Recently, I took a very early flight with British Airways (BA) out of Geneva airport and once again, BA staff demonstrated their excellent customer service.
That morning Lionel was on duty and I appreciated the fact that he allowed me to have a quick coffee in the club lounge even though he had already called the flight. The rule in such circumstances is not to admit lounge access to passengers once the flight has been called. It was refreshing to be treated as an individual and not as just a part of the mass of passengers taking that early morning flight. Allowing me to have a quick coffee before dashing to the gate certainly made my morning and my own speed in doing so enabled him to empty the lounge as he was required to do without too much delay. What has this got to do with your own customer service excellence? You’re not in the airline business? Well in my opinion, quite a lot; let me explain.
All over the world people are moving from rural to urban areas, and they are challenged with living a crowded life, with little chance to be alone let alone to be treated as an individual. This has created an increase in the perceived value of space and individualised service. (>>Tweet this<<) People today desire and actively seek out that little bit of extra service and recognition that means so much to them. In the case of Lionel, he apparently saw me as a low risk and that he could trust me to have the quick coffee I so desperately needed. I am sure such behaviour wasn’t specified in his customer service manual; he took the initiative himself. Isn’t it time you let your own customer service people free to best serve your customers?
Call Centre Scripts
In most companies interactions with customers are carefully scripted. The call centre metrics are designed for operational efficiency rather than customer satisfaction. Time per call is targeted down and calls per advisor are constantly being targeted up. Last year I shared the story of a CEO who had decided to throw away the scripts for his customer service personnel and to trust them to satisfy the customers in the best way possible – for the client! I am sure you can see how satisfaction went up, for both the advisors and the customers.
In an excellent post by Dave Paulding of Interactive Intelligence on the dos and don’ts of call scripting, he summarised the results of some research he conducted amongst a panel of experts as follows:
- Use scripting sparingly on inbound contacts, whether by phone of email
- Pre-written statements for online use. It can be useful to have a bank of pre-written statements with pertinent information in them, to insert into text, This particularly important when health, safety or legal issues are discussed.
- Don’t read out scripts for outbound use, to avoid mechanical and impersonal responses. However many find it useful to have key words and phrases written down as bullet points to act as an aide-memoire when speaking with customers.
Time and again research has shown that employee satisfaction is closely linked to customer satisfaction. If customer service personnel are valued and respected, then they will respect and do the best they can for the customer. In an excellent article by Iwona Tokc-Wilde in Raconteur, she gives several new examples of organisations where everyone from the CEO down is involved in satisfying the customer. They are given the freedom to do whatever it takes and this responsibility makes for happier employees. No matter which level you are at within your own company, when did you last talk to customer service personnel? When did you last engage with customers directly through your call centre, online or through email? Everyone should do it. Regular connection keeps your finger on the pulse of customer change and provides an amazing amount of information and ideas.
In another article, this time on Entrepreneur, entitled “30 Ways to Show your Customers they’re Always Right” they include some great phrases your care centre personnel should learn and abide by, to keep your customer happy. These include:
- “How can I help?”
- “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”
- “I will keep you updated.”
- “I will deliver on time.”
- “It’ll be just what you ordered.”
- “I appreciate your business.”
These should not be said without the conviction to follow-up and deliver what is promised. For instance, on-time delivery means just that, if not even earlier, as Amazon often does! Keeping your customer updated means that you will get back to them, even if it is just to say that you are still working on the issue. Knowing that they have not been forgotten is a wonderful emotion for customers and confirms their importance to you. They are more likely to accept waiting without any build up of negativity in the meantime until a solution is found.
Rebecca Brown of SalesForce added a further three phrases, that I particularly like for reducing customer frustration; they are:
- “I have your information right here”
- “What do you think?”
- “Help me help you”
These additional ideas work because they recognise the importance of the customer to the company and avoids them getting frustrated when they have to repeat their issues over and over again. These phrases also build the spirit of teamwork to resolve the issue and empowers the customer and employee to work closely together without being on different sides.
How do you Train your own Customer Service Advisors?
If throwing away your call centre scripts is too far for you to go, at least for now, but you could do with improving your care centre operations to make them even more customer centric, I have a few more ideas for you:
- INVITE: How are you currently inviting your customers to connect with you? On your pack or in your advertising? Is the invitation clearly legible and does it offer your customers a choice of channels that they can use to connect? You should want as many connections as possible with your customers, so openly invite them wherever they will have the chance to see it. Some of you will certainly see this as a risk; more contacts equal more complaints, no? Well yes – hopefully at the same proportion as currently – but wouldn’t you rather know if your product or service has problems so you can quickly resolve them?
- LISTEN: Advisors should listen attentively to what the customer has to share: it always amazes me how often they try to interrupt the customer in their explanation of why they called. Perhaps this has to do with the call-time targets that have been set. Why not replace them with satisfaction targets? Let the customer talk until the reason for calling is fully explained and they feels that the advisor has really listened.
- RESPOND: If your care centre has scripted responses and you can’t throw them away, at least give your advisors permission to go the extra mile and do whatever it takes to respond and satisfy your customer. Your customers have taken time and effort to reach out to you, so don’t disappoint them. Surprise and delight them with your response and generosity. Don’t just offer them a replacement product or coupons; everyone else does that. Add samples of new products, send the replacement by express mail, or offer an additional, usually paid service for free. What more can you do for your customer, so their problem turns into a positive story that they will share with friends, family and even the world if they are active on social media?
- KEEP LISTENING: Don’t assume that the first thing your customer talks about is the real reason for their call or connection. Sometimes there are other things that would be useful for you to know but you never get the chance to hear them because your advisors are ending the calls too quickly. Perhaps you customer believes you wouldn’t be interested so never calls about their ideas or suggestions. Before ending the connection, why not ask if there is anything else your customer wants to share of talk about with you. More information in this area is always better information.
- ASK: Only when your customer is fully satisfied with your responses and has no other things they want to share, can you broach the subject of whether or not they would be willing to answer a few questions for you. If they are, keep it short and if necessary arrange for a follow-up call for more. Please don’t go through your full segmentation questionnaire; just ask the three to five questions that will help you know them better.If they are not, respect their decision.
In summary, to satisfy customers, make sure you invite them to connect with you, then listen, give employees the freedom to respond appropriately, and then listen some more before asking anything yourself. Your customers’ surprise and delight turns any problem into a reason to share their experience as positive advocacy.
These are my steps to customer centric excellence for care services. Which are the most important in your opinion? Do you have any others you would add? I would love to hear from you if you have.
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C³Centricity sourced images from Dreamstime.com for this post
This post is an update of one that was published on C³Centricity in December 2011