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How to Improve Your Customer Service

Drew Hendricks
improve-customer-service

The importance of customer service really cannot be stressed enough.  Your customer is, quite literally, the heart of your business. This is even more true for small businesses.

A great customer experience is vital for new customers, of course.  But it’s absolutely essential for existing customers.  You have to recognize that there is a huge distinction between new and existing customers.

You probably know it costs more to get a new customer than to keep an existing one.  It’s about five times more expensive, in fact. But if that’s not enough to convince you, consider this:

Repeat customers spend 67% more than new customers.

I could share a dozen more statistics like this one.  Repeat customers also refer more new customers. Plus, it’s easier to convert a repeat customer.  

So let’s just agree:

  • customer service = important;
  • customer service with your existing customers in mind = crucial.


You’re probably reading this because you have wondered how to improve your customer service. You’re not alone.  If you’ve done any research you know, the possibilities are endless.

Here are some tips that will not only wow your new customers but also delight your repeat buyers.

Foster employee relationships

You might be surprised to see this one at the top of the list.  Unfortunately, a lot of businesses don’t make the connection between employee loyalty and customer experience.

Your employees are the voice of your brand.  If they’re not happy, what kind of message must they be sending your customers?  Nurturing your employees is a huge step in building a great customer experience. Encouraging honest, two-way communication not only builds employee morale, but it also gives you key insights into their day-to-day customer interactions.

Ever been in a job where you were unhappy or dissatisfied?  Were you doing your best work? Probably not. Now think of a job you really enjoyed. Chances are you worked harder, took more pride in your work, and felt invested its outcome.  In both scenarios, your customers’ experiences were in direct correlation with how you felt about your job.

“Stuff” rolls downhill, as they say.  But it doesn’t always have to be bad stuff.  When you foster a positive environment for your employees, they’re a lot more likely to give your customers a positive experience. It’s called creating a customer service culture at work.

Get rid of speed bumps

Ah, the old 3-clicks rule.  Do you know it?  It’s a 25-year-old web design rule that tells us customers will leave a website if they can’t find what they’re looking for within three clicks.  Well, by now it’s been disproven many times. In fact, it probably shouldn’t have been labeled a “rule” in the first place.

Instead of a specific number of clicks, the ease of a site’s navigation is far more important to user experience.

Can we translate this web design concept in order to improve customer service overall?  Sure. Make everything easier.

improve customer service

The customer journey should be free of any unnecessary speed bumps.  What’s a speed bump? It’s anything that slows your customer down along the way.  Have you ever searched for a product on a website, clicked on something, then clicked the back button only to be taken to the homepage instead of back to your search results?  In order to get back to the product list you had to do a whole new search. That’s speed bump.

Here’s another common example:  You’re purchasing a product online.  You’ve entered your contact information, but you’re prompted to enter your information again for billing purposes.  And then you have to enter it a third time to sign up for the mailing list. Entering your person information three times?  Definitely a speed bump.

Improve customer experience by making the journey as smooth and simple as possible.  Do a ton of testing. Go through the process yourself from the customer’s standpoint.  Could you easily find information on your website? Was it hard to find contact information?  How about making a return or requesting a refund?

There are a thousand tiny things that can pop up throughout a customer’s journey with you.  Be sure you get rid of as many speed bumps as you can.

Personalize

There’s nothing worse than a “Dear Valued Customer,” email.  It’s like, do you really care who I am? Or do you really think my name is Valued Customer?

An easy way to improve customer service is by personalizing your customer interactions whenever possible.  Start your emails with “Dear Mr. Smith,” or even “Hi Joe,” when it’s suitable. No one will be under the illusion that you actually know them, but it at least makes your customers feel like they’re a real person, not just a credit card number in your files.

Encourage your contact center team to be more personable.  I know, you’re already training them to be polite and empathetic.  But remember to train them how to interact with the person on the other end of the line. Referring to customers as “sir” and ma’am” is respectful, but it’s also very formal and dispassionate.

Personalize wherever it’s appropriate, from phone conversations, to emails, to upsell recommendations.

Stay proactive

If you have a problem, you fix it.  That’s pretty much the natural order of things.  But in your business, particularly if you’re looking at how to improve customer service, fixing problems isn’t enough.

A reactive approach to customer service issues can wreak havoc on your brand’s image.  Instead, keep an eye on the one-offs like those little issues or complaints that might not mean much at the time.  Inevitably, those minor irritants will turn into major problems down the road.Remember we talked about fostering a good relationship with your employees?  This is a perfect way to make use of that relationship. Chat with them regularly.  Discuss the trends they’re seeing with customer requests and complaints. Use this information to identify issues early on and fix them.

If you hear the same complaint from two or more customers, or if two or more customers have the same problem, someone in your organization should take notice.  Improve customer service by seeking out recurring problems in the customer journey and proactively addressing them. If you wait until the issue has erupted to react, you’ll always be behind the customer service curve.

Use the best tools

Notice it’s best tools – not newest or most expensive.  In the world of customer service, there will always be an advanced new technology promising to change the way you do business.  In some cases, maybe it will...but probably not.Take a step back.  Look at your business and its values.  Imagine your ideal customer experience.  Now, with this in mind, invest in the tools best for your business.

Not sure where to start?  Work from the ground up. How’s your current phone system?  Does it meet your needs? If not, identify a business phone provider with a good reputation that offers the features you need.  This will be the main point of contact for many of your customers, so reliable phone service is a must.

Next, take a look at your CRM system.  Is it efficient? Does it help your business interact with its customers?  Your CRM should support your business model and help your team connect with customers every step of the way.

For new customers, you’re building their record in the system.  It will follow them throughout their lifetime with your business.  For existing customers, it’s an index of information for your customer service team.  No need to retell their life story, your team has it at their fingertips.

Follow-up

Remember the last time you contacted a business for tech support?  Once your issue was resolved, did anyone follow-up with you later to see how things were going?  Yeah, me neither.Follow-ups are perhaps the most underused customer service tool out there.  And I’m not talking about post-call surveys (we’ll get into those later.) I’m referring to a real phone call, email, or text, asking your customer how things are going.

Sure, follow-ups take extra time.  And you might be inviting complaints or more problems.  But that’s okay, because those are just opportunities for improvement.

Your existing customers will feel a reinforced sense of loyalty when you care enough to reach out to them.  Your new customers will be impressed by the extra attention.

Set expectations

Setting clear expectations for your customers can go a long way to improve customer service.  This is important for new and repeat customers, though in a slightly different way.

For new customers, it’s imperative they understand your processes.  It’s the best way to start the customer journey off right. Be very clear about your response time for requests, shipping times, how returns are handled, really anything that involves customer interaction.  Your customer will be a lot happier knowing what they’re in for.

Returning customers need to understand your processes, too.  Their expectations may be set based on a previous interaction with your company, and this might not work to your advantage.  If the customer’s previous request was processed within 12-hours, even though your normal turnaround is 48-hours, they could be expecting the same 12-hour treatment every time.  Be transparent with your processes each time you engage with your customer so there are no surprises.

This improves customer service, in general, and avoids unnecessary complaints.

Automate your customer engagement

Customer service should never be considered a one-and-done affair.  Interaction is imperative for a good customer experience, but ongoing engagement can be hard to maintain.  It’s difficult and time consuming to send out mass emails or texts, and harder still to manually personalize these communications.

The best way to ensure consistent contact with your customers is through automation.  Look into tools that can help automate your communications, like emails, texts, or even push notifications.

Without automation you’re reliant on a single person or team of people to plan, schedule, and send communications.  That leaves a lot of room for error and could damage your brand. Automation tools can improve customer service while helping your team interact with consumers in a more efficient way.

Surveys

Good old customer surveys.  They’ll probably never go out of style.  And for good reason. If you want to know how to improve customer service, you can’t go wrong starting with a customer survey.

Survey your customers to get an idea of their general satisfaction with your customer experience and learn about their pain points.  Surveys give you real customer insights that you can apply directly to improve our processes.

It’s no secret, many people don’t like taking surveys.  But don’t let that discourage you. Plenty of people will jump at the chance to share their thoughts on your company.

There’s a wealth of information available on customer surveys and their logic.  With a little research you can learn how to build a successful survey and how you can apply the survey results in a practical way to improve customer service.

Re-examine your customer service metrics

In your contact center today, you’re probably measuring speed-to-answer, average-handle-time, cost-per-call, and similar metrics.  These figures all have their place and can be used to improve customer service. But to what extent?

You can also measure customer satisfaction (CSAT) and your net promoter score (NPS).  But typically, these figures represent only a small portion of your customer base.

If you want to provide great service to new customers while also maintaining your current customers, your focus should shift to the customer’s lifetime experience with your company.  Customer interactions should not be treated as another transaction to be handled. Priority shouldn’t be placed on how quickly an agent can handle a call. A customer’s call (or chat or email) shouldn’t be considered a one-off.

Instead, your team should handle each interaction as another step in the customer’s journey.  Improve customer service by prioritizing quality over quantity and personalized service that will bring your customers back again and again. In fact every tip included in this article is another way to improve the entire customer journey. Unfortunately we don’t have just one metric to measure that, but the health of your business is a pretty good indicator of how customers feel about your business and their interactions with it.

Adapt to your customers

These suggestions are certainly not the only ways to improve customer service.  There are thousands of resources with customer experience tips.  It’s important to remember though, you want to make the experience better for your customers.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for how to improve customer service.  What’s effective for one business may not work for yours. And that’s okay. You know your customers (and if you don’t, try a survey!)  Take that knowledge and build a customer experience tailored to their needs.

Image Credits
Feature Image: Katy Belcher on Unsplash
Image 1: Via Salesforce

Author information

Drew Hendricks

Drew Hendricks is the Organic Growth Marketing Manager at Nextiva. Drew has also written for many major publishers such as Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine and The Huffington Post.