As much as customer service has evolved, some of the most basic practices are still the most powerful.
Just like NBA players still run the basic drills — passing, dribbling, shooting — anyone delivering customer service should rely on the most meaningful basic best practices. They’re valuable in any form of service — in-person visits, on phone calls, during the live chat, on social media or through email.
Even experts agree, these are the top tips that never go out of style:
1. Focus on the beginning and end
Customers remember most what happens first and last. Those moments need to be the most welcoming and comforting.
Make sure your greeting is honest, cheerful and ends with your name (“Hello. Thanks for calling ABC. My name’s Michele.”) Customers don’t need an invitation to tell you why they called. They’ll just tell you why they dialed. The same goes for online conversations. Nothing scripted. Use a conversational tone. Then listen.
Confirm customers are happy before ending conversations with an invitation to call, visit or contact you again.
2. Be easy to find
Customers want ease as much as they want warmth from a company and its employees.
Your website must be easy to navigate (have a friend who’s not familiar with it try to navigate it quickly and get results). Avoid phone trees. Make your contact information easy to find on your website, in company literature, and in Google searches.
3. Be easy to use
You don’t have to offer customers every channel for service. Doing that is especially overwhelming for smaller companies.
But you do have to offer the channels they want to use. If they’re asking for a chat, implement it. If they aren’t calling as much as they used to, move service and sales pros to your online channels. If customers are in social media, be there.
4. Be an expert
The right people need to be delivering customer service. Who’s that? The kind people who are well trained.
The best companies hire nice people with positive attitudes. Then they train them to handle almost any situation customers throw at them. Yes, sometimes handling things properly means sending customers to other experts. But in service, knowing where to find the answer when you don’t have it can be as important as having the answer yourself.
5. Be timely
When you deliver what customers want at the time they expect it, they trust you. That goes for answers to their questions, solutions to their problems and delivery of their products or services.
Anything that’s late is a broken promise. One caveat: Letting customers know there will be a delay can win some forgiveness. But if you do it often, it’s the same as breaking the promise.
6. Be flexible
Customers don’t want to hear about policies, rules, and processes. They want to hear about what you can do.
So one of the most powerful tools any person involved in the customer experience can have is an authority. Train them to know your policies and procedures, why they are in place, and where there’s room for flexibility. Then they’ll almost always find a workable solution for customers.
7. Speak well
When working with customers, use good English. Notice, we didn’t say proper English. You don’t have to use big or lofty words. On the other end of the spectrum, don’t use text-style or barroom talk. People don’t naturally communicate like that in a business setting.
Hit the middle ground. Use everyday language. Use customers’ words when clarifying. Reflect their pace. Avoid negatives such as “no,” “shouldn’t” and “couldn’t.”
Customers don’t know the inner workings of a company. So when things go well or go wrong, service employees want to explain what’s going on. That kind of transparency into what’s happening behind the scenes builds trust and maintains loyalty through problems.
Customers understand that everything can’t be resolved or answered immediately. They’re even OK with waiting for a final word or solution … as long as they know they’re on your radar.
The best customer service includes updates on progress until the final resolution.
Despite all you do to make great customer experiences, some things will go wrong, customers will get upset and customers will complain. The best way to start handling those situations is to hear customers out. Let them explain their issues and how they feel about them.
Then acknowledge the issue and their feelings before moving on to a solution (“I see that the delivery was two days late and affected your production timetable. I understand why you’re frustrated. Let’s get this resolved now.”).
11. Give thanks
Everyone likes to feel appreciated — especially customers. Employees on the front line need to thank customers — for their business, loyalty, feedback, an opportunity to make things right, requests, special orders, etc. — at the end of every contact.
Even better, follow up with appreciation through an email, handwritten card, phone call or message in an invoice when possible.