10 steps to successful customer service

Last time, we looked at the importance of great customer service, why it’s important to your business, and broadly speaking, how to recognise it. But knowing where (or what) you want to be doesn’t necessarily help you get there. It’s helpful to have a roadmap (and the further you are from your destination, the more you need it!)

Well, good news, there is a map. It has 10 steps which can be summarised by the word SUCCESSFUL – each letter representing an important step. While the details of each business’s journey to customer service excellence will vary, these 10 steps are guaranteed to keep you moving in the right direction…

Smile and connect
We all know first impressions matter. And we all know there’s no second chance to make one. So, what first impression do your customers get from you? Do they get your immediate and undivided attention? Do they get eye contact and a sincere smile? If they have to wait (maybe you’re dealing with another customer) do they get an acknowledgment and an idea of how long you’ll be?

What about the visuals? If you have a bricks & mortar premises, what does the layout and decor say? What do your clothes say to customers? A staff uniform may be tempting (at least customers will know who is staff and who isn’t) but there are pros and cons – consider what’s best for your business and your customers.

Understand the customer's situation
Before you can help, you need to understand and that means listening to the customer. However, it’s not enough to just listen, you have to show you’re listening. If the customer feels listened to, they’ll be more forthcoming, the whole interaction will flow more smoothly, and if they’re complaining or otherwise unhappy, feeling listened to will help drop the emotional temperature of the situation.

Active listening techniques such as paraphrasing and summarising are highly useful; as is understanding a little about the components of communication: words, tone of voice, and body language.

Clarify and empathise
You may think you understand what the customer wants but you won’t know for sure until you check with them. Use a variety of questions to test your understanding and further explore the customer’s issue. Open questions (beginning with What, Why, When… etc.) are great for getting information, while closed questions (requiring a Yes or No answer) are good for checking the facts and moving the conversation forward.
Create solutions
If the customer has a problem, it’s not just theirs it’s also yours. Or at least, it is if you want them to leave raving about your customer service. Take ownership of the customer’s needs and then come up with a solution. There may be more than one option, and that’s often a good thing – people like options, to feel like they have some choice.
Explain next steps
You have a solution (either the only possible one or an agreed option) and now it’s time to take more control over the situation. Use assertive language to explain what will happen next, to move on from talking to doing, and also instil confidence in the customer that you will deliver what you’re promising.
Seek ways to add value
Problem solved? Good, that’s the basics sorted. Now, what else can you do? What value can you add? For example, what has the customer not thought of that you, with your experience, can bring to the table?

It’s finding such extras that often make the difference between acceptable and great customer service.

Summarise
By now it’s probably obvious that clarity is important and you should never underestimate the ability of two people to walk away from the same conversation with two totally different ideas of what just happened (it’s not personal, just file it under ‘human nature). Finish by summarising what you’ve agreed.
Follow through
Whatever you’ve agreed, do it. Or make sure it gets done if it’s down to somebody else. However, while the agreed solution may fall within the remit of a colleague or another team or office, remember it’s still your job to follow through.
Learn from each encounter
Customer feedback is the single most useful tool you have for improving your customer service. How do you gather that feedback? What happens to it then? How do you share good ideas with your colleagues? You might find there’s room for an 11th step on your roadmap to successful customer service.

To explore these ten steps in detail and find the best ways to use them in your business, check out our one-day workshop ‘Successful customer service‘ or give us a call on 01582 463464.  We’re here to help!

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