research shows that if we receive good customer service, we will tell two or three people about it. however, if we experience poor service, we’ll let ten or twelve others know!
Since word of mouth and online recommendations and referrals are often key drivers of new business, all businesses should strive for consistently high levels of service. With that in mind, here are 20 practical tips on how to improve customer service at your business:
1. understand customer needs
The more you know about your customers, the more likely you are to understand their needs and expectations. so think about:
- what we currently know about each of our clients.
- How useful is this information? What else would it be useful for us to know so that we can better tailor your needs to our products and services?
- Who else has information about our customers that can help us? for example, there may be long-time team members with long-standing customer relationships who can shed more light.
- Where do we store this information? also consider how secure and compliant this storage is.
- What tools do we have access to that can help us capture important customer information? For example, there are everything from simple spreadsheets to complete CRM systems that can help you capture and keep this information up to date.
- give customers the opportunity to provide testimonials and reviews online.
- personally ask customers for their opinions after they have used your product or service. for example, by phone, face to face or in writing.
- provide a very short and simple survey or feedback form with an incentive to complete it. the easier and shorter it is to complete the survey, the more responses you are likely to receive.
- invite regular customers to share their views on your organization on an individual basis. some will be willing and eager to help you, especially if you want to tap into the things they like and value you for.
- the tone and type of language that best represents your values and ethic of service. for example, formal versus informal language style.
- Your primary point of contact with the customer, so there is a consistency of approach throughout the customer experience.
- the supporting processes necessary to ensure consistent delivery of these standards. for example, customer communication templates.
- available resources, such as staffing levels and technology.
- Realistic timeframes for providing customer service, especially during busy times. for example, answer the phone within three rings.
- The ease with which a customer can find your organization.
- the clarity with which we articulate what we do as a company. how easy is it to understand from a layman’s point of view?
- The number of ways a customer can contact you and how accessible you are 24/7. for example, by phone, email, live chat, social media, or website contact form.
- any barriers and delays customers experience in getting a response from you.
- explain clearly and without jargon how your products and services work and how they will be delivered to the customer.
- anticipate customer questions by explaining what to expect at each stage of the customer journey. this prevents customers from asking similar questions about your products and services.
- prevent, resolve, and permanently eliminate potential customer product and service issues.
- greet your customers and make them feel welcome.
- respond appropriately to the client’s personality and lifestyle.
- use your client’s name.
- ask open-ended questions to find out their needs.
- really listen and reflect back to the customer a summary of their needs.
- appear genuinely interested in the client and their situation.
- perfectly takes a previous colleague’s conversation with the client.
- show empathy when the client shares a difficult or bad experience.
- do their best to find the best solution for the client.
- what patterns are emerging?
- When do these complaints mainly occur?
- How do customers register their concerns and complaints?
- Overall, what is it that lets us down? eg people, processes, policies?
- Stage 1 outlines how frontline staff will initially respond to the customer complaint. this will typically include what they will say in response to customer comments, concerns or objections and the varying severity of the complaint. It will also include response times and what the next steps will be.
- Stage 2 is part of a referral process to a team leader or manager, who determines how the complaint will be dealt with. this stage is typically triggered when the customer is not satisfied with the initial first line response or has written to complain.
- Stage 3 typically involves the highest level manager to objectively review the entire complaint and how it has been handled internally. they will make a final decision on behalf of the organization to uphold the original decision at stage 2 or to offer a different solution to the client.
- focus the team on delivering exceptional levels of customer service.
- Ensure that job roles are clearly defined and customer focused. as a result, team members can see how they contribute to the strategy and broader customer service goals.
- Assess team members’ performance against delivering excellent customer service on a regular and effective basis.
- Define exceptional customer service for your organization. for example, how does it look, sound and feel?
- measure the consistency of customer-facing behaviors displayed by frontline team members. these behaviors include a warm and engaging style of communication, as well as showing interest and listening to the opinions of others. plus, a strong desire to help and do the best for others.
- Observe proficient management and execution of customer orders by members of your customer support team. these typically require slightly different behaviors, such as a strong task orientation, meeting deadlines, attention to detail, and a desire for quality.
- align the motivations and communication style of team members with the work tasks they perform.
- encourage team members to collaborate with their internal and external colleagues. this is particularly valuable when working well with people who have different personal motivations and behavioral attributes.
- clear and transparent internal communications.
- flexible work practices.
- regular one-on-one reviews.
- effective performance management.
- ‘check-in’ of the team.
- wellness programs.
- employee assistance schemes.
- health and fitness services.
- recognition and reward schemes.
- small thank you gift, p. chocolates, gift voucher, theater tickets.
- exceptional recognition.
- long service awards.
- corporate gamification.
- Thank you on social media.
- additional free time, e.g. a long weekend.
- peer nomination scheme for exceptional customer service.
- awards for team performance.
- senior manager ‘thank you’ in person, email, letter, certificate.
- “we will answer all calls within 5 rings with a personalized and friendly verbal handshake”. this will include “good morning/good afternoon, company name, name of team member speaking, how can I help you?”
- Specific: Customers know exactly what to expect and team members know what the organization expects of them.
- Measurable: Call handling times can be monitored.
- Achievable: Enough team members on phone lines per shift based on projected call volume data.
- relevant: Gives a warm first impression to the customer when they call.
- Time Limit: Provides team members with a way to self-evaluate their performance.
- keep going
- start making
- stop doing it
- capture the different behavioral attributes needed for your team. The competencies that are often used in organizations are made up of critical behaviors, skills, values, and necessary personal motivations. they allow you to form a consistent framework for measuring different candidates. this will ensure that you are more likely to recruit the right person instead of relying on your instincts or collective perceptions.
- make sure the job description is very client-focused and accurately reflects what the job entails.
- implement a variety of recruitment assessment techniques that measure both the skills required for the job and important customer-facing behaviors. These assessment techniques may include competency-based interviews, specific job tasks, and client communication activities. they will show you how well the candidate relates to a client. Examples of these include taking a customer inquiry, answering a set of customer questions, as well as handling a customer concern or complaint. Although the candidate will not necessarily have knowledge of her products and services, they will quickly see how she interacts with others.
Have your team help you retrieve and store this valuable information. After that, give some thought to how your product or service could better meet their needs. further tips are provided for understanding customer needs and expectations. this will help you find the right ways to meet customer aspirations and improve customer service.
2. seek and promote customer feedback
There are many ways to find out what your customers think about your organization. First, identify which methods are the most feasible and rewarding for you. these could include:
see meeting customer needs for more information.
3. establish and communicate clear service standards
set some simple customer service standards that team members can easily understand and implement. You can also include your own team members in this process if you are looking for full participation.
when establishing customer service standards, consider:
4. delight your customers by exceeding their expectations
How often are your customers delighted to receive something more than they expected and of value to them? Wowing your customer in this way, as long as their basic needs are met, can build customer appreciation and future loyalty.
First, you might consider recognizing special customer events and occasions, or significant customer loyalty milestones. or secondly, an extension of the product or service they have purchased.
Special or additional “touches” are often mentioned within the customer’s local or online community. this can really help increase your credibility and encourage new referrals to your organization. See Delighting Your Customers for more information.
5. capture and share examples of great service
Identify the best way to capture customer feedback across the organization. You can also include feedback from colleagues and managers noting that a team member provides exceptional customer service. from here, you can create a best practice toolkit within your organization.
Customer feedback can also be linked to an employee recognition scheme to recognize the individual or team that provided exceptional service. Recognition in this way means employees are more likely to go the extra mile for their customers. they also know that their efforts are being noticed in this way by their employer.
6. create easy and effortless customer service
Follow your customer journey, from how customers find and purchase your organization’s services and products, to billing and post-sales support. in particular, look for ways to streamline customer service processes at each stage of your journey.
take a look at:
The faster and easier it is for the customer to purchase your products and services, the more likely they are to use your service in the first instance.
In conclusion, the easier your service is, the more repeat customers you are likely to retain. some research shows that customers choose ease first, rather than just relying on a good past experience to make their next purchase.
7. personalize your customer service
Take the time to engage with your customers to find out what their needs really are. As a result, you will be able to provide customers with product or service options to fully meet their needs. this will really help as you strive to improve customer service standards.
for personalized service, consider how well your team members:
personalizing the service in this way will also help you build trust with your customers. In addition, there are many tools, such as CRM systems, that allow you to capture relevant historical customer information.
along with the provision of training and coaching; Backed by strong performance recognition, you can incorporate this level of personalized customer service and customer loyalty.
8. invest in customer service training
Choose a training provider who really knows your business and can support your business strategy and service standards. An experienced and engaging training provider will be able to help you and your team deliver personalized and personalized customer service, sustainably.
Alternatively, you could develop your own internal customer service training program to increase the importance of customer service, product knowledge and skills within the team.
For top tips with a variety of hands-on activities and exercises, check out our customer service training ideas. Your training provider should be able to support and guide you in selecting the best activities to most effectively achieve your goals.
You may also want to train your team leaders to deliver regular bite-sized customer service training sessions. this can be linked to regular team briefings.
Lastly, provide team leaders with the resources they will need to deliver these short sessions. For example, provide laminated cards, posters, activities, exercises, and products, as well as training guides.
9. analyze customer concerns and complaints
Get to the root of your customers’ concerns and complaints to find out what’s wrong and why. It will help if you have a structured system for storing all customer feedback, concerns, and complaints. once you have the information stored together, review the data and ask yourself:
Please share this data with the representatives in your organization who are best positioned to provide the broadest insight into why these complaints may be occurring. Most importantly, before any review meeting, establish some guiding principles to ensure that participants contribute in the most effective way.
for example, “we will listen to and respect all contributions, analyze the data objectively and with the intent to build on what we currently do well.”
10. facilitate customer complaints
consider how easy it is for your customers to communicate their concerns and complaints to you. a simple process will capture the full scope of your customer experiences and allow you to truly improve customer service. it will also help prevent future customer complaints.
Most customer-focused organizations, depending on their size, have a transparent complaint handling process that is understood at all levels. there are usually three stages:
set some clear boundaries of responsibilities in handling the complaint. Along with this, map out the level of compensation an individual at each stage has the authority to offer clients.
10.1 Complaints Handling Review
Finally, conduct a regular review of the effectiveness of your claims handling process at each stage to identify improvements that can be made. take a look at our tips for handling customer complaints. also consider some form of training and recovery training.
11. find out what’s really going on
shadow team members in the organization to find out what is really going on. choose different roles and team members that will give you a complete picture of how customer needs are met within the organization.
Then, on several occasions observe and work closely with these staff members. this will show you how your systems and processes affect the customer.
More importantly, you’ll also identify obstacles that stand in the way of delivering consistently high levels of customer service. therefore, choose team members who are open and willing to support the initiative.
Some large organizations go a step further and “disguis themselves” as new employees or customers to gain this insight.
12. take a look at your competitors
Give your staff a chance to see what level of customer service your competitors are offering. It may even include other organizations that are not competitors but are known to provide excellent customer service.
Some of your customer practices may be adopted in your organization. see ideas on how to do this in our customer service training ideas resource.
Once your staff has reviewed your competitors, ask them to share their experience with the rest of the team. From these insights, you can identify best practice ideas that you want to adopt within your own organization. For suggestions on areas you might want to check out, take a look at our mystery shopping resource.
13. hold regular internal customer service review sessions
Internal customer service forums or reviews, when set up right, can provide you with some great ideas for improving customer service. Their staff work with clients every day, so if they are encouraged to be open and honest without any repercussions, they will share valuable information.
First, focus on getting the basics right. then have your staff think of ways they can “add value” or create special “wow” moments for your customers. balance this with reviewing any customer complaints or concerns expressed in this forum, once you’ve built the trust level of team members.
Lastly, use the creativity of the group to generate a wide range of solutions and stimulate more radical and less obvious ideas. See tips on developing creativity and facilitating groups to get the most out of these sessions.
14. create a customer-focused team culture
These teams are built and maintained by focusing all of their communications, performance measures, and processes on the customer.
There are some critical steps to take to build a customer-centric team culture:
Lastly, to help cement a high-performing team culture, check out our tips on building high-performing teams.
15. treat your staff like you treat your customers
“behavior begets behavior” and happy staff lead to happy customers. therefore, paying as much attention to the needs of your staff as you do to your customers will help improve your overall customer service.
if team members feel valued by their managers and the organization as a whole, they are likely to perform better and relate well to their customers.
First, review how your staff feel about the organization and its managers. some of the options include staff surveys, staff representation schemes and internal forums.
A word of caution, different staff members will value different aspects of what you provide, so a variety of schemes and practices will be important. for example, these could include but are not limited to:
In conclusion, managers who actually engage with team members will help you succeed in caring for your staff and, in turn, your customers. For help, read our tips for interacting with customers.
16. involve support team members
Have team members from functions like finance, HR, quality, purchasing involved in any initiatives that include your frontline customer teams. these team members affect your customer service, but are often overlooked and therefore may feel undervalued by the organization.
Look for ways to increase teamwork and understanding between each of these support functions with the customer-facing teams. bring them together to improve customer service. it can also reduce any internal conflicts that have arisen in the past, often due to misunderstandings and lack of awareness of different priorities.
17. establish an employee rewards and recognition scheme
implement a simple recognition and reward scheme that focuses on providing exceptional customer service and fits with your organization’s culture.
consider what forms of recognition and reward will most motivate team members. Naturally, any plan you come up with has to be commercially viable. however, when thought through, the scheme will normally pay for itself with the additional customer service results achieved.
employee schemas may include:
If you’re still not sure what will be most rewarding for your employees, ask them what they’d prefer. you can then get feedback on the scheme through staff surveys and performance appraisals.
18. set measurable goals around improving customer service
Focus team members on improving customer service by setting measurable goals and reviewing their progress on a regular basis. Align these goals with your overall customer service strategy and business goals. smart goals are usually set to ensure they are clearly defined and measured. this process also ensures that you combine resources and processes to support the effective achievement of the set of standards.
an example of a smart standard in a customer contact setup is:
This standard provides clear expectations for both team members, their manager, and the client. it’s a great way to clearly review the factors that impact your organization’s consistent delivery of customer service. in this example:
19. review individual and team performance regularly
Conduct regular performance reviews, not just during the annual appraisal. Also consider what time frames and format work best for you and your teams. for example, daily briefings, weekly reviews, monthly individual reviews, quarterly and semi-annual formal reviews.
include a review of how team members contribute to a set team goal, as well as how they actively support each other on the job. This can be accomplished through your normal individual reviews or you can facilitate a “round table” discussion in which you ask the team to review each team member’s performance and contribution. for example, ask questions like:
“to provide exceptional customer service, what should a team member do…” or “to actively support the team, what should a team member do…”
Make sure there are regular times to check on the well-being of team members as well. You can also give feedback on your performance and identify any support that is needed.
For example, provide feedback on what’s going well, as well as offer advice for skills that need development. for specific help with this, see our resource performance evaluation methods.
20. recruit team members with customer-oriented behaviors
As we mentioned earlier, different team members perform better on different tasks depending on their motivations, skills, and behavioral attributes. With this in mind, here are some steps to take when recruiting new team members:
at ksl training, we take a holistic approach to customer service, helping you achieve your business strategy and customer service standards. We offer half-day or full-day hands-on customer service training that will teach you how to improve customer service, at all levels of your organization.
about the author
kim larkins, mcipd is the founding company of ksl training. Kim has 30 years of human resource management and training experience in the retail, hospitality and pharmaceutical industries, as well as working with a wide range of client industry sectors.
you can also follow kim on twitter.