Michael Scott takes a soon-to-be ex-customer out for lunch. The customer has told him time and time again that Dunder Mifflin's prices are simply too high, they can't afford it anymore, they're switching to Staples. They go to lunch, Jan is mad, they share stories. Drink, even cry at one point, and then, just as the drinks are emptying and Jan is really about to lose it, the following conversation begins:
Right down the street?
Uh huh, Kenneth Road, born and raised. Spent my whole life right here in Lackawanna County and I do not intend on movin’. I know this place. I know how many hospitals we have, I know how many schools we have. It’s home, you know? I know the challenges this county’s up against. Here’s the thing about those discount suppliers. They don’t care. They come in, they undercut everything, and they run us out of business, and then, once we’re all gone, they jack up the prices.
It, you know what, it really is.
I don’t know. I guess I could give you guys our business, but you have to meet me half way, ok, because they’re expecting me to make cuts.
Well, corporate’s gonna go ballistic, but, uh, you think we could Jan?
For all his faults, Michael understands one thing: the customer, like the rest of us, craves personal connection and understanding. We all want to feel cared for and listened to in our relationships, and the B2C relationship is no different. If we were to give the Michael Scott definition of customer service, he'd probably say something along the lines of, 'Customer service is forging relationships between customer and business'. (Though I'm sure it would take him a few more words to say it...)
Is Michael right? What is customer service?
He's certainly not wrong. Forging relationships certainly is key to customer service. However, customer service isn't only about relationships, it's about much more. According to Helpscout:
Great customer service means following best practices like valuing customers’ time, having a pleasant attitude, and providing knowledgeable and resourceful resources, but that you also take things a step further to exceed — rather than just meet — expectations.
At Yarno, we define it a bit more succinctly:
Great customer service means delighting the customer at every opportunity.
We're so serious about customer service excellence that we had in enshrined in our company values and placed in on our website for all the world to see and hold us to:
Thanks for the definition. But how do I actually delight the customer in practice?
When we think of customer service we often think of smiling faces, glib phrases like, 'how can I help you today?' and the maxim, 'the customer is always right.'
While I wouldn't recommend the Michael Scott approach to customer service, he does get one thing right: it takes more than a pleasant demeanour to keep customers on board. Providing great customer service - the kind that keeps customers coming back and telling their friends about you - requires delighting the customer to be a priority through every aspect of your business.
Here's what I mean. Excellent customer service requires a four-pronged approach:
- Superb delivery of goods and services
- Excellent customer interactions
- Comprehensive product knowledge
- Feedback and continuous improvement
Delivery of goods and services
Great customer service begins with the product or service you're selling. You might have the nicest most attentive staff in the world, but if your product or service doesn't do the job it's designed to, you haven't delivered great or even good service.
A company that demonstrates this well is Basecamp. While lots of companies outsource their customer support overseas, Basecamp employs a policy called 'Everyone on Support.' This policy requires everyone in the company, whether they're a designer, a developer or a podcast producer, to spend 1 day a month answering customer support tickets.
Well, one of the main benefits is that it means that the people who make the product know whether it works well or not, and, when there's problems, those problems get fixed quickly. Basecamp says it's super common for a developer, after hearing about a bug two or three times, to go in and fix the bug. Which means that this policy helps improve the entirety of their product.
Kayak does something similar. When asked about it, their CEO Paul English told Inc. Magazine:
'The engineers and I handle customer support. When I tell people that, they look at me like I’m smoking crack. They say, “Why would you pay an engineer $150,000 to answer phones when you could pay someone in Arizona $8 an hour?” If you make the engineers answer e-mails and phone calls from the customers, the second or third time they get the same question, they’ll actually stop what they’re doing and fix the code. Then we don’t have those questions anymore.'
2. Customer interactions
This is the part everyone thinks of when they think 'customer service.' And it's a massive part of the whole - this part includes face-to-face, support tickets, over-the-phone and email-to-email. Really, it's any time a person from your business comes into contact with a customer or potential customer. It's super critical stuff.
And great customer interactions start with great staff. In short, great customer service staff are both curated and created: you've got to make sure your hiring processes are up-to-snuff to ensure you're getting the best quality people on board, and then, once you've hired them, you can't just leave them to the wolves. You've got to invest and improve them through considered and effective training.
For the full method to creating 'A player' customer service staff, check out my FOREfront series:
- How to turn customers into raving fans in 4 steps
- How to use customer service frameworks to prevent disappointing customers
- How to create repeat customers by fostering a culture of customer obsession
- How roleplaying can level up your customer interactions
- Until you embed your training you'll never see a return on your investment
3. Product knowledge
This may technically fall under the 'customer interactions' section but it's critical it's not lost in a sub-heading jungle. You can't provide great customer service if you don't know anything about your product and how it can help your customer. In other words, you can't help the customer if you don't know how you can help them. It's important that you and your staff know your products and services inside out and back to front. When you do, it means that when a customer comes a-calling with a question or query then:
- You can point them in the right direction and ensure they receive the product or service that best meets their needs; and
- You position yourself as a subject-matter expert, making them more likely to return in the future whenever they have more questions, which in turn, fosters long term loyalty and reliance.
4. Feedback and continuous improvement
Feedback can be hard to take. Our egos are fragile at the best of times, and especially prone to breaking when we hear negative feedback about something we've put our blood, sweat and 40 hours a week (I'm trying to only work 40 hours a week in 2021!) into. But learning to fortify your ego and focus instead on the 'constructive' part of 'constructive criticism' is the only way we can improve ourselves and our businesses.
The only way to know if you're really providing excellent customer service is to ask the customer. Whether it's NPS, a post-service survey or looking them straight in the eye and asking them, 'How could we better improve our service?', the old adage always rings true: if you don't know, you can't grow.
And the thing about asking for feedback is that it's not only an opportunity for negative feedback, but also an opportunity for positive. Positive feedback is equally constructive - it can boost morale, make staff members feel like they're working toward something, and from there motivate them to keep doing more good stuff.
What's more, when customer's give us specific positive feedback - that is, when they tell us exactly what it is that they liked about their experience - then we know to keep doing that. In this way, feedback is integral to affirming what you're doing right, so you know to keep doing it, as well as for learning what you're doing wrong. Both are important, and both mean you and your business continually improve in pursuit of customer service perfection.
Customer service as an investment, not a cost
Like everything else, creating great customer service has a cost. It takes time, money, and commitment. But luckily, it's guaranteed to give you a great return. When you provide excellent customer service, those customers return. Not only that, but they often rave about you to their friends and family, generating even more customers for you. These people are called 'raving fans' and when you can create them, you create long-term business success for yourself.
Mark heads up the Sales team at Yarno. He loves to chat, which is fortunate because he’s very good at it. He's our digital Swiss Army Knife, always armed with a solution to any problem.
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