customer service best practices

7 Best Practices for Providing the Best Customer Service

Through the proliferation of digital technology, customers have become much more proactive. They do their own research and control their customer journey, and they have a voice — and they are adamant about making that voice heard.

Your customers’ voices are one of their most powerful assets in their relationship with your company. Their voices can sing your praises when everything goes well or get very loud when they are unhappy. Through social media and other channels, customers can connect directly with businesses and each other. They can make their opinions publicly known, which can be both great and concerning.

As the established role of the customer changes, the standard customer service best practices change along with it.

The benchmark for the best customer service has been raised.

Customers who expect to instantly contact you or your customer service agents also expect resolutions that are just as prompt. Beyond the constant connectivity and speed, customer service is no longer just one department: Modern customer service best practices should extend beyond your support team as well.

You see, the age of the connected consumer has driven home one important point: Customers want to be treated like people, and they want to buy from people. With modern technologies and tools reshaping how customers and companies connect, the actual, working relationships between buyers and businesses are a reality for more than just mom-and-pop shops. Relationships are expected with every company, from startups to global enterprises.

It’s been said that all things being equal, customers will choose to buy from a friend — and that all things being unequal, customers will still choose to buy from a friend. In order to establish this kind of familiarity with your clients and customers in the age of often-faceless digital communication, you need to provide the best customer service possible. This includes every employee involved in every stage of the sales funnel.

Customer service best practices help you keep customers in focus.

There are companies that treat customers as a means to an end. For them, it’s a simple equation: Without customers, businesses don’t generate any profit, so it only makes sense to want to acquire them as a resource. Businesses with this mindset fall into the trap of treating their customers like numbers, and consumers are well aware when this happens.

Naturally, this isn’t how customers want to be treated. In fact, 66% of customers “would switch brands if they were to be treated like a number, rather than an individual.” Furthermore, 63% of customers expect tailored engagement based on past interactions.

True success comes from relationships, and relationships are more than equations. It’s not enough to establish a single customer-facing department capable of offering high-quality service and following customer service best practices. Inevitably, situations occur where your customers end up interacting with other departments, and 78% of customers expect the level of service to be consistent across departments. If it’s not, 73% say they would start looking at other brands. Seventy-two percent of customers “expect representatives of a company to have the same information” about them, and 70% expect consistent experiences across channels.

Those statistics prove that customers must be more than a number; they must be part of a relationship. Customer-centricity is the art of putting the relationship with the customer as a top priority. It can mean asking difficult questions and making major changes to a company’s standard operating procedures. Such questions may include:

  • What is a good practice when working with a customer onsite?

  • How should a customer service representative handle someone who is dramatically upset?

  • Do marketing, sales, and customer service operate in silos, or do customers experience  fluid, singular interactions?

To provide the best customer service, customer-centricity is key. Companies that put their relationships first benefit from exceptionally high customer loyalty, a positive reputation, and customers who act as passionate brand ambassadors.

Here are seven of the most important customer service best practices.

Your customers expect service that is not only exceptional, but also consistent. To provide this level of support, put into action each of the seven actions in this list of customer service best practices. No matter your business size or industry; these best practices will lead to success.

  1. Hire the right people, and treat them well.
    Your employees are your brand’s diplomats. Through them, you form and maintain connections with the customers who keep you in business. Your customer service department is key to customer retention, which makes each hire an absolutely vital part of the company. Take the extra time during the hiring process to make sure new hires are the best customer service agents they can be. To attract this level of talent, your company must be competitive in terms of pay and benefits, with a clearly defined path of training and promotion. Furthermore, make the job fun and rewarding with gamification, genuine ways of showing appreciation for hard work, and other methods for increasing employee satisfaction. When you hire and retain exceptional service agents, exceptional customer service will follow.

  2. Deftly manage customer expectations.
    Customers tend to expect the world, but promising them the world may not be the best tactic, because what happens when you make promises that your business is unable to keep? Instead, tell your customers exactly what they can expect from you, and then work hard to exceed those expectations. Customers see that your business is willing to go the extra mile, and you won’t have to worry about damage control for unfulfilled promises.

  3. Nail your first impression.
    You don’t get a second chance at making a first impression. This is even more true in business as consumers become more connected. When a customer has a positive (or negative) experience, they have a lot of power over your reputation and bottom line. They’ll often share stories about their experiences with companies, carefully choose which businesses they give their money and time to, and recommend products and services based on personal and subjective experiences. All of this can happen within minutes from a smartphone and can affect your relationship with consumers who have never even heard of you. With this in mind, give your agents the support and incentive to astound both new and long-term customers, because a customer relationship that starts off strong is much more likely to stay strong.

  4. Collect as much data as you can — and use it.
    The best customer service relies on information. As your representatives interact with customers, they can gather important data by asking the right questions and ensuring the information is input correctly into a customer relationship management (CRM) platform. These questions not only help establish a productive dialogue between your business and your customers, but also give you the opportunity to accomplish two major tasks: receive and implement valuable feedback, and improve your ability to personalize your interactions. Furthermore, as consumer needs shift, the right questions, data, and analytics help you adapt to serve them better.

  5. Personalize the relationship.
    Your CRM tools are invaluable for helping your business personalize customer interactions. In addition to gathering, organizing, and analyzing data, CRM platforms give agents an easy way to track the preferences and history of every customer. When customer service agents are away from the office or are working with a customer onsite, cloud-based systems and mobile friendly tools let your employees access and collaborate on up-to-date data. This empowers businesses to turn traditional customer service into a guided one-on-one customer journey.

  6. Be where your customers are.
    Today’s consumers have many channels they can use to contact you, and one of the most obvious customer service best practice is to be available on the channels your customers want to use. For example, a funeral home may not need to use Instagram to connect with customers, and a theme park probably won’t find their target audience on LinkedIn. Do your research to find where your customers are and how they want to interact with you: phone calls, text messages, social media, live web chat, online forums, and a wide variety of other options. A multichannel customer service experience is the norm, with omni-channel not far behind. Again, this level of customer service requires the right technology to do it well, and equipping your customer service department with a powerful CRM platform helps employees be ever-present, knowledgeable, and efficient.

  7. Maintain your focus.
    It’s easy to say that customers are the heart of your business. To truly be customer-centric, clearly define customer service standards for your company, and then ask everyone — from the CEO to the newly hired customer service agent — to stay focused on the customer. Keep the lines of communication open throughout the company and between employees and customers; inform your customers and involve them in their own customer journeys. Give your agents the tools and support they need in order to provide superior service, and reward them when they do. After all, your customers are the heart of your business, and staying focused on them is the best practice of all.

Service Cloud is another best practice in customer service.

When it comes to providing the best customer service, it’s no surprise that so many best practices take advantage of CRM technology. A CRM platform improves communication — with customers as well as between employees across departments — and makes it possible to build and maintain the relationships that grow your business. Salesforce, the most trusted name in CRM technology, has taken this one step further with Service Cloud.
 

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