So how important is customer service? To put it in measurable figure, businesses lose roughly $62 billion per year due to poor customer service. To further extend the alarm, a recent study by SuperOffice discovered that many (small and large) companies are disconnected with its customers. The 2017 Customer Service benchmark report shows that most businesses (80%) think they are offering excellent customer service. But in reality, the study found only 8% of those customers actually think they are receiving top customer service. One of the main criteria studied was the amount of time it took a business to reply and address a customer’s email. Out of the 500 companies studied, only 11% actually replied to first email and 41% did not even respond! To add further, of the replied emails, it took an average of 15 hours to address.
Again, with instant gratification that customers seek today, businesses need to be more attentive and proactive when communicating. Whether it’s a customer phoning in for a question, emailing a complaint, or even posting a negative comment on social media…it is the responsibility of the business to listen and respond in timely and professional manner.
The opportunity in various customer service and technical support arenas from airline to software industry for the past 15 years have helped me garner valuable experiences. More importantly, what I have learned is that regardless of the industry, customer service’s core principles are the same; Customers want their problem resolved soon as possible. Businesses want to provide a fair solution and keep their customer happy. But a key element to achieving and retaining happy customer comes down to the basics of timeliness and responsiveness.
Let's share a brief segment that I developed to address on handling the initial contact when dealing with customer’s complaint. I found great success using the method and have trained many on integrating the process with their approach. Just a small disclaimer, following is a method I developed from my personal experience; it may or may not be suited for every business model, but I earnestly hope it will help.
L – Listen
Listen to your customer. Whether the customer is complaining or inquiring about a situation, it is your duty to carefully listen to what the customer has to say. This applies to phone calls and emails. If you receive a call from an unhappy customer, let your customer speak and vent. Take notes if needed, but do not interrupt. You may show empathy as needed, but let the customer finish explaining their situation. For emails, do not take it out of context. Read it objectively as possible without getting emotionally charged. Email can be easily misinterpreted and emotionally coupled if it contains all CAPS, exclamation marks, threatening verbiage and so on. But, do not be quick to judge simply based on the first email. Always remember, usually the issue is about a business situation not a personal attack on you.
A – Assess
Assess the issue. This is the information 'gathering' segment. Ask the customer relevant questions to help better understand the problem (ie. their account info, date of purchase, product info, etc). But try not to ask same questions (that may have been shared from the initial call/email). After obtaining the information, then evaluate the situation. Analyze what steps you should take next to find the answer/solution for the customer. For example, is the situation about the defective product, delivery issue, service rendered question, incorrect pricing, and so on.
S – Solution
Seek Solution. What options are available to remedy the problem? Can the issue be resolved with corrective actions (ie. product replacement, price adjustment/credit, discount, or even a refund)? If none applies or you do not have the authority to make the decision, go find someone who can share more insight on the topic. If decision maker isn’t available, set the proper expectation with the customer (see next section).
Set the right expectation. One of the key problem with customer service is that business over promise and under deliver which can aggravate the situation. Your business must be able to meet the minimum customer service standards expected by your customer. If the expectation is high, make sure you match that with over the top service. When dealing with customer’s complaint, ensure that you are working diligently to find fair solution. If you cannot offer an immediate solution, kindly explain that you will urgently look into a solution (with someone who can and will get back in timely manner). Important - do not state you will have an answer by end of the day when you are unsure. Be honest and offer an acceptable time table to get back. Also, whenever possible, do not transfer your calls to different departments. Try to obtain information from other department or offer conference call (with other department member) to resolve the problem. Limit the amount of people involved with resolving the issue. Customer will become agitated and make situation worse if they have to explain the problem to someone else (again).
R – Respond/Reply
Respond in timely fashion. Do not be one of those businesses that neglect emails/voicemails or reply few days later. Open your emails promptly and tackle the challenge. Make the return call on that voicemail. Not responding in timely manner will only escalate the situation. For emails, do not use automated email response. This is an unpopular trend that customers are not fond of it. Customers are smarter and more educated than ever before, they don’t need an email confirming the receipt (customers know that you are simply buying time with this method). They want a ‘human’ to reply in timely manner with a solution. If automated response is in place, make sure a ‘human’ follows up with the email within one (1) business day. Personally, it is a good habit to reply within the same day or sooner if email is received during business hours. If email is received after hours, it should be addressed next business morning. Always respond and acknowledge emails promptly even if there is no immediate solution. Ensure the client that you are working toward a solution. Keep the communication active and open.
Good products/services and competitive prices are important, but many businesses know that excellent customer service is the most cost effective means of retaining its clients, increasing sales, and more importantly growing the business. If there is anything we can learn is that most businesses can do a better job of executing and delivering top class customer service to its clients. Let’s start by responding to customers’ emails/calls promptly, honestly, and effectively.