If you’re in business, you’re going to face a customer relationship issue that’s your fault. It happens. We’re human — and though we may strive for perfection, the best we can do is get close to that goal.
When your business errs, the first people who are likely to hear it are your customer service reps — or in certain situations, your sales reps, depending on the nature of the problem and the relationship you have with the customer. It’s part of their job — they provide customers with knowledge to get the most out of what they’ve bought from you, and they also field calls when you’ve made a mistake.
Customer service reps end up apologizing a lot in these situations. One oft-repeated saw in the customer service game is that customers don’t want apologies, they want empathy. I think that old saw is dumb. They really want solutions — a solution now and a solution going forward. Apologies and feelings are nice, but fixes are better.
Path to Loyalty
The problem is that too often there’s no way to go from apology to empathy to solution. You may have great reps who can calm the most infuriated customer — but are you allowing the reps to solve problems? If you’re not, the best you’re going to get is a calmed-down soon-to-be-ex-customer.
Customer service reps have a crucial role to play in improving the way you do business — not only in customer service, but also in product development, marketing and customer communications. All too often, however, these key personnel are seen as easily replaced cogs in your machine. Treating them that way shuts off a valuable source of data about your customers and what they’re saying to your business.
Instead, the smart approach is to see customer service as a key player in the battle for customer loyalty. In order for them to win that battle, they need weapons and direction — and they need a mission from leadership. Do you have a way for your reps to help effect improvement?
Many businesses don’t — and that’s because their processes look at customer service as a cost center, a necessary evil that’s the price of doing business. If you turn those processes around and include customer service as a key part of tending to the customer lifecycle, the results will be greater customer loyalty, better products and services, and fewer calls that require your reps to apologize.
4 Critical Processes
First, you need a process to examine customer service data. This requires your reps to have access to the CRM application, because that’s the tool that will provide the most complete picture of the customer lifecycle. It will tell you whether a customer returned after an encounter with your service organization.
It’s not enough to give customer service full access to CRM; you must also emphasize the importance of its use and the criticality of the inclusion of detail in reports. As a manager, you have to commit yourself to regular examination of the data. Detailed customer records reveal a lot about your effectiveness, but that’s of little use if you don’t look for ways to use that information to improve the business.
Second, you need processes that allow reps to participate in assessments of what’s working and what isn’t. A customer service VP or manager knows a lot, but the collective knowledge of a well-trained staff of customer service reps is probably greater and certainly more current than that of their boss.
Regular meetings or simple reports from representatives about trends and recurring themes can help drive improvement — and not just for service processes. If customers routinely complain about a design feature of a product, that should be communicated to the right people in the company to remedy the problem.
This is the head of customer service’s responsibility; if the person in this role doesn’t make a practice of communicating what the team is hearing from customers, you’re losing a lot of valuable intelligence — and losing ground to your competitors.
Third, you should develop a process to anticipate the effects of change on your organization. We’ve all been trapped inside byzantine interactive voice response processes; these result from a failure to think through how additions to the menu or how upselling efforts will change the experiences of customers.
Fourth, you should have a process in place that lets customers know they’re being heard. It may be direct, like a follow-up call to make sure their problems have been solved. It may be broadcast, like a customer email that gives credit to specific customers for suggestions that lead to changes.
Whatever you do, make sure customers know you have made them part of the solution. This is a way of turning empathy into action — you’re sorry they’ve had a problem, you’ve listened to them, and you’ve done something about it. Now, you’re reporting the results and giving them credit for their help.
All too often these ideas fade into the background as service organizations operate in reaction mode. If you want service to fulfill its potential in building customer loyalty, you can’t let that happen. You must take steps to make sure that your service processes don’t end when your reps hang up the phone.