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How To Build Good Customer Service Habits

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There are lots of things that we know we should be doing, but aren’t. Here’s how to change that.

When you woke up this morning, one of the first things you probably did was brush your teeth.

(I hope.)

You probably didn’t think through it very carefully. You didn’t say, “I should brush my teeth now. I’ll start by finding my toothbrush.”

In fact, you probably did it with very little thought at all.

And that’s because brushing your teeth is an ingrained habit.

Every day for years, you’ve been brushing your teeth the same way. Your toothbrush and toothpaste are always in the right place, you spend the same amount of time brushing each day, and you never have to think about it.

Habits are incredibly powerful, because they allow you to perform the behaviors you should be doing, without forcing you to work up the motivation to do it each time.

People who build a habit of working out have a far easier time making it to the gym regularly than people who have to pry themselves off of the couch by sheer force of will every time.

The same holds true in customer support.

There are a lot of things that we all know we should be doing, but we simply aren’t, because we haven’t turned those behaviors into habits.


That changes today.

How To Build A Habit (With Science, Not Willpower)

Charles Duhigg is the NYT-bestselling author of The Power of Habit.

In it, he condenses years of research on the psychology of habits into a few hundred pages of invaluable insight.

As Duhigg explains, successful habits are built from three parts:

The Three Essential Elements in Any Habit

  1. The cue

    This is the trigger that tells your brain that it’s time to perform the habit. In the example of brushing our teeth, this might simply be the act of waking up, or of taking a shower.

  2. The routine

    This is the behavior itself.

  3. The reward

    This is the payoff for doing the behavior. When we brush our teeth, the reward might be that our mouths feel clean.

When most people build a habit, Duhigg explains, they focus only on the routine. But that’s actually the least important part of the habit.

In fact, the cue and the reward are the far more effective things to focus on.

For each habit, customer support or otherwise, isolating a cue and a reward will be the key to long-lasting change.

Using Temporary Rewards To Help Build Habits

Duhigg also shared the story of how he tried to build a habit of exercising.

What finally worked was to give himself a reward: he ate a piece of chocolate after each workout.

Eventually, his brain learned that working out would lead to a reward (and as he became healthier, his body also recognized the intrinsic reward of exercising), and he was able to eliminate the chocolate from the process.

It was a big help in kick-starting his new habit, and we can apply a similar principle to customer support habits that we might be struggling to implement.

When it comes to building habits, don’t be afraid to experiment with rewards; one that I’ve found particularly effective is taking a 5-minute break from work to waste some time on Twitter or Facebook, or to get up and walk around the house for a bit.

For smaller habits, other studies have suggested that even thinking positively about the behavior you just did can be a reward in itself. For example, telling yourself “good job” after completing the behavior can be enough to reinforce the habit.

Three Examples of Customer Service Habits To Build

There are endless support habits that you can build, from using the right language to practicing good email techniques to being more productive.

It’s important, however, to be as specific as possible when choosing a habit to build.

For example, “being productive” is not a habit in itself. On the other hand, “working for 60 uninterrupted minutes each morning before I check my email” is a great, specific and trackable habit.

Below are a few more examples of support habits that you can start building today:

Regularly Update Your Knowledge Base

An online knowledge base can be a useful tool for helping your customers help themselves.

With answers to frequently asked questions, a knowledge base lets you deliver 24/7 support, even with a small team.

But it’s important to keep your knowledge base updated, otherwise you might be hurting your customers with outdated information or missing answers to frequently asked questions that have only recently started popping up.

A good habit is to update your knowledge base weekly.

Habit: Updating Your Knowledge Base

Use Your Customer’s Name

When Dale Carnegie said that “a person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language,” he may not have had access to the latest medical research.

But as recent studies have shown, he was spot on.

As it turns out, our names are so important to us that hearing them lights up an entirely different part of our brain than any other words.

Using your customer’s name can make them like and trust you more.

Habit: Using Your Customer’s Name

Send an Email to One Customer Each Day, Just to Say “Thanks”

The power of a “thank you” was tested in a 2010 study where participants were asked to give feedback on a fictional student’s (“Eric”) cover letter.

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

This is where things get interesting. 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.

Here are the actual emails that were used:

The results?

32% of the “No Gratitude” group provided feedback on the second cover letter, while 66% of the “Gratitude” group — more than double — sent more feedback.

That’s not a small difference, and simply sending a personal email saying “thank you” to a customer can be a powerful way to strengthen your relationship with them.

Habit: Sending a Daily “Thank You” Email

Forget About Willpower, Focus on Habits

Research has shown that we have a limited amount of cognitive energy each day, and each time we tap into our willpower to force ourselves to do something, we deplete that energy, making everything else our brains need to do that day more difficult.

That’s what makes habits so powerful.

By taking the actions that we want to regularly take, and building habits – with cues and rewards – around them, we can turn them into automatic behaviors that we don’t even have to think about; we simply do them.

It works for customer support, and just about everything else.

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About the Author

Len Markidan heads up marketing at Groove. He’s focused on helping startups and small businesses build better relationships with their customers.

Read his latest posts or follow him on Twitter

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