Periodically, there will be a horrific customer service experience that somehow catches the attention of the media and for a while we talk about customer service again. Most recently it was Comcast’s famously poor customer service that came under the microscope. Usually when this comes up we like to point to brands that are known for their great customer service: Zappos, Apple. Costco, Amazon, Nordstrom.

These companies deserve their kudos. I’ve had personal experience with the CS teams at all three and I can say they made a potentially painful experience into a very easy one, which only endeared me more to them.

For many companies, it seems like they consider the secret to good customer service to be a secret sauce or impossible goal, but giving good customer service is pretty straightforward. There are a few simple rules.

  1. Respond Quickly
  2. Be honest and genuine
  3. Don’t be a jerk
  4. Trust the customer

Sure to Respond Quickly, you need to be staffed appropriately to handle the flow of customer questions and issues. That might seem cost prohibitive, but the money that it costs to answer a customers question within a few hours will dramatically improve both the perception of the customer service as well as the perception of the company and the brand. Plus, a customer who feels like they are being heard will likely be nicer to the CS representative, which makes for a happier and more productive CS team.

Being honest and genuine is important. If customers don’t feel like they are talking to a real person, the feel like they are talking to a nameless, faceless corporation. That doesn’t endear them to your brand, and that doesn’t make them treat the CS person any better.

The third and fourth points are pretty closely related. If you assume that the people contacting you are honest, you will always try to do the right thing by them. Will that lead to the occasional bit of waste? Sure. But the goodwill it generates from your customers far outweighs the cost of possibly giving out something to a less-than-honest one.

Good customer service creates brand ambassadors for you, not just a retained customer. Look at these two recent exchanges from customers of Spotify:

How Spotify Made My Day

Spotify gave me the greatest customer service experience EVER!

Those exchanges show CS folks as real people, with senses of humor, who trust their customers and actually enjoy helping people. Compare that to Ryan Block’s call. The thing is that people won’t necessarily post or tell friends about a good customer experience, but they will definitely tell as many people as they can about a bad one.

From a management perspective, how do you encourage good customer service?

  1. Make sure that Customer Service is the job of everyone in the company
  2. Trust your CS reps
  3. Reward CS reps on positive interactions, not throughput
  4. Give good training, not scripts

When I say that customer service is everyone’s job, I don’t mean that everyone needs to spend time on the CS line (although nothing will get your CS team some mad respect like being in their shoes for a day or two). What I mean is that you should treat customer service and customer issues as a top priority. CS is your best line to your customer’s issues and they need to be heard. Also, it is ok for employees to reach out to customers on sites like Quora or twitter. It shows that the company cares.

Trusting your CS reps, like trusting all of your employees, is critical. Nothing makes your job stressful like the feeling that you are being watched or that someone is looking to catch your every mistake. That stress absolutely is obvious to the customer on the other end of the e-mail or phone, and it doesn’t lead to a positive experience.

Traditionally, CS has been considered an expense to be minimized. CS Reps were rated on outcomes and throughput, not on answering customer’s needs. It may seem insane to you, but many if not most companies still operate this way. This may work, but it doesn’t create brands that customers love. It creates brands that customers tolerate right up until the moment they can switch. It’s a short-term gain for a long-term loss.

Train your CS reps to actually handle customer issues, and give them the tools and power to fix things. If you have constant turnover in your CS department (a good way to do this is to ignore all the rules above), you don’t want to spend the time or expense to train your CS team beyond the bare minimum. This leads to people dealing with customers who feel helpless themselves that further frustrates the customer. Instead, spend the time and the money to really train up your CS team and empower them to fix as much as possible. Anything a first-line CS rep can’t fix themselves should be an actual bug that they can follow up with developers on directly. Empowering your team and trusting them to do the right thing leads to more positive interactions with customers, which only strengthens your brand.

Treating customer service as an expense to be minimized is akin to showing disdain for your customers themselves; and no one wants to support a company that doesn’t care about their customers’ problems.

By kevin

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