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Improving Your Customer Service

by Jim Martin

We live in an era of service. People are very conscious of the way they are treated and very quick to react to perceived poor treatment. Of particular concern is the manner in which businesses handle customer problems. Customer service complaints are many. Surveys have indicated that the most satisfactory customer service experiences are those in which the customer’s first contact is a knowledgeable person who resolves their concern during that first call. Frustration with not reaching a live person is higher among the older customers. Some customers prefer to use the phone; others prefer to go online, particularly where a business offers live chat. Obviously, being all things to all people may be beyond the resources of most businesses. Smaller firms are more likely to make customer service a secondary responsibility for whoever answers the phone. How, then, can a small business put on the best face for its customers?

Let’s look at several steps one can take.

First, give your customers options. If you have the resources to do so, let them call you, email, or use live chat. Variety will increase satisfaction. Ensure that it is easy to get to an actual person.

Implement live online chat. To meet point one, you need to do this, and there are many customers for whom this is the preferred means of customer service. The more complicated and hi-tech your products, the more this will prove essential.

Eliminate waiting time. People left on hold will eventually hang up. Some will last less than a minute. Implement a system that ensures each call will be answered promptly. Live chat can help you achieve this.

Clearly define limits. Ensure that your employees have clearly limits as to what they can promise customers. You want to minimize the instances in which a customer service rep has to say, “I’ll have to refer that to my supervisor.” You also don’t want a rep to say, “We’ll send you a new one over night,” when that would violate your policy. Create a customer srvice book that answers all the “What Ifs.”

Listen to your customers. Your customer service people should provide a weekly report of what complaints they have handled. If one or two items pop up frequently, you can take action to prevent those particular complaints. Also, don’t feel bashful about asking customers what they would like to see your business doing for them. Customer feedback is a tool that can’t be over-used.

Let customers help themselves. Add a frequently asked question (FAQ) section to your website. Add web available instructions for product use (video or clear graphics). Those will also be of help when they call in. If your product is prone to misuse, or if there are standard debugging steps after it has been assembled or installed by the customer, establish a decision tree option on the website. You can thus provide quick help even when you aren’t open. Customers, for the most part, would rather do it themselves than wait interminably on the phone.

If these ideas don’t fit your business, look for some that do. The smoother your customer service operation runs, the more loyal your customers will become. Excellent customer service leads to satisfied and loyal customers.