How to master the 5 elements of good customer service
What is good customer service?
The answer to this profound question can be as varied as the number of people you ask this to. For some people, good customer service might be a satisfactory interaction with the brand they are buying from. For many others, “good customer service” is tepid; it’s not the best out there. By their standards, customer service should be this amazing sweeping-off-the-feet treatment that they receive from a brand. Their mileage may vary depending on who you are surveying this question to.
I believe that good customer service experience has to hit all the right notes to count as an amazing customer service example. Last year, when I interviewed Shep Hyken, one of the most prominent voices in the customer experience sector, he succinctly defined amazing customer service in the following words:
Amazing is not over the top. Amazing is a little above average all of the time. And when it’s all of the time and it’s predictable and consistent, customers will say, “wow, that company is amazing!” Over the top experiences come from isolated incidents.
There are a few important things we can learn from Shep’s quote. First, it dispels the myth which romanticizes that businesses should aim to deliver top-notch customer service. Those one-off incidents can actually lead to unrealistic expectations in customers. Shep also touches upon the value of compounding as applied to customer service.
5 ingredients to create good customer service
When you dig deeper to understand what is good customer service, you will notice that there are five core components to it. If your business can incorporate these ingredients into your everyday customer service DNA, it will create an amazing customer service experience for every customer.
In his latest book, The Convenience Revolution, Shep highlights how convenience in customer support is the biggest disruption today. Convenience accounts for how friendly your service staff is, how quickly you can resolve tickets, and how accessible your customer service is. Many businesses don’t think thoroughly about making their support offerings easy for customers, while a few others are plan delusional about it.
The customer had called Comcast with a simple request—to disconnect the TV cable services. But he had to endure a difficult 18-minute-long tirade from a belligerent service rep which was uncalled for.
It’s incidents like these why Comcast has earned the notoriety of being one of the most hated companies in the U.S. When you make your customer service inconvenient, it’s doomed to bite you in the back.
More often than not, making your customer service convenient doesn’t take much. It can be small, simple gestures like displaying your support team’s phone number prominently on your website, offering a live chat widget on your website, or keeping your customers posted on the progress of their tickets.
Speed is convenience by another name, but it’s such a critical currency of your service delivery that it merits a detailed discussion. Good customer service is directly proportional to the speed with which it is delivered. Without it, the descriptors for customer service changes from “good” to “bad”—or even “worst”. This is the reason why customer service experts give utmost importance to different service metrics such as first response time, i.e. the first instance of a brand acknowledging a customer’s problem.
It’s instantly gratifying for customers to have their queries acknowledged at the earliest; it’s sometimes more important than getting a solution right away or the accuracy of the service.
One of the biggest timesucks for customer service teams across the world is the constant flood of queries that are repetitive in nature. Answering 20 questions on refund policies every day is not the most productive use of your service reps time. On the other hand, you can’t leave your customers in the dark. A great way to overcome this dilemma is to use canned responses to your advantage.
Freshchat allows your support team to set predefined replies to the most common queries. Even when your support reps are multitasking, accessible only through phone, or on-the-go, they can type ‘/’ followed by the shortcode to retrieve the right canned responses in a heartbeat. This optimizes your response time and boosts overall productivity.
Read the live chat canned responses cheat sheet that we prepared to know more on how you can speed up your response time based on your industry.
Making your service convenient for customers to access is one thing, but executing on those service fronts is a different beast altogether. You can’t fake customer service; it has to be as well-rounded as your products and services. Accuracy in great customer support means you have to regularly train your service staff on service etiquettes, hone their knowledge on your products, and upskill them on using various software related to their job.
If the customer service you offer is inaccurate, it’s worthless. It also affects your customer satisfaction score and takes away the trust from your brand.
Lyft, the famous ridesharing service, places a high value on offering accurate customer service to their riders. The company uses artificial intelligence (AI) to offer personalized, accurate experiences for riders as well as Lyft drivers. The Lyft app uses AI-powered bots to offer interactive help—just like live chat on a website—to predict customers’ queries and help them navigate to the correct solution.
For instance, when a customer (or a driver) rates their trip with a three-star or less, the app prompts a few questions to understand what went wrong so that the company can match their preference in the next ride. The answer is automated to the Lyft customer support team who will reach out to the customer, understand more context, and offer a remedy when possible.
No customer service is perfect, and acknowledging the imperfections in your service delivery can be refreshingly relieving for your customers. Businesses build loyalty around their brands when they maintain an authentic, transparent relationship with their customers.
How can your business practice honesty in your day-to-day customer service offering? Well, sometimes you have to admit you don’t have all the answers/solutions to your customers’ problems. It might mean owning up a blunder and making up for it. Sometimes, it’s about doing what’s best for the customers even it’s not in your short-term favor.
L.L. Bean, the Maine-based outdoor clothing and retail manufacturer, has developed this kind of integrity around the business in two ways:
i) they make some of the most durable outdoor clothing, and
ii) they offer a one-year guarantee on all their products.
No matter what complaint customers have, L. L. Bean stands by the guarantee. While this is a transition from their lifetime guarantee on products that was in place until 2018, the one-year return policy continues to show that the company has high confidence in the quality of its products and their durability. L. L. Bean never made a fuss about their return orders, despite the large-scale policy abuse it withstood for several years.
The result: L. L. Bean is one of the most loved retail brands in the U.S. as ranked by the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
One way to practice transparency and honesty in your day to day business operation is to set the right expectations for your audience. For instance, if your customer support team works in a different time zone than that of a segment of your customers, you can display your business hours prominently in your live chat widget to let your customers know about your working hours. This helps the customers set the right expectations with your website visitors.
Your business might be able to add all the above ingredients to your customer service offerings. But without consistency, the recipe is half-cooked. Consistency trumps everything; it’s the ultimate measure of your commitment to customers. Customer service should not be a dichotomy of experiences, but a coherent continuum. A customer’s experience with your brand should be predictable and aligned with their past or future interactions.
Let’s look at another example from the ride-hailing industry to drive this point home. In July 2018, Vish, a Toronto area Uber driver, completed 5,000 rides with an impressive 4.99 rating from his passengers. The secret to this seemingly difficult feat? There are many, but the one that stood out to me after I read the original Fast Company article was that he offered consistent experiences to all his customers.
Vish followed a checklist of things to offer good customer service; he greeted his customers with their names; he announced the ETA of a trip before every ride; he kept his phone in silent; and, he took special care to clean his car every day. Vish knew that although it was just another Groundhog Day of driving for him, it was always the first time for many of his customers. He prepared himself to offer similar interactions even for repeat customers matched to him.
Great relationships are built on credibility, honesty, and consistency—and customer service is no exception to that rule.
Take your customer support from good to great
When you strive to make your customer service consistently good day-in-and-day-out, you earn an edge over your competition. It becomes the “wow” factor for your customers when you make all your service touchpoints convenient and delightful for them. Good customer service becomes great because you keep plodding at it without taking your eyes off of the goal, i.e., to make a difference in your customer’s life—one customer at a time.
Make sure you consistently offer these 5 ingredients in your service offering and you will create a legendary customer service experience.
(Thanks Sudheesh Chandran for the feature illustration)
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