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5 Best Practices for Delivering Excellent Customer Service

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Striving for memorable moments.

Think about all the customer service encounters you had last week—from the cashier at the grocery store, to the phone call with your airline representative, to using a chat support widget because there was a bug in your task management program.

Now think about how many of these encounters actually stood out—good or bad.

Is it the bad experiences you remember first when you start thinking of memorable ones? When was the last time you got to tell someone about a truly great experience you had?

Sharing experiences is one of the most important customer service statistics out there. On average, happy customers tell nine friends. Unhappy customers, on average, tell sixteen.

That’s a pretty big difference and a hefty price to pay when it comes to customer service.

Problem is that when we think of the opposite of “bad” customer service, we think about “good” customer service. That’s not enough.

“Good” is “meh”. It’s “I guess it was alright, yeah”. Not memorable, nothing to write home about.

You want to go for an excellent experience—something worth talking about—every single time.

Here are five things to do to make sure every customer service interaction you have makes the person on the other end feel like you’re going above and beyond.

Reduce Their Effort

Creating a “nice” experience for everyone is, well, nice.

However, from a loyalty standpoint, there’s something way more important: reducing your customers’ effort.

In a 2007 survey by the Customer Contact Council, more than 75,000 customers were surveyed about their phone, chat and email interactions with customer service representatives.

The study found that the single most important factor to increasing customer loyalty is reducing the amount of work the customer has to do to get their problem solved.

A good customer service experience would be just explaining what the customer needs to do and having them do it. A great customer service experience means that if the customer needs to do something to resolve their issue, you do it for them.

Does your customer need to follow a link and fill out a form to make updates to their account? Make the updates for them.

Do they need to take steps to troubleshoot an issue they’re having? Set up a screenshare on Skype or Google Hangouts and walk them through it.

Customers are often asked to do a lot of work to solve their problems:

Don’t make your customers chase the solutions for themselves. Take the extra step and make sure that they have to do as little as possible.

By taking the work off of your customers’ plates, you can both reduce their effort and delight them, as they’ll be positively surprised by your (unfortunately) unusual approach.

There’s a but here, though—if whatever the customer needs to do is a (simple) recurring thing for them and it’d be better if they knew how to do it themselves, explain the process to them instead of just getting in and arranging it for them. Proactiveness is amazing, but don’t be too much of a helicopter parent.

Really Get To Know Them

Whenever you engage in any kind of communication with your customers, start a conversation—about them. At Groove, whenever someone signs up, we ask them why.

And not only that—we also constantly encourage our users to get in touch if they have feedback or questions (or just want to hang out, really).

Why? Because learning about the people and companies that use our product, what kind of problems they’re facing, what their goals are, etc, we can actively work to make our product and service better.

Personal touches aren’t just about business, though. Knowing things about your customers⁠—outside of your business relationship with them⁠—gives you big opportunities to create personal touches for them.

One way to apply this in your own support is to make sure that when your customers follow you on Twitter, you follow them back.

Take note when they Tweet interesting things, and mention them in your support interactions.

In Groove, a customer’s profile info comes with the ticket, so you can see stuff like their location, website, etc. Adding a little something you’ve noticed about a specific customer makes the interaction stand out way more.

Creating a personal relationship is one thing, but you need to also keep it going.

One thing that is critical to building lifelong customer relationships is continuing the dialog. Periodic check-ins and random calls/emails/texts go a long way. This shows your interest in their success and that you are thinking about them.

Check in every now and then to see how things are going. If they haven’t been active for a while, shoot them a quick email to ask if everything’s alright. Ask if they have feedback. Ask if they’re worried about anything. Send a survey. Remind them you’re there.

Say “thank you”. And “sorry”.

You don’t need a reason to say “thank you”.

The power of this simple phrase was tested in a 2010 study where participants were asked to give feedback on a fictional student’s cover letter.

After the feedback was received, the participants got a reply asking for feedback on a second cover letter.

Half of the participants got a straight, to-the-point email with the second request, and the other half got an email expressing gratitude for completing the first review.

The results? 32% of the “no gratitude” group provided feedback on the second cover letter, while 66% of the “gratitude” group⁠—more than double⁠—ended up sending more feedback.

That’s not a small difference. Simply saying “thank you” to a customer can be a powerful way to strengthen your relationship with them.

Receiving gratitude doesn’t just change the way we think and feel; it changes the way we behave for the better.

Did they give you feedback? Say “thank you”. Did they report a bug? Say “thank you”. Did they complain about something? Say “thank you”.

You also don’t need a reason to say “sorry”.

When a customer is angry at you, you can give them a refund. You can throw free products at them. You can comp their account for a year.

But don’t forget the incredible value of a simple apology.

Even if you didn’t do anything wrong, you can still be sorry about the way the customer feels. Let them know that.

In a study at the Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, 37% of customers were satisfied with service recovery when they were offered something of monetary value (e.g., a refund or credit).

But, when the business added an apology on top of the compensation, satisfaction doubled to 74%.

In fact, not saying sorry is one of the 6 customer service mistakes that annoy customers most.

Neither “thank you” nor “I’m sorry” cost you anything to say. Don’t hold back.

Don’t Let Them Leave

Creepy.

It’s easy to let angry customers walk out the door after you—or someone in your business—make a mistake and the customer is upset upset. If they’re gone, they’re gone, right?

Wrong. A bad experience with great customer service recovery leads to a more loyal customer than no bad experience at all.

We’ve talked about turning bad customer experiences around before. The two components to making sure that you don’t let anyone go too easy are:

  1. Listening (no, like, really listening) and only then
  2. Starting the recovery process

Bill Thompson at Olark, a live chat software company, mentioned listening as one of the most important aspects of dealing with a negative customer experience:

So it's imperative that you remain calm, and LISTEN. I capitalized not because I'm yelling, but because it's the prime directive. What people need most when they are upset is to know that they are being listened to, that you are a resource, a life preserver and a path to a solution.

Ask questions, clarify and really flesh out what their needs really are.

And then, once you’ve established what’s going on, you can start the recovery process. By following a few simple steps—we believe in the Disney Institute’s H.E.A.R.D. method—you can turn upset customers into loyal, happy ones:

  • Hear: let the customer tell their entire story without interruption. Sometimes, we just want someone to listen.
  • Empathize: Convey that you deeply understand how the customer feels. Use phrases like “I’d be frustrated, too.”
  • Apologize: As long as it’s sincere, you can’t apologize enough. Even if you didn’t do whatever made them upset, you can still genuinely be apologetic for the way your customer feels (e.g., I’m always sorry that a customer feels upset).
  • Resolve: Resolve the issue quickly, or make sure that your employees are empowered to do so. Don’t be afraid to ask the customer: “what can I do to make this right?”
  • Diagnose: Get to the bottom of why the mistake occurred, without blaming anyone; focus on fixing the process so that it doesn’t happen again.

It might be tempting to just walk away from a seemingly unsolvable problem. Don’t. Not every customer interaction starts well, but you can turn them around.

Go Offline

Your customers probably handle all of their interactions with businesses online, via email, social media, and maybe phone calls.

But how many companies “break the digital plane,” so to speak, and extend a warm personal touch to their customers outside of the internet?

Sending a simple handwritten note that shows up in your customer’s real mailbox is a fantastic way to get their attention and set yourself apart from the crowd.

A handwritten note says “I’m thinking of you right now, I wanted you to know that, and an email isn’t personal enough to tell you that.”

There are several scenarios where you can go an extra mile with a simple handwritten note:

Either way, it’s different, and shows your customers you put effort into letting them know how much you care.

Or, for a more special occasion, treat your customers to a gift. Not sure how to pick gifts that people won’t just appreciate, but love? Here are some ideas.

Striving For Excellent Customer Service Every Time

We all know customer interaction management is hard work, but it’s important to commit to making every single interaction count.

If you want to truly stand out—and earn the right to command higher prices than your competition—you need to compete on customer experience. Make your customers love not only your product, but the act of doing business with you.

Everyone out there is striving to provide good customer service. Make yours outstanding.

When was the last time you experienced excellent customer service? Share your story in the comments!

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About the Author

Elen Veenpere is part of the marketing team at Groove. She’s passionate about writing and building marketing strategies based on in-depth analytics and lots of coffee.

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