5 Things CEOs and Founders Need to Know About Good Customer Service
Your support team makes your customers successful. Here’s how to make your support team successful.
One of my very first summer jobs in high school was waiting tables at a casual chain restaurant in New Jersey.
If you grew up on the east coast of the U.S. and enjoy regretting your meal choices, you’ve probably eaten at one of their locations.
We had a group of regulars who loved the place. We always treated them well, and in return, they kept coming back.
Those customers felt like friends of ours, and the wait staff did everything we could to make them happy.
The owner of this particular franchise wasn’t around much. And when he was, he spent all of his time in the back office with the manager, talking about the business. I never saw him speak to a single customer.
One day, word came “from the top” that there would be no more free refills on sodas.
No More Free Refills
While that may not seem like a big deal — there are a lot of places that charge for each drink — free refills were pretty much a given at similar restaurants in our town; it was unheard of to do things any differently.
Our customers, and especially our regulars, weren’t happy about this change.
Could they afford an extra soda?
But to them, the new policy signaled a change in the way we treated our customers. It was no longer about making them happy.
Slowly, they stopped coming back. Eventually, the flow of new customers slowed to a crawl, too.
Was the refill policy responsible?
To tell you the truth, I don’t know. And I don’t know the owner’s decision process for the change, either.
Maybe he ran the numbers and decided that the lost customer loyalty would be worth the extra margins on refills.
Maybe the cost of soda went up and we could no longer afford to throw it in as a value-add.
Maybe he was just waiting for an insurance payout from the fire that consumed the restaurant that winter.
I don’t know his reasons.
But as someone on the front lines doing customer service every day, I can tell you how it felt: like the owner was driving a wedge between the customers and the business. But he had no way of knowing that, because he was never out on the floor, nor did he ever once ask the staff for feedback.
You won’t make the same mistakes.
Below, you’ll find five tips for making sure that the people on your front lines are successful, so that your customers — and your business — can be successful, too.
The Role of the CEO in Customer Service
1) Dive in to Deeply Understand Your Customers
The customers had way more insights than we had. They had been thinking about their own problems for so long…If you just go out and try to sell maybe you’ll find some buyers, but you won’t be learning about what you should be doing.
The benefits of doing customer development are well documented. You get front-row seat insights into the way your customers think, feel and behave; the kinds of insights that can transform your product and your business.
But setting aside time to talk to your customers also has big customer happiness benefits.
From the customer’s perspective, reaching out proactively and being interested in their experience sets you apart from the dozens of other companies they do business with.
And on the team side, spending time on the front lines with your customers helps you understand what your support employees come face-to-face with each day. I asked Alex if customer development changed his perspective on support, and he didn’t hesitate:
As a CEO, talking to customers absolutely transforms the way you think about support. Bugs and issues aren’t just line items on a spreadsheet anymore; hearing directly about how a bug impacts a customer’s experience makes it much easier to prioritize getting it fixed. And when our support team tells me about an issue that needs addressing, I have a better appreciation for how urgent it is than if I had kept a wall between myself and our customers.
Takeaway: Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your support team are the only ones who are supposed to talk to customers. Doing customer development can help you grow your business and work more effectively with your customer service employees.
2) Hire Support Agents with These Essential Skills
Essential Customer Support Skills
When hiring customer support employees, a resume doesn’t tell you much about whether or not someone is going to make your customer happy. Instead, look for these five essential customer service skills:
- Empathy: do you sense that the person can understand how you feel, and use that understanding to influence their behavior and response to you?
- Positivity: does the person exude positivity? Do you feel happier when you’re talking to them?
- Patience: can the person keep their cool when you throw a stressful question or situation at them?
- Clarity in Communication: does the person explain themselves clearly and thoroughly?
- Continuous Improvement: has the person had experience consistently setting and meeting goals?
For tips on developing and improving the five skills above, see my post here.
When it comes to interviewing, give the potential employee a hypothetical customer service scenario from your business and ask them to respond. At this point, it doesn’t matter whether or not they know your product inside and out; it’s more important that their response makes you feel the way you want your customers to feel.
Takeaway: Look for support employees with the five critical customer service skills, and give them some test questions to see their skills in action. At Groove, we’re also big fans of the trial period for new hires.
3) Empower Your Support Team With the Permission to Make Your Customers Happy.
Imagine that you’re at a restaurant, happily enjoying your lunch, and you ask the waiter for some ketchup to go with your fries.
“That costs extra.”
How does that make you feel?
If you’re like me, you’d be pretty annoyed.
That’s the lesson that customer service guru Bob Farrell learned in the 70’s. In his famous talk, Farrell recounts how one of his restaurants lost the loyalty of a customer by trying to charge them for a side of pickles. The experience led to the motto that Farrell became known for: give ‘em the pickle.
While the video may look old (it is), it’s worth a watch for the lesson inside:
As a CEO, you need to make sure that your employees are allowed — and expected — to give ‘em the pickle, no matter what your company’s “pickle” might be.
Depending on your business, that could mean:
- Giving a customer a free month of service
- Offering a refund on a less-than-perfect experience
- Surprising a loyal customer with free (or faster) shipping
Takeaway: There’s a reason that Ritz-Carlton gives each employee a $2,000 budget to make any single customer happy: empowering your team is that important. Don’t lose customers to stingy policies and employees who are powerless to do anything to help.
4) Know Which Customer Service Metrics Matter, and Track Them Closely
There are many things you can measure customer support employees on, but ultimately, there’s one metric that matters most. And despite what you may have read, the most important metric has nothing to do with how long it takes a support agent to respond.
According to Bill Price, Amazon’s first VP of Global Customer Service, the ultimate customer service metric to measure your team’s performance by is customer satisfaction.
Your help desk should be tracking customer satisfaction after every interaction. To you, that data will keep you on the pulse of how both your support team and your customers are performing.
Measuring customer satisfaction
But that’s not to say that other metrics aren’t useful.
While key metrics may be slightly different for each business, metrics like reply time, handle time and other raw performance analytics can be helpful for spotting issues before they occur. For example, if average first reply time is slipping, your agents may have too much on their plate and it might be time to expand your team.
Price also cautions against just focusing on averages, emphasizing that it’s important to look at outliers, too:
The critical thing from the customer point of view is not an average.
For example, what was the longest amount of time taken to respond to a written communication? For those who had to wait this length of time, an apology (or more) should be in order. Ignoring extreme cases can be devastating to your customer service.
Takeaway: There are dozens of metrics you can track, and customer satisfaction is the most important one. For the rest, make sure to look for outliers and extremes, and not just averages.
5) Lean on Your Support Team for Product Decisions
More than anyone else in your company, your support team knows what your customers want.
That’s why it’s critical to look to your customer service team to help you make product and development decisions.
At Buffer, rather than use an FAQ or knowledge base, the support team works to make sure that every instance of customer confusion leads to a support email, and not to the customer finding their answer online.
Simple: once they get 55 emails about the same issue, the support team can report it to the product team, who prioritizes improving the app to remove whatever was causing 55 customers to be confused.
As Chief Happiness Hero Carolyn Kopprasch puts it, “we try to give our customers very few chances to find an answer without letting us feel their pain first.”
This simple chart explains their process:
The Buffer Support Process
Takeaway: Your support team holds the keys to valuable insights about your customers’ experience. Make sure that you use them as a resource to inform your product decisions.
As a CEO, you might be a step or two removed from the front lines of customer service. Or, you might be in the trenches, responding to support emails alongside your team.
Either way, I hope these tips give you a better understanding of how you can use your role to help make your customer service team — and your customers — successful.