Be gone with customer service!

Let’s abolish customer service.  Paying for an entire team of people  to solve the same problems over and over again is just costing us too much. Those who call are mainly frustrated anyhow and they are no less frustrated after talking to them. And the customers we actually would like to speak to, simply don’t call us. Or they can’t get through.

If we have to cut expenses, this would be the way to go, right?

Or do we perhaps need to take a step back and remind ourselves of why we wanted customer service in the first place?

Customer service as leverage for continuous improvement of service rendering

Precisely because of its daily contact with customers, customer service is ideally placed to detect opportunity for improvement. We are first in line when it comes to complaints regarding how our services are rendered.

These “incidents”  call for “incident management”: notifying the organisation and making sure we know exactly what to say (and how to say it) when the angry calls start pouring in. Essentially what we do  is “swallow” incidents. We find it unacceptable that clients should encounter these unfortunate bumps in the road and prepare ourselves for when they start contacting us with their questions.

And that is how we burden our customer service with numerous conversations we nor our customers want to be having.  Our crew is lumbered with extra workload it is quite simply not equipped for, often with days or weeks of backlog as a result. We pressurise  our collaborators into dealing with this thereby “dislocating” the rest  of an organisation that’s now craving for extra man power and our valued customers face longer waiting and lead times.

We can mean so much more to the organisation and to our customers by adopting a pro-active attitude , by contacting clients ourselves and informing them of what has occurred. This is how we take control of a situation that could potentially cause havoc to an entire organisation.

But it goes beyond “incidents”. If you think about it most organisations still have to deal with “worthless” customer contacts: customers who contact us with simple questions that can be dealt with via alternative, cheaper and very often more accessible channels (such as the internet). Incomplete or poor communication (just think of invoices that can be made head nor tail of) can also result in misunderstandings or confusion, as well as badly conveyed or even entirely irrelevant information.

Customer service has insight into all these problems, but far too often that is also where it comes to a standstill. Even though it is precisely from where we stand that we could provide continuous fine-tuning to our service.

Are our systems and reporting adjusted to exposing core problems and are our colleagues doing what they can to identify and consequently fix them? Can we expose the elements that lead to contacts that are structurally constructive, and those that aren’t? Do we devise solutions with our colleagues at customer service and do we follow-up on how these measures effectively narrow down the amount of “void” moments with our customers?

Customer service as powerful instrument for rock solid customer loyalty. 

Obviously there will always be mishaps and unsatisfied customers. There will always be new problems en even if we deal with them in a proactive way, the customer service will be the first to detect them. We will just have to live with it: angry customers will always find their way to our department first.

It is precisely these contacts that will allow customer service to make a difference, but we are not there yet- not by a long shot. It starts with how we react to an unsatisfied customer. We may think that we are being customer friendly, but in reality we are completely missing the targeted effect. That is because we have the natural tendency to snap into defence mode when clients react angrily.

The first question we need to ask ourselves when listening to a complaint is whether or not that client is raising a valid point. Often we even do this out loud- which is very frustrating for the client as in his perception his complaint is always substantiated!

So how do we go about this properly? Richard Gallagher wrote a brilliant book about it: The Customer Service Survival Kit. The bottom line is that you never –no matter what happens- strip a client of his sense of self-worth. Tell him that every normal human being would react the way he does (even if you are convinced that he is being utterly irrational). Do not side against your colleagues, but acknowledge his perception as (a) reality. By doing so you create an opportunity to offer solutions. Focus on what you can do, as opposed to what the customer demands.

Stimulate your collaborators to develop these aptitudes. (Mind you, it will take more than a day to master them). Give them the room and the authority to offer clients “second time right” solutions. Support them with processes and systems that facilitate this.

This way fewer  clients will slip away and you will guarantee a strong recovery with rock solid loyalty as a result.

Determine exactly how you define customer service: for the client and for the organisation.

Formulate this customer vision in a concise and dynamic way, and then very precisely translate it to everything you do. This way vision will become a useable instrument to continuously measure exactly what it is you require from your team, to prioritize, to determine which attitude you want to cultivate and to make the right choices when designing processes and systems.

Stéphanie 't Felt