The importance of customer service is that customers care about whether your business treats them well. You may have fabulous products at great prices, but if your frontline employees are rude or unhelpful, 68% of customers say that's a deal breaker. If your customer service and quality are top notch, you're much more likely to win their return business.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Customers want to feel that you value them and their patronage. You show this by selling them what they need and not just the products you want to move, by treating them with respect and courtesy and by handling complaints, problems and questions so customers conclude their business feeling satisfied.
What Is Customer Service?
Customer service includes all of your company's interactions with your customers and clients. This includes the sales clerk who directs them to the right part of the store or digs the item they want out of the storeroom, the receptionist who doesn't put them on hold forever and the help desk that explains how to make the app work properly.
Fifty years ago, customer service was a matter of phone, letters and in-person conversations. Now, it often involves email, text, social media and your website as well. Customer service quality should be consistently good no matter how customers connect with you.
The Importance of Service Quality
The importance of service quality isn't only demonstrated by the loss of customers if the quality is subpar. Getting customer service rights offers gains for your business as well:
- It increases sales. Good service can prompt customers to spend more than they'd planned. On top of that, satisfied customers are more likely to buy from you again.
- Good customer service saves money. Retaining established customers is cheaper and more cost effective than attracting new ones.
- It reduces barriers to buying. If you're known to stand by your return policy, customers can feel safe purchasing something they're not sure will work for them.
- Customer service generates positive word-of-mouth and person-to-person recommendations.
- It improves the way people see your company, which boosts your reputation and your brand.
- Most employees prefer working for a company that treats customers well to one that belittles or defrauds them.
- It helps you stay in business by keeping customers coming in the door.
- If customers have a complaint, solving their problem can impress them and turn them into return customers.
Providing Excellent Customer Service: Examples
The specific details of customer service and quality vary among businesses. Restaurant diners expect lots of attention from the wait staff, while retail shoppers sometimes want to be left alone to browse. IT companies need to staff a help desk, but food trucks don't. However, some principles are consistent across the board:
- Treat your customers respectfully. Keep your cool even if their requests are unreasonable, such as if they want cash returns without a receipt, and the store doesn't allow it, for instance.
- Understand your customers' wants and needs. If they're not sure what they need, help them figure it out. Shoppers buying new tech, for instance, may need help selecting the right model. Customers looking for a specific book may not remember anything beyond "it has a red cover."
- Listen to your customers when they have a request or a question. Be honest if you don't know the answer and then get to work finding what they need to know.
- Know your products or services well. If you and your team don't understand the ins and outs of your new software, it's hard to explain it to customers.
- Handle complaints and returns gracefully.
- Make every customer process at your business as quick and smooth as possible, whether it's making a deposit or trying on a new suit.
- If your customers give you feedback about their experience, learn from it. Find ways to improve next time.
Customer Service Tips
It's important that your customer service employees translate the general guidelines into specifics suitable for your industry. If you're running a brick-and-mortar store, for instance, customer service tips include:
- Greet customers when they enter the store and ask if they need any help.
- Acknowledge customers on the sales floor even if you're in the middle of stocking shelves.
- If your customers have to wait for service, acknowledge them and let them know how long the wait is.
- Check in with browsing customers occasionally and ask if they're finding everything they need. If they don't want help, leave them alone.
If your team staffs a call center or otherwise deals with customers over the phone, they need a different set of customer service tips:
- Listen to the customers. Let them talk without interruption, ask questions if necessary and double check that you understand what they want.
- Ask questions rather than state demands.
- Be polite. Say please and thank you and address the customer by name.
- If the customers have to make a decision, explain the choices clearly. Highlight the pros and cons of the different alternatives.
- Don't use jargon if there's a simple alternative way to phrase it.
- If you have to transfer the customer to someone else, explain why and don't leave him sitting on hold for long stretches.
Resolving Customer Complaints
The importance of service quality is never greater than when customers are dissatisfied. If they stay dissatisfied, it can cost you a customer. They may also be in a bad mood when they report their complaints, so employees have to keep their cool while dealing with a customer who is losing hers.
- Listen and understand. It's more important to resolve the problem correctly than to resolve it quickly.
- If the company screwed up, apologize. A spoken apology makes customers want to forgive you more than if you fix the problem but don't say you're sorry.
- Find a solution. If you can't give them the solution for which they asked, look for an alternative. If, say, you can't give a cash refund without a receipt, offer them a merchandise exchange instead.
- Follow up with the customers to confirm that everything was resolved to their satisfaction.
The process will flow smoother if you give the frontline personnel the authority to make decisions and resolve problems without escalating it to their supervisor. If they do have to escalate, it shouldn't turn into a game of hot potato where the customer gets passed from one supervisor to another.
Improve Customer Service Quality
Given the importance of service quality, keeping the quality high should be a continual process. Have regular training sessions. Listen to customer feedback about their experience.
Dissatisfied customers often just quit coming, so don't use customer complaints to your company as the only metric. Search online and see what customers say when they're talking to other people.
- Keep an eye on social media. Is your customer service receiving negative reviews on Twitter or Facebook?
- What do online review sites such as Yelp or Google My Business have to say?
- Do search engines turn up negative reviews?
It may be impossible to keep every customer happy, but if you see a persistent pattern to the reviews or comments, that may indicate a problem that needs fixing. Possibly, your staff training is off, or company policy doesn't meet the customers' needs. It may be that the real issue is something wrong with your products that your help desk can't resolve.
- Salesforce: Overview: What Is Customer Service?
- Entrepreneur: 10 Reasons Why Good Customer Service Is Your Most Important Metric
- Australian Government Business: Customers
- SuperOffice: Why Customer Complaints Are Good For Your Business
- Talkdesk: 14 Techniques to Provide Amazing Call Center Customer Service
- Inc.: 5 Steps to Handling a Customer Complaint
Fraser Sherman has written about every aspect of business: how to start one, how to keep one in the black, the best business structure, the details of financial statements. He's also run a couple of small businesses of his own. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is frasersherman.com