Are you a list maker? I am. I love to make a list. The more lists, the better. And the satisfaction of checking things off those lists? What an amazing feeling.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been putting together a new list. Unfortunately, this one else isn’t quite as easy to check things off of. But the satisfaction that comes with checking these items off is a level or two above what would come from a typical list. This is my checklist for providing superior customer service.
It took some consideration to arrive at what I think are just the right points. From there, I organized my list into priority order. Complexity of the task also played a role, so you’ll find some of the more challenging tasks upfront. In addition to complexity, they appear first because without accomplishing some of that initial, foundational work, it will be difficult to perform some of the tasks that follow, as well as to build and maintain an organization delivering superior service.
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Without further ado, here is the list I have assembled:
- Establish a customer-centric culture – Let’s face it, if an organization doesn’t have this in place, everything else on this list won’t necessarily be impossible but it may end up being more difficult than necessary. Leadership must tear down the silos and turn customer service into a team sport. Start here, regularly invest time here, and keep the culture strong.
- Utilize a customer service platform – At surface level, customer service is the same everywhere: solve customer problems in a friendly and efficient manner. However, as you dig into the particulars, companies may have unique processes, rules, and even compliance mandates that dictate the finer details. In general, no software will be perfect “out of the box,” so having a strong platform with the option to use custom solutions or to perform your own customizations is critical. The right platform will also deliver many of the elements that follow.
- Make it effortless for customers to connect – Problems can occur at any time, yet that exact moment might also might not be the most convenient time for the customer to seek a solution. Customers expect anytime, anywhere access to customer service. For this reason, omnichannel, mobile-friendly service options are a must.
- Provide agents with strong service tools – The most important resource in the service center are its agents, and giving them the right equipment to do the job is crucial. Beyond efficient case management and the core work, does it offer more, such as assistive capabilities like suggesting potential relevant knowledge articles (and facilitate easy creation of new articles, as well)? By providing agents with the appropriate tools, not only will they work smarter but also more efficiently.
- Give customers a voice – Getting input from customers is important in all areas of the business. Understanding what they like and would like to see in future products and services is one thing. Evaluations of customer service is another. Look for opportunities to survey customers periodically, and when you do, provide an incentive for them to use their valuable time to provide you with beneficial insights. Just don’t overdo it: no one enjoys receiving constant survey requests.
- Offer self-service options – Did you know nearly three-quarters of customer service interactions start online? In fact, by not offering self-service, you run the risk of reduced customer satisfaction because customers want you to value their time. Examples of typical self-service capabilities include automated solutions powered by workflow, knowledge management, online communities, and virtual agents (chatbots)–each major undertaking. Conquer one-at-a-time and slowly expand your offerings.
- Map the customer journey and secret shop your service – I combined these two together not only to cap my list at ten but also because they go hand-in-hand. They both serve as a means of truly understanding what a customer encounters when they need service and also act as a form of quality assurance phase. Both of these are critical to perform regularly.
- Permanently address the issue – Do you only offer customers workarounds, or do you strive to offer real solutions to problems? This ties back to point #1 on this list. When the entire organization has put the customer at the center of its work, it makes it possible for issues raised by customers to customer service to be assigned to other departments in the organization. Product and service quality issues can be routed to manufacturing and engineering. Billing problems are directed to finance. Rather than answer the problem repeatedly, the core issues can be identified and permanently fixed so the issue does not recur.
- Leverage machine learning – Machine learning has not only become more mainstream in the last few years, it’s been identified as a critical investment. 89% of CIOs report they either currently use or plan to use machine learning. In customer service, machine learning can automate mundane work such as categorizing, prioritizing, and assigning cases. Refer back to #2 above–superior platforms now offer machine learning as a capability, with no data scientists required.
- Proactively solve problems – Develop processes to preemptively notify customers of solutions. This involves collecting and maintaining current information about your customers–whether you have hundreds or millions. With that information available, customers can be segmented as needed so that when problems occur that only affect customers with certain characteristics, they can be easily identified, notified of the problem, and provided with a solution when available. Such proactive notification not only raises the bar on service in the customer’s eyes, it also prevents high volumes of calls, emails, chat, and more when there is a problem.
There’s a lot of satisfaction that comes from checking items off a list. I realize this list is actually a little different, though. Every item on this checklist is no small endeavor; rather, each represents a significant undertaking in its own right, and the actions associated with completing the task might need to recur annually, quarterly, or even daily.
But like any other checklist, checking off each item represents progress towards a goal. And when that goal is building a world-class customer service organization delivering superior customer service, checking those items off is especially gratifying.