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From Customer-Centric Mindset To Doing What Customers Want - Finding Ways To Do Customer Service Right And Avoiding What Not To Be Done

By Mohammad Anas Wahaj; MBA, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2000, USA; BS in Mechanical Engineering, Aligarh Muslim University, 1993, India
Dated: 10 December 2019


Customers are at the core of any business. No one can think of products and services without thinking of their buyers. Profits are made with happy customers because they continue to buy products and services from those companies and organizations that keep them satisfied. They also recommend to others what they themselves like. For organizations to become truly customer-centric it is essential to create a customer oriented mindset and at the same time develop procedures and actionable tools to provide best possible customer service. This would also involve continuous training and learning on the part of customer service executives and workers. As the customer behavior changes over time with technologies so should the interactive behavior of customer service personnel to adapt to changing scenarios. But above all, the personnel who deal directly with customers should keep the care of customers in their mind and behavior at all times. Organizations should develop a proper framework for customer service excellence.



What Is Customer Service?


Before delving into how customer service should be done right, let's try to find out what customer service is traditionally all about.

According to Wikipedia, 'Customer service is the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase. The perception of success of such interactions is dependent on employees 'who can adjust themselves to the personality of the guest'. Customer service concerns the priority an organization assigns to customer service relative to components such as product innovation and pricing. In this sense, an organization that values good customer service may spend more money in training employees than the average organization or may proactively interview customers for feedback.'

According to Investopedia, 'Customer service is the direct one-on-one interaction between a consumer making a purchase and a representative of the company that is selling it. Most retailers see this direct interaction as a critical factor in ensuring buyer satisfaction and encouraging repeat business. Even today, when much of customer care is handled by automated self-service systems, the option to speak to a human being is seen as necessary to most businesses.'

Customer service encompasses many stages of customer buying and shopping process - from the smiling faces of customer representatives that greet customers to sweet talking helpline executives who have to deal with angry customers. So it needs to be made sure that every employee of the organization should have customers in mind whatever they do. Customer care mindset is a must for all organizations.

It is also quite clear from above definitions that customer service involves interactions between humans on both sides of the spectrum. One is the giving side and the other one receiving side. One side pays for what other side gives. So there will be play of emotions and expectations. The giving side need to be cautious of how it handles the interactions. And this is what customer service is all about. Moreover, now as technology plays an important role in these interactions, it has to be leveraged in the best possible way to create a win-win for both parties involved in the interaction.



How To Go About Giving The Best Customer Service?


There is no single ideal way for approaching and interacting with customers as they are different individuals. But there is some basic understanding that should be at the core of customer service, and organizations have to build around that to provide the best customer experience. First and foremost every employee of the organization should have a customer care and service mindset. It means that it is essential to consider humans as humans and not view them from the lens of just products and monetary transactions, and have total respect for the customer.

Customer service strategies may differ on the basis of what products and services are sold to customers and what type of after sales services are provided. Every industry has its own specific requirement. Customer service teams should understand the nature of their industry and what are customers' needs and requirements on the basis of what products and services they are using and adapt to them accordingly. There is a marked difference in handling of customers that are interacting with a mobile app company, an ecommerce company, a consumer goods company, a consumer durables company, a software company, heavy equipments company etc. But certain basics for customer service remain the same.

The basics of customer service involves deliberate steps that organizations have to take to build the foundations and then go beyond it to achieve the best. Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is needed to make things easy for service staff. Best practices are key to consistency. SOP helps in avoiding general mistakes, but it shouldn't be followed rigidly. When it starts to stifle creativity and ingenuity it can become counterproductive. Human interactions can be unpredictable and employees should be flexible to improvise in best possible way to satisfy customers. Sticking to only SOP prevents customer engagement. Personal and emotional connection with customers is needed. Better engagement with customers lead to retention.

When a customer interacts with an organizations it is understood that there is a need. To address the needs in the best possible way and in the optimum timeframe is key to customer happiness. Good customer service avoids letting customers wait unnecessarily in queue or on phone. Moreover, it should be a big no to let customer wait before his need or issue is heard. Making customers happy after every interaction with the organization is the essential component of the best organizations. When customers interact support they seek solutions and resolutions. Prioritization of difficult tasks is required and step by step discipline to solve problems is must. Proper planning is needed or there is a chance of getting overwhelmed with the situations.

Customers should always be made to feel important and respected. Politeness and friendly attitude are a must in customer interactions and they should never be lost even if customer's behavior is different. Move towards building a wholesome experience for the customer. Also, be professional in providing service but keep the human touch alive. You are human and customers are human, mechanical interactions can become heartless. Include empathy and understanding, and adapt to situations as the conversation moves forward.

Organizations should streamline customer service in such a way that it is a single-step process. If a customer calls a helpline that is it. Customers should not be referred to many departments for resolution. If at all there is an essential requirement for this, then the first customer service agent should make sure to follow up with the customer after the problem is solved at the end of the conversation with the other department where the customer was referred.

Working in silos leads to complexity and confusion. Avoid doing so. Have a collaborative multi-department support approach. Organizations should make sure their customer service staff have shared knowledge and shared inbox. Moreover, share customer insights across all departments and functions and have a centralized depository of information in the form of answers, tutorials and Q&A and also customer data that can be accessed by anyone who needs it. Also, repetitive tasks performed individually are big no and waste resources and time. Establish best practices and document them to be accessed whenever required. Answering customer complaints with such a process is easy and efficient as less time is needed to tackle similar problems.

Communicate with customers frequently and understand their interactions with products, services and customer care. Have right tools to measure customer engagement and value customer feedback on customer interactions. It is hard to understand fully what customers want unless you ask them and listen to them. There are situations when anticipating what customers would ask next and giving them solutions at that very moment saves time and money for everyone. Moreover, also try to provide solutions to problems that might occur in future. This requires training and experience in dealing with customers. Customers generally remember when the organization cares beyond their need. They would keep coming to the organization.

Customer care individuals need to focus on quality of delivery then on quantity of attending customers. Customers should not be made to feel that they are attended to in hurry. The right balance of efficiency and empathy is needed when thinking of bottom-lines in customer care management. Customer service managers should set regular goals and clear and unambiguous priorities and share them with the team on a continuous basis. Create roadmaps and action plans that are clearly understood and make them accessible to everyone in the team. Moreover, customer service managers and leaders should avoid micromanaging employees. Keep the big picture in mind and tweak the environment in such a way that everyone understands clearly what is expected of them and how they will go about giving their best in all situations.

Storytelling is an important communication concept. Relate to the problem that customers face through storytelling and share an instance where similar problems occured and how the solution was obtained and benefited other customers. This puts customers at ease and make them feel that they are in good hands. Be understanding to customer's perspective and bring yourself into his situation. It will help in solving the customer problem in a pleasant manner as if you are doing it for yourself. Do unto others what you want others to do unto you is a good guide to keep you in the right direction in customer interaction process.

Work-life balance results in happy and content employees. Customer service team members should take care of their health and work-life balance. Since they have to interact with all kinds of customers their patience and understanding level should be at higher level than other people. They should make sure that their working performance is always in best shape. As it is generally said that happy employees make happy customers, so work environment that has happiness, humour and understanding will be good for everyone. Celebrate success and empathize failures and provide room for correction. Pleasant work environment will provide foundation and impetus for employees to give the best to their customers.

Honesty and keeping promises are essential components to build trust and thus loyalty. Whatever is sold should be sold in an upright manner. Provide clear and fair price, no hidden charges, establish honest return and refund policies and deliver products and services when you promised with customers. Customer service shouldn't avoid taking responsibility for the problems and negative experiences that customers go through. Be professional and responsible in understanding customer issues and handle earnestly customer complaints and make aplogies when needed. Solve customer problems sincerely.

Expressing gratitude to the customers for their use of your organization's product and service is the first starting point in the interaction when they come knocking to you to resolve their issues. This provides them satisfaction and confidence that their association with the organizations is cared, respected and valuable, and their problems will be honestly solved.

Initial success of business is acquiring customers but long-term success of the business is about retaining customers. The cost for business to gain a new customer is always more than cost to retain them. And when customers become happy with a business they not only buy again but they buy more again. Thus becoming more profitable to the company. So make sure to retain customers when they interact with you the first time.

Customer service should keep customer engaged with the brand, from pre-purchase, onboarding and post-purchase, customers should be kept interested in the brand, products and services. Retain customer loyalty through building trust, which is built over a period of time by keeping customer satisfied. Engage with all media of customer's choice and their channel preference - online, chat, email, phone, personal visit etc.

Personalization is becoming a customer service necessity. Customers want to be treated as individuals not just as a group. With analytics tools available and consumer/customer behavior understandable, make sure to create and understand individual customer profile and interact with them accordingly. One-on-one marketing is to be taken seriously. And this requires research and study of customer traits, behaviors, likes, dislikes etc.

Customer engagement is an advantage that no organization can forego. Engaged customers spend more with the brand, prefer the brand over competitors and spread the word around. They are champions of the brand and should be treated as one. In fact, Gallup research finds that engaged customers represent a 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue and relationship growth over the average customer.

Customer's sense of engagement is a result of the fulfillment of three discrete emotional needs - pride, passion and confidence. To meet those needs and impact the customers' emotional engagement, service brands must allow employees to create personal connections with customers that realize the brand promise. Gallup finds that only 41% of employees agree they 'know what my organization stands for, and what makes our brand different from our competitors.' Only 23% say they can apply their company's values to their work every day.

The SOP should support the brand promise. Not replace it. Creating a strong brand promise and service model requires objective analysis of your brand essence, positioning and value proposition. You need to know which qualities distinguish your brand from your competitors, what your brand stands for, what makes your products or services different, and why you're worthy of being chosen. Your promise must be consistent for customers throughout multiple service touchpoints - human, digital and any communications they receive from your company.

When working with companies in the service industry, Gallup recommends building your brand promise on three levels - brand essence; brand drivers; service values. Once your brand promise becomes actionable - and your service values are communicated - then your employees can begin portraying your brand promise and values, creating memorable, meaningful experiences for customers.

World-class service companies bring their values to life. World-class service companies are very serious about their values and listen to customers, managers, team members and partners to determine best practices. They identify what customers value most and what causes the most friction and distracts from their experience. SOP may also need continuous updating to meet the needs of a changing market.

SOP should serve the brand promise. So, make sure your employees know what your brand promise is and align that promise with the expression of your service values. And the definition of that promise should be consistent from the top to the bottom staff of the company. Everyone needs to understand what a genuine service touchpoint is and how service values influence customers emotionally. Then manage, train and coach to customer engagement, so that your brand's service model can build on the SOP.

SOPs do serve a purpose but they're not the optimal delivery system for the brand promise and values. A far more effective approach - and far more likely to boost profitability, customer loyalty and even employee engagement - is to give people the freedom to demonstrate your service brand essence, drivers and values as they see fit in the moment.

The SOP keeps the basics on track. All service companies need to deliver on those. But customers generally don't share basic experiences with others. They talk about the special, meaningful and personalized experiences. If your employees know what makes your brand special, and embody it in their own way for customers, the SOP will stay in the backdrop of the customer experience - not become the experience itself.

Better target the marketing by using granular audience segmentation that goes beyond demographics and product preferences. The consumers are grouped based on the frequency, recency and monetary value of their actions, or based on psychographics (e.g., values, interests, attitudes, personality traits and lifestyles). Develop a reward system by gifting to loyal customers. They can be given special discounts in future purchases. Make them your brand champions. Good loyalty programs convert one time buyers into repeat customers.

Marketing budget should be optimally distributed between customer acquisition and customer retention strategies. Repeat customers are the goldmine that needs to be nurtured well. Improve customer experiences to such a level that customers feel honoured to be associated with the organization and spend more with it. Fund communities of interest and open platform for feedback and customer exchange. This provides insights into customer requirements, their needs, wants, what they like about products and services, their complaints etc.

Customer data provides understanding of customers through implementation of analytics. Once customer started interacting with the organization there is large amount of data that is generated at every stage of this interaction - pre-acquisition, acuisition, post-acquisition and through gaining insights into these and applying data-driven marketing customer retention becomes a reality. Efficient and effective use of marketing technologies brings customers and organizations more closer to each other for mutual benefits.

In today's technology-driven world customers often demand customer service solutions that they can access themselves with ease whenever they desired. In this regard, self-service website is a must have and it becomes the first starting point for customer interaction. All types of feedbacks should be welcome and make sure to analyze bad feedbacks as they can be beacons of improvement for products, services or overall organization itself.

There are myriad of customer software solutions available in the market. When picking up software solutions for customer service/relationship management, test it thoroughly with members of the team and listen to their inputs. Make sure to study the latest trends in customer technologies and modify the processes as needed for certain type of employees so they can provide the best.



What Skills Should Those Working In Customer Service Require?


Customer service used to be a human only game. But now with online tools and technology supported by AI and machine learning, there is no doubt less pressure on those in the job. But the value of human interactions remain the same. Actually, it is now more quality interactions and customer expectations are high as they encounter it when absolutely necessary. For routine and basic customer service, technology has taken over. It complements the humans.

Customer service generally involves answering questions on the phone, responding to tickets through email, live chat and also social media. Specific skills are needed for those involved in customer service and the different channels require different set of skills on top of the basic skills that are common to all channels. And this common and core skill is treating customers with care and having a customer service mindset.

Communication, both written and spoken, is one of the key skill in customer service job. Command over language and articulation is necessary to interact with customers. Moreover, a simple smile can win many hearts. So keep smile while interacting with customers and mood cordial in all conversations, whether it is behind the phone or computer screen, just as you would talking to customer in real life face-to-face. Respond to questions and convey the information with a smiling mind and cordial heart.

Listening is a great trait in customer service. Patiently listen to what customer has to say and understand the problem before saying anything. Understand the customers and comprehend clearly what their needs and expectation are. Don't read too quickly and jump to conclusions. Empathy is essential for customer service and knowing to whom empathy is being shown is important. Acknowledge the customers and make them feel heard. Keep the interaction human and recognize the customer's issues.

Summarize what solution you will provide to customer's problem as much clearly and precisely as possible. Optimum communication is the top job skill for customer service to have. Managing expectations effectively is another trait needed during customer interactions. Communicate delays nicely and don't put customers on hold without providing them reasons for that. Avoid long hold times.

Templates with pre-written texts make customer service efficient. They are like guidelines and provide framework for common customer service implementations but they should not be too rigid. They are like foundations, and on top of that personalization should be done as required. This will make the interaction more human and personal and customers will feel important. Templates can be individualized by customer service staff giving their own spin and approach to the basic outline or framework (company philosophy, culture, approach). It adds comfort to the staff during communication as their own personality is part of the interaction.

Timeframes are an important part of customer service interactions. Email, as they are mostly the first response, need to be tackled according to a set or defined timeframe. A good support agent prioritizes the response by urgency and how long they have been sitting for. Imitating customer's language, phrasing and tone in text helps to create rapport and understanding and creates a better relationship, making it easier for them to receive information they need. While interacting via email or text use considerate tone, be gentle and informative. Be patient while interacting with angry and frustrated customers.

Multitasking is another essential trait for customer service staff. Be comfortable with it. At times staff members have to interact with multiple customers in live chats. But the number of live chats should be limited as per the capacity and customer service should not be compromised. When it becomes too difficult to handle, put some chats on hold and provide best answers. Quality is the key, numbers are not.

Now social media platforms are gaining importance in customer service interactions. Social media is a sensitive game for customer service. Everyone is open and interactions can be viewed by public. Understand and study what social media is all about. Time is the important factor here. Respond quickly but carefully. Be precise and polite in tone. Everything can't be answered on social media. Tell your customer where and when they will be contacted for resolution to their problem. Direct them correctly and rightly. Avoid altercations on social media. No lengthy responses. Don't start a discussion there. Mistakes on social can go viral and hurt company's brand image substantially.

When customer contacts customer service, it is important to determine who will handle the customer, whether it is support or some other department. Make sure the customer is directed smoothly to that destination. Every support channel (online, email, phone, chat, face-to-face) requires some basic and common skills but also skills that are specific to the channel.

Phone support - Clarity of voice; Excellent verbal communication; Command over language; Handling emotions effectively; Listening skills; Effective use of tone. For skilled phone support - Smile, literally; Mirror a customer's language and tone; Listen first, then validate the problem; Acknowledge the customer; Summarize the problem; Communicate hold times.

Email support - Humans should not act like bots or like automatic response system; Have excellent writing skills; Since the response can be structured in email, it should have precision. It should be well thought out; Write with clarity. Don't make writing mistakes. Proofread and correct mistakes before sending the email. For skilled email support - Use templates, not boilerplates; Make the templates your own; Respond in a defined timeframe; Imitate a customer's phrasing.

Chat support - For chat support multitasking is an essential skill; Chat support requires all the skills that are needed for email and phone support, as it is conversational and happens in real-time but in written form. For skilled chat support - Use a gentle, informative tone; Multitask; Read customer cues.

Social media support - Skills required are combination of email, phone and chat; Speed and timing is the key on social media; For social media advance customer skills are needed. Senior, experienced and specialized staff should handle social media customer service interactions. Skills crucial for social media - Almost always respond; React carefully to confrontation; Differentiate social media tickets.

Customer service team need to continuously learn to keep themselves in the right mindset for changing customer needs and provides best support possible. The team have to evolve with times. Customer support strategies impact customer's perception of the brand and also influences what they say to others about your brand whether online or offline. Business should look customer support from this brand perspective and train their teams accordingly so they effectively influence customers to like the brand. There are strategies that can be utilized to bring the team to stay in right shape and handle all type of customers.

Technology is also taking over some aspects of customer support and companies and their teams should work towards effectively using technology in the best interest of their customers. Customers have become less patient due to technology and want the resolution of their issues fast. Customer service has to act accordingly. To improve speed and accuracy all customer service channels and teams have to be connected with each other.

There are different types of customer service teams - Marketing team finds and add customers to the company lead list. Sales team closes the deal with leads and prospects. Support team comes into play after sale happens and purchase has been made. These three teams have to work together. These customer service teams need to be cross-trained and should share the CRM software. To be effective and efficient all these teams should work in an integrated manner and not in silos. Everyone should be able to solve fundamental and basic customer queries. Train everyone to assist customers with fundamental issues of all departments. Customers should only be put on hold and redirected to another staff only in special circumstances. Customer interactions need to be as smooth as possible. Work with one CRM system for uniformity. In such case shifting from one channel to another and from one department to another will be swift. Moreover in such a system all the previous customer interactions will be available for all departments to see. A shared system is better for continuity and make it easy to provide help to customers.

Chatbot and automated messaging should be for common questions and concerns. Apply automation and self service system whenever possible. It will free the service team to take on more difficult and complex tasks and lessen their burden and destress them and this will enhance their quality of providing service. Technology should complement the staff not replace them. Good content should also be provided that chatbots can direct to when customers have queries that have been answered already. High quality content that provides value by educating and answering customer questions has the ability to attract and increase website traffic. Use chatbots and knowledgebase effectively and then your service team will be effective in focusing towards complex queries and individual customers.

Analyze customer service feedback to continuously improve service teams. Study both positive and negative feedbacks. Negative feedback more as it can guide to further improve the team's performance and effectiveness. Closer look will provide with more insights on which areas need improvement.

Building customer service mindset brings the service staff closer to giving the best to customers each time they interact. The staff will start seeing them as part of the solution and not problem. As a team leader model good customer service. Customer service team leaders should set the example by their own behavior towards their team. Listen, show empathy, enhance soft skills, be proactive, try to exceed expectations. If you do it right your team will too. Customer service mindset doesn't come naturally. It has to be nurtured in the team.

For the customer oriented mindset essential requirements include - timeliness and discipline, listening, reading nonverbal cues, strong verbal and writing skills, patience and sound judgement. All these things can be polished through proper training. Teams should be exposed to frequent training sessions on regular basis to keep themselves sharp. Encouraging autonomy is important in a team leader role. Micromanaging becomes stressful for everyone in the team. Expect team to do more than standard procedures. Let them be individuals and autonomous problem solvers without affecting the bottom line. There is no substitute for customer feedback. Promote its value as customers provide best learning experiences. Understand their feedback to make things better for the organization and customers. Recognize and reward good performance. Team leaders should make sure they do that often to boost the confidence of team members.

To make good customer service training great, focus on the mindset. Customer-focus mindset encompasses all the how-to training, the positive attitude and an understanding of the reason behind a relentless effort to deliver an amazing customer experience. The concepts of mindset are intangible, they are about inner drive and an ambitious effort to take care of customers. They can be intuitive.

Creating a customer-focused mindset requires - Desire to take care of people; Recognizing the value of care while delivering it and doing it best at that moment (being in the moment); Do the best without crossing the line; Continuous learning; Recognizing the responsibility and providing the best outcome in that situation. At the end of the day delivery is the key because customer service is the face of the organization while interacting with the customer. This interaction makes or breaks the customer.

According to the 2020 OfficeTeam Salary Guide, customer service and call center professionals are in high demand by employers and thus a challenge to attract and keep them. Even though money isn't the only employee motivator, but it is still important. Keep salaries competitive to get the best talent.



How Customer Service Fails, What To Avoid While Providing It And Some Customer Service Stats?


Failed customer service is the failure of the organization and directly impacts the customer's view of the organization. Hurting customer is a ticking bomb, when it explodes it takes away more than the organization imagines. Through word of mouth and social media involvement a customer can become a negative ad for the organization. It is not just losing a single customer but it also affects other future customers. So make sure customer service understands the value of a customer and losses that an unhappy customers brings to the organization.

Poor customer service is a big no. Here is what leads to one - When there is ambiguity about what is customer service within the organization, it creates confusion and incoherence. Everyone in organization should understand clearly about what type of customer service is to be delivered and should be aligned to the company customer service goals and policies; Proper training of customer service staff is essential. Putting untrained employees to interact with customers makes them vulnerable and they can commit mistakes that become bad for organization; If the company considers profits more important as compared to good customer service then it is doomed in the long run. Bad customer service eventually hurts profit. Investments in customer service are always beneficial and providing positive experiences to customer are always valuable and makes them keep coming back and spend more with the company.

Customers should always be treated with dignity and respect at every step of their interaction and journey. According to new research, being put on hold for too long, being transferred multiple times, and dealing with grumpy employees are just some of the poor customer service experiences Americans deal with.

The international poll of 3000 respondents found that Americans are increasingly having to deal with negative customer service. In fact, 66% have experienced poor customer service - whether in a store, online or at a restaurant. One of the most common negative customer service experience Americans have to contend with is being put on hold for too long. In fact, next to sitting in traffic, waiting on hold for customer service was reported as the most painful thing Americans have to deal with.

A study conducted by OnePoll in conjunction with Bold360 by LogMeIn examined the customer service experiences and behaviors of 3000 people from the U.S., U.K., Australia, India, France, and Germany and uncovered that across the world, 65% have admitted to dealing with negative customer service. In the U.S., 48% have had to deal with the seemingly never-ending experience of getting transferred over and over again, and 41% have had the misfortune of dealing with a grumpy employee. Two in five Americans have had a customer service representative abruptly hang up on them mid-conversation! 34% have even gotten into a heated argument with a customer service representative.

As a result of these poor customer service experiences, most consumers do take some type of action. Over half of the U.S. respondents (52%) never went back to that place of business after dealing with any kind of negative customer service, while 44% wrote a negative online review of that business. Unfortunately, dealing with customer service representatives is almost unavoidable. Americans report having to speak with a customer service representative an average of 300 times in a lifetime - which equates to about five times a year.

And while dealing with customer service representatives is not something Americans enjoy, the time will come when they will need to reach out for help. The top way Americans prefer doing so is email. Over half (53%) said email is their preferred method of contacting a company with a customer service request or comment. Yet despite our hatred for waiting on hold, phone came in as the second most preferred method of communication with 49% revealing they would pick up the telephone to speak with a company regarding a customer service issue. Other preferred methods of customer service communication include live chat (48%), in person (46%), and social media (37%). Respondents aged 24-36 prefer communicating with companies via email or social media compared to other generations who prefer in person communication or a live chat option.

Customer experience has become a critical factor in business success. Technology has enabled customer service to evolve with customer needs and provides choices for better engagement based on customer preferences - email, live chat, self-service etc. above traditional services they already provide. Every interaction with customer is an opportunity that need to be nurtured for better business growth. When customers are seeking resolution and they are faced with an automated voice menu, put on hold, or the agent is unable to handle the request, customers don't like it. American consumers spend, on average, 13 hours per year in calling queue. According to a 2010 study by Mike Desmarais in the journal Cost Management, a third of complaining customers must make two or more calls to resolve their complaint. And that ignores the portion who simply give up out of exasperation after the first call.

According to the 2017 Customer Rage Survey by Customer Care Measurement & Consulting and the Center for Services Leadership at the W.P. Carey School of Business at the Arizona State University, more than 62 million families experienced at least one problem during the past 12 months, making people frustrated and angry. Despite big money spent on customer-service programs, 79% of consumers who complained are still not happy with the way their complaints are handled, jeopardizing repeat business. Moreover, the survey showed that corporate America is risking more than US$ 300 billion of future sales due to the failing state of customer service. Key highlights of the survey include - 56% of people reported customer problems in 2017; Negative emotions are still unacceptably high in 2017, with 91% of people experiencing frustration, 84% reported feeling disappointment, and 62% reporting anger; 40% of people reported feeling dissatisfied with the way their complaint was handled; Which corporate telephone customer-service practices do consumers hate most? Automated phone technology without the option to talk with a live person, followed by 'try to sell you something', customer service agents with accents, and outsourcing.

There seems to be a large gap between what companies promise in words to their customers and what they deliver and customers have realized it and don't buy their words. Now with social media they find it easier to share their bad experiences and this has put pressure on companies to act on their customer service promises. Frustrated customers have consequences on customer retention and long term reputation of the companies. In certain industries especially airline, internet, cable, telephone service providers where companies control sizeable market share the regard for reputation through customer service mishaps may be less as one or two such cases don't affect their bottomlines. Research suggests that companies with few competitors may find worthwhile to alienate angry customers in order to save on redress costs. Research by Prof. Anthony Dukes of USC and Yi Zhu of University of Minnesota shows that the benefit of curbing redress costs can explain the wide-spread use of herarchical call centers at many customer service departments. This may help us understand why some of the most hated companies in US are so profitable and why customer service, unfortunately, remains so frustrating.

Self-service options when done keeping in mind the varied customer demands can help improve customer experience and this is one choice that companies are exploring and integrating in their business models. But, self-service platforms may fail due to confusing navigation, lack of attention, inflexibility, not listening to feedback, forcing users down the wrong path, creating extra work and effort for customers. Simple and intuitive navigation across any channel is better. The platform should continuously be analyzed and updated and evolved to changing customer needs and requirements. It shouldn't be stale and stagnant. Use of AI and machine learning will help in this regard. Listen to customer feedback and make improvements accordingly to the platform. Avoid long procedures and always give users option to switch to another channel of customer service like live agent or chat. When it comes to customer sharing information make sure it is not repetitive every time customer accesses the platform. Unburden customer with streamlined procedures and unrepetitive data sharing.

Even though companies are investing large sums on customer service and experience, but studies suggests that customers are still encountering bad experiences when dealing with customer service. Reasons why companies fail to deliver great customer service even though they have invested in it are - Not articulately and briefly defining the company's service vision and initiative; Not hiring the right people to fit the company's culture and personality in addition to right attitude and aptitude for the job; Not training and providing the skills needed to deliver customer experience for the internal or external customer. Everyone, both frontline and back-end, should know their roles in how how they impact the customer; The training should be continuous and evolving in accordance with customer needs; When leadership fails as a role model in customer service and don't inspire for others to emulate; Not celebrating good customer service and not praising employees who do so; Treating customer service as a department or section. It is a philosophy to be enbraced by everyone in the company from top down to the bottom; Treating employees roughly and expecting them to be good to customers. Be nice to employees and they will make your customer happy; Focusing more on profit and not having a customer-focused approach and building customer relationships.

According to the Touch Agency, 70% of buying experiences are based on how customers feel they are being treated. Instead, rather than letting the customer sit in silence, use it as an opportunity to chat informally. A customer will feel more like they're talking to a person than to a script, which will help make the decision to stay with your company that much easier.

Don't make things complicated while providing customer service. Stay simple, easy and straightforward. Provide choices and preferences - phone, email, live chat, FAQ, self-service, social media channels and whatever other ways possible. Don't be indifferent and have a caring approach. Don't treat customers as transactions or merely profit centers and focus on building strong and long-lasting relationships. Nurture relationships. Value customer feedback and don't ignore it. It helps to improve services and make happy customers. Don't be afraid of complaints. They are opportunities to make lasting customers. Avoid saying that customer is wrong or is at fault when they first interact. Don't refuse to help or show inability to resolve a situation. Don't overpromise and then unable to provide support and solution. Don't be be robotic and use language with cliches.

Social media has made customer service come into open. Any mistake with one customer are visible for public viewing and hurt company in really bad way. 5 customer service basics - effective listening and paying full attention to the problem being told by customer. Allow the customer to feel heard; Speak kindly to customers; honor your word and don't make promises that you can't keep; Clarity in communication without complexity and ambiguity; Take responsibility of mistakes and be accountable.

At times customer service have to face challenges like more than expected call volume, unpredictability of customers, fluctuations in call volume and at times customer queues may be unavoidable. But the beauty of good customer service is to be able to manage all challenges through skills, training and experience. Be ready to face the customer with a smile, interact with customer cordially and provide solution in the best possible way. Customer service message can make or break the interaction with the customer and finally the future business prospects.



How To Leverage Technology For Better Customer Service?


Technology is changing all aspects of customer service. Even though the basics of serving the customers remain the same. Today there are multiple channels that customers can use to access customer service. They seek choices based on their comfort - mobile device or computer, customer service apps, social media, text app, live chat. Self-service has become an important channel of choice as it gives the user anytime anywhere customer service access. There is use of sophisticated data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and other technologies to make customer service better. Use of mobile services in customer interactions has become imperative and they should be used effectively for better outcomes. But at the end of the day human contact should always be there to augment technology.

Automated customer service includes kiosks, internet websites and apps. Automation technologies provide customer service 24/7 a day all the year round, no holidays no off days. Technology can be a good complement to human customer service. It shouldn't be considered as a substitute. Human touch remains essential. Automation uses artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. Touch-tone phone that involves IVR (Interactive Voice Response) with a main menu and keypad options is another automation-based customer service. Internet provides non-stop mechanism to customer service but what is important is to maintain the personal experience and follow the principles of usability and user experience design for better outcomes. Automated online assistants can provide initial interactions. Chatbots drive this system and technology behind it is natural language processing.

Data and analytics are important results of automation and internet. Customer service now has tools to better understand customer behavior and improve business processes and also to better deliver customer service. Moreover, metrics and measurement of customer service has become necessary and that include gathering feedback through customer surveys and Net Promoter Score measurement. There are also instant feedbacks where organizations implement feedback loops to capture feedback at the point of experience.

Social media is becoming a new community oriented tool to communicate with customers and vice versa. The dialogue aspect of social media is what benefits both sides. According to a study by J.D. Power, 67% of consumers have used a company's social media site for servicing, therefore, having a social customer support strategy is not just a matter of preference, it's a must.

Successful businesses care for their customers and try to reach them wherever they are. With social media and other technologies they are more capable to interact with customers anytime and anywhere. While handling customer service on social media the staff members need to be properly trained about all the nuisance of the platform, particularly as most of the communication happens in the public eye. The advantage of social media is that it also gives customer service to add to the brand value and community building. Social media customer service strategy involves two stages - preparation and workflow. Building a social media customer service strategy is imperative for brands in the world where customers are active there.

Customer service basics and guidelines are essential for all channels. For social media make sure there is understanding of past customer experiences. Separate social media focused customer service apart from brand is only necessary when the volume of interactions is high there. Otherwise one brand account/profile is alright to build community, brand interactions and customer interaction. Multiple accounts may become confusing to interact with.

Social media tools and bots can be utilized depending on the nature and volume of engagement with customers. Put together a team and train them in social media aspects of customer service. Automate just sufficiently, over automation may make customers feel uncared for. Utilize social media analytics tools to understand consumer behavior and interaction with your brand profile. Social listening tools should be used to track consumer interactions and accordingly services and products can be used based on what the consumers are saying and talking about your brand.



Select Customer Service Quotes


'Make a customer, not a sale.' - Katherine Barchetti

'He profits most who serves best.' - Arthur F. Sheldon

'Kind words do not cost much, yet they accomplish much.' - Blaise Pascal

'The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.' - Jerry Gregoire

'One of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone is the gift of your attention.' - Jim Rohn

'Customer service shouldn't just be a department, it should be the entire company.' - Tony Hsieh

'Your customer doesn't care how much you know until they know how much you care.' - Damon Richards

'Happy customers are your biggest advocates and can become your most successful sales team.' - Lisa Masiello

'Customers don't expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.' - Donald Porter

'Know what your customers want most and what your company does best. Focus on where those two meet.' - Kevin Stirtz

'No amount of advertising can repair the damage done by failing to properly address a customer's concern.' - Albert Schindler

'In the world of Internet Customer Service, it's important to remember your competitor is only one mouse click away.' - Doug Warner

'Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed how many companies don't listen to their customers.' - Ross Perot

'Customer service is just a day in, day out ongoing, never ending, unremitting, persevering, compassionate, type of activity.' - Leon Gorman

'Whether you are big or small, you cannot give good customer service if your employees don't feel good about coming to work.' - Martin Oliver

'The more you engage with customers the clearer things become and the easier it is to determine what you should be doing.' - John Russell

'Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, 'What's in it for me?'' - Brian Tracy

'I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.' - Maya Angelou

'The key is to set realistic expectations, and then not to just meet them, but to exceed them - preferably in unexpected and helpful ways.' - Richard Branson

'Profit in business comes from repeat customers; customers that boast about your product and service, and that bring friends with them.' - W. Edwards Deming

'If you work just for money, you'll never make it, but if you love what you're doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours.' - Ray Kroc

'There is only one boss. The customer - and he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.' - Sam Walton

'We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It's our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.' - Jeff Bezos

'Service, in short, is not what you do, but who you are. It's a way of living that you need to bring to everything you do if you're to bring it to your customer interactions.' - Betsy Sanders

'Don't reinvent the wheel. Focus on winning one customer at a time. Be honest and sincere. Do what's right. There's nothing magical about this. That's been my guiding principle. To make it work, you have to live it every day. Make it your mindset.' - Robert Spector

'A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.' - Mahatma Gandhi



List Of References

1. How to Help Your Team Build a Customer Service Mindset | Robert Half, roberthalf.com, 02 oct 2019
2. Seven Customer Retention Strategies That Drive Growth For Mobile Apps | Almitra Karnik, Forbes, 18 sep 2019
3. Customer Service | Wikipedia, 08 sep 2019
4. Customer Service | Investopedia, 08 sep 2019
5. The 16 Customer service skills of great customer service agents | Zendesk, 08 sep 2019
6. Top Reasons why Customer Service Fails | Shep Hyken, Customer Service Manager, 13 sep 2019
7. The Customer Service Fails Americans Put Up With | Yahoo News, 05 sep 2019
8. 128 Helpful Customer Service Quotes From the Pros | Jason Aten, FitSmallBusiness.com, 14 aug 2019
9. 15 Great Customer Service Quotes to Inspire You | Sophia Bernazzani, HubSpot Blog, 01 aug 2019
10. How to Improve Your In-House Customer Service Team | Thomas Griffin, business.com, 01 aug 2019
11. 5 Customer Experience Basics To Avoid A Customer Service Nightmare | Erin Ollila, Smartercx by Oracle, 29 may 2019
12. A Complete Guide to Social Media Customer Service | Anna Bredava, Search Engine Journal, 24 mar 2019
13. Why Is Customer Service So Bad? Because It’s Profitable. | Anthony Dukes, Yi Zhu, Harvard Business Review, 26 feb 2019
14. 6 reasons why self-service options fail | George Lawton, TechTarget, 11 feb 2019
15. Focus on Your Brand Promise to Improve Customer Experiences | Vibhas Ratanjee, Anson Vuong, Jennifer Robison, Gallup, 30 jan 2019
16. 30 Do's and Don'ts for Better Customer Service | Helprace, 18 jul 2018
17. The 2017 Customer Rage Survey | Center for Services Leadership, ASU W. P. Carey School of Business, nov 2017
18. FIVE WAYS TO CREATE THE CUSTOMER-FOCUS MINDSET | Shep Hyken, hyken.com, 2017
19. 10 Reasons Organizations Fail To Deliver Great Customer Service | Shep Hyken, Forbes, 19 mar 2016
20. 10 Do's and Don'ts of Excellent Customer Service | Julia Lewis, Provide Support, 24 feb 2016
21. Your customer service team should never say these things | Matthew Hussey, The Next Web, 03 jun 2015
22. 40 Eye-Opening Customer Service Quotes | Ekaterina Walter, Forbes, 04 mar 2014

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