History has shown that many companies think of customer service as a reactionary response to a customer issue/problem. In the past and still in present day Customer Service focuses on how to deal with customer complaints/issues after the customer is already unhappy about an issue. This is like closing the barn door after the horses got out.
Anyone who is in customer service knows that dealing with unhappy customers all day long makes for a very long day. If this happens day after day the problems for the company grow exponentially. A customer that has had service issues multiple times then turns into a very unhappy customer who may turn to your competitor…costing your company revenue and hurting your reputation. In addition, it burns out your customer service staff quickly. Customer service positions are notorious for high turn over rates. If your company has a reactionary customer service approach it results in a negative environment that substantially accelerates turn over rates. This in turn causes significant loss of revenue due to the costs of replacing staff constantly and the time and resources taken to train new staff. Keeping customer service staff turnover down is challenging to every company. Many companies just see it as a headache they have to accept and even consider it as a cost of doing business.
But what if you could reduce customer complaints, reduce staff turn over, increase revenue (not decrease) and save company resources…just by developing a Proactive Service Approach?
In this day and age there is so much competition that it is very hard to set yourself apart from your competitors. A recent article in USA Today stated that a survey of CEO’s pointed out that because so many companies offer the same products and services for similar prices, that customer service is the best way to set your self apart from your competition. A good way to differentiate your company is to create a customer service program that is Proactively focused.
Here are some examples of Proactive approaches you can put in place:
1) Anticipate your Customers Issues and/or Needs:
Have your staff compile a list of possible and/or probable questions, concerns and issues your clients might have. Instead of coming up with solutions for when the customers call have your team meet on a regular basis to try and identify new issues that might pop up and how to resolve them before the customer ever sees them.
2) Constant/Consistent Communication:
Have your staff regularly call your customer to show sincere interest in taking care of them, while at the same time possibly catching issues before they have magnified in the client’s eyes. Good communication can catch issues before they do more damage.
3) Apologize Immediately:
Any time a customer says or shows that they are unhappy about an issue…apologize immediately. This does not mean to take full responsibility before you know it is your company’s fault. It could be another vendor’s or the customer’s mistake. This means acknowledging their frustration by saying “I’m sorry this issue has caused you frustration and we will do everything we can to rectify the issue.” Even if it’s your fault or another vendor’s, just the fact that you are immediately trying to acknowledge how it is affecting them will make them feel like you are truly a partner and care about their satisfaction. It is truly amazing how many companies have not taught their staff the Golden Rule of apologizing immediately. Apologizing immediately goes a long way in diffusing the powder keg that is an unhappy customer.
4) Sometimes you have to say “No”:
Some projects or customers are just too big. Not too many sales people or owners want to say no to any work. But if the job is too big you won’t be able to serve them well and you will reduce resources for other clients. It is very tempting to take on additional work that can produce more revenue, especially when you are a young company and/or struggling. But if you take on work you cannot handle you will do more harm than good, in the long run.
5) Reward Staff for Great Service:
Reward them quickly and before they ask for appreciation. Customer service is a very stressful job some times. Long-term exposure to unhappy customers can be very debilitating to an employee. So managers should proactively reward staff that goes above and beyond. Managers should also keep a close eye on employees that are starting to show signs of strain. Proactively plan many breaks during the day. Also have light-hearted distractions that can make them feel removed from the stress of dealing with unhappy customers.
6) Empower your Staff:
Give staff the authority to make decisions before they even deal with customers. Give them empowerment to make judgments the first time they are hearing of an issue with customers. Try to make sure that the staff does not have to delay complaint resolutions, as much as possible, by avoiding pass-offs to higher ups for authorization to fix the customer’s issues. Pass-offs add fuel to fuming customers. The greatest customer service stories come from companies like Nordstrom’s who give their employees complete autonomy to make a customer happy.
7) Compensate your Staff Based on Service Level:
Staff should know that the level of service they provide your customers would directly affect their compensation. Give them incentive to provide the best service they can. Conversely, they should understand that poor service couldn’t only affect their compensation but their job as well.
8) Hire the Right People and Instill the Right Message:
Everything starts with the right people! If you hire someone who does not relate well to others and is lacking interpersonal skills, you have already created a recipe for failure. If you need to, administer personality assessments to get a stronger understanding of their true ability and willingness to serve others. In addition, when you hire anyone that will have regular contact with customers they must understand how important it is for them to be customer focused. “Customer First” should be the company’s culture.
9) Be Prepared:
If it’s too late to be proactive and a customer is already dissatisfied, make sure to have as much information about that client before you talk to them. Obviously you want to get their issue resolved as fast as possible but make sure your staff has all files and history on the client, before dealing with their issue. Once you have all the information you can about the client and their issue…hit fast and hit hard. Get the pain over with.
10) Proactive Surveys:
Routinely send out surveys to your customers to gauge their overall opinion of the service. Constantly and proactively monitor how they view the relationship with your company.
I once worked with a technology company and we implemented a Proactive Customer Service Policy. In 1 ½ years time we reduced customer complaints 70%; reduced incoming calls from customers about 66%; and reduced staff man-hours from an average of 50-55 hours / week to an average of 40 hours / week. The company became the industry leader, because we consciously went to the customers instead of waiting for them to come to us.
If a company implements a proactive approach it does not guarantee satisfied customers, but it can significantly reduce customer issues and demonstrate to your customers that you are customer focused. When customers see that you are focused on their satisfaction they will have a much more positive view of their relationship or “partnership” with your organization. In turn, they may also be more loyal to you versus your competitor and may be more apt to give a positive review of your company. That can also lead to giving your company the benefit of the doubt, when an issue does arise. A positive past is the best way to build a positive future!
Remember, proactive customer service may be the turning point that your company needs to get to the next level.