By Tom Cunningham
If you took a random survey of companies across the globe and asked them if they had a great customer service department, what do you think they would say? Many would say they do. But if you took the customers of those same companies and asked them the same question, I bet you would get a different answer.
Most customers do not have what they would consider a great experience. Somehow, as leaders, we might tell ourselves comforting lies to protect ourselves from unpleasant truths. Instead you need to figure out how to close that gap between the goal of excellent customer service with how customers perceive your efforts—which is your company’s true customer experience.
Make Core Values Real
The first thing is to put policies, procedures, and training into place to deliver on your company’s core values. Many times I walk into a customer service department and see strong, powerful words, developed by the company through extensive effort, with the expectation that the department will follow them.
When I ask employees to recite these core values, I usually get a deer-in-the-headlights look. When I dig deeper and ask how the company measures these core values, they either shrug or say, “I don’t know.” If I ask the leaders of the customer service departments the same questions, I get the same response ninety-nine times out of one hundred. The company has put so much time and energy into developing these ideals, only to have them end up being just words on a wall.
Do you want to be more? Do you want to create a great customer service department?
If so, it will take a lot of work, but you will create something that only a few brands have achieved. It hinges on bringing your core values to life within your customer service department. Unless you can support an action or decision by your core values, you do not do it, period. All brands with great customer service departments treat their core values as more than just words on paper. They invest time and resources to ensure each employee has a clear understanding of those values and how they directly interweave with their job.
Ask Key Questions
The second thing is to ask the following questions:
- What are the typical measurements and response times in your industry?
- What are your competitors doing about customer service?
- What level of service are your customers accustomed to?
- How can your brand continue to delight your customers?
If you can’t answer these questions, you have some work to do. Study your industry, become a secret shopper, and learn the habits and behaviors of your customers. When you approach customer service this way, you establish a differentiator from your peers that will create a great customer service department.
While working with a CEO, I did some secret-shopper tasks on their brand and their competitors. What I found was eye-opening for that executive team. The industry was set up as an omni-channel, which is simply a multichannel approach to sales that seeks to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience. I took each avenue and tested their brand against their competitors.
They returned social media messages anywhere from twenty-two hours to eleven days later. They answered email messages anywhere from two hours and forty-five minutes to eight hours and eleven minutes later. Both sets of results left me underwhelmed.
Not only was the time between my inquiry and their response subpar, but in most cases, it wasn’t helpful at all or they simply told me to call customer service. The question I asked them was simple: “Why would you offer this channel if you were merely going to tell me to call customer service or not provide me with the information I requested?”
If I were a real customer, I wouldn’t have followed up. When I called each brand, the hold times were either short or I was on hold for over five minutes. However, each call was bland at best and left me, the customer, to do the work after they made their suggestions. The goal is to make the customer effort seamless, and the company did not deliver.
Finally, with this information, I invited the CEO to consider the following to wow the customer.
- What channels did they want to use and commit to so they could be most effective: social media, email, chat, or phone?
- How quickly will they respond to customers on each channel?
- To close out a request, what turnaround time are they going to communicate to their employees and customers?
- How will they behave when dealing with customers? Consider tone, language, attitude, empathy, and so forth.
- Who in the company is responsible for customer service?
These queries are just the first in a series of questions and actions for a brand to consider when a company starts its journey to create a great customer service department. Too many brands settle for just good enough. Is that what you want for your brand, your employees, and your customers? I hope the answer is no.
If you’re looking to create something special—a lasting brand in a competitive market with the needed customer service experience and your success as a company—it all starts with you as the leader. You must be willing—through communication, training, and execution—to hold yourself, your leaders, and your employees up to your core values.
If those values are simply words on paper, your customer service department will never be anything more than a job where people do what they must to collect a paycheck and keep their job. However, if you make your core values a living, breathing culture in your company, you are well on your way to creating a great customer service department that will set you apart from your competition and put you on par with the best in the world.
Tom Cunningham is the North American director of SAAS operations at PerfectServe. Tom has twenty-two years of call center operations management experience. Contact Tom at 865-719-6960 or firstname.lastname@example.org.