covers all important touchpoints, so that you have representative results.

  • Independent scoring gives an outside perspective. This keeps assumptions you have about your company from throwing off scores. (Of course, we’re a great choice for your customer experience auditors!)

  • Emotionally intelligent scoring requires that human beings monitor many of your interactions. While software can have powerful analytical intelligence, it doesn’t have emotional intelligence. This means it’s unable to capture the essence of customer interactions.

Get started! Improve your customer service.
Measure often and publish scores on a regular basis. Competitor Benchmark, Customer Effort, or Quality of Customer Interaction™ Scores are examples of truly useful customer experience metrics.

Step 5: Provide Specific Examples

To improve your customer service, decide where to add value.

Connecting with customers on an emotional level—while keeping brand messaging in mind—is exhausting. But the answer isn’t scripting because that comes across as forced and robotic. Instead, provide associates with concrete examples to show them how to brand customer service and get the most from their customer service interactions. Fail to provide specific examples and you leave your lowest paid workers with the important job of figuring out how to communicate your corporate values. While some of your reps may make great choices, the fact is, many will unknowingly tarnish your brand.

Your model communications may take the form of call scripts, branded email templates, checklists or talking points. Regardless of the format, concrete examples are essential.

Of course, this is not to say that improvisation is out. In fact, improvisation is a critical element of good customer service, but the best improvisation works because guidelines and examples are clearly communicated in advance. And the best customer service strikes a balance between planned and improvised behavior.

Does an example-based customer service training program take time to assemble? You bet it does. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Get started! Improve your customer service.
For every scenario, compile the answers associates currently provide. Decide what supports your brand, improve what doesn’t, and create engaging examples that set the bar.

Recap | 5 Steps | Take Action!

  1. Decide what you will add.
    ACTION: Gather your customer service improvement team and decide what value you can add to your interactions that will support your company’s goals.

  2. Take a complete inventory.
    ACTION: First, chart your various types and subtypes of customer inquiries. Then, using direct observations and customer research, list your different customer groups, mindsets, situations, etc. Ask yourself, which customer categories interact with which touchpoints?

  3. Define criteria precisely.
    ACTION: For each customer inquiry scenario, identify what it would take to create the best response. Assign additive and subtractive scoring rules, and tweak the criteria until everyone on your team agrees.

  4. Report your results frequently.
    ACTION: Measure often and publish scores on a regular basis. Competitor Benchmark, Customer Effort, or Quality of Customer Interaction™ Scores are examples of truly useful customer experience metrics.

  5. Provide specific examples.
    ACTION: For every scenario, compile the answers associates currently provide. Decide what supports your brand, improve what doesn’t, and create engaging examples that set the bar.

The easiest way to improve your customer service is with us. Get a Demo.

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