In the race to be at the forefront of today’s customer service industry, it’s all too easy to become fixated on the technological cutting edge. The more we move away from our roots, the more we find ourselves right where we started: The social niceties that were important to your grandmother and in Kindergarten are critical to your customer satisfaction scores today.
- The first line and the last word on every interaction
Recognize that your business’ customer service experience begins and ends with your agents. ICMI reports that the average “lifespan” of a U.S. contact center agent is three years, with a turnover rate of 33 percent. Begin limiting turnover from the day you interview by considering candidates’ personal motivations and how they’ll fit into your culture. Fully train them, empower them to handle the issues they’re confronted with, and then trust them to do their jobs. Help them uncover hidden aptitudes for different aspects of their jobs (have your agents ever taken a writing test, for instance, or showed an interest in data analysis?). Get comfortable with practices like “gamification,” and regularly acknowledge both team and individual successes to keep your team motivated.
- Be where they are, know where they’ve been
The maze of channels your customer can take to get to your agents makes it crucial to keep the process as seamless and as convenient as possible, which means your CRM system has to keep a lot of data at your agents’ fingertips. Track your customers’ service and contact histories; during initial contact, take note of their preferred methods of communication with you. Deploy solutions like VHT’s Callback, which has already saved customers billions (yes, billions) of minutes of hold time, and Navigator, which builds navigated customer journeys and makes meaningful connections through a differentiated, omnichannel approach.
- Let tech be tech, and people be people
Yes, today’s customer service landscape dictates that automation be integrated into the process so that your customers can find their own answers and, when they can’t, quickly and easily find their way to your contact center. But there’s an important flip side to that: When customers do get to your center, they want to find a real live person on the receiving side. So cut out the canned scripts and let your agents be their professional selves, bringing all their training to bear for each individual contact.
- Focus on relationships, not numbers
I warned you I was going to bring this back to your grandmother and Kindergarten. Anyone who works with your clients should be friendly and positive. A simple “please” and “thank you” or a sincere “How are you today?” can work wonders in calming an agitated caller. And have you ever noticed that you can hear it in someone’s voice when they’re smiling? Take note of the little things, like making sure your agents are spelling and pronouncing customers’ names correctly.
- Listening + solutions = Happy customers
A business doesn’t necessarily lose customers by making mistakes; it loses them by not handling mistakes well. The first thing your agents must do when taking a negative call is to listen; provide a neutral environment for whatever venting is needed. Then recognize the mistake, apologize, and focus on finding the best way to resolve the situation. Customers have their own individual values and motivations; find out what they view as an optimum solution and work toward that. Your customers will appreciate a sincere effort, which can turn a negative situation into a positive one.
- The customer is always right (or, at least make them feel that way)
Sure, it’s a cliché, but clichés grow out of universal experience. Remember that every customer has the perspective of starring in their own movie; your agents make the most of their scenes by responding appropriately in their supporting roles. Treat your customers with respect. School your agents against arguing — even if they do “win,” they’ll probably have alienated the customer and lost not only their business, but possibly the business of anyone the customer chooses to complain to (and social media is always just a few taps away).
- Be honorable
Those who work for your company should do what they say they’ll do; that’s how your company earns trust. Any form of a broken promise can ruin the customer relationship. For instance, establish the turnaround time on contact responses from the beginning, and then make sure your agents actually do respond within that time frame. Even if they don’t have complete resolution, they should get in touch at the appointed time and let the customers know they’re still working on it.
- Embody stewardship
Finally, always keep in mind that your business has even broader responsibilities than the customer relationship. As you update your systems, add new channels, and train new agents, make sure your solutions include quality management and fully comply with all relevant industry standards and regulations. Taking that responsibility, and all your customer service best practices, to heart will keep your business in the black for years to come.