The Complete Guide To Skyrocketing Your Customer Service Skills

If you’re not convinced that customer service matters more than just about anything else, review these stats that we recently shared with you:

  • 55% of people would recommend a company to others based on its exemplary customer service. (Zendesk)
  • 58% of people say they will never use the company again after a negative customer service experience. (NewVoice)
  • 86% say they would pay up to 25% more for a better customer experience. (RightNow)

Customer service is absolutely crucial to your business, more than price and selection. It’s one thing to know that, though, and quite another to make top-notch customer service a reality in your business.

What Do Customers Want?

Let’s take a look at what customers want. Then we’ll talk about the skills you’ll need to make it happen.

Customers want you to meet their expectations.

Expectations surround your product, your price, your support, and your attentiveness. Many of these expectations are intangible qualities that they assume are in place for every business. Customers expect you to be:

  • Honest: You aren’t lying about what you are selling and how they will be treated afterwards.
  • Courteous: You are polite and friendly to them, even if they arrive exasperated from the day or from frustrations stemming from product failure.
  • Knowledgeable: You know what you’re selling, you can help them decide, and you can help them put what they buy to use.
  • Trustworthy: You aren’t selling just to get their money and abandon them. You aren’t cheating them in any way, whether in price or in what you say the product can do.
  • Positive: You have a can-do attitude instead of a negative one, letting customers know you can do something to help them, even if it’s not exactly what they request. You never use language that patronizes or makes a customer feel stupid or puts them in their place.
  • Appreciative: You make them feel that you are glad they are in your shop and are a customer, instead of acting annoyed that they are interrupting you.

Customers want to contact you at their convenience.

Customer contact is a two-pronged animal. It’s about how they contact you, and when they contact you. Great customer service offers flexibility on both of these instead of, for example, restricting contact to phone calls only from 9 to 5 during the business week.

There are many avenues of contact today: email, website contact page, phone, social media, snail mail, or through a personal online account. They want to contact you to find out account balances, why something hasn’t arrived, to complain, to praise, to track shipping, to research possible purchases, and for support.

Your customers want to contact you in a way they prefer. This doesn’t mean you need to have every contact option available, but you need to have every contact option that your customers tend to use available. Their method of contact preference changes based on the type of inquiry they are making.

For complex inquiries, such as tech support or a product return, 38% of customers generally prefer live support while only 16% prefer live support for simpler inquiries (such as account balances). Are you funneling customers to online FAQ pages or automated help desks for complex inquiries? They aren’t going to like that.

Customers don’t want to be a number or faceless person.

If you see customers merely as potential sales instead of actual people, you’ll easily slip into treating them like a number. When they have questions or need help, it’s easy to shuffle them into a long phone tree or put on hold because you don’t care about them as people.

Wells Fargo discovered that 60% of customers prefer to do banking with a human teller as opposed to an ATM. Automation might help you scale and reduce the customer service burden on your end, but people don’t like it. They want to feel like a real person working with a real person when they need help.

Customers expect a timely response.

Customers expect you to respond to their inquiries, both before and after a purchase, in a timely manner.

Too often their experience is one of a full court press before the sale, and crickets chirping after. The attentiveness you give a customer before a sale must be the same as after the sale is made, or you will lose the customer for any future sales.

Customers expect a fair price for what they get.

Customers expect your price to reflect the quality of the product and the service they’ll receive after. Unless you’re purposefully pricing low, your price should include the costs of excellent service after the sale.

Customers expect to be satisfied.

Whether this satisfaction stems from feeling like you told them what to expect and they bought the best price, or comes in the form of being able to return an item that was a poor fit and make use of a generous support, warranty, and return policy, customers don’t like feeling as if they were tricked into a bad purchase.

Satisfaction is a complicated thing. A purchase that was a mistake can still lead to satisfaction if they can return or exchange it without a lot of effort. The fear of buying the wrong item (size, type, etc.) and the fear of the hassle to make it right is a key reason that nearly 50% of customers don’t shop online. Whether you sell online or not, customers still have a fear of buying the wrong thing and not being able to make it right. A satisfied customers is a returning customer.

How To Improve Customer Service Skills

Knowing what customers expect or hope for can go a long way in understanding ways your current customer service needs to change. But there are some specific foundational elements that you and your team can work on that will go a long way in covering many of those customer expectations.

Build better attitudes in your team.

Let’s start with the most important customer service skills you and your team need to get: attitude and empathy.

Attitude is a hard thing to build in another person, because it seems like an intangible, unmeasurable thing. Yet it encompasses so much, including patience.

Attitude, probably more than anything else, is what customers remember from a sales transaction. Read reviews online, and see how many refer to how a customer “felt” from the employee’s treatment of them. It’s startling how many poor reviews stem from employees that had bad attitudes.

The key to attitude is that your team has to remember that what they are feeling is less important than what the customer is feeling when they are working with the customer. That doesn’t mean your team is unimportant (and this is where you, the leader, can step in and help team members who are having a tough day), but that when they are with a customer, that customer is more important than their bad day or tired feet.

But it’s not just enough to be perky and pleasant. You must empathize with customers. If you can master the art of empathy, you’ve done most of the hard work of any customer service improvement.

Empathy is hard.

It means you have to care about another person, and basically put yourself in their shoes. Not all customers are easy to empathize with; some because you can’t relate and others because they are grumpy or difficult.

GrooveHQ has some great tips on developing empathy if you are a person who isn’t naturally inclined towards it, starting with something as simple as spending time around people who are different from you. It is almost impossible to empathize with people you view as an “other” and have no personal experience with. GrooveHQ also suggests using IDEO Method Cards, which are designed to help you understand how a customer thinks. You could also create scenarios or training sessions for your team that is focused around customer experience, feelings, and fears. Let your team understand what customers are feeling when they walk in the door with questions, what they think when they feel unwelcome or ignored, and how they feel when they need help with a product.

Help your team develop empathy by getting them to experience the customer experience. By creating better attitudes and the ability to empathize with customers, you are taking care of many of those expectations we listed above, feeding into their feelings of satisfaction, and making them feel like a real person. That’s three of the major customer expectations, all taken care of with this foundational skill.

Train your (young) workers to be customer-centric.

Ever walked into a business and felt as if the young workers there just wanted you to leave? That you were interrupting the fun they were having with their friends and co-workers, or that they wanted to be on their mobile phone instead of help you? That they would rather do anything but serve you? Or stood at the counter while the worker told you about their tired feet and their upcoming break and other life details you didn’t care to hear?

Young workers need training on what is appropriate customer service behavior. They may not know that talking to friends and joking around with their friends on the job is not acceptable. They may not understand that talking to the customer about themselves and their lives is not what the customer wants to hear. They may not see that putting a customer in their place or making a joke at the customer’s expense so co-workers would have a laugh is a terrible thing to do. The customer experience, from help to sales to walking out the door, is about the customer and not at all about your team member.

Simple things like stepping up to the counter immediately and being eager to be of service, making eye-contact with the customer, focusing solely on them and their transaction, capping it off with a genuine “thank you” — these all go a long way into making the customer feel appreciated. This may mean a no-phone policy on the sales floor, and regular observation to correct behavior.

Keep in mind that it isn’t just your younger workers that may need this reminder. It’s easy for workers to become so wrapped up with the rest of the team that customers seem like an intrusion or annoyance.

Offer regular training to keep skills sharp.

Depending on your business, your employees may need regular training to stay on top of trends and the latest information. Ever walk into a computer and tech store with a question only to discover you know as much or more than the employee there to help you? That’s frustrating, and it makes it easy to do business elsewhere.

Remember, the price customers pay includes the service surrounding the purchase, and this includes knowledgeable sales staff that can help customers make decisions or understand what they need.

Regular training programs can help keep your employees sharp. These might include:

  • Periodic meetings to go over new products or trends with your sales staff.
  • Building communication skills through practice, making sure your team can communicate clearly and confidently.
  • Reiterating what you expect from your team as far as work ethic.
  • Training on emotional intelligence, and learning how to interpret and adapt to customers to help them in a way that fits them best.

Customers come to you as the expert, so you and your team had better make sure that you are.

Build A Flexible Customer Service Policy

Your customer service policies should have some standard requirements, such as no cell phone use on the sales floor, but there should also be some flexibility built into it that allows your team to adapt to the customer at hand.

Give your team the tools to be flexible, and the authority to fix problems for customers that may not fit a “script”. No customer ever wants to hear that their problem doesn’t matter because it goes against policy.

The ultimate employee is one who sees each customer as an individual person, and actually cares about them no matter how they present themselves. They communicate clearly, have knowledge of the products and services available, and have developed a thick skin and are patient as the customer works through the sales process. And, they have the confidence to solve problems not based on a rigid system, but based on the human being standing in front of them.

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