We all know that excellent customer service is good for your business, whether you’re a huge corporate, or a small business. No matter what you do, your customers are what makes your business work, so it’s crucial to look after them and make them feel valued.
According to Dimensional Research, 52% of consumers say that they have made an additional purchase from a company after a positive customer service experience. And that 90% of customers are influenced by positive reviews when buying a product.
So, what key customer service skills do you need to possess to make your business stand out?
They say that ‘Patience is a virtue’ and I’m a firm believer in this. It isn’t the easiest of skills to master, but patience will help you and your customer. It’s very important to hear what your customers have to say; they might be frustrated about something, or just simply confused. They might ask totally irrelevant questions, but it is absolutely crucial to keep calm, hear them out and then try and work through their issues together.
Active listening is closely linked to patience. Don’t just hear what your customers are saying – listen carefully and, if necessary, repeat back to them what they’ve just said to you. This demonstrates that you’re listening and understand what they want or what issue they have.
Hand in hand with patience and active listening is respect. This might seem obvious, but important to remember. Respect is about treating your customers as you would like to be treated. You’d want the person on the end of the phone or email to solve your problem, be polite and actually do something. You can show respect by:
- Using their name
- Don’t interrupt them when they’re speaking
- If you are face to face, look at them when they’re speaking.
- If you’re on the phone, don’t be checking emails or scrolling your phone, give them your full attention and SMILE! It really does come over the air waves!
- Wait until they have finished talking or telling you their problem before responding – then summarise what they’ve said and offer a solution.
- If you can’t offer an immediate solution or alternative, tell them that you will investigate and get back to them.
- Get back to them in a timely manner – when you said you would!
You are going to get a range of customers calling your business. Some will be happy and calm, will speak in a low voice. Some will be excitable and speak loudly and quickly; and inevitably, you will get the angry customer who shouts and yells, using harsh words – maybe even using expletives to insult you or your business personally.
This is the time to exercise self-control. This is not an easy skill to master, but it’s absolutely vital, especially with the shouting and yelling customer! Don’t interrupt or tell them you’re not prepared to listen to them – they might just want to be heard and the only way they know how is to shout. Even though they are shouting, try to listen to the actual problem they have encountered. When they have finished, take a couple of deep breaths and then respond. Apologise if necessary and ask them how you can resolve their problem – ascertain what they want. Tell them that you understand their issue and repeat it back to them. Then, in a calm voice, try and discuss a solution that is good for them and for you and your business. You might have to offer an alternative product or service. They might want a refund or replacement. Whatever it is, there is usually a solution to be found, by talking it through with them.
It’s well-known that showing genuine concern for your customers’ well-being is one of the most important good customer service skills. Concern for your customer is linked to being concerned for the reputation of your business. If you are not concerned about the success of your business and your businesses reputation, you’re not going to be very concerned about the happiness of your customers. They are inextricably linked.
Use positive language. Language and how you say something to a customer plays a big role in delivering excellent customer service. For example, if a customer contacts you to ask about ordering a particular product, but you don’t have any in stock
Negative response – That product isn’t in stock, so unavailable at the moment.
Positive response – We will be restocking that product next week, so I’ll contact you as soon as it’s available.
It’s a very subtle change in language, but makes all the difference to a customer.
It’s important to be flexible when dealing with customers. You may have a policy that says you don’t give away a free product or service, or you don’t do refunds. But there are times when this will be necessary to resolve an issue. If you find you have to bend the rules from time to time to keep your customers happy, it’s not a failure on your part. It can turn an unhappy customer into a future loyal customer – one who tells their friends and family how great you are and how you solved their problem, so worth keeping that in mind.
This goes without saying really, but thought I’d add this into the mix. Communication is more than the words that you use – it also involves body language, facial expressions and tone of voice, to name a few. These can be very important when dealing with a customer who is not happy.
- Keep your body relaxed
- Show genuine concern on your face
- Keep your voice calm and neutral
- Use positive language – words such as can, will, help and resolve are great words to use to help diffuse a situation.
Time Management Skills
It’s always important to be aware of the time you are spending with a customer. If you are finding that a particular customer is just too demanding, or you find you can’t resolve their problem, you need to recognise your limitations. It might be that they are not a good fit for you and your business. There is no shame in admitting this and referring them to someone who will be a better fit. This will save you both time and money in the long run. And that customer will respect you for solving their problem by referring them to someone who can help them.
Handling the unexpected
No matter how long you’ve been in business, there will at times be an element of surprise. At some point, you will face an unexpected situation, so always worth thinking about this so you have a plan.
Now, I have no idea what you might face with your business, but it’s worth knowing what you’ll do if you are faced with something you don’t know how to handle. I would ask the customer for a contact name and number, then make sure I completely understand the situation and tell them that I’ll come back to them. I always give them a specific time – even if I say, ‘I’ll ring you between 10 and 12 tomorrow morning’. This gives them confidence that you’ll look into their issue and gives you time to think about it and work out how you can solve it.
Just ensure that you do get back to them at the time you said you would. If you haven’t been able to get them an answer by that time, still ring them. Be honest and say that you are working on the problem, but it’s taking longer than you expected and give them a new time that you’ll ring to let them know the answer.
Responsibility links in with the element of surprise. If you take responsibility for the problem, your customer will respect and trust you in future. Get involved, be honest with them and stay with the problem until you resolve it.
You will have customers who will be happy with the solution you offer. And there will, inevitably, be some that won’t. This is where persuasive techniques come in. Sometimes, a customer will want to know more about a product or service in more detail before buying. Persuasive skills will be giving them more details and turning that into why the product or service is suitable for them (if it is of course). This will obviously be beneficial to your business too.
You might need to use your persuasive abilities to illustrate exactly why the solution you offer is the best for them. You many need to offer an alternative offer – or try to explain in a different way.
Improves your brand image
Your company brand is linked to your reputation. Part of earning that reputation with your customers is by doing things well, no matter how hard they might be.
Customer service sets the tone for your whole brand. First impressions really count and a helpful attitude assists in shaping that first impression. Everyone likes to have a positive customer experience and friendly, honest customer service. A good communications strategy will help you and your business to be seen as caring and one that really values its customers and their opinions. It should cover everything from how to talk to your customers and how that aligns with your brand and business strategy.
Never underestimate the power of your customers. Customer servicing calls can give you valuable feedback about your business. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. For example, if you are made aware of an issue, you can ask for your customers’ opinions, through feedback surveys, social media and emails. These tools can serve two purposes; gathering feedback about a potential solution and getting you positive reviews and feedback that you can use to promote your business.
Asking for opinions makes customers feel valued and can help improve your customer retention. If you use their opinions and suggestions, they will become brand advocates.
Measuring customer satisfaction, through the use of surveys, social media polls etc., help you keep an eye on your customers’ overall experience with your business and brand. You can often deal with a potential problem before it becomes an issue.
Ability to close
I don’t mean closing a sale here. I’m talking about ending a conversation with a customer. Sometimes a customer just wants to chat and can go completely off subject. You need to be able to steer the conversation back to the point. Only end your conversation after you have solved the problem, or told them that you’ll find a solution and get back to them.
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and treat their problem as yours. The customer needs to be aware that you care, value their opinion and they need to be confident that you will deal with whatever they throw at you.
It is well-known that customers are more loyal to those businesses that show transparency in everything they do. And they don’t mind paying a bit more if they are confident in your business and its transparency.
Excellent customer service promotes trust and loyalty; customers are more likely to try other products or services that you offer and they are more likely to recommend your business to their friends and family.