Customer Service: What Is It and Why Is It Important?
Every one of us serve customers, whether we realize it or not. Maybe you’re on the front lines of a company, serving the people who buy your products. Perhaps you’re an accountant, serving the employees by ensuring paychecks go out and bills are paid on time. Or maybe you’re a company owner, serving your staff and your customers.
Who Are Customers?
A customer is anyone who uses a service. Most customers are external and are the primary revenue source for a company. These customers influence the business by either encouraging or discouraging potential customers based on their experience. Since existing customers provide a source of revenue and have a strong influence on potential growth, ensuring these customers are satisfied is paramount.
What is Customer Service?
People will always remember both good & bad customer service experiences, but we are more likely to talk about or report the bad experiences. If you want to ensure you are getting repeat business, prioritizing the needs of your customer base is essential. There are various ways to provide good customer service, but there are certain elements that remain constant, regardless of the nature of the business.
Customers have a basic criteria and priorities that determine whether their experience is positive or negative. Customer service can be defined as any action you take to ensure the customer is pleased with the transaction on a long-term basis. This includes “after sales service,” which ensures the customer leaves the point of sale with the item desired, within the timeframe they expect, and that the item has no defects or issues. The actual sales transaction is the simple part of customer service since both the customer and seller typically have the same objective. Ensuring that customers are pleased after the transaction requires more attention.
Who Are Customer Service Providers?
Whatever the beginning of the process is within your organization, everyone who is behind the scenes should be focused on completing their tasks correctly to ensure that the entire process goes smoothly. Say you work in a sales environment with a warehouse – stockers in the warehouse may not seem like they are part of good end-user customer service, but one misplaced or mislabeled part can lead to delays, confusion, or even shipping the wrong item to a customer. Even employees who don’t interact directly with external customers or whose jobs don’t seem to have a direct correlation with the end-user experience can influence customer service. Great customer service starts at the beginning! If your direct customer is internal to your organization, providing them with excellent service ensures that the next step can go smoothly. When everyone completes their job tasks correctly so the next person in the chain can do the same without delay, our end-user customers will only benefit!
Attitude is Everything
Providing great customer service requires energy and enthusiasm. Body language can speak volumes when dealing with a customer, regardless of what is being said. Customers can see the difference between an employee who is just saying the company scripted lines and one who genuinely wants to help them. Staying energized and enthusiastic always would be ideal, but it is not realistic. We all experience fatigue at times that can affect our attitudes, but here are some tips to help minimize fatigue and boost low energy levels:
- Take a walk
- Drink a glass of cold water
- Be sure to eat a good breakfast and lunch
- Place yourself around energetic people
- Listen to up-beat music
- Try to stay humorous
Situations may arise that cause you to become irritated or frustrated, and a negative attitude will typically have a negative effect on customer service. If you are finding it difficult to stay positive in certain situations, try following these tips:
- Rearrange or redecorate your workspace
- View negative situations as a training session for your future and use them to your benefit
- Find ways to spend more time on tasks you enjoy
- Look for opportunities to learn new things
- Realize that you can find positives in any negative situation
Identifying and Addressing Customer Needs
The first step in improving customer service is determining what your customers value. The obvious way to find the answer is to simply ask them. Businesses spend time and money surveying customers, which usually results in constructive feedback. After identifying customer needs, the next step is to commit yourself to meeting them and showing them how important they are to your organization.
While it is important to speak with customers and assist them with their needs, it is equally important to actively listen to the customer and avoid presumptions. Learn by listening and determining what kind of customer you are working with. Some customers know exactly what they want or need and want to be told how you can meet those needs. Others may have a general idea of what the end goal is and want you to share your knowledge to fill in the gaps so you can work together toward a solution. Listen to your customer’s complete thoughts before interjecting.
The priorities of your organization should mirror the priorities of your customers. Customers typically have a few of these basic needs:
- Friendliness & Acknowledgment
- Understanding and empathy
- Control/Ability to have an impact
- Options and alternatives
Customer Service over the Phone
When providing customer service over the phone, the success of your interactions depends on your tone of voice and choice of words. Customers expect a courteous, helpful response when they call your business.
Following the basics of telephone etiquette can help provide the response that customers expect:
- Answer the phone promptly and with a smile. Practice your greeting with and without smiling. You should be able to hear a difference and so can your customers!
- Always use a greeting word or phrase first when answering the phone– often, the first thing you say will not be heard by the person on the line. If you utilize a greeting word or phrase like “Good Morning,” your customer will be more likely hear what you say next (like your company name and your own name).
- Offer your personal assistance upfront, then listen to the caller explain the reason and nature of their call without interrupting.
- Speak clearly and make notes as the customer is talking. Always jot down the caller’s first name so you can address them by name when responding. This helps your customer trust that you are listening and attentive.
- Ask your customer before putting them on hold. If your phone does not have hold music or an on-hold message, let them know that it will be silent as they hold so they do not think they’ve been disconnected.
- If you need to transfer the caller to another person, let the customer know what you’re doing, and if possible, you should let your colleague know who you are transferring and any information you’ve already gathered from the caller. No one appreciates having to repeat the same information to a new person. This will show your customer that you’ve been paying attention and care about their issue.
- Always let your customer hang up the phone first to ensure they are done with the call
Managing Unhappy Customers
Dealing with an angry customer is inevitable. Whether the customer’s anger and frustration are warranted or not, it is the job of the customer service representative to accept the situation and move forward with solving the problem. The best way to get to the root issue quickly is to try to calm the customer so they can fully explain their issue.
- Speak calmly and evenly.
- Listen without interrupting; take notes.
- Be empathetic without being patronizing; using phrases like “I understand” or “I can sympathize with you” aren’t necessarily good in situations with angry customers – if you understand, then why did it happen to them in the first place? Those phrases can also make your customer feel like you’re cutting them off.
- Once your customer is done speaking, quickly read your notes and recap the issue as you understand it to make sure you are both on the same page with what the problem is that needs to be solved.
- If you know how to solve the issue right away, clearly explain what the process will be and the timeframe the customer should expect.
There are times when you may not be able to provide a timely solution without additional resources. When these situations occur, it is important to communicate your plan of action and leave your customer on good terms. Communicate any updates, whether good or bad, in a timely fashion as you follow up on the issue toward resolution. It’s important to manage your emotions do not take anything personally; your customer is not angry with you, and it is your responsibility to make sure they feel validated and that their problem is resolved. Remember this Customer Bill of Rights when managing angry customers:
- Customers should always be taken seriously
- Customers should always be respected
- Customers should always be listened to
- Customers should always receive a quick response
Being gracious and helpful when addressing customer complaints can cause your customer to rave about your customer service, even in an initially adverse situation and generate return business.
Ten Tips to Get Customers Working for Your Business
If you want to make a lasting impression on customers, you need to go the extra mile. Giving customers more than they expect will not only keep them coming back, but it will also inspire them to encourage others to increase your customer base.
- Greet customers with a smile
- Be helpful and make customers feel that your primary concern is being helpful to them
- Know your product or service
- Don’t make customers feel ignorant
- Listen to customers more than you talk to them
- Treat employees with consideration and respect
- Make customers feel important and appreciated
- Make things easy for customers
- Throw in something extra
- Say thank you and show appreciation
If you haven’t already, make a list to define your direct customer base. If your customers are internal, list ways that your job can affect their success and how your actions can affect the end-user customer experience. If your customers are external end-users, choose a few interactions you’ve had in the past, both positive and negative, with your customers and analyze each situation. Why were you successful or unsuccessful in these situations? Be flexible in your processes so that you can continue to update them to provide the best service when you see an opportunity for change and growth. Remember, the customer may not always be right, but the customer is always important.