If you’re going to attempt to provide excellent customer service time and time again, it is first necessary to set a standard. What constitutes excellent service? What must your service do and achieve to be considered excellent?
Without clear aims or standards, you won’t always know whether you’ve provided excellent customer service. In fact, without well-defined standards, the entire concept of customer service becomes nebulous and abstract – it becomes an empty promise that’s exploited by every business looking for new customers.
We believe that defining customer service begins by looking inwards, at the organisation’s own core values. Next, look at customer expectations. Finally, consider your legal obligations. This makes defining excellent customer service a three-step process:
- Organisation’s values – what values and qualities are central to your organisation? You will likely have considered this when developing your brand. Now, it’s time to zero in on what that means for your customer service.
- Customer expectations – great customer service typically goes above and beyond customer expectations. Consequently, look at what your clients expect from your customer service department. This will give you another baseline against which to define and measure excellence.
- Legal requirements – when building or structuring a customer service department, you always need to be aware of your legal obligations. If there are no checks and balances to prevent a team falling foul of the law, it’s not fit for purpose.
When structuring a customer service department, you’re never working with a completely blank slate. There is always an existing environment into which you’ll need to integrate your customer service system. Even when launching a completely new business, you’ll be working with data, information, and best practices inherited from the wider industry. If you want to build a customer service system that excels, you have to develop a comprehensive understanding of your environment.
With customer service, the first step in this process involves looking at the way in which specific channels are used in your business and analysing their strengths and weaknesses. This can be achieved by asking a number of questions:
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of each channel? For instance, telephony offers the most personal customer experience but is also one of the costliest. Social media is an informal space that’s immediately accessible by younger generations but it’s also extremely public and not particularly suited to older users. While it’s a good idea to make your own analysis of these channels, more information about the pros and cons of each can be found here.
- How do these characteristics relate to your service delivery and commercial environment? Does the industry in which you operate emphasise the importance of some and minimise others?
- If you were to select a few key channels, where would it be most beneficial to focus your attention?
- What channels do customers currently use? What would you like them to use? What is it most cost-effective for them to use? Are there any emerging customer service trends that you need to be aware of?
Developing a firm understanding of the customer service landscape by examining channel use is like drawing a map. Once finished, you have a means of orientating yourself and a better idea of which direction you should head and what obstacles you need to avoid.
Once you have a better understanding of how channels are being used and how you would like them to be used, it’s time to begin building on these foundations. This means looking at customer behaviour in greater depth. You want to build a customer service system that is responsive to customer needs and serves both them and your business in the most efficient way possible.
Start by looking at the following issues:
- What issues do your customer service enquiries raise? Is there one type of enquiry that’s the most common?
- Are high-volume enquiries due to a fault in a product/service delivery and timescales or are they a customer service issue?
- Who is making certain types of enquiry? For instance, are older customers more likely to make a specific kind of enquiry? Do any other demographic patterns emerge when you study the enquires?
Once you’ve taken a look at these factors, you can begin to categorise and group enquiry types. This will allow you to develop specific responses and distribute responsibilities to different parts of your team more effectively.
We now operate in an omnichannel commercial environment. There is no doubt – if you don’t adopt an omnichannel approach, you will not be able to offer the level of service expected by modern customers.
The vast majority of customers interact with organisations in both the public and private sector via a number of different channels. They’re likely to start an interaction on one device and finish it on another. They want to move freely from one technology to another, without disruption or delay. This has become a key factor for customer service departments.
However, it’s not just the customers that need to move freely between channels. Their data also needs to follow them, flowing from channel to channel without impediment. Likewise, customer service agents also need to be able to access this data quickly and intuitively, whenever they require it. Doing so will likely depend on an effective Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that’s fully integrated with all customer service channels.
While the modern customer service department depends on cutting-edge technology to stay competitive and relevant, it’s important not to minimise the importance of human resources. After all, a team is composed of people, not machines.
Consequently, you need to think of ways in which you can get the most from existing employees and how you can improve it with new hires, when the opportunity arises. In order to do so effectively, we would suggest you consider the following factors:
- Ensure all employees have a set of basic skills that make them suitable for the job. These are your absolute minimum requirements. At the very least employees should be good communicators, emotionally intelligent, and able to operate under pressure.
- However, it’s also necessary to move beyond the basics and specialise. This is where you begin to think about the gaps in your team’s skill set. Are they lacking in certain technical skills or could you really do with someone with specific software knowledge? While you may be able to hire someone to meet these needs, you could also focus on training existing employees.
- Finally, if you are bringing new employees into the business, it’s important to consider more than just their skills and experience. How will they integrate into the team? Are they a good fit? Will they respect and reflect the brand’s values?
No customer service department can afford to invest in the latest and greatest iteration of every customer service tool that appears on the market. In an age where customer service is all about doing more with less, there would simply be no return on investment.
With this in mind, you need to select your tools carefully and focus on specific types of customer service technology. In most cases, it is better to excel in one or two areas, rather than provide mediocre customer service across an enormous number of channels.
When looking at customer service tools, it’s vital that you examine the ways in which they can be applied to your specific customer service environment. They must also meet the needs of your customers.
For instance, a chatbot service is ideally suited to a customer service department that fields high volumes of relatively simple and repetitive enquiries. This is due to the way in which it is capable of automating such enquiries, reducing the average cost of each interaction, improving the customer experience, and freeing up human agents to tackle more complex tasks.
Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems are perfectly suited to those organisations that field a large number of calls. This is because such a telephony service allows for more effective routing of the call, offers a means by which customer information can be collected before they reach a human agent, and can also be used to influence channel shift towards more cost-effective communication tools.
One of the most important features of any effective customer service department are empowered employees. Though it may be tempting to try and retain absolute control of a department that you’ve built from the ground up and made in your own image, it will not improve customer service. In fact, it is likely to have a remarkably detrimental effect.
The best thing a customer service manager can do is create and foster a system in which employees are empowered to use their own initiative and make intelligent and informed decisions. That’s not to say that agents have free reign to act in any way they want or to make up company policy as they go along. Rather, employees should be able to operate within a system of strong checks and balances and with the support they need to make independent decisions.
In order for this to happen, it’s necessary to:
- Develop a strong knowledge base upon which employees can draw. This will allow them to field enquiries without having to transfer customers to other agents or requesting assistance from a supervisor.
- Support agents with the resources they require to make decisions. This may mean additional training opportunities, new technologies, or permission to improvise.
- Trust in your employees. An effective customer service system delegates decision making to frontline employees. This isn’t possible without trusting in your employees to make the right call.
- Back-up your employees. If you’re going to give your employees greater responsibility, you also need to be prepared to back them should things go wrong. Clearly, this type of support is dependent on the magnitude of the error, but those responsible for independent and empowered customer service teams need to ensure that they’re willing to stick up for their team members when the wrong call is made.
Finally, customer service departments need to be structured in a way that allows them to grow over time and adapt to new customer behaviour and market demands. A team is not a static thing. Once built, it continues to change and evolve and will never reach a point of “completion.” There are always new challenges to overcome and improvements to be made.
You can foster and embrace change and growth by considering the following:
- Allow for career advancement. Promoting from within ensures you retain experience and maintains continuity within a team. This can be an important factor, as you don’t want to start afresh every few years and be forced to instil your team’s values over and over again. Instead, you want a self-managing team in which continuity of personnel and strategy make it easier to maintain the project over the long-term.
- Peer mentorship. Asking more experienced staff members to mentor newer employees is an excellent way of encouraging personal growth. Not only does it give the older team member greater responsibility, it also offers the newer employee an opportunity to develop their skills via a more informal relationship.
- Keep an open mind. It’s easy to get stuck in your ways and to avoid making changes because they threaten the old order – of which you may be a part. However, this reluctance to embrace the new can inhibit your team’s ability to grow.
Building and structuring an entire customer service department is a complex and testing task. It requires you to have a comprehensive understanding of the customer service environment, the tools and technologies being used, and the human agents who work in the industry. Here, we’ve covered a few of the key steps you’ll need to take if you’re to successfully transform your customer service department to meet the demands of modern customers. If you’d like to find out more about how customer service technologies can assist in that process, don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our expert team members.