Many businesses think of customer support as a cost center. It’s a part of your business with a (potentially hefty) cost attached, but which doesn’t directly generate revenue. With this in mind, I can understand why many business owners view the costs attached to customer support with disdain.
This completely misses the point, however. Although customer support might not add to your bottom line directly, it still adds significant value to a business. How? Well, here are a few reasons for starters:
- It improves overall customer experience.
- Turns a mere customer into a fully-fledged brand advocate, promoting your business heavily via social media.
- Boosts customer retention (a really important business metric).
- People may buy your products/services on the strengths of your customer service.
Unfortunately, I see far too many WordPress site owners neglecting customer support. If this includes you, you’re missing a trick, as excellent customer support is a great thing to have attached to your brand. Today, I want to unlock the potential for this brand-enhancing customer support by discussing ten essentials of an excellent service.
1. Easily Reached
Ideally, we’d all like to be dealing with fewer customer support queries. It should be immediately obvious, but the way to reduce customer queries is not to make it more difficult to contact you.
In fact, the opposite should be true – it should not take customers more than a few seconds to figure out how to contact your customer support team. If you hide your customer support links in the depths of your website, it makes you look shady — and that’s bad news for your website’s credibility.
Make sure your live chat window, contact form, and phone number are displayed prominently, making your customer service team as accessible as possible. Trust me, your customers will thank you!
2. Knowledgeable Reps
Because your customer support reps are on-hand to provide product support, it’s essential that they know your products inside out. This will make it much easier for them to diagnose problems and identify solutions.
Knowledge and experience comes with a hefty price tag, though, so there’s going to be an inevitable trade-off between technical ability and cost. Be realistic: you don’t need a world-class technical expert to man your customer support station, but nor should you expect someone with no background in your field to do an appropriate job – even if that person is ridiculously cheap to hire!
My tip? Go for the middle ground – some level of expertise, at reasonable rates. Make it your goal going forward to train your team up to the standards you demand. Of course, for this to work, you need reps who are eager to learn and committed to your business.
3. Timely Responses
Always remember: your customers seek out your customer support team because they’re experiencing a real problem. If the problem remains unresolved, the customer won’t be able to use your product effectively – either through lack of education or because of a technical problem outside of their control.
If you were unable to use a product you’d paid good money for, what would your perception of that product be, and of the business supplying it? Not good, I’m willing to wager.
As such, you want to respond to customer queries as quickly as possible. Of course, if you offer telephone or live chat support, this is relatively easy to achieve.
But what if you don’t have the resources to pay for the additional manpower to handle customer queries immediately? In such a scenario, most businesses will provide email support instead.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with providing email support – many big businesses handle customer queries this way. The problems arise when a business treats these emails as an afterthought, making customers wait days for a response.
Make customer support a priority, and commit to checking and responding to customer queries at least once a day.
4. Quick Resolutions
When I contact a business’s customer support team, what am I hoping for? Well, the answer couldn’t be simpler: I want a resolution to my problem. Plain and simple. No small talk, no ridiculous delays, and no passing me from person to person. Just fix my problem and let me get on with my day.
In my opinion, this should be the ultimate goal of any customer support service: to resolve customer problems with the least amount of fuss. If you can manage that, then I’m going to be extremely happy.
Of course, making this your goal and actually achieving this are two very different things. What you need are customer support representatives who can identify problems and provide solutions. This task is far more difficult when you consider that many problems will be presented with an ambiguous set of symptoms by your customers.
My advice? Even if you need to ask your customers for more information to diagnose the problem, at least attempt to offer some form of solution at every opportunity – even if it’s just a case of eliminating the most common problems from the list.
When you do this, you give yourself the opportunity to resolve every ticket at the first time of asking.
5. Ongoing Support
Of course, not every ticket can be resolved at the first attempt. Some problems are inherently more difficult to crack, and these brain-rackers may require further communication before the solution can be found.
For the most part, your customers will be understanding of this. As long as you appear to be asking the right questions and getting closer to the solution, many customers are prepared to be patient with you.
What they won’t tolerate is having to repeat themselves.
If I’ve just spent 15 minutes explaining my problem to one customer service agent, I don’t want to have to start from scratch if I’m passed to another agent. In my opinion, there’s nothing more frustrating than this.
What you need is a ticketing system. This allows your entire customer service team to access every message sent to and from individual customers. By having the ability to access customers’ entire correspondence history, it allows agents to get up to speed with specific problems, without customers having to repeat themselves.
Most ticketing systems also allow agents to leave notes pertaining to the latest ticket, which allows agents to provide more detailed information for other team members.
If you’d like a ticketing system for your website, look no further than the excellent Help Scout help desk service. Remember, though: after investing in a ticketing system, you need to make sure your team is actively using it – that means they should be reading every message sent and reading/writing helpful notes as standard.
6. Pre-empt Common Problems
If you regularly have huge volumes of customers contacting you for the same reason, this places a huge burden on your customer support team.
Most businesses take a reactive approach to customer support – they deal with problems as and when they arise. For a more efficient customer support service, take a proactive approach.
Take notes of common problems, then create resources to help your customers. This could be a series of educational YouTube videos, blog posts, FAQs, or good old-fashioned documentation.
By educating your customers you empower them to use your product correctly and also to its maximum potential. That means fewer customer support requests, and more customers falling in love with your product – it’s a win-win situation.
7. Clear Communication
Your customer support team should be able to communicate their message clearly to your customer base. This can take several forms:
- Communicating technical topics in layman’s terms.
- Providing concise instructions that are easy to follow.
- Being clear about what you’re going to be helping with and what the results will be.
- No ambiguous information, say, regarding price.
- A high level of fluency in your chosen language.
8. Positive Spin
What makes great customer service? Sure, in-depth product knowledge, the ability to provide quick resolutions to problems, and a friendly demeanor are all important.
On a deeper level, however, great customer service is all about perception. Make small changes to an interaction and you can radically alter how your customer perceives the quality of your support.
Take, for example, the power of positivity. By tweaking the dialect slightly, you can improve how your customers react to what you’re saying. Here’s an example to demonstrate:
- Bad: “I’m sorry sir, but I don’t know how to fix the problem. You’re going to have to wait 24 hours for someone from our specialist team to contact you.”
- Good: “We’ll resolve this problem as quickly as we can for you. A member from our specialist team will be in touch within a day.”
There’s not much difference in the actual message, other than the tone. The first message highlights the current rep’s lack of specialist skills and makes the wait sound like a lot longer than it is. The second message is far more positive, and makes the delay sound like not very long at all.
But it’s not just positive language that makes a difference. The order you present the information is also vitally important.
Take the classic line: “do you want the good or the bad news first?” Most people would answer with something like this: “I’ll take the bad news first to get it out the way, then the good news to end on a high.”
Well, this sort of thing really does work. A study conducted by the University of California clearly showed that the order a customer received good and bad information significantly impacted a customer’s perception of what they were being told – customers who were told the good news last had a more positive recollection of the interaction.
My tip for you: Take advantage of human psychology and always try to end interactions on a high point.
9. Honest and Realistic
When it comes to customer service, managing expectations is an important skill. On one hand, you want to make the customer feel confident that you can deliver satisfactory results. On the other, you don’t want to promise the world, only to fall short.
Looking back, my worst customer service experiences happen when representatives outright promise me that they can achieve x, y, and z. When they inevitably fail to deliver, I’m left bitterly disappointed — I’m certain this is not an experience unique to me.
Most of the time, there is just no need to make outlandish promises. Help your customers the best that you can, and they will be (for the most part) perfectly happy. However, by sending their expectation levels into orbit, you risk falling way, way short. That’s just plain bad customer service.
Learn from this. Don’t make promises you can’t keep as it will only lead to disappointment.
10. Ongoing Improvements
Finally, don’t forget that customer support is a constantly evolving process. You might be giving good support now, but why not aim for great support in 12 months’ time?
The best way to improve your customer service is to seek feedback from your customers – what they liked and where thought you could do better. Don’t just ask for customer feedback if you aren’t prepared to implement it, though.
Stop thinking of customer service as an expense, and see it as an investment – an investment with the very real possibility of growing your business.
For now, though, it’s over to you. Do you have any other tips for providing brand-enhancing customer support? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Featured Image Credit: Monkik / Shutterstock