Whether a support delivery is good or bad depends largely on its authenticity.
Did you feel like you were talking to a faceless, bureaucratic machine, or to someone who actually cared about your issue? How your customers answer this question will largely determine how they feel about your service and, by extension, your company.
Here are 7 tips to make your customer support more authentic.
1. Avoid service clichés
Under the guise of professionalism, many service replies include sentences you’ll only hear in service contexts. These service clichés, if you will, only succeed in making your support feel artificial and robotic.
Some examples of service clichés include:
“Thanks for your visit, please come again.”
“It’s our policy to…”
These statements lack any sincerity. How can you take them seriously? Forced, unnatural statements like these make customers feel like they are communicating with an inhuman company, rather than a real, empathetic person on the other end of the counter, phone or live chat.
The first rule in The Economist’s Style Guide on writing states: “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” A customer communication style guide should include a similar rule. Such lazy sentences show that you don’t care.
Lose the jargon and encourage your customer support to speak in a more natural way.
2. Speak with clarity
Communication is the foundation of customer support. In order to communicate efficiently and effectively, clarity is essential.
Clarity is how actionable your communication is. Clarity gives your customers the know-how that is needed to solve their problem and is made up of a variety of factors. These include:
Simplicity. Simplicity is the mother of clarity, but sadly often does not receive the respect it deserves. Talking in a simple manner isn’t easy, especially if the support is highly technical. The temptation amongst professionals is to use more words in order to provide clarity. Unfortunately, though, it does the opposite.
Simplicity is a matter of efficiency. The less mental effort it takes to process the same meaning, the better. To raise simplicity, reduce the length of your sentences and words, minimize commas and dependent clauses, and use common words.
Structure. Structure increases processing fluency. Just consider how you’d go about memorizing the phone number 0616131744. It becomes much easier when you split in up in a clear structure: 06-1613-1744.
It works the same with sentences. For example, a simple structure to stick with is: What? So what? Now what? Or, popular among sales people, is a Features- Advantages- Benefits structure.
Familiarity. People have a hard time grasping new concepts. That why explaining through analogy is so powerful. You reduce the core message down to something we can all relate to, which reduces the scare of the topic.
Jargon is a common destroyer of clarity. By using words your customer is unfamiliar with, you give her mind cause to doubt and wander off. That’s why ELI5 (explain it like I’m 5 years old) is a technique frequently used by support professionals. Avoid overwhelming your customer and use familiarity.
3. Speak with a you-focus
As we describe in Userlike’s guide on professional communication for customer support, too many service departments communicate with a focus on themselves.
For example, a common statement made by companies is “We’ve created this feature to help our customers to be faster…”
See what happens when you turn this into a you-focus: “With this feature you can be faster…” One talks about the customer, while the other talks to the customer.
Talking about the customer makes them feel as if they are being used to further whatever you are selling. Talking to the customer, on the other hand, makes your company seem warm and eager to help. Customers don’t care about you or your technology, they care about its impact on their lives.
4. Don’t hide behind regulations
Somehow the words “because those are the rules” make me burn with passion to break them. A rule isn’t a reason- a rule has a reason. And perhaps that reason doesn’t fit perfectly on the current situation. This is why employees should be empowered to bend the rules.
Customer service is highly variable by nature. Rules and policies are the organizational knee-jerk response to uncertainty. They create feelings of control for management, but can be extremely debilitating for frontline employees and customers.
When a corner-case issue pops up, the employees’ first response will be to consult the rule book. When the specific situation isn’t covered, they’ll have no choice but to escalate the issue to their managers who might have to do the same.
The result is a frustrating customer experience that takes much more time, money, and resources than necessary. Your employees have become an extension of a rigid machine and have lost their humanity in dealing with the customer.
Now contrast that to an empowered employee with common sense and authority to solve the customer issue. There are no escalations, no delays and no frustrations.
Rafe Sagarin, in his article “Customer Service Needs to be Either More or Less Robotic”, illustrates the power of an empowered employee by comparing two of his service experiences: one with Dell, the other with Apple. Both times he was experiencing a corner case issue, falling just outside the respective return and warranty policy. While Dell stuck to their rigid- and, in this case, wholly unfair- policy, the Apple employee was empowered to bend the rules.
Sagarin’s experiences caused him to become a loyal Apple customer, even though his problem wasn’t completely resolved in that experience. The empowered employee was able to deliver a more satisfying customer experience and ended up earning Apple more business, while Dell lost a potentially loyal customer by sticking to a set policy.
5. Talk like a human
In email, many have the tendency to use overly ‘professional’ language. I imagine that is because you don’t know the person on the other end, but ‚inhumane’ language is never a good idea.
The latest example from an autoresponder I received: “I will endeavour to get back to you as soon as I can.” Who talks like that?
Use everyday language when speaking with customers. It will set them at ease and give clarity.
6. Be transparent, open, and honest
For the majority of customers, it’s not waiting that bothers them. What sets many on edge is not knowing what is happening or why. This is why transparency is crucial for superior customer service.
The Psychology of Waiting Lines explains that uncertain waits (not knowing how long the wait will be), and unexplained waits (not knowing the reason for the wait) both make queueing more painful.
Additionally, an interesting Harvard study showed the power of the labor illusion: seeing the work that went into delivering the results gives satisfaction. When customers rated two separate search engines for airline tickets, the customers consistently reviewed the search favorably when it showed the list of all the websites being searched. Even when compared against a website that had no waiting time at all, the customers still preferred the search that showed all of the websites it was searching.
Customers have a 6th sense for noticing when you’re not being honest or holding something back, as Matt Bentley of CanIRank explains:
“In the SEO industry, we often see unscrupulous agencies taking advantage of customers’ lack of knowledge to sell them services they don’t really need. By going to the opposite extreme and investing in educating our clients, we build a foundation of mutual trust and respect.“ – Matt Bentley, Founder of CanIRank
It’s the unknown that makes customers uneasy. Be upfront and honest about in how you treat your customers – about what you are doing and why. The more transparent, the better the customer experience.
7. Show yourself
As a service recipient, you want to be on eye level with the person who talks to you. That means you want to talk to an individual, not to a group.
My Internet provider always signs its emails with: “Kind regards, Telfort Customer Service”. They do address me with my name, why can’t I know theirs? Likewise, some weeks ago I couldn’t start a support chat with my bank ING-DiBa without first providing my name. But the support rep I was connected to didn’t return the favor; it just said “ING-DiBa service”.
Put your customer at ease and let them know there’s a human at the other end of the line. Whether it’s in writing or voice, a name should be part of any service interaction. Similarly, it’s weird to have a chat when the other side’s profile image isn’t actually the picture of a person.
8. Solve problems proactively
Last but not least, authentic support means showing the customer that you really care about giving them the best experience – not just about closing the current ticket.
You do this by taking on a more holistic approach when you first get in touch with the customer. Instead of only asking about her current problem, you go deeper and try to get a total view of how she wants to use your product or service.
This allows you to foresee any issues or questions she might have in the future, and for you to offer solutions ahead of time. Survey Anyplace has put a system in place to let their marketing and support teams work together on this:
„Customer service should be stimulated to share useful marketing material with the customers. Not sales flyers, but useful articles that provide advice beyond just your product. Our customer service team has a list of such articles – like one on increasing survey response rates – with tags so that they know which content to share in which specific situation.“ – Stefan Debois, CEO, Survey Anyplace
Delivering superior customer service doesn’t necessarily mean spending more money. Making some minor adjustments can go a long way in improving your customer’s experience and improving your company’s authenticity.