The 10 Golden Rules of Customer Service
Follow these best practices to make better decisions and keep your customers happy.
Much of the conversation around customer service best practices revolves around tactics.
Use the customer’s name.
Thank them for their business.
And, to be sure, that’s sound advice. We share a lot of tactics on this blog.
Tactics are great. They make us feel safe. When we come up against a customer service scenario that we know we have a tactic for, we think “great, I know exactly how to handle this.”
But what happens when you encounter a situation where you don’t have the right technique or script?
You have to figure out the solution on your own.
Simply studying tactics doesn’t prepare you for that. To master the skill of creating great customer experiences in any scenario, you need something bigger than tactics. You need mindsets; rules for thinking that can dependably guide you to the correct decision, every time.
Philosophies, mindsets, systems… you can call them what you’d like, but the idea is the same: whether you have a tactic for the situation or not, having the right mindset will help you quickly and easily deduce the right course of action.
Today, we’re sharing ten critically important rules for good customer service that will help you tackle any challenging scenario thrown your way.
Golden Rules of Support
These golden rules of customer service are meant to help you quickly and confidently make decisions in any support scenario.
1) Every interaction matters. Every. Single. One.
It’s late. You’re tired. Hungry, too. And you’re just about ready to call it quits for the day.
That’s when the notification pops up: another email. A support ticket from one of your customers. You’re tempted to phone it in. To just go through the motions, send a few word reply, and not give the email the same level of attention, personalization and enthusiasm that you normally strive to deliver.
Stop. Breathe. And take a moment to remember that every interaction matters.
Think about all of the times you’ve heard a friend, a coworker or even just a random person on social media say something like “[company] doesn’t care about its customers.”
Do you really think that that’s true? Of course not!
Almost ALL companies care about their customers.
And many of the companies being complained about, even in that screenshot above, have also been praised for great customer service. But these complaints are all the result of a single bad experience.
That’s why it’s so important to put in your best effort to make every interaction—every single one—a great one.
2) Customer service screwups aren’t outcomes, they’re opportunities.
It’s easy to let angry customers walk out the door after you—or someone in your business—make a mistake. And sometimes, they’re going to leave no matter what you do to try and keep them.
But successful businesses know that customer service recovery is one of the most important elements in customer retention. 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.
3) You are responsible for the growth of the business.
Your customers—all customers—have a choice.
They can choose to do nothing at all.
They can choose to do business with you.
Or they can choose one of your competitors.
What influences their choices?
More and more research points to the importance of customer experience in customer decision-making.
In Oracle’s 2011 Customer Experience Impact Report, the company cites research that found that 86% of customers will pay more for a better customer experience.
It’s not a fluke; American Express found a similar result in their 2011 Customer Service Survey, with 70% of Americans willing to spend an average of 13% more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service.
Perhaps the most under-appreciated customer service rule is that great customer service adds real value to your business, and it’s not enough to just support your customers. You have to help them win. If you do that, then your business wins, too.
4) Give people the benefit of the doubt.
There’s an important thing to understand about people’s behavior: we all have bad days.
On those bad days, some of us might tend to take our frustrations out on other people, whether we mean to or not.
I’ve certainly been guilty of it, and I’d be willing to bet that you have, too.
A customer who behaves badly once (within reason) is simply a customer behaving badly. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and employ your best customer service techniques to help them get back to normal.
(Of course, a customer for whom bad behavior is a repeating trend is a different issue altogether; here’s how to deal with those.)
5) There are things more important than speed.
While speed matters, there are things that matter more.
One survey by Gallup measured how engaged customers felt after getting service at a bank.
While customers who felt that the bank offered speedy service were six times more likely to be highly engaged, customers who gave the bank high ratings on “people” factors (like the tellers’ courtesy and willingness to help) were nine times more likely to be fully engaged.
As William J. McEwen puts it in Married to the Brand, “Speed is one factor, but it is markedly less important than having tellers who can deliver services in a friendly and competent manner.”
Focus on great support before fast support.
6) Make things easy.
In a survey of more than 75,000 consumers, the number one most important factor in a customer’s loyalty is reducing their effort (the work they must do to get their problem solved).
Contrary to the conventional advice that loyalty is built on “WOW’ing the customer,” research suggests that the critical goal should be reducing customer effort.
Always be thinking about how you can make life easier for your customers, and they’ll have a great reason to stick around.
7) Your customers are under your protection.
In Jay Abraham’s fantastic book Getting Everything You Can Out Of All You've Got, he highlights a profound shift in thinking that can change the way your business operates:
Customer: A person who purchases a commodity or service.
Client: A person who is under the protection of another.
The difference in the meaning is massive. And there's a massive difference in the way a person who does business with you could or should be treated.
If in your field these people are referred to as customers, that's fine. But whatever you call them, always think of them as a client.
What exactly does “under your protection” mean?
In this case it means that you don't sell people a product or service just so you can make a large one-time profit.
A better option is to understand and appreciate exactly what your clients needs when they do business with you—even if they are unable to articulate that exact result themselves. Once you know what financial outcome they need, you lead them to that outcome—you become a trusted adviser who protects them.
And they have a reason to remain your client for a lifetime.
Instead of thinking about the value of a given transaction, think about the value of your customer being with you for a lifetime.
Remember this when you’re considering what to upsell, downsell or recommend.
Keeping your customers happy and loyal by taking the long-term view and placing them under your protection can pay off in a big way.
8) Yes, great support does scale.
Even if you deliver amazing support when you’re a tiny shop, scaling a business is hard.
The challenges of growing a business change dramatically when you double or triple in size. One of those challenges that many businesses struggle with is ensuring that your customer service remains as good as it was in the early days.
But it is possible.
9) The best support channel is wherever your customers are.
Wondering where you should be spending your time supporting your customers?
Twitter? Facebook? Email? Phone? SMS?
It’s an incredibly important question, but one that can only be answered with that infuriatingly unsatisfying phrase: it depends.
Companies that deliver excellent customer support do so in the channels where their customers are.
If your customers are avid email users, then you’ll need to provide great email support to keep them happy.
If they’re more active on Twitter, you’ll need to be accessible to them there.
The same goes for every channel. And there are probably more channels than you think.
But don’t worry: getting multi-channel support doesn’t have to be a guessing game. We’ve put the seven most important channels you should consider (and a system for figuring out which ones to choose) into a guide right here.
10) If you want to treat your customers well, treat your employees well.
The final customer service rule is about your employees, rather than your customers.
Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.
One study published in the Journal of Service Research asked employees from more than 300 locations of a large retailer, each with between 40 and 60 employees, to rate their job satisfaction across elements like general workplace atmosphere, working conditions, team cohesion and their bosses’ behavior.
When looking at those numbers in the context of data from customers and franchise owners, the researchers found that improving employee happiness doesn’t just increase customer satisfaction, but it also nearly doubles the customer’s plans to purchase again at that store.
Now, of course it makes sense in hindsight: we all remember the stores and business’ where we’ve had particularly positive experiences with happy employees.
But it’s also easy to forget in our own businesses, which is why it’s so important to keep employee experience front and center.
Great Customer Service Starts With Thinking the Right Way
As valuable as the right tactics and techniques are, mastering your customer service skills comes down to thinking about support the right way. That’s what will give you the tools you need to handle any support scenario, whether you’ve planned for it or not.
Bookmark these rules and refer back to them from time to time; your customers will appreciate it.