One of the most important ways that businesses differentiate themselves from their competitors online is through the quality of their support. It’s an especially important part of success in e-commerce, since people are often using e-commerce because they want a convenient, fast and easy experience – so they want help to be immediate and effective when they need it.
Does this perspective toward the supreme importance of customer service sound inflated? Consider that more than three-quarters of consumers have abandoned a shopping cart because they became frustrated with the quality of service, according to statistics compiled by Help Scout. Plus, the aphorism that “bad news travels fast” holds true: word of a customer service failure gets to more than double the people that a service success does.
Since customer service is such a critical piece of your business, it’s wise to fine-tune it as much as you can. Here are some thoughts on customer service excellence:
#1 – Open by listening.
As is also true with sales and marketing, leading with the ear rather than the mouth can be a powerful way to connect and problem-solve, notes Jamie Carmichael of UK business directory Yell.com.
What is the customer saying? As you listen, make sure you understand what they want (with clarifying questions as needed) and provide your best expertise.
#2 – Give fast and accurate answers.
Obviously, the purpose of customer service is functional: people want answers and to move on with their days. One simple and straightforward way to solve problems faster is simply to be available at all times, 24/7. That way no one is ever having to check your hours and jot down a note to get in touch the next day; they can simply take action.
Typical ways that companies provide help 24/7 are through live chat and through content, such as a blog or a knowledge base.
#3 – Simplify the process to quit your service.
Make it easy for people to cancel your service whenever they decide that makes sense. Typically people have already decided they are going to close the account before they get in touch with you, so efforts to try to retain their business will often prove futile. Plus, if canceling is easy and respectful, they’re likelier to come back.
“[F]ollow up with a phone call or email or survey to determine the reason for their departure,” advises business coach Donna Guntner of Foxonlinelearning, “but don’t force them to go through this process to exit.”
#4 – It’s positive to provide brief explanations.
Despite the overarching effort to be as efficient as possible with customers, it’s also not entirely positive to feel that you want the interaction to be completed rapidly. It can be very helpful to express why something the customer wants can’t happen – what exactly it is that’s in the way. A little bit more time can humanize the experience more. Being as open as you can with your conversations makes the tone feel that you are people working together toward the same basic goals, rather than a sort of cog in an anonymous system.
#5 – Become an expert at apologizing.
When something goes wrong in a customer’s use of your service, accept blame as possible. That’s helpful, according to help desk software LiveHelpNow, because admitting to fault on your end can defuse potential conflict. Keep in mind that the customer may still walk away upset if you give them a refund. For cases in which your company was clearly in the wrong, apologize profusely and mention the steps that actually should have been taken by the company.
#6 – Be cautious about automation.
It makes sense why so many businesses are turning toward automation to solve many of their customer service issues: it’s highly affordable. However, as Carmichael notes, be aware that the result is often very expensive in terms of the user experience suffering. When someone is trying to move quickly, they may become frustrated talking with a bot – especially if the bot is malfunctioning or otherwise failing to properly address their issue.
#7 – Understand that each situation is unique.
You of course want to have standardized, cookie-cutter ways to solve the most common problems that arise. However, there will be times that the policies related to a particular product or service don’t apply. Watch our for these exceptions to your rules. You will earn trust and loyalty from customers by recognizing that their case is special and suggesting a customized solution.
#8 – Go to your customer for answers.
If you are having difficulty figuring out a solution, ask your customer for their perspective. They probably has something in mind that they feel would make sense given the circumstances. Even if that final answer is not exactly what you want, the customer may also feel that they are not getting exactly what they’d hoped.
Although it may be a compromise to zero in on something workable, this approach allows you ”to end on a positive note,” notes Guntner, “and while the customer may not return to you, he probably also won’t tell everyone he meets that you’re an ogre, either.”
#9 – Provide simple calls to action.
If your customer needs to take a set of steps, make sure that you convey instructions properly, and that everything is fully understood. You can deliver an extraordinarily streamlined and effective checkout process, but a customer or prospect may still leave irritated if you aren’t paying as much attention to your support.
How important are next steps? Carmichael actually suggests that every single time you talk to a customer who has a problem, you should close out the call with clear actions that should follow the call (on both sides, as applicable).
#10 – Be respectful and friendly.
Customer service should be infused with positivity. Greet them, use their names, and always express appreciation for their business. Be grateful, and consider building in a customer loyalty program and even setting aside an annual customer appreciation day.
#11 – Don’t over-reference your legal files, and make sure they aren’t excessive.
No one wants to have to leaf through a small-print agreement filled with difficult-to-decipher legalese to determine exactly what your stated policies are. Yes, you can fill your Terms of Service contract with parameters intended to protect you; but that will not always mean that the customer is happy in the end. In fact, it can be a good idea to highlight anything in those pages that might be unfavorable to a customer later.
#12 – Be amazing.
Customer service should be considered a central concern, not something that’s optional. It’s necessary to be thoughtful, and to set aside a substantial investment and time, if you want exceptional customer service – around which you can strengthen your brand. With each one-on-one interaction, bear in mind that the customer will feel incredible if they get the sense that you are taking extra steps to help them. “This feeling comes across not only in what you do, but how you do it and, perhaps more importantly, why you’re doing it,” explains Carmichael.
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