Create a Positive Customer Service Culture by Making Customers Feel Valued

Create a Positive Customer Service Culture by Making Customers Feel Valued

Create a Positive Customer Service Culture

by Making Customers Feel Valued

Organizations are often chasing the illusive loyal customer. Various research studies have shown that it costs less to keep a good customer than it does to attract new ones through expensive marketing and incentive programs. Related to this, it seems logical to focus on converting new and occasional customers into loyal customers who return regularly and tout the organization’s benefits and customer-centric approach.

Alas, many managers, organizational leaders, and frontline customer service representatives simply do not get the whole concept of keeping loyal customers who use the organization’s products and services. These managers try to hold costs down by hiring inexperienced and low-cost employees, do not want to invest a lot of money in training staff (other than rudimentary product and service knowledge), and offer no real support for the customers they already have.

If you work for an organization and want to create an environment that is known for stellar customer service and customer-friendly people and policies, consider the following strategies to help make customers feel valued.

Hire personalities, not bodies. It takes a special person to be successful in a customer service environment. Strive to find people who are focused on interacting with others, seem to enjoy the service environment and life in general and sincerely want to help others. Product and policy knowledge can be taught to most new employees, as can the requisite skills necessary to successfully interact with new and current internal and external customers (e.g. interpersonal communication skills, knowledge about various demographic groups, team building, and other similar skills).

Prove that the organization and employees value customers. Create policies and procedures that are customer centric (e.g. return policies, hours of operation, and allow employee empowerment so that they can make decisions without a supervisor’s approval).

Train employees to recognize regular customers. People like to be seen as a person and as someone who is appreciated and valued by the organization. Customer service training sessions should stress this important fact and encourage employees to use a customer’s name when greeting and throughout a conversation. Memory improvement might be added to the training schedule to aid people in developing better memory and aid recall of customer names and faces.

Develop customer recognition and incentive programs. If customers are not rewarded for their continued business, they are likely to go elsewhere, especially if service breaks down or they encounter a problem.  Reward good customers with discounts, personal communications (e.g. a greeting and coupon on their birthday, anniversary or other special occasions) and a warm welcome when they contact the organization. Instruct employees to focus on the human part of a transaction first (e.g. a warm greeting or comments about previous contacts, purchases or visits) before moving to the business of why they contacted the organization and what can be done to assist them.

Doing these simple things and others can make a world of difference to many customers and can often make the difference between a transient and a loyal customer. For additional customer service tips and strategies for creating a positive customer service environment where visitors demonstrate brand and customer loyalty as a result of receiving excellent customer service, get a copy of Customer Service Skills for Success.

Customer Service Representative – Active Listening Tips

Customer Service Representative - Active Listening Tips

Customer Service Representative – Active Listening Tips

Before you can effectively listen to your customers or clients as a customer service representative you must first prepare to listen. That is because active listening is a learned skill and is different from the passive action of simply hearing sounds. Not only do you need to take the opportunity to attend training sessions on how to become an active listener, but you must also focus your attention when listening and practice the skill on a regular basis in order to improve.

The following are some simple strategies you can use to increase the chances for a more positive interaction with your customers when talking to them face-to-face or over the telephone.

Eliminate physical barriers to effective communication. This means stop distracting actions. This includes using technology, taking notes (not related to the customer that you are serving), talking to others, or attending to other tasks.

Block mental barriers to communication. Many times you may have things going on in your brain that can cause you to not focus your complete attention on the person in front of you or on the telephone. Examples of this are biases against a person or group, preconceived ideas about what someone is saying or someone who reminds you of similar prior situations or people, anger, irritation, or physical and personal issues that distract from the job at hand. If you cannot appropriately attend to a customer or situation, excuse yourself and ask someone else to step in for you.

Focus on the customer and project a positive service attitude. Do this through your facial (e.g. smiling), non-verbal cues (e.g. posture and gestures) and verbal responses (e.g. tone, inflection, and pitch) while listening attentively to what they are saying.

Summarize your understanding frequently during a conversation. This is paraphrasing and involves repeating the customer’s message back to them in your own words. For example, once a customer has described why he or she came by or called, you might say something like, “So Mister Brown, if I understand you correctly, the issue is … Is that correct?” This approach lets the customer know that you were actually listening and helps ensure that you take the appropriate action or respond correctly. Just be careful to alternate your responses so that you do not use the same approach over several times. That would make you sound like a parrot and could actually irritate the customer.

Ask appropriate questions to clarify and get feedback from the customer. Closed-ended questions are good for affirmations that you understood something correctly or to get agreement or permission, but do little to involve your customer in a conversation. For example, “You would like to exchange this red scarf for one that has red in it but also has some more supple colors as well. Is that correct?” Closed-ended questions typically start with an action verb (e.g. do, did, can, should, or will) and normally lead to a short answer or yes/no response.

To engage your customers in more open dialogue, you might use open-ended questions. For example, “What would the perfect scarf look like to you Ms. Harrison?” This type of question allows the customer to take control of the conversation. It also can provide a subconscious feeling of empowerment, control, and decision-making. Such feelings can lead to less opportunity for dissatisfaction or change of mind later because the customer made the purchase decision and may not feel that you forced something on them that they did not want or like. Open-ended questions normally start with words like what, how, and why.

For more effective customer service tips, strategies and techniques for active listening, verbal and non-verbal communication with customers and other skills to help improve customer relationships, meet customer needs, wants and expectations and create a more customer-centric organization, get copies of How to Be a Great Call Center RepresentativePlease Every Customer: Delivering Stellar Customer Service Across Cultures and Customer Service Skills for Success. The latter book is the top-selling customer service textbook in the U.S.

The Cost of Poor Customer Service

The Cost of Poor Customer Service

The Cost of Poor Customer Service

A recent experience with Century Link recently validated what I regularly tell customer service workshop participants and readers of my customer service books. I thought I’d share it with you along with customer service success tips that can improve customer service in any organization.

To reduce expenses, I decided to switch from my current Internet and cable provider to bundle those services along with my phones with Century Link. The technical process was fairly smooth, but the customer service support (or actually the lack of) has been a nightmare. On Monday after signing the agreement on the previous Thursday, I was on the phone for 4.5 hours with four different customer service representatives and a supervisor trying to resolve an issue related to the switch. On Wednesday, I spoke to three different Century Link employees, on Thursday two technicians came out to do the actual change over for Internet and cable and on Friday I was on the phone from 9:50 a.m. to 12:38 p.m. with seven customer service representatives and two supervisors. All for basically the same concern that I had.

In a nutshell, each person I talked to said the issue was resolved with my phone settings and service and that everything was set as promised in the agreement. In truth, that was not the case and I had to call back (multiple times) to let them know it was not resolved. I then had to repeat the story and what the previous person had said or promised (like many customers I am one of those people who write down the time periods of a call, name of the person I talked with and what was said in case something goes wrong). In virtually every new call situation, I was told there were no notes from the previous all in the system and that what was promised had actually not been done, so we had to start all over.

During the process over several days, there were three disconnects when the customer service representative attempted to transfer me or put me on hold. My phone was even totally disconnected at one point for almost a day because of an error on the part of one of the customer service agents.  And the story still goes on unresolved as I wait for a second technician to arrive today…

Through all of this, there was a respite from the torture that I was enduring. An angel in the guise of a supervisor named Joan. Unlike a previous supervisor who listened to my issue and offered nothing but two unacceptable solutions, with no apology for my inconvenience or trouble, she took appropriate steps to get a repair call scheduled, apologized numerous times, did resolve a couple of the issues I had, and gave me a credit due to the phone disconnect. It was only when she transferred me to the repair department line that the torture came back with dropped calls and people who one after another told me incorrect information or failed to follow through.

This entire experience reinforced to me the importance of proper customer service training for anyone who is going to deal with customers on the front line. Everything that they do and say will likely have far-reaching implications for the representative and their organization. For example,  I have told at least four of the friends of my experience and I am now relating it to you.

If you are a customer service representative dealing with external customers or an employee with internal employees, make sure that you take the following actions with every customer contact in order to better ensure a positive outcome and experience for your customers and potential customers:

Learn everything possible about your organization’s products and services. Customers assume that when someone answers the phone to represent an organization that they can truly assist with questions and issues.

Do not use statements that belittle your role and authority. For example, “I’m only an order taker.” In such instances, your customer immediately discredits you and asks to speak to someone with authority and advanced knowledge. They are also likely to become very irritated at having wasted their time with someone who could not have helped them in the first place.

Avoid tentative language. Customers call for a reason; not to just chat with you. They normally have a question, concern, or problem that they need your assistance in resolving. The last thing they want to encounter is a customer service representative who uses statements, such as, “I think,” “I’ll try,” “Maybe I can,” or similar non-committal phrases. Tell you, customers, what you can do, not what you think you can or cannot do.  Statements such as, “I can/will” go a long way in reassuring the customer that the correct information will be provided or action will be taken.

Always maintain a positive attitude. Customers generally do not care what kind of day you are having, issues you face on the job and restrictions that you have in the workplace. They want quality customer service and to receive help with their situation or question.  If you cannot provide this, you should not be answering a phone or making contact with a customer.

Do what you say that you will. Under-promise and over-deliver should be your motto. Do everything you can to assist the customer and if you do not have an answer or authority, get them to the correct person.

NEVER do a blind transfer. This is a situation where you attempt to transfer a customer to another person or department for further assistance and once that party picks up, you disconnect from the call. In many instances (such as mine) the number to whom you transferred the customer is not the correct one or there is music or recordings playing. Get an actual person on the line when transferring, ensure that they are the right person for the issue that you’ve explained to them and then reconnect to the customer. Introduce the customer to the second representative, thank them for calling and them professionally disconnect. Your job is done at that point. In my case above, there were at least three instances where I got transferred to a number only to have the call disconnect or have to go through a voicemail option system that ultimately led me back to the customer service department from which I was originally transferred in the first place.

Put yourself in the customer’s place. How would you feel if you experienced negative service such as I described at the beginning of this article? Chances are you’d be looking for a way to vent and share your experience with others.

In my case, I shared my thoughts and suggestions for improvement with Joan and asked her to send them up to her chain of command. With all the notes I took throughout the various calls, I could write a letter to the president of Century Link, as I’ve done numerous times in the past to other organizational leaders.  In this case, the issues are so egregious and diverse, and the blatant lack of service is so obvious; I can only assume that the managers at Century Link already know about them, but choose to ignore them and do not properly train their staff.

Unfortunately, in a downsized world where organizations continually raise prices and look for ways to cut expenses, customer service training is viewed as a “nice to do” function, but is often limited or cut entirely. In the latter case, managers depend on other more senior customer service agents to conduct on-the-job training. That typically leads to poor quality of customer service, misinformation and people using a variety of techniques based on what they were taught. In the end, the customer, you and your organization suffer.

For more ideas on customer service strategies on how to meet customer expectations, deliver excellent customer service, increase customer satisfaction and loyalty, and reduce customer attrition, get copies of Customer Service Skills for Success and How to Be a Great Call Center Representative.

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