You’re now a couple of years into owning your own business and it’s thriving (as it should be!). With other areas of your business running (mostly) without issue, you have time to go into expert mode with your customer service.
I’m not only talking technologically. That is a field that will be developing for, at least, the next few decades and will have a constant learning curve.
I’m also referring to scrutinizing your current programs and employees, making changes and specializing where necessary, in order to have a fully independent, informed, customer service process AND team that can handle anything the customer throws at them.
Prerequisites: What you need to know
Following up on my previous articles, Customer service 101 and 201, this article will help you put the final touches on perfecting your customer service program. Here’s what to know as you go through this process:
- This reaches beyond the employees that are handling the customer contact. You will also need to re-evaluate your current systems with extensive feedback from the customer on where things could be better.
- Both the technological and the department review could need some investments to improve the level of service, but building a solid customer base that will sustain over-time is always worth the investment.
- Unless you are prepared to start hemorrhaging money, you cannot and will not please 100% of all your customers all the time. Please keep in mind that you need to remain realistic about the means you have to please the customer, while keeping the interests of your business at heart.
If the 95% that you please become customers for life, you will have nothing to worry about, for a long long time.
How to lock down a stellar customer service program
There are five key steps to take, that we’ll cover in detail below, to create a premier customer service program.
- Vet your processes: (Vet your buying process again, with customer feedback if possible, to filter out the issues)
- Invite an audit (Have an audit of the buying process and the customer service done by a customer service expert, to see what you could possibly have missed)
- Make changes (Make changes to buying processes and programs, including having programs specifically altered for your business)
- Specialize (Train certain employees to handle specialized cases and processes, to free up time for the other employees on the team)
- Rinse and repeat (Don’t get complacent and make sure to keep up-to-speed on new platforms, ways to interact with your customers and other customizable options)
Let’s get started.
Vet your process
A business owner's work is never done. As true as this statement is, several years into building a successful business, you will have staff that can do some of the heavy lifting for you. For example when you need to vet your buying process again.
Now, you might be thinking that you’ve done this several times before and I sincerely hope that you did! However this is about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, and reaching as close to perfection as you can (like I said you can’t please 100% of your customers all the time). Here are some vetting tips:
- Create a list of customer complaints. Have one of your staff take a good look at the customer reviews over the last year and write down the complaints they come across. Some customers have the tendency to be very critical and they will point out the small issues that might have bothered them in the buying process. Normally these small irritations are not something you spend time on, but in this case, a closer look can have benefits for your process and your reviews.
- Vet the complaints. Have one of your staff vet the complaints themselves as they go through the buying process. Not all complaints are based on truth, sometimes it’s consumer error, and you don’t want to spend your time looking for something that doesn’t exist.
- Get fresh eyes on the process and issue. Simultaneously select a couple of people to go through the buying process as if they were a customer. You may choose regular customers, as they know the process and they will appreciate that you ask for the feedback. You can also choose people that have absolutely nothing to do with your business, like your nephew or your next door neighbor. Choose different genders, as they tend to focus on different points and will give you more overall reviews. You can ask certain people to focus on certain things, too, like the photography on the website for example, or the ease with which they can find the legal stuff.
This might seem very random, but as mentioned in earlier articles, someone with a fresh pair of eyes might see something that you’ve been overlooking for years.
Invite an audit
Once you have vetted your process for what will probably feel like the millionth time, it’s time to call upon an expert. While there are many professionals out there that make their living as an auditor, it’s not a must that you hire someone with that particular title.
There are plenty of professionals (on Upwork of course, yours truly included) that have tons of experience in customer service and their related fields. They also have the knowledge and the skills to do an audit on your processes, both buying and in customer service.
I strongly advise that you hire someone with zero ties to your company and that you keep an open mind on the feedback you might receive. Here’s how to work with an auditor:
- Discuss the scope of the audit beforehand. Be clear about the process and make sure to give the auditor access to all the information they might need to have at their disposal. This includes any and all staff that are part of either the buying or the customer service process.
- Encourage staff to speak up. Make sure your staff knows that they are free to discuss anything with the auditor regarding the processes. Sometimes staff will be afraid to speak up, either to their direct supervisor or to you. By introducing a neutral person, who will anonymize any feedback they receive, they might feel free to provide further feedback and good tips. At the end of the day, they are the people that work with or in the processes you are auditing, every day.
- Have the auditor sign an NDA. If you’re in a niche market, don’t be afraid to vet your auditor before doing business and having them sign an NDA.
- Ask for a neutral report. Your auditor, as everyone else on the planet, is only human and can have a slight bias on certain processes and how things work in your company. A good auditor however, will frame their observations in the most neutral way possible.
They will create a report with their observations, giving advice on where they think the process and the department can be improved. They are most likely more than happy to spar with you on their findings and while you may not agree with everything they suggest, it can be eye-opening to discuss the processes with an individual with knowledge equal to your own.
Now that you have the feedback from your customers, your laymen testers, and the auditor, it’s time to start making some changes. Some changes may be simple. For example:
- Existing processes may need to be amended
- Website wording may need to be tweaked
Other changes might include a bit more time and an investment identified by your auditor. For example:
- A program is missing a key feature
- A new program or process needs to be added
This might take some time, but it’s important to see if these programs or add ons could indeed be beneficial to your company. Some programs offer paid add ons, some even offer the opportunity to have an IT professional create exactly what you need within the program.
Now that you’ve invested in upgrading parts of your system, you will also need to start investing in your customer service team. By now, I’m hoping you (or their supervisor) have worked with them long enough to spot potential in certain individuals. If not, look into hiring more experienced agents.
Here are three ways to know when there’s potential to create customer service superstars:
- A general customer service employee will be able to handle 75% of all customer queries, but you will need someone with a bit more skill for this part. If you do have talent in your current employees, use it!
- If a customer service employee shows that they’re creative in finding solutions for customers, going the extra mile (by, for example, checking back in with them after an order has arrived) and can spot and verbalize possible improvements, they are someone to hold onto.
- Offer a star employee a specialization task they may be interested in, such as handling payment issues, contacting suppliers or handling extremely long-running and difficult customer cases. You can also use them for improvement projects that span across several departments or use their keen eye to spot trends with competitors.
This way of specializing offers the employee a challenge in their work environment, because, let’s face it, boredom is the killer of work pleasure. Additional benefit is that it frees up other members of the team to handle the more mundane cases and the supervisor to handle other tasks.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s never a good idea to have only one specialist on the team. If they get sick, are on vacation or leave the company, you’ll be scrambling to catch up. The supervisor should be just as knowledgeable, and another specialist in the same team is a necessary backup and a good colleague to bounce ideas off.
Rinse and repeat
What I’m going to say next will probably not come as a surprise: After all of this effort, the process should become a matter of rinse and repeat. Here are two best practices moving forward:
- Conduct a simple once-a-year review. I don’t mean every month or even every half year, but once a year is good.
- Ask new hires to share what they notice. As a bonus review, when introducing new people into the company, have them shout out all the things they notice in their first couple of weeks. They will be eager to ask all the “why” questions you might not have thought of yet.
After all, your company will keep evolving and your products will keep evolving (I hope), which means that new problems could arise. With new forms of communication on the rise (think the many social media apps), a customers' needs for interaction will probably change, as will the systems you’re using. You don’t always have to expand it to all the points mentioned above, but a small(er) review can reveal some improvements to be made, keeping you on top of your game.
Complacency has no place in any business, let alone one as thriving as yours!
Stellar customer service creates loyal customers
If you are willing to vet your processes, both by internal and external people, you will gain valuable feedback. If you are also not afraid to take advice from others and are prepared to invest in systems and in your people, I believe you can lock down a stellar customer service program, which can rival the best in any business. A loyal customer is the best kind of customer!
I help businesses begin and maintain their customer experience programs. If you’d like some help with your program, send an inquiry through my Upwork profile and we can discuss the best options for your needs.