Casengo Blog

21 rules the best customer service teams know - and follow

The profession that great customer service reps practise entails much more than merely answering customer questions. The greatest reps are your foot soldiers, your people on the frontline of the battle - the battle of winning your customers’ hearts and minds! They’re your company’s ambassadors in flesh and blood, going above and beyond to create a great experience for each and every one of your customers.

Experience is everything. Customers are eight times more likely to talk about a negative customer service experience than a positive one. In today’s social media empowered world, this can very quickly result in widespread bad publicity.

Here are 21 rules that the best customer service teams follow to make sure none of this happens. From basic to great, how far do your reps make it down the list?

  1. Listen to your customer. Are we stating the obvious here? We sure are - but this is not just a cliché. Think about it: your customer has reached out and possibly paid for your service or product. S/he has every right to be the center of your attention. It’s just for a short period. Pay attention and do your utmost to help!

  2. Use your customer’s name. Personalization of the customer goes a long way. Too often customers feel like ‘just another number’. Scientific studies like this one have shown that certain areas of the brain light up quite like no other when we hear our own name. We love it!

  3. Communicate clearly. There is nothing more infuriating than a customer service rep who cannot communicate clearly. S/he is the customers’ direct line of contact to your company, and making things clear and simple for the customer will do wonders for your business.

  4. Act quickly. Nearly 3 in 4 customers expect complaints on Twitter to be answered within the hour. At least half of all customers with complaints will give repeat business if the complaint is resolved. And 95% will give repeat business if the complaint is resolved quickly. Basically, fast service is hard to argue with.

  5. Put the customer first. The customer potentially has the most power, so put him or her first. All it takes is one negative review to go viral to have dire consequences for your company.

  6. Always remain professional. Being polite and perfectly mannered is all well and good. However, taking professionalism to the next level is what can separate you from your competitors. Professional customer service is luxury customer service, and customers will recognise that.

  7. Make yourself knowledgeable. Customer service reps have to know everything about everything in their field of expertise (the products or services you offer), period. If the customer uses the product every day, then your team members should know what it’s like to use the product every day. Your team has to be ready for any curve ball the customer may throw at them. Knowledge is power!

  8. Get used to working under pressure. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to do your job while you constantly have someone breathing down your neck. Good customer service reps manage this type of stress on a daily basis, and do not let it affect their productivity.

  9. Beam out confidence. Have you ever had a positive customer experience during which the customer service rep ‘umm-eddd’ and ‘eerrrd’ away? I bet you haven't; stammering reps don't inspire much confidence in their company. So sell the solution like a zen master! If you don’t know the answer to the problem, just say it: “I don’t know the answer to that right now, but let me find out for you.”

  10. Deal with each situation as if it's new. Even though situations get repetitive, there can be no short cuts in explaining the situation and why a particular solution is the best one. For customers, it's all new. Give the impression that his or her situation is unique (even if it’s not). Making every customer feel valued is the best way to guarantee a repeat sale.

  11. Ask the right questions. Great customer service reps know how to get to the heart of the problem by asking the right questions. It is not unusual for customers to be shy, vague, or clouded by anger in describing their problem, and good customer service reps recognise this and dig deeper. Effective questions also let the customer know that the representative understands the product and the potential problem.

  12. Negotiate. Great customer service reps are great negotiators. Why? Because the customer sees himself as more powerful in the relationship. The rep has to know how and when to say no.

  13. Read the customer. We’re not saying your customer service reps have to be psychic, but being able to pick up on customers’ emotions is a huge advantage. If they can read a customer, they can guide him or her at an appropriate pace, make negotiations easier, and make the customer feel heard.

  14. Be quietly persuasive. Good customer service reps guide customers to a decision rather than dictate it to them. You can achieve this through story-telling (where customers can relate their situation to yours), and adding personal touches to your relationship with the customer. Try making a small comment about things you have in common, or something else that naturally comes to mind whilst talking to your customer.

  15. Be empathic. Great customer service reps know that showing empathy is a good path to building trust between them and the customer. Being able to step back and understand the situation from the customer’s perspective is essential for diffusing difficult situations, and long-term customer retention.

  16. Focus on the YES. This doesn’t mean giving the customer whatever he or her wants. It means that there are always alternatives; ‘no’ is simply not an option. Zappos, a major online shoe and clothing shop, received a call from its CEO requesting a pizza be delivered to his hotel as a joke. Although it was completely out of the job description of the customer service rep, and unaware it was her big boss calling, she researched pizza restaurants in the area and had it delivered anyway.

  17. Recognise when to exceed expectations. In March last year, United Airlines went above and beyond the realms of customer service when a passenger on his way to see his mother one last time in hospital, was due to miss his connecting flight. The flight crew radioed ahead to the other plane to delay itself, so the passenger would make his flight.

  18. Ask for feedback. In terms of service, customers can also be just as valuable to us as we are to them. Understanding a customer's needs and wants is key to innovation and to delivering a five-star product. Listen to your customers, and they’ll tell you what they want.

  19. Sell the solution.Customers want to believe they are getting first class treatment. Great customer service teams provide options where possible, selling the best one (aka the one they want to sell). It shows customers they have really thought things through.

  20. Make sure to follow up. This is the bread and butter of customer service. Everything a customer service rep does after solving the initial problem counts as a bonus, and there is no speed limit on the extra mile. Following up with customers when they think they were just another annoying task in your day, can make a world of difference in making your service memorable.

  21. Surprise your customers. Good reps know that surprising customers is one of the best ways to make their company memorable. Even if it’s just a small gift voucher or freebie for your product or service, it allows the customer to get you know you better - and it’s cost effective.

If you’ve checked the boxes this far down the list, then your customer service team is on the right track. And so is your business. After all, the best way to be successful in business is providing great customer service. Happy customers are loyal customers!

Improving your online conversion through better customer service

Customer service is one of the most effective marketing tools a company has at its disposal. Providing prompt and effective responses to customer queries is the best way to encourage a sale.

Think of it this way: if a customer asked you a question in real life, you wouldn’t ignore it, give a robot-like canned reply, or just wave vaguely. You would do your very best to provide a helpful answer. Surprise surprise, online customer service is no different.

Unfortunately, the poor standard of online service today suggests that many web store owners simply think “build it, and the customers will come”. They’re wrong: good customer service is a surefire way to ensure more repeat business and ultimately improve your bottom line.

See things through the customer’s eyes

Customer service is not just a box to be ticked when you’re setting up a company; the customers are your business’s raison d’être and if you want to maximise profits, you’d better treat them accordingly.

Virgin Hotels know this: in their new Chicago building the phone in each room has just one button aside from the dial pad. That button is labelled ‘YES!’ and is the only one guests need when they want something. No need to figure out whether they need the kitchens, the front desk, the valet, the housekeeping department … just press the button and let the company do the rest of the work. That’s truly customer-oriented service.

It’s the polar opposite of the email service I received from another international brand, when the response to my query was to ask me to click on a link and trawl through a list of all of their offices worldwide to find out which one I should contact. Did they get my business? I’ll let you guess.

Make it personal

Doing business online can feel anonymous. Sometimes that’s okay, but your business might attract the type of customer who wants to feel recognised and appreciated. I recently bought some crockery from Dutch webshop Dames van de Thee. The transaction was straightforward and I didn’t need – nor want – any additional correspondence from the business.

But they found a way to show me that my business was appreciated by tucking two generously-sized samples of loose tea into the parcel, along with some teabags. That was enough to show me that my purchase was appreciated, they were detail-oriented, and they really hoped I would come back.

Even when doing business online, actions can speak louder than words. That little gesture was much more effective than the most gushing email telling me how much they appreciated my business.

Customer service: not an optional extra

In face-to-face retail, the motto is “If the customer can’t see a price, chances are they won’t buy it.” That isn’t really an issue in a webshop (if it is, you need to have an urgent discussion with your web designer). But it has an online equivalent – if the customer can’t get answers to their questions, chances are they won’t be back.

Most online retailers don’t realise this. They see customer service as an optional extra, a ‘nice-to-have’, but something that doesn’t impact their bottom line. They couldn’t be more wrong! A rapid reply is a key factor in determining whether or not a customer will go ahead with a purchase.

More than half of people polled in one study said that lack of interaction with a real live person had caused them not to purchase online. Remember, though, that the quality of your response is at least as important as the speed. Don’t be tempted to use live chat if you don’t have the time to compose a helpful reply. Take it to email and do it right.

Customer service: the new marketing

The Economist Intelligence Unit has just released what may turn out to be the customer service report of the decade (PDF). Almost 500 CMOs and senior marketing executives from around the world shared their thoughts on the future of marketing. The key takeaway? Within just a few years, not the customer service guys and gals but *the marketing team will be responsible for customer experience.

Don’t sit around and wait for this inevitable trend to happen: make some changes now to serve your customers even better in the future (and keep your job secure to boot). We’ve picked out some of the report’s crucial points to get you started.

1. The nature of engagement is changing

Thanks to the internet and, in particular, social media, old-fashioned ideas of brand engagement are a thing of the past. While customers who simply love what your brand stands for are still important, capturing their attention is no longer just a question of constructing an image and sitting back to see who it appeals to.

As engagement becomes increasingly two-way thanks to social media, customer service staff need to work closely with marketing staff to ensure that each and every communication encapsulates the brand’s message. Don’t leave brand image completely to the marketing team – the way you handle your customers is the most essential aspect. Treat your customers badly and they won’t come back = end of engagement. Treating them well and upholding your brand label is the essence of the new customer engagement.

2. Digital, digital, digital

When asked the areas in which they need to develop skills in their marketing operation, 39% of respondents said that technology & digital engagement were their top focus. Surprising? Not really. Given that even customer service departments – which are currently at the forefront of digital engagement – appear to be having trouble keeping up with consumers’ technology use, it’s not exactly eyebrow-raising that marketers aren’t on top of things either.

Businesses (like yours) which conduct online customer service have a head start in this area, but that doesn’t mean you can afford to be complacent. Brush up on how to write great customer service emails that actually answer your customers’ questions; assist customers on their preferred channels; keep a watchful eye on new developments (for example the increasing popularity of WhatsApp). If your company’s marketing department is angling to take over your duties, snooze and you will lose control of this side of things.

3. Take the lead in the customer experience

Traditionally the customer service department was responsible for customer experience. Essentially, the business created and provided a product or service, the marketing department promoted it, and customer service staff took it from there. According to the report, around a third of marketing staff are currently in charge of managing the customer experience – but 75% say that they will be responsible within three to five years.

Unless you’re planning to be retired by then, you’d better take a proactive look at how you can start integrating some of those marketing duties into your customer service tasks. Customer service departments need to create their own roadmaps of the customer journey to ensure that they’re not missing out on opportunities to improve the customer experience. In customer service, as in life, the squeaky wheel gets the oil – those who complain are the ones who get assistance (in an ideal customer service model, anyway).

The question is what happens to the customers who don’t reach out to your service department. Close co-operation with the marketing department can help you to create ways of keeping in touch with these customers before you lose them – or before you are simply asked to hand your responsibilities over to the marketing department.

It would be ridiculous for us to suggest that we can tell you how to revamp your company’s customer service approach in one short blog post. However, it’s important to realise that the writing is on the wall for the traditional separation of marketing and customer service. The time to start looking at alternatives is now, because the changes are coming whether you’re ready or not.

The great value of customer reviews

It’s all about the money, so it’s only logical that budgets and spending determine your agenda. Especially in the fast-moving environment of e-commerce it can be hard to maintain true focus on customer satisfaction. After all, redesigning your online shopping basket or improving something crucial on your website may lead to a direct increase in conversion in the short term – so that’s where you put your money.

But what about the long term? How important is the experience of your existing customers to your business? Let’s take a look at the importance of customer reviews.

Customer reviews teach you how to improve

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Bill Gates said that, and he was right. Great businesses constantly monitor what their customers want and what they experience whilst shopping. Whether posted on a review platform or on social media, customer reviews show what people really think about your brand. And that’s a good thing: even though you probably never really meet your customers face-to-face, reviews allow you to learn which aspects of your business you can improve, from packaging to customer service.

Your customer’s honesty about what they find annoying makes improving customer experience a very straightforward task. It doesn’t involve high-level discussions or endless meetings: just read those reviews frequently, make a to-do list, and solve the root causes of the negative comments. The reward is the elusive, yet oh-so coveted, customer loyalty.

Customers don’t think about your agenda. For them it’s merely about their personal experience with your business. So don’t overlook the value of small improvements. What should you focus on first? It’s a tough choice, especially for us human beings, with our natural tendency to seek ‘breakthrough’ changes. “Don’t look for the big improvement,” the American basketball player John Wooden once said. “Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts.”

So go on: add a personal thank you card to each order, answer just a tiny bit faster, follow up consistently, add a new product a few customers suggested – you name it. These small changes can do miracles for the lifetime value of your customers and the likelihood that they’ll refer their friends to you.

Customer reviews can bring you more revenue

Apart from learning how to improve customer experience and future revenue, customer reviews also have an impact in the short run. Let’s share three ways in which customer reviews can increase your bottom line.

1. Be the best at customer service

Online price (s)hopping is easy. And so is customer service shopping. Two-thirds of consumers (PDF) are willing to pay more if they believe a company provides excellent customer service. Lower prices won’t stop them from taking their business elsewhere if they don’t like what they come across.

If you potential customers read a tweet about how crappy your customer service is, they will ignore you, even though you seem to be a little cheaper than your competitors. And the opposite it true as well: the more good reviews they come across, the more sales you’ll make! Customer reviews can make your business – or break it.

2. Ask your happiest customers for a referral

The #1 reason for people to write reviews is to help other consumers make good decisions. Your happiest customers will take it one step further: they are often willing to refer other people to your business.

Those referred customers actually spend 16% more over their customer life cycle than other new customers.

So do have a look at your client base and find out which customers return over and over again – and ask them kindly for a referral.

3. Double down on customer reviews with social media

In essence, each tweet about your company – whether positive or negative – is a small review. The positive tweets are great, and you’ll happily retweet them. But the negative tweets? Not so.

If you’re doing things right, not only will customer reviews make you look good on your testimonial section, but your happy customers will start tweeting about your business without you prompting them to do so.

Positive reviews not only increase conversion, but can also get you some new traffic – and you won’t have a spent a dime on ads!

Black Friday: price versus service

Black Friday (November 28) is coming up! Is your customer service team ready for the busiest online shopping day of the year? Traditionally, the day after US Thanksgiving has been a day for massive discounts in retail outlets. In recent years the trend has spread online and around the world.

Are you thinking of taking part? It’s tempting to focus just on turning over lots of stock, but the support you provide to first-time customers on those days will make a lasting impression.

Black Friday: come for the prices, stay for the service

Time after time, surveys have shown that potential buyers rate customer service as being more important than price. I’m not going to pretend that price isn’t important on Black Friday – nobody’s going to come running to buy from you just because you promise good customer service. But once you’ve snagged customers with your low prices, you have a much better chance of keeping them by backing up those great prices with stellar customer service.

My personal experience backs this up – on one occasion, trawling the net for the cheapest printer ink prices, I came across 123inkt.nl. I figured I had nothing to lose by giving them a go. My order arrived the next day and soon afterwards I received personal follow-up. Turns out I’m not the only one who’s been impressed by the great customer service. I couldn’t really tell you where I bought my ink in the past; I just shopped around for the lowest prices. Once you feel like a valued customer, you’ll remember the business and keep on returning.

Quality service remains long after price is forgotten

Of course, the opposite also holds true – you could attract customers with your low prices and subsequently make such a bad impression on them that they vow never to buy from you again. While the adrenaline rush from clicking ‘purchase’ on that great Black Friday bargain is fleeting, dealing with issues caused by potentially defective or not-as-ordered items can take weeks. And that’s the part that the customer will remember.

Prices are transparent, but poor service is hard to spot before clicking that purchase button. That’s why it’s important to be clear about your service standards up front – and then stick to them. Otherwise your customers may well end up being very unsatisfied indeed, and sharing their dissatisfaction with their friends. Experts say that unhappy customers tell up to twice as many people about their experience as happy ones do. And if they write an online review about your company’s bad service on top of that, you could find yourself losing a lot more on Black Friday or Cyber Monday than what lowering your prices will cost you.

So remember: the online retail craziness is more than just an opportunity to increase turnover. It’s a chance to win over new customers for the longer term. It’s important to plan your online offering carefully, but be sure to take some time to work on your customer service strategy for Black Friday. With the right approach, you’ll be reaping the benefits all year round.