What is World-class Customer Service?
In 2010, the Harvard Business Review team published a landmark article with a striking title: Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.
While the title feels like clickbait at first blush, the insights therein have stood the test of time. This is why over a decade later, it’s still evergreen content and a must-read for all businesses.
The basic idea is this: many businesses focus on the bells and whistles of “delighting their customers” — whether that’s coupon codes, free giveaways, or personalized communications — while neglecting the fundamentals of serving customer needs.
In other words, if you’re not helping your customers solve their most basic pain points, any extra efforts to “delight” them will be in vain.
This is world-class customer service. First, you must solve the fundamental pain points of your customers and eliminate barriers to them reaching their goals.
Next, you can focus on going above and beyond with surprise-and-delight tactics. What separates good companies from great companies is their ability to understand this hierarchy of customer needs.
That begs the question: how can we best serve basic customer needs? How do we eliminate barriers to them achieving the value our product or service offers? What’re the individual, nitty-gritty steps to solving core customer frustrations and also delighting them?
Why is Exemplary Customer Service Important?
The bottom-line impact of customer service is both quantitative (measurable) and qualitative (felt).
The benefits of world-class customer service can be best understood in three paradigms.
Exemplary customer service reduces customer churn
Customer churn and the following metric, CLTV, have an inverse correlation. As more customers churn — that is, abandon their commitment to doing business with your brand either informally or formally — the average lifetime value of a customer goes down.
Any business that’s been around for a while will tell you: it’s much more expensive (and difficult) to win new customers than to retain old ones.
One of the main reasons customers churn is due to poor customer service.
Exemplary customer service increases customer lifetime value (CLTV)
The measure of how much revenue a single customer brings to your organization is that customer’s lifetime value. Why is this so important?
This figure drives much of how businesses think about marketing spend, growth, and what services or products to prioritize.
For example, if your average CLTV is $100, you cannot justify $101 worth of marketing spend. Conversely, if their CLTV is $1,000, $100 is far too low.
As mentioned in the previous point, CLTV only increases when customers stick around. And that only happens when your products or services help them reach their goals.
Exemplary customer service boosts customer loyalty and evangelism
Loyalty and customer evangelism are some of the most powerful business drivers, and yet the most difficult to track. You can’t log all the word-of-mouth conversations your customers have with their peers. You can’t track all the glowing recommendations or referrals on direct messages or texts.
However, you can facilitate loyalty and evangelism through many of the tactics we discuss below. And the sum total of executing all of these tactics at a high level will undoubtedly be a customer base very eager to share their love of your brand with others.
27 Ways to Offer World-Class Customer Service to Your Customers
1. Respond as quickly as possible
Never has a more trite phrase been uttered than “your call is extremely important to us.” If you have to say that, it’s probably not a good sign.
Many studies have been done over the years on customer service and support. At the top of the list of customer frustrations and grievances are almost always long hold times, delays, and unresponsive support teams.
If someone calls your customer support line, it usually means they’ve exhausted all other options and need a time-sensitive answer. That’s the point of phone calls — real-time conversation.
If there’s a bottleneck in your response time, it’s likely due to one or many of the following reasons:
- You’re understaffed
- You don’t have enough self-service or support documentation for your product or service
- You need to begin automating your customer support with technology
- You need a more organized ticketing system
2. Get to know your customers
It’s often easy to forget that your customers are living, breathing people just like you. They don’t want to be treated like numbers or just a jumble of data.
One of the greatest pleasures of running an eCommerce or brick-and-mortar business is getting to know your customers personally. Just this simple practice is enough to assuage anger and help your customers believe the best in your intentions.
It can be tougher to do in a digital-only context, but even if it’s just a check-in email, it’s something business owners need to be intentional about.
3. Have exclusive programs for loyal customers
Not all customers are created equal. There will always be a delineation between casual infrequent purchasers and die-hard fans who will run out and buy whatever you sell.
Loyalty programs are essential for showing your continued appreciation to these evangelists. These types of programs are everywhere. Starbucks offers points for each coffee purchase that can be exchanged for products in the future. Amazon offers a credit card with cashback perks for every Amazon purchase.
Programs that reward loyal customers not only drive more business but also create a stronger bond with your customers, making them less likely to switch to competitors.
4. Embody “extreme ownership”
In 2015, two Navy SEALS compiled some of their best advice on leadership into a book called Extreme Ownership. The main principle of extreme ownership refers to taking responsibility for the mistakes in your organization, regardless of your role in the fault.
When a customer contacts you, they don’t care whether or not it was you yourself that caused their issue, they simply want you to fix it.
As humans, we naturally want to deflect blame onto other people or circumstances. Customer service teams must resist this urge at all costs.
If you begin the conversation defensively, the customer is more apt to mirror that defensiveness. If you begin it with empathy and ownership, they’re more likely to also mirror those emotions. Speaking of empathy…
5. Practice empathy
Empathy is the simple act of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s the principle behind the Golden Rule: do unto others what you would have them do unto you.
In a customer service context, this often looks like saying the following phrases:
- “I can imagine that would be frustrating”
- “I can see how that would be an issue”
- “I would also be annoyed at that problem — let’s see what we can do to get it fixed.”
6. Create self-serve resources
Most folks (especially millennials and Gen Z) don’t enjoy contacting customer support just for the fun of it. They’d rather Google the answer to their problem (and eliminate all human interaction).
This is why it’s so important to create self-service resources. This not only frees up your customer support time to focus on more bespoke issues but gives your customers a channel to self-diagnose their issues.
I remember working for a software company that got inundated with calls from users wanting to change their password. Because there wasn’t easily accessible documentation on how to perform such a simple task, these agents were left to field questions way below their paygrade.
7. Map out the customer journey
The customer journey isn’t just about marketing and sales tactics. It can also apply to the contextual needs of customers after they purchase. For example, the needs of a customer right after purchase (in the onboarding and adoption phase) are a lot different than their needs when they’ve been using your products for several years.
Documenting and mapping out the customer journey can help you develop self-serve resources or repeatable ways to overcome common hurdles.
8. Use a CRM
A CRM isn’t just an excellent way to keep track of sales in the pipeline, but a powerful way to ensure ongoing customer success.
Many CRMs allow customer service reps to take notes, attach files, and even include transcriptions of phone conversations. This means that if a customer contacts another rep or reaches out again later, you can pick up right where you left off without them having to rehash their issues.
If you want to go above and beyond the standard CRM, consider investing in a dedicated customer support platform like Zendesk.
9. Have a strong inventory management strategy
This tactic is especially relevant for eCommerce businesses selling physical products. Some of the biggest sources of eCommerce customer service calls are:
- Mis-ships (shipping the wrong product)
- Stock-outs (running out of inventory)
- Ambiguous or delayed shipping times
All of these can be mitigated or outright eliminated by having a strong inventory management strategy and a dedicated piece of software like SkuVault.
An inventory management software (IMS) will help you better serve your customers by giving you clear oversight into every aspect of your logistics workflow. This means fewer mis-ships, delays, and product returns.
10. Understand customer delight vs. customer satisfaction
If there’s one thing we can learn from the aforementioned HBR article, it’s the importance of mastering the basics. Businesses must understand the core frustrations and obstacles their customers face before moving on to more “advanced” customer service strategies.
This may mean analyzing customer feedback and creating a regular rhythm of training on the most common complaints. Or solving systemic issues that cause customers to contact support in the first place.
11. Train your customer service team on the nuances of your business
Customer service reps have to be people of many talents. They must be as winsome and people-centric as sales reps, yet as knowledgeable as engineers.
If your customer support team is trained on the nuances of your products, services, and business as a whole, it will mitigate the need to follow up with customers.
Every time a rep says, “I’m actually not sure about that, let me get back to you.” It creates more work for them and an unwanted touchpoint for a potentially impatient customer.
Sometimes, following up is inevitable. But support teams (and their leaders) should make it their mission to be as informed as possible on all aspects of your products or service.
12. Perform regular NPS surveys
You can’t fix what you don’t measure, and the industry-standard way of measuring customer satisfaction is through NPS (or Net Promoter Score) surveys.
These are short surveys sent out to customers that gauge their likelihood to recommend your products to a peer. They’re a top KPI for support teams and can give you a tangible way to see how you’re performing with customers — and where to improve.
13. Anticipate customer objections and roadblocks
The best and most persuasive writers have the skill of anticipating objections in their readers. In the same way, the best customer support reps will be able to anticipate customer objections before they happen.
Even better than solving the issue that caused a customer to call is eliminating their need to call again.
14. Avoid silos — overcommunicate customer concerns
It can be easy for business leaders, visionaries, and high-level stakeholders to lose the pulse of their customers. There’s just too much distance.
Customer support reps are on the front lines. They’re the “boots on the ground” troops that are personally engaging customers day in and day out.
Customer support teams hear some of the most insightful pieces of criticism and feedback from customers. However, because the organization is siloed and there’s no communication channel in place, those insights die on the vine.
Actionable feedback straight from the customers’ mouths? Organizations pay market research firms a small fortune for those kinds of insights! This is like market research coming straight to you.
It’s imperative to set up some sort of portal, document, or communication channel (say, in Slack) for customer service reps to communicate critiques from customers.
15. Don’t overpromise in the sales stage
It’s a tale as old as time. The sales team (or the sales copy) overpromises on delivery times, features, or product capabilities to get the sale. When the product falls short, the customer service team is left to pick up the pieces.
It’s imperative that all departments — build, sell, support — are using the same language to communicate the unique selling propositions of their products or services.
One of the best ways to standardize this is to create a voice and tone guide or copy repository. That way, you can be sure that everyone is operating out of the same playbook and not overpromising and underdelivering.
16. Conduct “just because” check-ins
Maya Angelou said that people don’t remember you for what you did, but for how you made them feel. A simple way to surprise and delight customers is a random “just because” check-in on how they’re doing.
You could even systematize this to make it less random for your team. For example, set a goal that each support rep go through their CRM or customer directory and shoot a check-in email or call to one customer per month.
The communication doesn’t need to be long-winded or stuffy. In fact, the more personal, the better.
17. Understand your customer demographics and respond accordingly
The voice and tone of a product geared toward law enforcement is going to sound different than one geared toward musicians. Some customers love a support team with a sense of humor or levity. Others will prefer a sense of gravity and professionalism.
It isn’t about being flippant or solemn, it’s about solving your customer’s pain points in a way that best resonates with their personalities.
Much of these insights can be deduced from market research, Google Analytics demographic data, and prior customer conversations.
18. Utilize automation whenever possible
Using automation in customer support is like a triage station at a doctor’s office. For the easily solved issues (“How do I change my password?”) you want to set up layers of automation in order to protect your reps’ time.
In other words, you only want reps solving problems that require a human to solve. Let the robots handle the rest. That’s why the advent of chatbots and automated call systems has been a godsend for businesses.
These automated platforms have come a long way since even just five years ago. They use AI to recognize customer intent and automatically escalate issues that fall outside the purview of the system.
Automated call systems certainly get a bad rap — but only when they’re poorly executed. If a customer can call in and solve their problem in 20 seconds with an automated system, why would they care whether or not they actually talked to a human? All they care about is getting their issue fixed fast.
19. Create a consistent omnichannel approach
Today’s brand must be accessible on at least three different channels. These include various social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook Business, direct email communication and phone calls.
In fact, younger consumers will often turn to Twitter first with issues. Not only because it’s their platform of choice, but because the social shame and pressure of getting called out online is a real motivating factor for brands.
If your brand has a presence online, it must be prepared to handle customer support inquiries. The most important things to remember are to have a consistent voice and tone across all support channels and to have standardized procedures for how to respond.
The last thing you want is an untrained social media intern responding poorly to a customer complaint and going viral for all the wrong reasons
20. Regularly analyze customer feedback
Are you collecting customer feedback? Remember what I said earlier: customer feedback is like market research that comes to you.
Tools like your CRM or dedicated platforms like Zendesk have built-in mechanisms for aggregating customer feedback. But the next step is arguably more important — analysis. Make it a quarterly (or even monthly) ritual to analyze feedback and pass insights on to relevant departments within the organization.
21. Create a customer community
If you have a burgeoning group of loyal evangelists, it may be a sign to start a customer community. These can range from free Facebook groups or Discord servers to full-fledged advocacy programs with cash prices and rewards for certain actions.
22. Host a customer conference
The next logical step after creating a customer community is to host a customer conference. This doesn’t need to be a catered weekend extravaganza at the Gaylord Palms, though.
Think small in the beginning. Start a local meetup group with Meetup.com or create a digital conference with Zoom-powered breakout sessions.
Getting your customers in one place doesn’t need to be expensive, it just needs to be memorable and valuable.
23. Document and optimize your onboarding
Many customer service inquiries can be eliminated at the source by a comprehensive onboarding program. If you ship physical goods, this may mean clear instructions and packaging that guide a customer to achieving first value.
If you find that customers ask questions clearly stated in your included literature, perhaps A/B test some different designs that pop out more. “Wall-of-text” instruction manuals are not the most user-friendly.
Consider simplifying your onboarding to illustrations, short copy, or even a QR code that opens up a video tutorial (a strategy many brands have adopted recently).
24. Hunt and weed out dissatisfaction
Customer service reps must make it their mission to find areas of discontent in your customers. Always be asking — how can we do better? Don’t be content just getting rid of the problem at hand, but look deeper for the pain point behind the problem.
25. Know the value you offer and make sure you get there first
Your customers purchase from you to achieve a very specific value. If you can’t articulate that value in a sentence or two, you need to do some more research.
For example, if you’re a bike retailer, your “first value” might be getting high-quality road bikes to metropolitan commuters.
If one of your customers calls because they don’t understand a fundamental operation of the bike, they’re not going to be interested in “delight” tactics like coupon codes or free handlebar grips.
They need you to solve the fundamental problem — the value behind their original purchase.
26. Do for one what you wish you could do for many
“But will it scale?” That phrase is a favorite in trendy startups and a preliminary question to almost any good idea.
While it’s important to think long-term, there are some things you can do as a small or mid-sized firm that you can’t do as a large one.
I remember a quote from an author that went something like: “Do for a few what you wish you could do for all.”
Just because you can’t go above and beyond for every customer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t for a few. Is it better to not delight one person just because you can’t delight 100?
27. Study best practices from successful companies
There’s nothing new under the sun, especially in business. If another company (especially one in your niche) offers world-class customer service, why reinvent the wheel?
Study how that company delights its customers. Note their automation techniques, how they measure data, and more. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Most companies (unless they’re direct competitors) are more than happy to share their customer service best practices.
Then, when you have your own house in order, you can pass along your pro-tips to the next business that needs help.
The Role of Inventory Management in Customer Service
At SkuVault, we know that inventory mishaps are a massive source of customer service calls. We want to help you save time, retain customers, and nip frustrations in the bud before they result in lost business.
If you’re new to inventory control, feel free to check out this post as a primer. Or, if you want to see how SkuVault can help your business reduce stock-outs, mis-ships, and gain control over your inventory strategy, reach out to our team for a demo today.