One of our loyal aQuire clients emailed me the other day and said, “We are working on customer service this coming year with our staff – that would be a great class for aQuire!”
You’re right, Paula, that would be a perfect class! In fact, I’ve got about 100 really perfect classes waiting for the time and resources to get published so that your staff can benefit from them. In the meantime, you’ll have to make this do (it’s exactly where blended training comes in!):
Great customer service is sort of like the Golden Rule: there are many, many details you need to know to relate well to others, but at the end of the day there’s just one rule: Treat other people how you would want to be treated.
In customer service, there may be “8 Rules” but there is one underlying principle: Good Relationships = Good Service.
You’re not providing a one-time favor for someone; you’re building a long-term relationship. Treating customers like you’d treat a friend is another way to think about it. Learn (and use) names, learn life stories; treat each person like a special person. That’s the Golden Rule for customer service.
Now let’s look at 8 more rules that will make your customer service stand out – and really, truly work.
1. Be there. When the phone rings, does a person answer it quickly, every time? When someone walks in the door is a person there to greet him immediately? You can’t build relationships by sending people to voice mail or running them through a 5 layer phone tree. Make it a priority to take the first step in customer service, and be there when they call or come in.
2. Be reliable. When you say you’ll do something, do it. Don’t promise anything you don’t know, for sure, that you can deliver. Always follow-up. If a client asks you a question (“Can you find out where my mom’s new sweater went?”), provide an answer (“I’ll look into it and let you know by the end of the week”) and then follow-up (“It’s Friday, and I thought I’d let you know that we have found her sweater…”). Ask for more, too, while you’re at it (“Is there anything else I can help you with today?”). Few things annoy clients as much as someone dropping the ball and not doing what they said they’d do.
3. Listen up. When a client is talking, be listening. The only thing worse than having someone drop the ball on follow-up is someone not listening to you, and asking you for details you’ve already provided. Oh wait, I know something worse: having to tell the full story to one person, only to have to repeat it, details and all, to another person – and another. Remember the last time you were at the doctor’s office with a nurse demanding every single detail? You know exactly what I mean. If you’re not the person to solve the problem (“I have a question about my bill”), don’t ask for any details – refer the client to the right person first.
4. Apologize. Complaints can be tough. It’s easy to say, “Oh well – can’t please all the people all the time!” In reality, complaints are often the way our clients communicate their feelings of anxiety (“I’m really worried about my mom and don’t have a clue what to do about it”) or guilt (“I should really be the one doing this – then it would be perfect”). Listen (see Rule #3) and then, before you begin defending or explaining, apologize. Say, “I’m really sorry you had that experience.” You’ll instantly defuse the situation, and allow real communication – and real problem solving – to start.
5. Be helpful. Do you remember how you felt the last time a stranger held a door for you? Even the smallest helpful gesture changes relationships from stranger to friend. As you work to build relationships, look for ways to be helpful, even if you may not profit from it. Maybe someone on the phone actually needs a completely different kind of service – recommend one you know about. Helpfulness has wings of its own and will return rich reward to you.
6. Empower your team. Train these customer service principles to every member of your team. Give them opportunities to practice and ask them to notice each other’s great service – and share it. Public praise is one of the strongest rewards you can give and will change behaviors. Make sure, whenever possible, your team has the power to do small things for clients – offer coffee, cookies or simply pause to listen to an overwhelmed client. These are the things that build relationships – and create awesome, committed clients.
7. Go the extra mile. It might be enough to tell your client you’ll look into a problem and get back to him. But going the extra mile means not only locating the missing sweater, for example, but making sure it is correctly labeled and re-labeling it if necessary. It means taking the time to call back before the deadline you set and follow up. It means not just pointing to the activity area, but walking with the client to the area, chatting and visiting while you walk. Going the extra mile takes a few minutes of your time, but can pay big dividends when your clients start telling others about you.
8. Throw in something extra. A big smile, a certain saying (“Have a wonderful day!”), a long-stemmed rose from a big bunch on your desk or a cookie pre-wrapped in a cellophane bag – look for ways to add something extra to the service you provide. It can be something very small, but it will make a big, big difference to the perception of your clients (or future clients).
Great customer service doesn’t take a ton of new resources and effort. Little things will add a lot of polish as long as you keep in mind that one key word: relationships. Treat every client – and every prospective client – as a valued friend and you’ll automatically up the level of service you provide.
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