Company executives — especially customer service leaders — will tell you that the customer is the most important person on the planet and that the company is focused on making the customer happy with a laser-like intensity.
Take a look at a typical mission statement — it’s all about the customer. Yet many customers would rather have a root canal than contact a company for support, and this is especially true in the tech world. All too often, for the customer, the support experience is a frustrating, time-wasting exercise in futility.
We know this is true because we are customers ourselves. We’ve all felt that palpable sense of dread when we have to call a toll-free support number, expecting a massive, circular phone tree followed by a seemingly endless wait, and possibly a clueless rep when (if!) we finally do reach a human being.
It doesn’t have to be that way, and those of us who manage or influence customer support delivery have an obligation to make it work. A teamwork-focused strategy and effective application of technology and data can help us do our jobs better — and stop stressing out our customers. Here’s how it can work: 1. Know who your customers are. There are few among us who haven’t experienced the frustration of a poorly designed phone tree and the indignity of being shuffled from agent to agent and asked for our name, account number, product type and current service issue over and over again. Stop doing that to your customers.
Deploy a technology platform that incorporates a customer database with product and inventory information. That way, you’ll know who your customers are and what products they use when they call, and if you have to transfer them to another agent for help, the next agent will have that information too.
2. Give customers multiple channels to access help. We all talk about how customers have unique needs and individual preferences, but too many customer support organizations shoehorn every customer into a single support channel. Give them choices instead.
Some customers prefer to talk on the phone, while others would rather access a self-service portal, interact with an agent via live chat, learn from peers on a customer Web portal or converse via email. The same customer may prefer a different channel on different days. Give customers a variety of ways to connect with you.
3. Use teamwork to solve customer issues. Chances are, someone in your company is capable of solving any problem a customer brings to the support team — but that person might not be on the phone. That’s why collaboration is so important: It lets customer support leverage the company’s collective expertise.
There are software solutions that make collaborating across business units simple, and enable agents to view notes about past customer issues for clues to solving current problems. This not only helps your company solve the problem at hand, but also allows you to manage the entire relationship, rather than just resolving individual tickets.
4. Be honest with the customer. A good customer support agent really does want to make things right for the customer, and that’s admirable. However, it’s important to avoid making commitments you can’t keep, which will serve only to increase the customer’s dissatisfaction in the long run.
Always be honest with your customers. If you can’t solve their problem immediately, give them an accurate time frame for a resolution, and let them know what steps you’re taking to address the issue. Record the commitment on a customer database so colleagues are up-to-date on your activities.
5. Apply lessons learned to continuously improve service. Some issues customers raise are a one-off — but many times, patterns emerge that can deliver insights on how the company could improve service for everyone.
It can be difficult for a single agent or manager to identify patterns, which is why a customer support platform with robust reporting capabilities is crucial. It can provide a high-level overview of ticket types, identifying issues, customer companies, etc., to enable continuous service improvement. In a crowded marketplace, excellence in customer support can be a key differentiator for a business. That’s why so many companies give lip service to the notion that customer satisfaction is their top goal. For too many, that’s just a slogan. When customers reach out for support, they’re usually already stressed out about something that’s not working as expected. Far too often, their stress level increases while they’re attempting to get help, due to poorly designed business processes.
If your customers are stressed out, you can change that by taking a new approach. Make sure you know who they are when they reach out, and allow them to contact you on their own terms. Access your company’s collective expertise to quickly resolve the customer’s problems. Be honest about what you can and cannot do, and take a look at the big picture, so you can improve service not only for the customer on the line but for everyone else. By following these steps, you can reduce your customers’ stress level — and your own.