7 Trends in Customer Service Expectations

7 Trends in Customer Service ExpectationsDue to the rapidly changing world in which we live, customer expectations continue to shift dramatically in the 21st century. Much of this change is being driven by the pervasiveness of technology, especially social media.  The following are some of the trends in customer service expectations that I have identified by talking to workshop attendees, customers, friends, and conducting a survey of available research and publications.

  1. 24/7/365 mentality. Today’s customers expect that they can get what they want, how they want it and when they want if twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and three hundred and sixty-five days a year. When service and product providers are not available or cannot meet this expectation, customers simply go to a competitor who can.
  2.  Efficiency in service. With the advances of technology, customers do not expect to have to repeat steps or be inconvenienced when receiving service. This means that when they enter their credit card and personal information onto a computer screen or an automated phone system when ordering or calling with questions or problems, they do not want to have to completely re-enter or repeat their information when transferred to another point in the process.
  3.  Prompt response. Another one of the trends in customer service crucial in satisfying today’s customers is prompt service. The days of accepting “Someone will get back to you within twenty-four hours” are over. Customers see progressive companies using multichannel service response systems (e.g. online FAQ, customer care center 24/7/365, access through mobile technology, automated voice response systems, email, and chats) to ensure availability and response to customer needs, wants and expectations. They expect all companies to follow a similar model.
  4.  Human interaction. Automated response might be acceptable in some situations if it provides the information or satisfies customer needs. However, efficient human contact is typically the preferred means of response for most customers. The key is that the humans involved need to be well trained, competent and knowledgeable, not scripted. They also need to be fluent in the native language of the majority of company’s customers.
  5.  Service effectiveness over fluff. Incentive programs are nice, but what typically keeps customers coming back and enhances customer loyalty is that the organization provides timely, effective, efficient, and friendly customer service. Meeting the needs wants and expectations of a diverse customer base will often win out over a free refill, discount off a next purchase, or a “buy 10; get one free” loyalty program offer.
  6. Low tolerance for errors. In a world where companies like FedEx promised “When it Absolutely, Positively has to be there overnight,” computers have spellcheck to help catch errors, and many companies have unconditional guarantees to make it right when something goes wrong, customers are not as likely to accept excuses.  They expect companies to live up to their promises and what they put on their websites. They also expect that all employees are empowered to make decisions and fix problems without having to get their supervisor.
  7. Free shipping.  For years, leading companies like Zappos, Amazon, L.L. Bean, Lands End have been offering free shipping, and in some cases free return shipping. This can result in big savings if someone regularly orders from a company or places large orders.

There are many other trends in customer service of which you and your organization should be aware in order to meet the needs, wants and expectations of your customers. Take time to search the Internet for additional articles, read books on customer service trends, and attend customer service conference and training sessions on the topic. Do whatever it takes to better prepare to meet changing customer expectations and help ensure customer satisfaction.

What customer service trends have you identified in dealing with your own customers or talking to others? Share them with other readers.

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Ways to Achieve Customer Service Excellence – 3 Strategies for Professional Development

Ways to Achieve Customer Service Excellence – 3 Strategies for Professional DevelopmentThere are many ways to achieve customer service excellence. Professional customer service representatives who truly want to excel at their jobs find ways to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed. In many organizations professional development training and information are provided. These resources help employees gain the tools needed to provide stellar customer service and interact with a diverse variety of customers.

If you find that you are not receiving the support you need, there are options that you should consider in order to ensure that you have the information, skills, and support to achieve customer service excellence. The following are three strategies for professional development that can help.

Strive for improvement. Customer service can be frustrating and, in some instances, monotonous. You may need to create self-motivation strategies and continue to seek fulfillment or satisfaction. By remaining optimistic and projecting a can-do image that makes customers enjoy dealing with you, you can influence yourself and others. Smile as an outward gesture of your “I care” philosophy. Many self-help publications and courses are available that can offer guidance in this area.

The reality in many of today’s work environments is that organizations have downsized and some are still struggling to come back from the worst economic recession in recent memory. This has impacted productivity, revenue, employee morale, customer perceptions, and overall societal values. The new business norm is what it is today for many organizations and their employees. The result is that employees and their supervisors are learning to adapt to the changing face of customers related to their needs, wants, and expectations. That means that you on an individual level must step back and analyze your job and role in the service culture so that you can better prepare to meet the challenges and opportunities that you will surely encounter.

Look for a strong mentor in your organization. Many organizations have realized that they need to provide succession planning for the future. To do that, they must create a system whereby frontline employees, junior supervisors, and managers or future leaders are guided in their personal and professional development by those with more expertise, tenure, and contacts. This is going to become even more crucial in the future because of the coming “brain drain” in which thousands of older workers will retire and exit the workplace in virtually every industry and type of organization. When they go, they will take decades of experience and knowledge and leave behind a huge gap in many organizations, especially those that have not created an effective exit strategy or prepared others to step into key roles and positions. One viable strategy that some organizations are using is to put into place a strong sponsored and supported mentoring program.

If your organization does not have a system in place to pair newer employees in the profession with those more knowledgeable and skilled, try to find someone who is a superior customer service professional and get to know him or her. As your relationship grows, become a sponge and soak up as much of his or her knowledge as possible. Additionally, do an Internet search for professional organizations that cater to your profession (e.g., customer service representatives, call center representatives, sales professionals, or whatever your job title). Often they offer networking opportunities on a regular basis locally where you can attend meetings to hear guest speakers who share their expertise in the field. Through such events, you can likely identify other professionals who are looking to share best practices and information while growing their knowledge and skills.

Avoid complacency. Anyone can go to work and just do what he or she is told. The people who excel, especially in a service environment, are the ones who constantly strive for improvement and look for opportunities to grow professionally. They also take responsibility or ownership for service situations. Take the time to think about the systems, policies, and procedures in place in your organization. Can they be improved? How? Now take that information or awareness and make recommendations for improvements. Even though managers have a key role, the implementation and success of cultural initiatives (practices or actions taken by the organization) rest with you, the frontline employee. You are the one who interacts directly with a customer and often determines the outcome of the contact.

Some people might throw up their hands and say, “It wasn’t my fault,” “Nobody else cares; why should I,” or “I give up.” A special person looks for ways around roadblocks in order to provide quality service for customers. The fact that others are not doing their job does not excuse you from doing yours. You are being paid a salary to accomplish specific job tasks. Do them with gusto and pride. Your customers expect no less. You and your customers will reap the rewards of your efforts and initiative.

Like many other aspects of your job, customer satisfaction and retention often depends on how well you do your job. By taking personal pride in what you do and striving to achieve the best possible outcome of any task you begin, you can help ensure a sense of personal pride. At the same time, you initiative and efforts will likely be recognized and rewarded at some point.

For additional idea and strategies on ways to achieve customer service excellence, search this website for related articles. Also, check out Please Every Customer: Delivering Stellar Customer Service Across Cultures and Customer Service Skills for Success.

Do you have personal service improvement strategies that have worked well for you that you are willing to share with others? Offer one here.

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Time Management in Customer Service – Tips for Service Professionals

Time Management in Customer Service - Tips for Service ProfessionalsIn today’s harried world, effective time management in customer service is a crucial. When was the last time that you actually felt that you had time to do everything that your boss or customers expect from you? There is an ever-growing list of tasks to accomplish for customer service professionals. This is especially true in customer care centers. In addition to understanding the needs, wants and expectations of a diverse customer base, you must also deal with a variety of job related functions.

Some customer service professionals have learned to better manage their time than others. One way to improve on your own time management in customer service is to observe coworkers who seem to be able to easily accomplish their work and efficiently interact with all types of customers. Ask them for advice or opinions about things that you might do to better harness elusive time. If you can master yours, there is an opportunity to reduce your stress and improve job performance while better satisfying your customers.

The following are some proven strategies that can assist you in your efforts to move toward better time management in customer service.

Evaluate Your Perception of Time. Depending on your personal background, influencers and cultural values and beliefs, you view time in a manner that could differ from some of your customers and others around you. Once you recognize your time preferences, you can start to work on improving how you do things. For example, you may either currently take your time and are slow and methodical in accomplishing tasks. Or, you may rush from one task to another while quickly trying to multitask and get many things. In the first instance, trying to do everything perfectly could be causing a backup in calls or customers waiting for service. In the second example, you may be frustrating and disappointing others because your performance is substandard in their view. The key is to find a balance between the two approaches. Asking your customers or others questions to explain their expectations can sometimes help you realize that you are not doing what is actually needed or wanted. Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues when interacting with others. Based on their comments or cues, you may want to adjust your service delivery accordingly in order to enhance customer satisfaction.

Examine Your Time Reality. Everyone has the same amount of time each day (86,400 seconds, 1,440 minutes, or 24 hours). Some people use their time more efficiently than others do. Depending on the type of work environment in which you find yourself, your stress may increase because of your difficulties in using time effectively. For example, if you work in production areas (e.g., telesales or customer care centers) where you are held accountable for production rates, have timed standards for productivity, or work at a hectic pace, time can seem like your enemy. Often, high levels of stress may be caused by too few people handling too many tasks. In such environments, you may often have to work extended amounts of overtime or on weekends and holidays in order to meet established goals or standards. The frequent result is that you have little time to think before you speak or act. This is why a good system for time management and effective strategies can come in handy. Even if you can squeeze out a few minutes here and there, those precious minutes can help you efficiently deal with your time reality and more effectively serve your customers or accomplish other tasks.

Determine Relativity of Projects or Tasks. Assigning priorities is a matter of relativity. Some tasks and projects are rated higher than others. You should be guided by the question “What is the best use of my time?” Many people fill their daily schedule with frivolous or easy tasks and with tasks that they like to do. This often produces a hollow feeling of accomplishment, for they may get a lot done and enjoy doing it, but they have not added a lot of value to customer service or the organizational goals. Keep in mind when setting priorities in the workplace that your No. 1 focus should be your customers and activities that support them.

Be Realistic About Timing. Reality and deadlines have a way of dictating priorities. The starting time of a project or task also may establish priorities. Once you begin a task, there must be enough time to finish it. If this is not possible, you may have to prioritize or seek assistance. The key is to be realistic about the time it will take to complete a task. Make sure that you schedule that much time, plus a little extra, on a daily planning sheet that you create. Also, consider your peak time period for performance. This is your circadian rhythm – the internal clock that makes you more energetic either in the morning or evening. Each person typically has a period of the day in which he or she has more energy and can get more done. Capitalize on your peak period and schedule high-priority tasks during that time, if possible.

Time management is not a secret. It is a learned and practiced behavior. If you want to improve, you can do so. There are many resources online, in classrooms and in books and other materials. Make time to assess, evaluate and improve. Only you can do that.

For additional ideas on time management in customer service, review other similar articles on this blog. Also, check out Please Every Customer: Delivering Stellar Customer Service Across Cultures for information about how customers from different cultures perceive time and ideas for interacting with them.

What are strategies that you use to improve time usage in your customer service environment? Share them with other readers below.

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Customer Incentives Lead to Customer Satisfaction

Customer Incentives Lead to Customer SatisfactionEffective customer incentives lead to customer satisfaction, if they are thought out and provide something that customers perceive as valuable to them. Unfortunately, many organizations create incentive programs that their marketing team feels would offer value. Such stimulants are often provided without asking customers what they would like to have. While such offerings might look good on a window banner or in a commercial, they often have little meaning for many customers.

If you scan local businesses for the discounts and inducements available, you will likely find some organizations offering little or nothing ,while others provide a variety of options. The good news is that many organizations offer some type of incentive to try to entice customers to do business with them. The bad news is that they often waste money and marketing effort because they provide the wrong types of incentives.

While effective customer incentives lead to customer satisfaction, you should remember that customers must perceive value from them if they are to work. Most customers prefer to have something that really addresses their wants and needs; not what marketers decide that they should have.

The following are typical motivators that various companies offer in an effort to gain new customers and to get people to buy the organization’s products or services. As you will read, efforts to provide encouragement to customers often has the opposite impact.

2 for 1 specials or buy one, get one free offers. If you have ever received mail or newspaper flyers offering these types of stimulants you know that they can potentially be ineffective. For example, buy one hamburger or meal and get a second one free. If you have someone with whom you can share the offer, then you may be motivated to buy. Unfortunately, this type of come-on is often useless to a single person or someone on a diet, since there is little incentive to buy. A more effective approach might be to offer this deal and also offer an option of buy only one meal at a reduced price.

Buy 2, get 1 free. Many supermarkets offer this type of incentive. The challenge again is that people desiring to make bulk purchases may not be encouraged to take advantage of the offer. Especially, if the products are perishable food.

Coupon for money off a product when purchasing two or more of an item. Similar to the last option, food manufacturers are now using this type of deal. Many people routinely cut and used discount coupons from the Sunday paper. In today’s digital marketplace, where coupons can also be accessed via smart phones and other devices, this multi-item enticement is less attractive to many people. This is because many coupons are now only valid if consumers buy multiple items. Additionally, the discounts offered are still around the same level that they used to be for the purchase of a single item.

Offer for money off the retail price of an item. An effective way to get people to buy something is often to offer a set currency amount or a percentage off the purchase price of an item. Clothing, department, sporting goods and other types of stores often take this path to discounting. By making the discount a perceived value to customers (e.g. 25% off) or putting a minimum purchase amount (e.g. $50.00), sales often increase.

Free oil change when first visiting a car repair facility. Depending on the type of oil and filter being offered, this might appeal to some customers. A repair facility using this approach might want to add the option of a discounted price for those who prefer premium oil or a name brand filter. This can help attract a higher tier of customers who might be able to afford additional premium services on their vehicles.

$1,000 rebate or no/reduced finance charge for 36 months. Many new car dealerships now offer several financial-related options from which a customer might choose. Since most people appreciate the opportunity to save money, this approach often appeals to many car buyers. In effect, this choice of incentives puts the customer in control of what he or she gets.

Another type of incentive related to car buying is to offer a low down payment option. This inducement reduces out-of-pocket expenditure. It often appeals to many customers in a tight economic market and for money conscious and entry level car buyers.

Online basket abandonment offers. Many online retailers now offer an emailed discount offer when customers abandon their shopping cart with items in it before completing a transaction. For this type of situation, many consumers will later opt to go back and make the purchase in exchange for an offer of a discount.

Email opt-in offers. In a world where email in-boxes are overflowing, it is often difficult to get people to provide their email address unless there is some type of financial enticement. A 2014 BlueHornet Networks, Inc survey, revealed that the top reason for giving up an email address is a discount. For consumers in the 18-45 years old bracket a percentage off offer persuades an email surrender, and for the 46-75 year old group, it was free shipping.

No matter what type of organization you have or for which you work, customer incentives lead to customer satisfaction. The key is determining your customer base, what they perceive as important, and then offering something to satisfy their needs, wants and expectations.

For additional ideas on customer satisfaction strategies, search this website for other articles on the topic.

In what ways do customer incentives lead to customer satisfaction in your organization or those that you patronize? Please share those with other readers.

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Building Customer Relationships Leads to Customer Satisfaction

Building Customer Relationships Leads to Customer SatisfactionWhen was the last time that you had a positive, memorable customer service experience at a bank, store, laundry or other organization? In an age when technology-based service dominates many aspects of business, many organizations have lost the ability to make customers feel special and appreciated. Smart managers and their organizations can separate themselves from the pack by focusing on old-time customer service. When all employees are trained in the skills necessary for creating and maintaining strong interpersonal relationships with customers, companies can take a lead from their competition. That is because building customer relationships leads to customer satisfaction.

To be successful in creating a stellar customer service environment, organizations must prove that they are customer-centric. Customer service must become a strategic initiative driven from the top and practiced by all. Employees at all levels must be trained and held accountable for making customers feel valued. Service in such organizations is a standard, not an exception provided by a few.

The following are strategies that each employee can use for building customer relationships.

Communicate effectively. With so much communication occurring during any given day via technology, many people are forgetting how to effectively communicate with one another face-to-face or over the telephone. Sound verbal and nonverbal communication, coupled with active listening skills, are the keys to any successful interpersonal relationship. This is especially true in a customer service environment where building customer relationships often determines whether someone makes a purchase and shares their positive experience with others or goes away dissatisfied and spreads that message. Through corporate training sessions, online courses and videos, professional development events, articles and books, there is a plethora of information on how to better communicate with others. Each employee should take responsibility for enhancing and honing the communication skills necessary for building customer relationships.

Emphasize the value. It does not matter whether you are selling products, services or both. When you come into contact with a customer or potential customer, you must share reasons why what you offer is the best possible alternative. Your goal is to show that you can meet the needs, wants and expectations of your customers. A rule of successful sales is to sell the benefits, not the features of you offerings. Show the customer why they should choose what you offer over that of a competitor. This can be challenging in a world where your competition is only a mouse click away. Often, your competitors might offer discounts or sell at a lower rate. The differentiator can be that the service and effort you put forth in building customer relationships exceed that of your competition. Think of a time when you paid a bit more for something because you liked the way an employee made you feel during an interaction. Now take that feeling and put it into action for your customers. Go a little further to listen, respond in a friendly manner and make the customer feel valued.

Maintain a flexible stance. Before you ever encounter a customer, make sure that you discuss with your supervisor the level of decision making that you have when it comes to satisfying a customer. Often, organizations that empower front line employees to take extra steps to satisfy a customer are the ones that succeed in building customer relationships. They have lower customer churn rates and higher levels of brand and customer satisfaction.

Capitalize on complaints. Many people fear feedback and often do not ask for it. This is likely based on relationships they have maintained in the past and how they were made to feel. In a service environment, you should always ask for and graciously accept all customer feedback. Look at it as a way to improve yourself, your organization and the way that you deliver service in the future. You can gather feedback at the end of customer interactions, if other customers will not be kept waiting. Take the time to ask if there was anything else that you might have done to make the customer’s experience more positive. Thank them for any feedback that they provide. After they have gone, think of whether there is a way to implement their suggestions. Share these ideas with your supervisor and peers  so that all employees benefit.

Building customer relationships is not difficult. It just takes practice and a determination to put forth the effort required to exceed your customers expectations. To get additional ideas on ways to enhance customer experiences in the future, search this blog for other articles on topics on which you have an interest or area in which you need to grow. Also, check out Customer Service Skills for Success, Please Every Customer: Delivering Stellar Customer Service Across Cultures and the AMA training course  – How to Be  Great Call Center Representative.

What suggestions can you offer other readers related to how to build stronger customer relationships? Share them in the comments section.

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4 Proven Ways to Improve Customer Service Skills

4 Proven Ways to Improve Customer Service SkillsAre you consistently looking for ways to improve customer service skills? If so, that is a smart and professional strategy in today’s globally competitive marketplace. Not matter what type of business or organization you belong to, developing and honing your customer service skills will put you ahead of others. The reason I say that is because many customer service representatives and employees really do not care about their job. They need a paycheck and take the first entry job opportunity which comes along to provide a steady income. This is often in the service industry. In the meantime, they are often “looking for a better job.” The result is that they are not doing themselves, their organization or their customers any real good. Instead, they are going through the motions 0f serving others. Of course, all the blame cannot be placed on the employees. Many entry level employees receive only cursory operational training (e.g. how to run a register, operate equipment, and a basic understanding of products and services offered). Virtually no time is spent on ways to improve customer service skills.

To distinguish yourself from the crowd and gain a reputation as a stellar customer service professional, you should continually seek ways to improve customer service skills and knowledge. The following are five simple actions that you can take in order to deliver stellar customer service.

Make yourself memorable. Customer service is a “people” business. Successful service providers know how to build interpersonal relationships with their customers. To accomplish this yourself, go the extra distance when providing customer service. Don’t just do your job as it is outlined in your job description. Instead, be proactive and identify your customer’s true needs, wants and expectations. Once you know what these are, put your knowledge of your organization’s products and services into play. Efficiently decide the best course of action to serve your customer. Along the way, be personable and create a positive image or yourself and organization. This might be done through smiling, appropriate laughter, showing an interest in what your customer says, sharing interesting or useful information, ideas or suggestions, or reacting positively to a story or information your customer shares. Whatever you do, make sure that you come across as genuinely interested or concerned. All of these strategies can help build a strong customer-provider relationship.

Address customers professionally. Whether you are communicating with customers face-to-face, over the telephone, in writing or via technology, you must always be professional. Never forget that your customers come from diverse backgrounds and have differing expectations of what professional customer service look and feel like. Depending on their age, background and other individual factors, they may be more or less satisfied with your approach in serving them. Other factors come into play to influence how they receive messages that you send. These include their personal experiences, emotional mood, available time, perceptions of you and your organization, and their needs and wants. You likely will not go wrong by treating each customer in a professional and respectful manner. This includes not becoming overly familiar (e.g. using their first name without permission). To identify their preferred form of address, you might simply ask, “How would you like me to address you?” Keep in mind that using informal slang terms in references to customers (e.g. “You guys,” “Sugar/Sweetie,” or “Dude”) can irritate or offend some customers. Another potential problem area comes if you adopt and use a term that you hear a customer’s friend or family member use to refer to him or her (e.g. “Mom,” “Dad,” or “Grandma/Grandpa”). This approach can potentially result in a smaller tip, negative comment to a supervisor, or desertion to a competitor.

Visit your competitors. A simple way to find how you are doing compared to other service providers is to contact your competitors in person or via technology. Note how they greet you, handle questions, and generally how they make you feel about the interaction. Pay attention to things that they do well or not so well. Make mental notes and then adjust your approach to service to match or exceed theirs. Specifically look for ways to improve customer service skills that you have or add new ones to your toolbox.

Apply the 80/20 Rule. The 80/20 rule, or Pareto principle, was first suggested by management consultant Joseph M. Juran. He named the concept after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. Basically the rule suggests that 80 percent of effects come from 20 percent of causes. In customer service, many providers spend 80 percent of their time dealing with 20 percent of customers or similar issues. You can potentially reduce work effort by identifying these common issues in your workplace. After you have done so, work with your co-workers and supervisors to find a common solution to them. This will free up more time to allow you to focus on other customers and deliver a higher quality of service. It can also help to reduce your stress levels.

To find other proven ways to improve customer service skills, read other articles on the topic in this blog.

What techniques or ways to improve customer service skills do you use that might be useful to other blog readers?

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Customer Service Skills That Lead to Customer Satisfaction

Customer Service Skills That Lead to Customer SatisfactionAs a customer service professional, what can you do to enhance customer satisfaction and build a lasting relationship with your customers? If you answered “improve your customer service skills and knowledge,” you are correct. Unfortunately, many managers and their organizations do not take the time to invest in employee knowledge and skill building. Often, supervisors are not taught how to effectively coach and mentor employees and ongoing customer service skills training is neglected for all employee levels. Cost and time constraints are two common excuses for both of these failures. The ultimate result is lowered employee morale, high turnover, lowered customer satisfaction and increased customer churn rates.

If you find yourself in a situation in which customer service skills training is not being provided, take responsibility for your own professional development. There are many options for gaining, updating or upgrading your knowledge and skills.

The key to improving the chances of providing stellar service to your customers is to focus on personal motivation and continually strive to improve your own knowledge and customer service skills.

The following are specific areas that can lead to improved quality of customer service.

Customer service skills.  No matter whether you serve internal or external customers, you are in the “people” business. To be successful in interacting with others, you must be able to communicate verbally and nonverbally, actively listen, empathize, question in a non-threatening manner, provide appropriate feedback, and demonstrate that you have their best interests at heart. All of these skills take conscious effort on your part after you learn how to use them.

Enhanced knowledge of diversity. The world is continuing to evolve related to interactions between a variety of people. This means that for you to be effective in delivering effective service, you must first understand the needs, wants and expectations of various groups. To help accomplish this: (1) Learn as much as you can about the cultural backgrounds, values and beliefs of customer groups with whom you are likely to encounter, (2) Explore differences and similarities of people from various generations,  (3) Identify preferences of customers based on their genders, age, and ability levels, and (4) Recognize that people have different behavioral style preferences that affect the manner in which they react in various situations. All of these crucial components can impact customer-provider interactions. By increasing your awareness about interpersonal dynamics, you can potentially become a more effective customer service provider.

Organizational and product knowledge. One of the most frustrating things that a customer can experience is an unprepared service professional. This is one who does not know what his or her organization is about, the features, benefits and functioning of products sold, and services offered. Typically, these areas are addressed briefly in new hire orientation and in information provided online or in materials provided to employees. Take the time to familiarize yourself with all of these components of the customer service process so that you are prepared to answer questions from customers and offer appropriate options when the time arises.

For additional ideas on how to improve your customer service skills and improve customer satisfaction, search those topics on this blog.

What skills do you believe are crucial for enhancing customer satisfaction?

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Nonverbal Communication Skills in Customer Service

Nonverbal Communication Skills in Customer ServiceEffective nonverbal communication skills in customer service are the bedrock of understanding and customer satisfaction. This is especially true when dealing with people from different cultures. If you do not realize the power of the unspoken messages that you continually send with your body, you are likely destined for relationship breakdowns. This is because many research studies have identified nonverbal cues (body language) as being more powerful than spoken words.

To compound the opportunity for misunderstandings, many cultures assign different meanings to similar gestures, postures and facial expressions. Being conscious of these nuances when dealing with someone from a culture other than your own can help in reducing the chance for communication failures.

Following are areas of nonverbal communication to consider whenever you are in the presence of either your internal or external customers.

Smiling. Researchers have known for years that smiling is one of the few gestures that universally send a positive message of friendship and indicate that you are approachable. As a service provider, you should go out of your way to consciously offer a genuine smile, along with an appropriate greeting when interacting with customers.

Active posture. Think about your reaction to someone’s posture and actions when you are interacting with him or her. Most people notice nonverbal messages that they receive. Things such professional appearance, posture and demeanor typically project a “can do” in a given situation. Anything less can say, “I’m just doing my job.”

People form first impressions about you and your organization within seconds of coming into contact face-to-face or over the phone. Ask yourself, “What image do I project in dealing with my customers?” For example, do you sit or stand behind a desk or counter and wait for the customer to approach and open dialogue. Or, do you get up or move toward your customer with a smile, handshake or other proactive gesture while verbally welcoming them. Whenever possible, do the latter since this projects an image of equality and willingness to do your part to assist the customer. Similarly, on the telephone, sit or stand up straight and ensure there is nothing in your mouth (e.g. food, drink or gum) when speaking. Otherwise, your words can sound muffled or unclear. Also, make sure that you smile regularly because the tone of your voice can project an upbeat attitude.

Related to active posture, failing to stand up from behind a desk when approached by a customer might be viewed as a closed or rude behavior. Some might even view you as acting in a superior manner. This is certainly not a path to positive customer service and customer satisfaction. If you reflect back to your own past experiences, you have likely encountered this behavior at government or utilities offices (i.e. tax office, vehicle registration/licensing agency, law enforcement agencies, or water/electric company) or reception desks in organizations (i.e. banks, gyms, auto repair facilities, or medical/dental offices) where there is typically a large volume of customer traffic. Did you feel welcomed and served, or simply “processed” similar to how cattle moving into a slaughter house might feel?

Positive gestures. Studies have found that people react differently to various types of gestures. To prevent potential misunderstandings or incorrect interpretations of your intended meaning, consciously think before you act. For example, some people prefer not to be touched or use different greeting gestures (i.e. traditional palm-to-palm handshake, hug, kiss on cheek[s]) based on their gender, culture, background or personality. Similarly, the manner in which one crosses his or her legs when seated can differ.

The easiest way to help ensure that you exhibit positive nonverbal communication skills in customer service is to study the topic. Once you have the knowledge of appropriate gestures to use in various situations and with people of different backgrounds, you will be on your way to enhancing customer satisfaction. Just remember that you should never stereotype your customers. All members of a given group may not share the same values, beliefs and preferences based on their individual backgrounds. Pay attention to customer reactions when you interact and modify your behavior as required.

For additional ideas on the topic of using effective nonverbal communication skills in customer service, search that topic on this blog. Also, check out Customer Service Skills for Success and Please Every Customer: Delivering Stellar Customer Service Across Cultures.

What advice can you offer others related to developing positive nonverbal communication skills in customer service?

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Active Listening – Your Key to Customer Service Success

Active Listening - Your Key to Customer Service SuccessCustomer service success should be a primary goal for everyone in an organization. Since there is no organization without satisfied customers, making sure that they are understood and served effectively should be a strategic initiative. That means taking service down to a basic level with each encounter when someone comes into or contacts the organization. An easy way to help accomplish this is by training all employees to use of active listening during face-to-face and telephone interactions with customers.

Like other customer service skills, active listening is a learned process. Many people think that because they receive a message through hearing, that they are listening. This is far from true. Hearing is a simple physiological process of gathering sounds through the ear and transmitting them to the brain for analysis. Receiving sounds or messages is just the first step in active listening. Following the receipt of sounds or messages, the brain decides what they mean and what type of response (or inaction) is required.

Active listening is actually one of the most important skills that customer service representatives have for delivering stellar customer service. Even so, it is a topic on which many organizations fail to train employees. Many managers and employees assume that they know how to effectively listen. In reality, only through understanding the active listening process and practicing the skill can customer service representatives improve.

Following are three simple active listening steps that you take to help achieve customer service success.

1. Focus attention on the customer. Stop whatever you are doing that does not relate to serving the customer with you or on the other end of the phone call. This means putting down any technology you are using, stop typing on your computer, putting aside reading material, and really focusing on the customer and what he or she is saying.

2. Display a congenial demeanor. Simply put, this means smiling (even on the phone, since the smile comes through in your tone), looking at the customer as you speak to one another, nodding appropriately, using open physical posture and gestures appropriately and letting them know that you are really listening to what they are saying.

3. Repeat back what you understood them to say. This simple active listening technique involves restating what your customer said in your own words. For example, if a customer said, “I am really upset because I’ve called twice before about this  problem and I still have not received the information I was promised.” In response, you should apologize and emphasize, then repeat what you believe the issue to be before proceeding. For example, “I apologize that you have to keep following up on this issue. I know that must be very frustrating and is a waste of your time. If I understand correctly, you called two of our representatives in the past and were promised ____, but have yet to receive it? Is that correct?” Once they verify, state that you are going to take action to help resolve the issue for them. By taking this approach, you acknowledge and empathize with your customer. You also take responsibility for the situation and promise to correct it.

Active listening is not difficult, but it does take effort to learn and practice in order to perfect. While you may not get it right every time, you should work to incorporate it as a basic skill in order to achieve customer service success.

For additional ideas on how to improve your active listening skills and better service your customers, search the topic on this blog. Also, check out Customer Service Skills for Success and How to Be a Great Call Center Representative.

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Key Elements of a Positive Customer Service Culture

Key Elements of a Positive Customer Service CultureManagers often talk about the importance of establishing a customer service culture. Unfortunately, employees often do not know what that means because they do not receive training to help them understand their role in the process. This article outlines four key elements of a positive customer service culture.

1. Make internal customers a priority. Internal customers or employees are crucial to the success of any organization. These people are the lifeline of an organization and provide services (e.g. human resources, accounting, security, products, and support services) to one another that allow them to provide the best possible service to external customers. If employees do not feel valued, they likely will not take ownership and responsibility for their role in making sure that external customers receive the exemplary service that they deserve. Some simple ways to help ensure employees feel valued include, ongoing customer service skills, product and service training, up-to-date service technology (e.g. computers, databases, and communication equipment), inclusion in communication, empowerment in decision-making, competitive salary and benefits, opportunities for advancement and overall respect for what they offer and contribute to the organization.

2. Treat external customers as crucial to organizational success. The reality of today’s globally competitive business environment is that your customers often lack loyalty. The differentiating factor for successful companies is the stellar customer service that they offer their customers. Pricing and product differentiation are easy to match in many instances. Competition is often only an Internet search away. For these reasons, every employee must own responsibility for making every person with whom they come into contact feel “special” and valued. This is especially true when interacting with customers via faceless technology (e.g. online chat, telephone, text or email).

3. Provide ongoing employee training. Many managers view training as a luxury or expense to be cut rather than a crucial piece of the complex customer service puzzle. Nothing could be further from the truth. Strong customer service skills training is crucial for employees at all levels of the organization. Such training should certainly include at least the following topics:

  • Operation and functioning of any service technology used.
  • Organization history.
  • Organizational product and services familiarization.
  • Interpersonal communication skills (e.g. verbal, nonverbal and listening skills).
  • How to interact with all types or customers from differing backgrounds (e.g. gender, cultural, race, religion and various abilities).

4. Establish effective organizational communication channels. Successful organizations have multiple strategies for communication up and down the strata from executive levels to frontline employees. If everyone in the organization does not know the mission, vision and values of the organization, they certainly cannot be expected to embrace and personify those elements. If you read about exemplary organizations, you will often find that the people at the top of the chain of command regularly solicit and listen to ideas and suggestions from employees at all levels of the organization. You will also discover that frontline employees know where the organization is headed because they are:

  • Included in communications via newsletters.
  • Can access intranet information postings.
  • Receive regular updates and attend product, services, and skills training.
  • Participate in periodic (e.g. quarterly) group meetings with executives. In the latter sessions, the executives typically update employees and elicit input, questions and complaints, then have managers immediately act upon valid points identified.

Ultimately, successful service organizations create an environment in which providing stellar customer service is a strategic initiative. Both internal and external customers are valued for what they provide to the company. They are key elements of a positive customer service culture.

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