Differentiating on service isn’t just a smart strategy for growth; increasingly, it’s a survival strategy. In a world where customers have more options available to them — and more ways to vent frustrations publicly — you can’t afford to drop the ball on excellent customer service.

Last week was National Customer Service Week, an annual — and now global — event devoted to celebrating the people who make customer service happen. But just who is that? If you ask us, it’s everyone.

Excellent customer service isn’t a function or the domain of some select few within your organization. After all, you can’t consistently deliver at such a high level- at every customer touch point- if only certain people are responsible for making sure it happens.

In fact, exceptional customer service is more than a functional role; it’s a purpose, rooted in a culture and an understanding of what it means to be truly customer-focused. Being customer focused goes far beyond just about what you do; to be part of the fabric of your organization it’s also about your attitudes, values and beliefs.

And it’s what sets apart some of the world’s most successful and resilient organizations.

WHY EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE MATTERS

Differentiating on service isn’t just a smart strategy for growth; increasingly, it’s a survival strategy. In industries like retail, for example, the past couple of years have raised the bar on customer service expectations. A recent study showed more than half of those surveyed (58%) said their customer service expectations are higher today than they were before the pandemic.

It’s smart business, too, considering 90% of Americans use customer service as a factor in deciding whether or not to do business with a company. Just as significant, 96% of customers say customer service is important in their choice of loyalty to a brand. Investing in customer service can decrease your churn rate, which decreases the amount you have to spend on acquiring new customers and decreases the overall Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC).

In the banking sector this is especially apparent. New research found that just one in five banking customers feels valued by their bank, while good customer service (along with trust and reliability) was cited as having the biggest impact on their decision to stick with a provider.

The bottom line is (literally and figuratively) no matter how great your product offerings are, in a world where customers have more information available at their fingertips, more options available to them and more ways to vent their frustrations publicly, you can’t afford to drop the ball on service.

WHAT IS EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE?

We know customers expect it, but just what does it look like to deliver exceptional service?

In an age of AI and technological innovation, great service still boils down to the human factor. Customers want empathy. They want to feel heard. Really heard. They don’t want ten minutes of on-hold music only to hear canned, scripted responses that ignore their real issues and needs.

Excellent customer service is what you get from someone who’s empowered to solve a problem and go above and beyond for you — someone who views themselves as your advocate. Mistakes happen, but people who provide exceptional service go a long way toward cementing loyalty to the brand, even when an issue comes up. They do it by slowing down, truly listening in ways that both validate your stated needs and uncover your unstated needs and asking thoughtful, insightful questions. In other words, having a conversation…

Another common quality among those who provide great customer service is that they do it right the first time.That’s why it’s so critical to empower your customer service teams to focus on improving first call resolution (or FCR). This is the percentage of customer service calls that get resolved on the first attempt.

No customer wants to have to wait a long time for a resolution to their issue or make multiple calls and speak with different agents restating the same issues over and over again. Doing it right the first time tells your customers that you value their time and that the people in your organization have the power to solve problems in the moment.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN CUSTOMER SERVICE TRAINING PROGRAMS

A customer service culture has to be built on more than just words. Talking about a customer service culture is important, but having an efficient, always improving process is what creates that culture and makes it last. That’s also why investing in people’s success and development has to be part of the customer strategy.

An effective customer service training program will take into account the process, skills, behaviors, attitudes and values that are required to consistently deliver amazing customer experiences. Some key factors to look for:

Processes that adapt to the customer

Training needs to prepare teams for today’s customers, who expect a personalized and seamless omnichannel experience. They want 24/7 help available to them, and they want it in the way they want it — whether that’s by phone, online chat, email or any other method they choose to contact your organization. Your people and processes have to adapt and meet the customer where he or she is.

Training needs to focus on helping your teams understand how different customers want to be communicated with and then giving them the skills and tools to tailor their approach to provide consistently excellent service across channels and customers.

Concepts grounded in your core values

Your treatment of employees is more visible and apparent than you think, and it has a great influence on customer buying decisions. During the pandemic, 59% of consumers and 71% of business buyers switched to companies with values that aligned with theirs. Because the customer experience (CX) will mirror your employees’ experience, your mission, vision and values have to be clear and embedded into the culture.

Clearly define what “customer-centric” actually means as a core value in your organization, and then pull it through into your customer service training. Training and coaching are how your values will become activated and visible to the customer.

A focus on developing problem solvers

Customer service teams that are empowered to take ownership for their performance and results consistently deliver greater value for their customers. This requires specific skills, such as critical thinking, questioning and active listening, but it also requires inner motivation and practical processes to keep them on track.

Training needs to help people align their attitudes, behaviors and beliefs with a problem-solving mindset and unlock their drive to create more value for each and every customer. It should also include an effective problem-solving process that helps them engage with the customer so they can discover not just the problem but also the true cause of the problem—as well as all the viable options for solving it.

Just as important, managers need to be able to coach and support their people, helping them tap into their purpose and hold themselves accountable for their impact.

An emphasis on being human

Sometimes empathy matters as much as solving the problem. How often in our own lives have we all thought, “I don’t need you to solve this for me; I just want to heard.”? Teaching people to simply be human and appreciate the customer’s frustration or problem is vital, but not always so obvious. After all, if it were, everyone would be doing it.

Training needs to be centered in a belief that honesty, integrity, customer satisfaction and loyalty come before profits. Part of this comes from aligning training with your core values, and it also requires building the skills to create emotional bonds with customers. When your people show customers they’re  committed to addressing the issue, even if they can’t solve it right in that moment, it goes a long way toward creating a customer for life.

AN END-TO-END CUSTOMER SERVICE STRATEGY

Self-service can also be part of great customer service — if it’s done right and designed to truly solve problems quickly and not just keep people from calling you. Features like easily accessible chat functionality, FAQs, clear return/refund processes and others can make the overall customer experience more streamlined and efficient as long as they are coupled with ease of actually reaching a live, knowledgeable person.

Above all, though, put your people first. According to a recent study, 69% of employees say they work harder when they’re appreciated. Engaged, loyal employees bring their best to work every day, and that’s what ultimately creates engaged, loyal customers.

When trust is high between leadership and front-line CX/customer service teams, they’ll be empowered to make decisions that are in the best interest of the customer, without worrying about negative repercussions later. Have a rewards system in place that recognizes when your people go above and beyond. Cross-train them to handle multiple scenarios, and provide one-to-one coaching to help head off complacency and boredom and improve retention.

It’s true that some people just have a knack for being great at customer service, but even they can struggle in organizations where customer focus isn’t central to the brand. That’s because everyone plays a part in the customer journey. Managers have to coach and set expectations around a customer-focused approach. The culture has to prioritize a seamless end-to-end customer experience, through a common language, skills and mindset. And everyone has to have the motivation and commitment to deliver on the promise.

About the Author
headshot for Will Milano
Will Milano

Vice President of Marketing

Will has driven brand and content marketing strategies for leading professional services companies for two decades including 13 years’ experience...

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