Tips to Improve Customer Service

Continued from: Customer Service Skills

Working Towards Customer Satisfaction

Customer service skills are a key contributor to customer experience, and therefore to customer satisfaction.

If you have any type of contact with customers, whether it is over the phone, face-to-face, in a restaurant, shop, office or financial institution, your customer service skills will contribute to the overall experience of your customers—and therefore to their views of your organisation.

A happy, satisfied customer is likely to return and/or tell others about the good experiences that they had when dealing with your company. Similarly, an unhappy customer is likely to spread the word—and probably to far more people than a satisfied customer.

We all tend to value recommendations from friends and colleagues. Whether positive or negative, they have far more weight than anything you may write on your website.

This page therefore contains some simple tips that you can use to improve your customer service skills, enhance the customer’s experience and increase their satisfaction.

The key to good customer service

Providing good customer service is actually relatively easy. The key is to focus on the customer, and what they want from you.

This applies at all stages of a relationship with your customer, including before, during and after a purchase.

If you keep this in mind, you are unlikely to go far wrong.

1. Listen Carefully to Your Customers

It follows from this that the most important element of customer service is to listen.

You are unlikely to be able to help your customers effectively if you do not listen to what they are saying—and also what they are not saying, but may be implying in some way, or are carefully not mentioning. Pay attention to their body language, and link what you are hearing to what you know about the business, and what other customers have said in the past. This will enable you to pull together your knowledge and ensure that you provide what the customer needs.

Notice that we said ‘needs’, not ‘wants’. Sometimes customers are not sure what they need, even if they know what they want. You may need to carefully persuade them that what they want will not actually solve their problem at all. Of course, you then need to be able to provide them with a good solution too!

See our pages: Listening Skills and Empathy.

2. Smile at Your Customers, and Make Them Feel Welcome

This is the simplest, but often the most powerful tip for customer service (and most other interpersonal interactions).

Smiles are contagious – usually when you smile at somebody, they will smile back at you. It is almost impossible to fake a smile convincingly, so we tend to respond to smiles in a very genuine way, and they help to build rapport. This will help the customer or client to feel at ease and welcomed, and you will come across as friendly and approachable, setting the scene for a positive interaction.

If you are talking to somebody on the telephone then you can still smile. Odd though it sounds, a smile can be heard over the phone because your voice sounds different when you smile and are happy. Clients and customers are more likely to want to talk to a cheerful person with an enthusiastic personality, and by smiling while you talk you can help to project this.

See our pages: Non-Verbal Communication and Personal Appearance for more about body language and the messages it sends.

3. Communicate Clearly and in Positive Language

Always communicate clearly to your customers, to ensure that they understand what you are offering or able to provide.

Mistakes can be expensive things to put right, so it is best to ensure that there are no misunderstandings. If it sounds like there might have been a misunderstanding, clarify it straight away: don’t wait until your customer comes back to complain.

Even if you can’t do what your customer wants—either immediately, or at all—try to frame your answer in positive language. For example, instead of saying:

“I’m afraid that’s out of stock at the moment, but if you come back in next week, we should have it.”

Try saying:
“That should be in next week so, if you give me your name and phone number, I will give you a call as soon as it’s in and put one aside for you.”

What is happening is the same, but your customer now understands that you are trying to help them, and you have also ensured that they will come back next week. The difference is simply the framing: focusing on the positive rather than the negative.

This does not mean that you cannot apologise for any shortcomings. The key is to focus on what you are going to do to put right the problem.

It follows that you should never complain to a customer about your organisation, your day, how busy you are, the management, your colleagues or anything else that may lead the customer to develop negative feelings.

4. Learn Your Business – Be an Expert

To be able to help your customers, you need to understand your business.

You need to know the features of the products or services that you are selling, and more importantly, you need to be able to work out how they can help to solve your customers’ problems.

Needs, products and framing: drills and holes

Consider this example. When you sell drills, what are you really selling?

Do your customers actually want a machine that drills, or do they really want to be able to put holes in something?

If they really want holes, would they be better served by hiring a handyman who can make holes in the right place, or by buying a drill?

By developing a much better understanding of your business and your competition, and thinking about them in a slightly different way, you may be able to improve your customers’ experience in a completely different way.

It is therefore essential that you get to know the features of your business, and also your competition, defined in the broadest possible way (for example, considering handymen as being in competition with shops selling tools). You need to be able to answer most of your customers’ questions about the business, even if the question does not relate to your usual area of work.

If you don’t know the answer to a question then say so, NEVER lie or make up an answer. If possible, find somebody who does know the answer, or take details and offer to get back to them. Don’t be afraid to ask the customer/client questions that will give you a better understanding of their needs.

5. Keep Your Word—and Don’t Over-Promise

Only ever offer a customer or client something that you are sure you can give them.

It is better not to mention a delivery date and then deliver tomorrow than it is to say that you will be able to deliver tomorrow and then not be able to keep your promise. Stick to deadlines, and make sure you turn up promptly for any appointments.

In other words, never make promises you cannot keep.

If the situation changes, let the customer know as soon as possible, and apologise for the inconvenience they may suffer as a result.

6. Be Memorable – For the Right Reasons

We tend to remember positive and negative experiences more vividly than average day-to-day ones.  Try to make every customer’s experience a positive one that they’ll remember and talk to others about.

Be helpful, be courteous and polite, and give a little extra if possible, even if it is just some advice or extra information about the product or service they are buying or interested in buying.

You may also find our page: How to be Polite useful.

A final thought

Customer service and how it is delivered can make or break an organisation.

As an employer, it is worth taking the time to ensure that your employees know how you expect them to behave with customers. As an employee, it is worth taking the time to develop your customer service skills to ensure that you are valuable to your employer.