According to Gartner, “Providing a better customer experience (CX) is no longer just a competitive advantage; it’s a matter of survival. More than 80 percent of brands surveyed…said their success is mostly or entirely dependent on CX.”
CX encompasses the full range of customer impressions and touch points: your pricing, the quality and reliability of your product, ease of doing business with you, ease of finding how-to information, and of course the quality of your customer service.
Steve Olenski recently questioned if customer service is the same as CX. It’s not, but customer service is sort of the last line of defense; customers are contacting your customer service team because of a breakdown in some other aspect of CX (being overcharged, delivered the wrong item, having a bad experience with one of your employees, etc.).
Customer service starts with getting the basics right. Hire customer service reps (CSRs) with the language, people, and technical skills needed to do the job well. This is not just a customer-facing role, it’s a role in which the customers being faced are often unhappy and possibly even on the edge of leaving. It’s not the place to skimp on spending.
Offer multiple customer service channels, including phone, email, chat, and Twitter. And unless you have a monopoly, like your electric utility, cable provider, or Facebook (the ultimate scavenger hunt challenge is to find any phone number that connects you directly to an employee within Facebook), make it easy for people to find and reach your customer service department.
Beyond the tactical basics, here are three golden rules for optimizing the customer support end of your brand’s customer experience. These should be obvious, yet are too often overlooked or ignored.
Remember “The Customer is Always Right”
This phrase was the motto of and popularized by legendary retailer Marshall Field around the turn of the century (the 20th, not the 21st). It’s far from a new idea, yet equally far from being universally adopted.
Every business exists to serve customer needs. Again, unless you work for the cable company or a popular social media platform, customers don’t care about what your internal systems will or won’t allow, or your internal workflow challenges—they just want their needs met. If you won’t do that, a competitor will likely be happy to.
This doesn’t mean every customer demand must be met (see the section on “sensible policies” below). Just as the U.S. Constitution is not a suicide pact, so the notion of the customer always being right doesn’t require acceding to demands that would jeopardize the health or ongoing operations of a business.
But if your CSRs are frequently debating or even arguing with customers, take a closer look at what’s happening. Your customers are probably not the problem.
Empower Your Customer Service Reps
CSRs have a really tough job. They spend their days fielding phone calls and online inquiries into pricing and billing disputes, delivery problems, product quality issues, and other matters which they had no hand in creating. But they have to deal with.
For good CSRs, a win is turning an angry customer into a happy one. A call that starts with the customer screaming obscenities and ends with them laughing and joking with the CSR is mission accomplished.
Smart companies trust their CSRs and empower them to do whatever is needed to resolve the widest feasible range of customer issues. This makes the CSR’s job just a little easier, makes customers happier, and reflects well on the brand.
Limiting the authority of CSRs, on the other hand, leads to frustration, high turnover (among both CSRs and customers), and ultimately damage to the brand image. Consumer sites like Google Reviews and Yelp, and business software sites like G2Crowd and TrustRadius, make it really easy to share their brand experiences–good or bad–with a wide audience.
Implement Sensible Policies and Processes
There are instances where a customer will push the envelope and make an unreasonable demand. Though the customer is (almost) always right and CSRs should be empowered, there should also be some clear boundaries.
If, for example, a customer demands that an entire multi-item order be free because of a minor defect in one of the items…that’s questionable. A customer who repeatedly makes such demands may not be worth retaining.
But again, policies should be reasonable. If, for example, a customer was clearly over-billed, or not permitted to cancel an order within a reasonable time frame, the CSR should be able to fix that. Processes should be as flexible as possible, and policies should be written to prevent clear abuse—not to close off sensible, justifiable resolution or legitimate complaints.
In businesses with low switching costs, you may not get a second chance to provide the customer with a great experience. Keeping these best practices and golden rules of customer service in mind can help you attract and retain both talented CSRs and good customers. And that will ultimately reflect well on your brand image, as well as your bottom line.
The original version of this article was first published on Webbiquity.