What is the secret to good customer service

Germany - a service desert? 71 percent of consumers see it that way. A wasted opportunity, because good service is almost as important for customers when making a purchase decision as the price and even beats criteria such as sustainability or the good reputation of the company by far. This article explains why customer service is essential for the success of a company and how you can tailor it to the needs of modern customers.

What is customer service?

Customer service refers to the relevant department of a company on the one hand, but also to their efforts to satisfy (potential) customers on the other. In addition, the employees react to questions, problems and complaints from customers. In retail, customer service is primarily understood to mean additional services, such as a voluntary exchange right or free product add-ons.

What is customer service 2.0?

A few years ago, customer service was synonymous with advice in the store or telephone support. With the success of interactive Web 2.0, however, customer requirements slowly changed. 68 percent prefer to communicate with customer service via e-mail, 14 percent expect a live chat. More and more consumers are also turning to companies via social media messaging to receive personalized tips.

For companies, this means that it is no longer enough to simply provide a telephone hotline. Instead, customers today expect to reach a company via the channel of their choice - be it via Facebook, WhatsApp or the live chat integrated into the website.

You should heed the following aspects in order to optimally adapt your customer service philosophy to changing customer needs:

Customer experience

Good customer service should not only be used as a fire extinguisher for customer problems, but should work in the background throughout the entire customer journey: by focusing on the customer experience. Really customer-oriented companies are characterized by the fact that they make the entire sales process, including all touchpoints, as customer-friendly as possible.

So make sure that the (potential) customer feels well informed about the next steps and that they are in good hands at every point of the customer journey and that you provide them with the necessary knowledge about how your products and services work. The fewer customers see the need to actually contact your customer service, the better the customer experience you can offer them.

Omnichannel management

We have already described that customers no longer want to be limited to one channel, but instead want to communicate flexibly with companies across multiple channels. This applies to the communication level (online vs. offline), communication channels (e-mail, telephone, social media, etc.) and end devices (PC, tablet, smartphone) equally. So a customer might see a poster in the city, then research the product on his PC and read through the FAQs. He then puts the item in the shopping cart and writes to customer service a few days later via live chat before finally buying the product via the app.

Modern service should be able to keep up here. Every customer service representative must therefore be able to see at a glance which path the customer has taken to date and which interactions there have already been with customer service. This requires a comprehensive software solution for customer service. This is the only way to ensure that the customer looking for help does not have to explain his problem again and again and gives up in frustration after a short time.

Self service

A characteristic of the Customer service 2.0 it is also that customers can obtain more and more autonomous information about products. Forums, rating portals and reviews on blogs ensure that consumers no longer have to rely solely on the respective company to get an idea of ​​the product or service.

Conversely, this means that companies lose their information sovereignty and can no longer influence which opinion a prospect forms before buying the product in question. It is therefore crucial that companies, for their part, provide content that consumers can refer to in their research. FAQ pages are available for this, but also your own service apps, info videos or online simulations.

Why is customer service so important?

Good customer service ensures satisfied customers. And the more satisfied a customer is, the more likely they are to remain loyal to the company in question and become an existing customer. These in turn are worth gold, because on average a regular customer generates significantly more sales than a casual customer. In e-commerce, for example, existing customers only make up eight percent of website visits, but generate 41 percent of sales.

In addition, a customer becomes more and more profitable over the length of their loyalty to the company. After all, the initial acquisition in particular is usually expensive, while in the long term hardly any cost-intensive measures for customer loyalty have to be taken, but the customer continuously generates sales. Regular customers even pay off more per purchase: With an average purchase in the online shop, regular customers spend around seven times more than existing customers.

But customer service is also effective before the actual purchase. Because with uncertain prospects or overwhelmed leads, an excellent and low-threshold consulting service can be the decisive factor for the final purchase decision.

Good customer service gives you a competitive advantage

At the same time, impeccable customer service can help you set yourself apart from the competition. This is decisive for success, especially in competitive markets with mature products that hardly show any differences in quality between the providers.

Two thirds of Germans state that they have already changed providers due to poor service. The customer can therefore provide all-round support decisive Unique Selling Point (USP) with whom you can bring your company forward.

Good customer service saves you from bad word of mouth

No marketing measure is as valuable as recommendations from your own environment. 63 percent of Germans find product tips from friends and acquaintances to be particularly credible, which accordingly influences their purchase decision. If you manage to sustainably inspire your customers with your services, the chances are good that they will recommend you to their friends and that way you will generate new customers as if by yourself.

With poor service, however, the effect is reversed: disappointed customers vent their anger at friends and thus ensure that they develop a negative image of your brand and tend to keep their distance.

How do you save costs in customer service?

First of all, it should be said: You should never save too radically on customer service. As we showed in the previous chapter, impeccable customer service is essential to building a loyal, loyal customer base. You also avoid negative publicity and set the course for long-term business success. Fortunately, when you implement Customer Service 2.0, you get double the benefits at best. Because modern technologies not only enable you to react adequately to the demands of your customers, but also make service employees more efficient.

The focus is on software solutions. In addition to specific software (e.g. for call centers), the focus should be primarily on customer relationship management (CRM) systems. If these are used correctly, marketing, sales and service alike feed in data and in turn benefit from all information about the customer across departments.

This means: service employees can view all relevant data on customers and their history with the company with just a few clicks, without having to ask them or consult with colleagues. In this way, problems can be solved in a fraction of the time that would be necessary without software support - which not only pleases customers, but also saves your company human resources and thus money.

Another important topic: artificial intelligence. So-called chatbots, which are available to customers around the clock, can answer simple, frequently asked questions and further relieve human customer service. For customers, chatbots primarily mean quick solutions to questions and problems, which for 82 percent of consumers means good service.

But be careful: Chatbots should never completely replace the human service employee. Because when it comes to complex questions, they are (still) overwhelmed. If the customer cannot switch to a flesh-and-blood caregiver in this case, frustration arises.

Lastly, it is crucial that you get the Measure the success of your customer service. Collect relevant key figures (for example in your call center) to check whether your customer service is really achieving the desired goals:

Are your customers generally satisfied? Can the service solve the specific problems in most of the cases? Are fewer customers leaving?

If you find that the stated goals are not being achieved, your current type of investment in customer service does not make sense. Tighten the screws here so that every cent of your invested money is really worth it.


10 principles to improve your customer service

But what exactly does such excellent customer service look like in the direct interaction between service employees and customers? In the following we reveal the most important secrets of successful customer service.

1. Listen

Listening is the key to understanding your customers' concerns. Usually they contact customer service with a specific problem - if you don't listen to them, you simply won't know what it is.

Some customers may just be upset and want employees to listen to their complaints. Other customers have a specific problem that can be resolved fairly quickly.

Whatever the situation, give customers the opportunity to vent their anger, show understanding for their dissatisfaction, and make them feel like you're really listening. Once the person you are talking to has calmed down a bit, he will be more receptive to your advice and it will be easier for you to help him solve the problem.

Active listening is of course more difficult if the customer cannot see you on the phone or in email and therefore cannot interpret non-verbal signals such as eye contact.

Instead, you have to work with linguistic clues: give specific answers to concerns and questions so customers can see that you have understood their problem. Repeat what the customers said to make sure you aren't talking past each other.

2. Communicate knowledge

Knowledge is power. If you show customers how they can solve their problems on their own, e.g. You can give them a sense of control and security, for example through online courses or a knowledge base.

For example, show customers how to break a complicated process into actionable steps and execute them. Ultimately, the result is happier, more successful customers.

A positive side effect: as soon as customers know how to cope with a task without assistance, they will no longer need personal support from customer service as often. In this way, customers also become more confident with your services and products, which increases the chances that they will stay with you as customers in the long term and show more willingness to convert again (for example when you bring an extension to market).

3. Full attention to the customer

Active listening includes paying full attention to the other person. Multitasking can - generally speaking - increase productivity, but it is out of place in customer contact.

If you miss the details of a problem and the person you are talking to repeats himself over and over again, he or she will feel under-looked at and turn away angrily. Also, listening isn't just about hearing what a customer is saying. You should also read between the lines - and that requires extra concentration.

Effective multitasking is almost impossible in customer contact. If you devote yourself to several things at the same time, it can be assumed that you are not actually doing any of the tasks efficiently. Instead, you should set aside a specific time slot each day to do tasks that aren't directly related to answering calls or emails. Then you are also able to give your customers your full attention on the phone or in the chat.

4. Ask the right questions

In order to get to the bottom of a problem, you may have to ask the person you are talking to several times. Because sometimes customers only call with a problem when they no longer know what to do without informing you of the entire history of the problem.

Your job then is to find out what the fundamental goal the customers are pursuing. A customer may only be calling about a minor problem but ultimately needs additional help understanding how to use your full package of services.

Do some research and ask questions to get the bigger picture of the problem. A more comprehensive solution than it initially appears may be needed. Your customers will appreciate it if you take the time and help them solve any problems that may arise in the future on their own.

5. Avoid interruptions

We want to help customers when the time is most convenient for them. Therefore, under no circumstances should you quickly get rid of customers, as they could otherwise seek the solution to your problem - for example with a competitor.

You may think that if you handle as many customer cases as possible in one day, you will do better. And to do this, you inevitably have to process every call and e-mail as quickly and efficiently as possible - but this is how you limit damage to the maximum and really don't help anyone.

Instead, take more time and put a little more effort into solving your customers' individual problems comprehensively and sustainably.

Because companies that invest in the long-term success of their customers benefit from increased sales and happier customers. So take enough time for your phone calls, listen carefully and be friendly. While this may take more time, it will pay off for your customers, your team, and your company.

6. Make excuses

A tense situation can often be defused quickly by apologizing to the customer, even if you are not to blame.

You don't have to take all of the responsibility to express your sincere regrets. Apologizing for technical problems or a general mishap does not mean that it is your fault, it just shows that you regret the situation.

Remember, customers want to feel like you are listening to them, understanding them, and respecting their feelings. Your apology therefore makes the customers forgiving, so that they are more willing to solve a problem with you.

A fitting quote from Maya Angelou, which does not necessarily refer to customer service, but hits the nail on the head, is accordingly:

“I've learned that people forget what you said and what you did. But people will never forget what feelings you aroused in them. "

7. Find solutions instead of assigning blame

Whether it is a misunderstanding, a system failure or a misprint in the invoice - mistakes can happen in any company. In such a case, it is important that you offer an apology.

However, when you apologize or explain how a problem came about, you must never make the mistake of blaming another department or member of your team. Rather, focus on finding a solution to the problem and making sure the error no longer occurs. This makes a more professional impression and shows that customers can rely on your company.

8. Adopt the customer's point of view

Make the effort to dig deeper with each customer. Sometimes it is enough to look at a problem from a different perspective in order to find a suitable solution.

Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and try to understand how they are using your products to achieve their goals. Then solutions or new ideas often arise on their own.

Provide customers with appropriate context and background information tailored to their individual needs. Customers feel valued and taken seriously.

9. Treat users of free products like customers

Thanks to the popular freemium model, consumers today have many options to use free versions of a product or service. With just a few clicks and without a major entry barrier, they become users of your product without ever having spoken to a sales representative. However, since they do not generate any direct sales, they are often neglected by companies.

But that is fatal: Thanks to completely non-binding test versions and short notice periods, users can exit at any time and turn away from your product. Rather, the goal should be to make it clear to users what added value your product or service offers and what advantages they would benefit from an upgrade.

Your company's customer service plays a key role here. He can convince customers that your product is essential for them. Every call to customer service is therefore a potential sales pitch. If you show customers how to get the most out of your free product offering, they may be ready to invest in an upgrade afterward.

10. Smile, laugh, enjoy your work

If you pay attention to the corresponding signals from your customers, a funny remark can be appropriate. Feel free to crack a joke, laugh, and adapt to the tone and style of conversation with customers to create a relaxed atmosphere.

If the customer has a smile on their face at the end of the conversation, you've done your job well.

Cover picture: Tetiana Lazunova / getty Images

Originally published on May 14, 2020, updated on September 15, 2020

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