I spoke last month to a group of Seattle-area business leaders on the topic of service. No slides, just talking points. The audience was quite varied – different business sizes, types and industries. But I thought these truths about customer service were universal. Let me know what you think.
1. Service starts with your first interaction
The moment a prospect first engages with you, their impression of your brand is impacted. It’s your opportunity to provide service before they’re even a customer. Think about ways you can provide teachable moments to prospects from step one. Get a copy of Servant Leadership and teach all of your customer-facing teams to delight customers right away. This includes the little things, most of which other companies forget, neglect or don’t think about in the first place.
2. Service is impacted by every interaction
It’s frightening how quickly a well-earned reputation can crumble with just one bad experience. Consistency of service is critically important, including fleeting interactions such as transactional emails, thank you notes and more.
3. Service requires humility, transparency & vulnerability
The customer isn’t always right, but they’re still the customer. This doesn’t mean you have to put yourself into a subservient situation, but it does mean prioritizing honesty, respect and truth throughout the relationship. Check out a great book called Getting Naked for some excellent examples of how smart companies approach this.
4. Apologies are an art and a competitive advantage
I’m a big fan of Zingerman’s Deli‘s approach to complaints. It’s a simple four-step process: 1) Acknowledge the complaint, 2) Apologize, 3) Thank them for the complaint, and 4) Ask what you can do to make it right. This process disarms, surprises and delights most customers. And what they ask for in step four is often far less than you were prepared to give.
5. Great service never rests, but it has limits
Social media in particular makes for a 24×7 world, but people used to get frustrated when your toll-free number wasn’t answered on the weekend too. Set clear policies for when you’re available, and mean it. Pick up the phone within the first two rings, by a real person. Answer emails and social engagements quickly. Set up out-of-office replies if after hours for emergencies. Do the right thing, but respect boundaries (that goes both ways).
6. The little things go a very long way
Remember things about your customers and prospects, and surprise them with signs of that – in your next interaction, phone call or product delivery. Use products like Charlie and Nimble to keep track of those little things. Make thank you notes and “thinking of you” emails a part of your daily routine.
7. Service is scalable with the right tools & processes
Use filtering tools such as Newsle, Nuzzel, Hootsuite, Zendesk and others to expand the reach of a limited team in the most productive way possible. Combine the right tools with checklists & processes to increase consistency of reach & follow-up. Things may still slip through every once in awhile, but it’ll be the exception to the rule.
8. Service never ends
Past clients, lost prospects. They all count. Every interaction counts. You never know when a past client will need you back, or get another job, or be in a position to refer you to your next monster deal. Even customer relationships that end badly can turn back positive and profitable down the road. Never give up, and never stop giving great service.