The last post delved into setting up the perfect festive look this holiday season to attract more customers to your brand both online and offline. But your mission as a seller doesn’t end when customers walk in. In fact, that’s where the real job begins. Which brings us to today’s topic – customer service.
If we asked you to recall a bad customer service experience, you probably have a doozy of a story. While having such a story is quite common, what’s also surprisingly common is how vivid the memory is – you probably remember exactly what was, the face of the person and maybe the day and date it happened. Why does bad customer service stick so vividly in our memory? Because no matter what type of store or what the purchase may be we all expect good service.
This is the crucial factor to remember as a seller, especially during the holiday season. If you fail to deliver on customer service (which everyone expects), you run the risk of being perceived as a seller who can’t even get the basics right. But on the other hand, if you can exceed expectations (even by a little) you not only gain the customer’s very public admiration but also improve your chances of turning them into repeat customers.
Aim to be amazing
While this may sound like an overpromise, the fact is, there are brands we look up to every year who seem to nail customer service. But if you study their practices, you’ll see each of them follow a few simple steps, repeat them without exception and have strategies in place to adapt quickly in case something goes wrong. The result is a flawless level of customer service, which often sets the industry benchmark. Some of these steps include:
Planning ahead: Peak seasons are exactly that – seasons. Which means, you can plan for them ahead of time. You need to set your goals based on how many customers you plan to get this holiday season. To arrive at a safe estimate, look at business workflows to see which product lines or service branches have been gaining traction. You can also look at customer satisfaction ratings to know which areas of your business have been performing well and will most likely see a spike in the holidays
Using the rules of triage: In battle, the process of triage is used to assign degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses and decide the order of treatment for a large number of patients due to the limited availability of resources. This simple principle has great insight for managing holiday sales too.
During this period, your phone lines and your company inbox will face larger volumes of activity, which could overwhelm you and (if you have any) team members. And the moment you or your team get frazzled, you have a block in your system. To prevent this, set up a system of priority for customer service and assign individual stakeholders for each type of problem. This ensures the right people are dealing with relevant queries, customer wait times for a resolution is kept to a minimum and you can redirect yourself to managing the rest of your sales pipeline.
Work on boosting self-service support: When it comes to solving a problem, customers don’t care how it gets done, as long as it gets done. And in the interest of saving time talking to a customer service executive, they are also willing to read your site’s FAQ section. But here’s where you have to be extra careful. You need to ensure your FAQ section covers as many topics as possible to minimize the load on your own time. Also make sure to have a clear and well-indexed search to keep online resolution times to a bare minimum. Remember, if the customer is taking the time to find his own solution, you need to respect his time and effort.
Set and stick to fast resolution times: While having a robust FAQ section will help, it will only deflect a small percentage of the overall volume of customer service queries. Which means, you have to prepare yourself and your partners or your team (if you have one). One of the best ways to do this is by setting efficiency metrics for first response and time taken on each resolution. Also keep a tab on unresolved cases (which is inevitable) as an added benchmark of success for next year.
Try to feel personalized
Think of each time you’ve called a customer service helpdesk and had to deal with an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. While it’s designed to be very efficient and helpful, there’s just something about talking to a machine that just doesn’t feel helpful. That’s because while good customer service is always automated, it shouldn’t feel automatic.
To ensure your customers get a sense of understanding and empathy, remember to look and act involved in resolving their problem. When they begin talking to you on the phone, stop anything else you may be doing. If they show up in person, learn to make appropriate eye contact and nod at intervals to show them you’re paying attention.
If the complaint is over multiple items or technical in nature, don’t be afraid to take notes while listening to ensure you don’t miss any details of the request. Also, feel free to ask a few questions to confirm and clarify your understanding of the problem. And most importantly, hold back the urge to pre-judge your customer as they speak.
Be flexible as far as possible: When customers have a problem, all they want is a solution. They don’t care about your internal processes or how you get a solution across. With this in mind, you need to work out more than one scenario for as many potential problems. That way in case a customer isn’t satisfied with one outcome, you have the ability to suggest an alternative instead of antagonizing them even further by saying “This is the only way we can help”
Put yourself In their shoes: Most customers want similar things from a helpline – courteous service, useful information, a friendly smile (even on the phone) and prompt response. If you think about it, even you want the same things as a customer in someone else’s store. With this in mind, remember to assess every customer complaint from two angles – the service angle, which lets you pick the best solution and the customer angle, which helps you deliver that solution in the friendliest way.
Be extra patient: While customers tend to get a little more impatient with you during the holiday season, you shouldn’t use that as an excuse to lose your patience with them. If you maintain your calm, you prevent a disgruntled customer from getting even more irate and the sooner you get an irate customer out of your system, the sooner you can move to the next customer who needs attention.
Make your current customers feel important: While the focus will tend to be stronger on getting new customers, you need to keep an eye on your existing customers as well since they are most likely to be repeat customers, even after the holiday season.
Start by offering them price cuts or coupons and as an added touch, when you answer their calls, be sure to thank them for their business.
Seek and reward referrals from current customers: This may seem like a no-brainer but in the dozens of things pulling your attention during the holiday season, it’s easy to overlook. When planning your referral program, remember that the perceived value of your gift is far more important that the actual cost. The idea is to make your existing customers feel valued for choosing to be loyal to your brand, not bribe them into helping you.
Remember customer service is an ‘experience’
Customer service is not just a function that can simply be designated to someone. Nor can you merely ‘go through the motions’ on every call. Why? Because it shows. Customers can sense their needs being ‘delegated’ rather than addressed. But if you keep a few simple things in mind, you can ensure your customers never feel abandoned to the mercy of customer service:
Treat your partners and team well: This is single most important aspect of getting customer service right. If your partners and your team feel pressured or undervalued during the holiday season, that feeling will translate in the way they interact with your customers. Remember, just one disgruntled person in your business can easily alienate dozens of customers!
Make customer service a priority: The temptation to outsource or trim you’re your hours of customer service is strongest during the holidays. After all, you’d rather be selling to happy customers than dealing with unhappy ones. But we recommend you don’t. You need to treat customer service with the same enthusiasm and priority as selling and shipping. Because if you don’t, simple matters could escalate and be drawn out longer than necessary merely because customers aren’t feeling important enough when they exercise their right to complain.
Empower your partners and team to get the job done: When you bring in all your partners and your team to help out in customer service, you need to make sure they don’t raise customers’ hopes without having the authority to resolve it. Trust your team with certain decision-making powers and have the confidence in their ability to use it wisely.
Brainstorm with your partners and team: Even after the holiday season begins, you still have time to learn and adapt. Have a daily debriefing with your partners and team to go over the previous day and see if there were any requests the team could learn from.
Take individual feedback from every member of your team and be willing to embrace new ideas. Also, in order to encourage innovation and fresh thinking, be willing to reward ideas that can be implemented quickly and that show results.
In our next post, we’ll look at reaching out to bloggers to get coverage for your store (especially now that you’ve taken the trouble to decorate it and get your customer service in order for the holidays). For now, just remember customer service during the holidays is not impossible to manage or overly complex to get right. All it takes is patience, foresight and the ability to adapt.