“Don’t promise what you can’t deliver”. This might be the most important principle of effective customer service. Because there is quite simply nothing more frustrating than finding out that something does not live up to your expectations.
Take the recent Hollywood blockbuster La La Land for example. Now you were probably aware of all the hype: “The best film of the year”, “it will be a classic of the future”, etc. But for many movie-goers, it simply did not deserve its billing…
“Somehow, I think the critics and the Academy members have been in La La Land.” Says one reviewer on the BBC website. “Saw it Sunday and although I didn’t hate it I just can’t see what all the fuss is about.”
Perhaps if this reviewer had not been exposed to all the superb reviews, he would not have been disappointed by the thing in itself. When expectations are high, it is difficult to satisfy them. And if we feel that a performance did not merit its rave reviews, we are likely to feel especially disappointed.
By contrast, we enjoy things most when we don’t expect them. Think about that film which you simply did not expect to be so riveted by, or that kindness that you simply were not expecting.
It’s the same with customer service: don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Instead you should aim to under-promise, but over-deliver. The vital skill here is making sure you get the small things right, including getting back to people on time, as well as making sure that you moderate customer expectations professionally (rather than simply avoiding difficult conversations).
Customer Service Training
At LDL we would like to raise the profile of our customer service training. Because as customer-focus increases, delivering an excellent customer experience is becoming an increasingly important focus for businesses across sectors.
Especially in industries where product or service offerings and price no longer provide sufficient differentiation between suppliers, this new focus on customer experience offers an array of benefits to businesses looking to develop a competitive edge.
Here we outline why customer service matters, referencing the most recent study from the Institute of Customer Service, before giving a few customer service fundamentals based on its findings.
Why Customer Service Matters
According to the January 2017 UK Customer Satisfaction Index report, published by the Institute of Customer Service, there is compelling evidence of tangible links between customer satisfaction and business performance.
“For a number of years now I’ve been talking about the critical importance of customer satisfaction measures as predictors of business performance.” Writes CEO Joanna Causon, “I don’t believe that it has ever been more important for organisations to recognise the return on investment driven from a sustained focus on customer experience.”
Why does enhanced customer experience make a difference? According to the report, it’s because high customer satisfaction gives a significant boost to ratings “for trust, reputation, intention to remain with an organisation and likelihood to recommend.” In short, it’s good practice, and adds real value to the business.
Some Secrets of Effective Customer Service
If customer service really does make a difference to overall business performance, the question is how organisations can improve the satisfaction of their customers. Here are some tips, based on the UKCSI report mentioned above.
- Get things right first time
Some organisations put so much emphasis on turning bad situations around with fantastic complaint handling, that they end up forgetting the importance of getting things right the first time. But as UKCSI research shows, customers who have experienced a problem generally have lower customer satisfaction levels than those who haven’t – and this means it is better to avoid negative customer experience rather than to try to really amaze when things do go wrong (with ‘heroic’ complaint handling).
It sounds obvious, but putting the emphasis on getting things right first time is the safest way to achieving solid customer satisfaction ratings.
- Make life easy for the customer
Of course, no matter how good and consistent your service is, and no matter how skilled your delivery team, things are bound to go wrong for the customer occasionally. And when things do go wrong, it is important to make life for your customer as easy as possible in arranging a solution.
There should be a strong emphasis here on reducing friction – making experiences easier, less cumbersome and more intuitive. Organisations need to empower people on the front line to handle customer complaints effectively and professionally, and to cast themselves as fully as possible as ‘on the customer’s side’.
- Know what style of response to adopt
When actually in the process of listening to customers, the service professional should be sensitive to the kind of response which is appropriate – not merely in terms of which solution to offer, but how to go about the interaction.
Different customers want to be handled in different ways according to the UKCSI research, and customer service professionals should be sensitive to their preferences. More specifically, the UKCSI research indicated that “there are sizeable customer segments who prefer either fast, efficient service, or more care and proactive help, even if it takes longer.”
Organisations need to think about their customers and which kind of service experience they might prefer: fast and efficient, or more empathic and caring. Perhaps customer service professionals need to be practised in both approaches.
The Bigger Picture of Customer Service
Customer service has traditionally been something ‘added on’ to more traditional areas of skills development. But the Institute of Customer Service’s recent research has highlighted the powerful links between employee engagement and customer satisfaction. Because to have an effective customer service team, you need to have an engaged workforce.
This means that companies looking to develop customer satisfaction as a part of a long-term strategy, may also have to open up bigger questions around the competency of managers and the leadership vision being articulated to staff. Even on the sales side, ‘Sales Through Service’ is an idea gaining traction, but it is vital that customer service is put in the context of consultative-partner selling.
Improving the customer experience can offer a competitive edge to organisations across sectors. But in order to improve that experience as much as possible, organisations may have to look at other areas of skills training for a wider range of staff – rather than simply focusing on developing the service excellence skills of customer service professionals. These service excellence skills are vitally important, but just one component of a wider and more effective customer-focused business strategy.
Learn more about LDL Customer Service Training, or, for a wider-reaching customer experience strategy, find out more about LDL Management & Leadership Training. Contact us on + 44 (0)20 7381 6233 to set up a conversation with our specialist Senior Consultant.