How to Improve Customer Service: 5 Foundational Processes
“Customer obsessed.” It’s one of those expressions somebody says—in this case Jeff Bezos—and then everyone milks it until it nearly loses all meaning.
A customer-obsessed company is one that’s not profit obsessed, efficiency obsessed, or growth obsessed.
It is focused primarily on making life great for the customer, with every interaction. A customer-obsessed company curates every detail of the customer relationship, from creating a positive work culture that will inspire employees to feel good and pass those feelings to customers, to following up transactions with great, accessible customer service, troubleshooting, and answers. A customer obsessed company clearly loves their customer, and the feeling is usually mutual.
So, if you’re not customer obsessed today, how do you get there? Here are five foundational processes and tips you can implement to Improve Customer Service:
1. Continually improve your culture
What is life like for employees at your company? Do they believe that the company and their co-workers have their backs? Does a rush order prompt employees to cancel plans, order pizza and kick up the jams to pull it off, party-style? Or are they grousing, making excuses, playing around on social media and pointing fingers at people they believe aren’t pulling their weight? Do employees think their managers have faith in them or are they being judged constantly according to seemingly arbitrary criteria? Is it fun to work there or is it rife with passive aggression, backbiting, blame-shifting?
Bottom line, if your culture sucks, so will your customer service.
There have been plenty of surveys showing the correlation between organizational culture and customer service. The day-to-day interactions between managers and employees, between co-workers, and between your employees and your vendors will set the environment that determines how employees deal with customers. Everybody knows how anger runs downhill. In this case, instead of “kicking the dog” people will be kicking the customer.
In a great customer service culture everybody works to make life better for everybody else: making the coffee if the pot is empty; not trashing on others’ ideas in meetings; looking for opportunities to help others reach their goals—whether that’s working toward a promotion or getting off work in time for their kid’s soccer game.
Of course, not all companies that are famous for great customer service have great cultures. After Amazon’s culture was trashed by several publications for being cutthroat and grinding employees down, the company raised its minimum wage to $15 and offered employees up to $5,000 to quit and never come back if they didn’t like working there. If you have all the money in the world, that’s one approach. If you're a small business and don’t, the overall strategy should be that everyone in the company needs to define a culture of kindness and service and evaluate whether your company’s behavior lives up to your standards.
2. Iterate your online interface
When was the last time you made changes to your website, your app, your ordering process, your payment systems, or your customer interface just to improve customer service?
Adobe went from $200 million to $5 billion in recurring revenue in six years. Shifting from a product in a box to a Software as a Service, allowed them much more intimate and ongoing relationships with their customers. And they collected marketing data and customer feedback on all of it. “Does the product work better with the menus this way, or the buttons that way? Does a new feature add value, or detract? Is a process simple enough, or is there a more frustration-free way of implementing it?”
“Today we run about 200 tests on Adobe.com each week,” said SVP of go-to-market and sales Rob Giglio.
Too many companies design their user experience to appeal to designers who know how to use all kinds of online features. Your customers, in contrast, probably don’t. To be customer obsessed and go the extra mile, you need to always be interested in feedback you can glean from customers and always be prepared to make adjustments and improve based on what you learn from those findings. For example, a UX study or survey to identify which products and images are clicked on the most (and the least), and where users leave your site or abandon carts should be a recurring project.
Studies show 87 percent of shoppers begin online. If you don’t make a good impression there, make customers feel loved and their experience easy, you may not get a second chance. So stay on top of your user experience and initial customer satisfaction. If you're a small business and you want to jump-start your perpetual UX change machine, hire a company that will test your site for you like The User is My Mom or The User is Drunk. Or both.
3. Know where your customers are and meet them there
Where, when, and how customers shop is always changing and you need to be prepared to meet them where they are. In a recent study, nearly 60 percent of customers said they preferred brick-and-mortar shopping to online because of the customer service. So e-commerce has some work to do to convince shoppers that convenience and pricing isn’t their only customer service advantage.
In the U.S., shoppers increased their use of mobile shopping by 70 percent between 2016 and 2018. And the average time shopping online was three hours a day. Wherever and whenever they shop, they may need to be able to contact a real person to ask questions about products--because if they don’t know what they’re buying, they’ll go elsewhere. They may also need to be able to talk to someone after they’ve purchased a product about everything from delivery to returns to how the product works.
Social media and website chatbots are inexpensive but frustrating. They use keywords in the shopper’s question to provide an answer and all too often the answer is nonsensical. The frustration of this could cost you not only a transaction but a customer. Moreover, people don’t like making polite banter with a robot. Studies show shoppers prefer live chat, 24/7 phone calling, social media and emails for asking questions prior to a transaction, and troubleshooting problems afterward. Having easy access to customer service teams when they want it demonstrates they’re important as a customer and their satisfaction matters. It moves the interaction from a transaction to a relationship.
A simple but key part of improving customer service for e-commerce businesses is to make it obvious for visitors that qualified customer support is only a click away. For example, a short sentence like this in the product descriptions can work wonders: "Have a question about fitment, compatibility or something else entirely? Our staff have years of hands-on personal experience and can advise on the right solution for your needs. Chat with us now, we're friendly!" This strategy can be used even if the first point of contact is a (qualified) contact center.
4. Empower and train your agents for whatever arises
“Does this item run large?” the customer asks.
“No I think it’s pretty normal,” the agent answers.
What does this conversation communicate? The agent doesn’t know much about the product, hasn't been trained and really doesn’t care. It’s probably better not to have agents at all than to have this kind of person dealing with customers. Customer service staff and anyone dealing with the customer must be empowered with the knowledge of the product and the proper training/skills to solve problems, even if it costs the company some money. They need to have an easily accessed knowledge base to find answers for customers. And they need to be empowered to figure out common problems on their own. For example, employees should be able to facilitate fast and easy returns, reply to offbeat emails and social media requests and grant complimentary free shipping for special occasions—like if someone needs something fast for a wedding. The focus is to make life good for customers, not to worry about “If I do it for this customer, I’ll have to do it for everyone.”
As many CEOs like to say “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.” A customer service team who has to work too hard to track down an answer only to be told they don’t have the authority to address the problem are dis-incentivized from caring about being problem solvers. The right training and nurturing of this such a proactive customer service mindset still rare in the industry. Being one who makes it work will set you apart.
5. Optimize your tools
Surveys show that customer satisfaction demands personalized shopping experiences with consistently interesting products, the speed of a mobile app, fast pay credit cards on file, etc., etc. Fortunately, there are tools to help you give that to them.
- Progressive web applications PWA, a new software development technology, combines the functionality of a regular web page and the speed of a mobile application so customers get the best of both worlds.
- Accelerated mobile pages can reduce the load time of a mobile site by 65 percent.
- Mobile predictive technologies help you provide a more personalized shopping experience for your customer by collecting data on a shopper’s behavior and presenting items or coupons that would appeal to them.
The search for great customer service is never-ending. Customer expectations are constantly being driven higher, so e-commerce businesses have to stay ahead of the curve. These five steps can be revisited over and over for ever improved customer service.