Demanding customer expectations, human error, and continuous change make it a challenge to maintain consistently high customer service standards. Given all of these variables, it’s important to have a reliable model underlying your customer service practices and governing the relationships between your frontline employees and customers.
Many leading customer service organizations apply some variation of this five-step process:
- Listen and identify the precise cause and nature of the problem
- Acknowledge understanding of the problem and apologize, if necessary
- Show willingness to find the best way to resolve the problem
- Provide a specific solution, immediately, if possible
- Show gratitude for the customer’s business
This basic model is highly adaptable to nearly any customer service problem, and applying it comes naturally to most seasoned customer service professionals. Here are three examples to demonstrate the ease and effectiveness with which it can be applied:
Confusing automated telephone systems or endless transfers
Every business streamlines its phone customer support in one way or another. It’s a fact of life for customers and clients that getting to live help isn’t as easy as it once was. Today’s customer expectations reflect that reality.
There is, however, a fine line between efficiently routing calls and delivering a frustrating customer experience. If a customer complains about getting stuck in an endless electronic or even live help loop, your representatives should be prepared to listen, acknowledge, and resolve this very real problem. Representatives should be trained in understanding the phone systems so they can provide guidance on how customers can more efficiently get the help they need. This training may involve role playing, in which one trainee assumes the part of the customer. Without a simple model in place, many service representatives apologize for the poor experience, but move on too quickly from this complaint without acknowledging or taking the next steps toward a complete resolution.
Lack of knowledge
Staff turnover is inevitable, and there will be periods for every SMB during which an unusually high percentage of customer service representatives are not fully trained. During these times, complaints about a lack of agent knowledge are common.
Rather than simply mirroring a customer’s dissatisfaction with a prior representative’s lack of knowledge, put our model into place. Listen carefully to the customer’s tone and try to empathize with the level of frustration and the problems that a lack of knowledge may have caused the customer. In acknowledging the problem, explain how your business values employee training, and has a rigorous process. Let the customer know that several employees have been going through the instruction sequence and are close to reaching proficiency.
Your customer will understand that the lack of agent knowledge on a previous call was only the temporary result of a short-term transition, rather than an ongoing lack of training and support. Thank your customer for understanding as your company works toward completion of the training exercises.
No follow-up or resolution to complaints
Unresolved issues create negative impressions and build distrust in customers. If a problem isn’t adequately and quickly resolved, a customer will lose faith in your training, processes, and personnel.
The “listen” step is especially important in the prevention of this issue. Customer service representatives should have the software necessary to document problems on the spot and quickly call in backup or management support for complex problems. Acknowledgement and willingness includes communicating who will be involved and how the process will proceed in order to arrive at a solution. Customer concerns are allayed when you communicate that processes are in place to deal with difficult-to-resolve issues, and they are generally more forgiving of a mistake when specific expectations for a resolution are set.
Employing this model quickly becomes second nature for professionals who have the natural skills to succeed in customer service. These are, after all, the same basic steps required for success in any relationship, professional or personal.