“World Class Customer Service” – The fundamentals in 7 easy (cranky) rules

425540_healthy_communication1Friend of mine who has recently become director of operations at a hardware/web 2.0 company (yep, pretty exotic), put out a request asking for recommendations for building a world class customer service organization. Good for him!

So, how do you build world class customer service? As a business person who watches customer service behaviors and cultures closely, I like to collect customer service stories that are both good and bad. For me, the fundamentals of customer service are pretty simple:

1) Give me an easy way to resolve issues quickly and fairly.

This means your website and your phone tree had better be well organized and direct me to someone who can actually help me. That isn’t too much to ask and it isn’t brain surgery.

Try using the tools and processes that you supply to your clients and see if you like them. Ask your family to use them and watch what happens. Ask your mother, aunt, or grandmother to use them and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work, fix it promptly and re-test regularly.

Respect your customer, and they will respect your product and your company.

2) Acknowledge my communications and track them.

Knowing that my communications have been entered into a system, are being tracked with a ticket number, and are going to have to be resolved by somebody at some point, gives me confidence that I’m not being ignored or mis-directed, both of which are common big company customer service behaviors.

Preferably, you’ll have both good on-line helpdesk tools, and an integrated telephone helpdesk system as well. Don’t create two completely separate systems. Why waste the money and time? Create one system and track everything through that system.

The best companies all do this. They have systems to track your ticket, they have complete transparency regarding the assignment and status of the ticket, and they have a set process by which the ticket must be resolved before it can be closed. This isn’t rocket science.

Ticketing systems don’t make every interaction go smoothly, but they do go a long way towards establishing a minimal level of professionalism and trust, which is the first step towards good customer service.

3) Don’t make me talk to people who have no knowledge before letting me talk to the people who do have some knowledge.

Putting peons on the front line to serve as cannon fodder is just disgraceful. Put every customer service rep through enough training that they can answer 95% of the calls authoritatively, effectively and quickly.

Don’t let people answer the phone who probably know a lot less about your product, service or business than I do as an average buyer. That’s just embarrassing.

4) When I’ve got a complaint, don’t make me talk to people who don’t have the authority to fix it.

Putting up a smokescreen of agents for whom the problem “isn’t their department” may be effective in keeping lots of your customer’s money, but it also ensures that I’ll never knowingly or voluntarily buy from you again.

If you’re the local monopoly, you’re more likely to pull this kind of ugly stunt. Consumers remember and when the vote comes around for destruction of the monopoly, guess which way we’re going to vote?

Let yourself get a good, guilt-free night’s sleep and don’t pull this kind of prank on your customers. When I’ve got a complaint, put me on the phone with a person who has the power to negotiate a solution, quickly and fairly.

5) Document your product thoroughly and continuously.

First, document like crazy. Some users, particularly important “influencers” who are likely to write and talk about your product and your company, know surprisingly large amounts about your market and your product.

Your documentation needs to be satisfactory to the knowledgeable influencer. That’s a tall order, but you’ve got complete control over whether it happens. You just have to do the work.

And new problems and uses for your product or service come up each week. Add new documentation. The web makes this easy. Why wouldn’t you continuously document how to use your product or service?

And please, please, provide both a “quick guide” on your product or service, and the in-depth video as well. Don’t just do the videos. They’re nice, but I hate wading through quarter-hour videos just to figure out what one stupid little option does in the settings in your software or on your device. My question could be answered in a sentence. Please do.

6) Don’t make me re-describe my request for help all over again every time I call.

This is kid stuff. Don’t do it. When I call the first time, get a good description of the problem, punch it into my ticket in your system, and don’t ever lose it.

Telling me that “the dog ate my helpdesk ticket” and making me re-describe the problem every time I call is just amateur.

7) Don’t make me talk to a new, random person each time I call.

God gave telephones extensions for a reason. Use them.

I don’t mind having to wait a few minutes while an agent finishes another call, if I can talk to the same person again. Familiarity with my problem – even if they can’t figure out how to solve it yet – creates trust. Companies need that trust from their customers in order to thrive. Do everything you can to build it.

Need help with your business? Contact JumpPhase.com

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This blog is dedicated to providing advice, tools and encouragement from one entrepreneur to another. I want to keep this practical and accessible for the new entrepreneur while also providing enough sophistication and depth to prove useful to the successful serial entrepreneur. My target rests somewhere between the garage and the board room, where the work gets done and the hockey stick emerges.