Customer service principles form the backbone of every business. Providing excellent service must be part of your core mission.
Of course, if you’re looking for inspiration to improve your customer service profile, then you’ll find plenty of quotes online.
“Just having satisfied customers isn’t good enough anymore,” says Ken Blanchard. “If you really want a booming business, you have to create raving fans.”
Sam Walton once said this: “There is only one boss: the customer. And the customer can fire everybody in the company from the Chairman on down simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
Even President Teddy Roosevelt made this observation about customer service: “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Ever since the first business served their first customer, the need for customer service was created. Customers can be forgiving of poor customer service when you’re able to solve their problems effectively.
They are not as forgiving if your business fails to live up to a value promise when poor customer service happens.
Let’s be clear. No business is 100% perfect when handling customer service issues. You will lose customers even if you do everything right because how you’re perceived by the customer is the top priority.
If your customer is angry or offended by what you’ve said or done, it is difficult to come back from that precipice. What you can do is stick to your core customer service principles as often as possible.
Being true to your principles will reduce customer losses, repair relationships, and build a positive reputation for your company.
For those who are looking to supercharge their business, these are the customer service principles that you’ll want to focus upon as you work with your customers.
1. Always treat a customer with the respect they deserve.
The words that we use are incredibly important. If we attempt to dehumanize people, then we have already failed in the quest to provide meaningful customer service.
Eric Shiffer, who serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Reputation Management Consultants, says that he makes sure that he never calls people clients or customers. “At my company,” he says, “we refer to them as guests, for they are our guests, and we are their host. We are always happy to see them and strive to make their time with each of us a great experience.”
Shiffer notes that it costs a business nothing to be courteous to a customer and you’ll pay dearly for it if you don’t provide that type of experience.
To make sure customers are treated with respect, Shiffer suggests that everyone should be treated as a VIP.” “Sometimes things get messed up, but apologies, which matter, [lose power] if they aren’t followed by action. Well done is better than well said.”
Customer service is more than a department. It is the job of everyone. If your team is devoted to the principle of treating customers with respect, then the worries about profits will begin to fade away over time.
2. Have employees understand their role in providing customer service.
Shep Hyken, who wrote the bestselling book The Amazement Revolutionand serves as a customer service keynote speaker, agrees that customer service is more than a department.
“I’ve been preaching this for years,” Hyken says. “Yet it still surprises me that many companies don’t recognize the value of training their employees – all employees – in the area of customer service.”
Training the front-line employee in your customer service principles makes sense. For many businesses, however, it is the employees who aren’t trained that would have the biggest impact on your customers.
A task as simple as packing a shipping box correctly can make or break the customer service experience someone has with your business. When everyone understands the impression you want your business to leave on the customer, then you’re able to create a culture that is focused on satisfying the needs of that customer.
Hyken says that training must happen on the first day. “There are some companies that won’t let an employee start doing what they were hired to do until they receive basic training.”
Your basic training should include the mission, vision, and service philosophy of your business. Zappos takes this principle a step further. At the end of the basic training process, they offer a financial incentive to new hires to leave the company if they disagree with the culture that has been established.
Employees that take the incentive are paid $2,000, plus the time they spent in training. Amazon has started to follow this lead as well.
3. Smile frequently and often.
By itself, a smile doesn’t provide much help to a customer service issue. If your customer has a product that isn’t working as it should, being smiled at will not solve their problem.
Smiles are a good start to the customer service experience.
“A smile alone doesn’t guarantee excellent customer service, but excellent customer service almost always starts with a smile,” says Kaan Turnali, a specialist in mobile BI and executive analytics. “It is both art and science.”
Turnali notes that a smile is more than a simple expression. It also communicates how you are feeling in that moment. It works to validate the promises your business made to the customer when a transaction was finalized.
It is also an attitude. “Smiling tells our story beyond first impressions,” says Turnali. “It is a personal touch that extends our customer service promise and reflects our passion.”
With a smile, you are saying that you’re ready to tackle the problem, so a solution can be found.
More importantly, a smile is also an invitation. It helps a customer take a step forward in trust, allowing you to take a step toward them to find a solution.
Even if the customer service takes place over the phone or through a chat box, leaving the customer with an impression of a smile will make it easier to create resolutions in a positive way.
4. Use active listening principles to get on the same page.
Richard R. Shapiro, the Founder and President of The Center for Client Retention, says that it isn’t enough to offer customers your full attention. They must be able to feel it.
“Every individual who visits your store, contacts your call center, clicks on your website, or sends you an email is in a specific emotional state at that moment,” says Shapiro. “In order to build a human connection and bond, listen carefully and respond to that emotion before addressing the actual reason the customer has come to you.”
Arlin Cuncic, MA, the author of Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder, says that there are seven steps to follow which will help you and your employees become a better active listener.
- Make eye contact when the other person speaks, if possible. Try to maintain eye contact for up to 70% of the time that you are listening. It helps to lean toward the person to provide open body language.
- Try to paraphrase what you have heard instead of offering an opinion or advice that is unsolicited.
- Never interrupt the other person when they are speaking. Wait to formulate a reply until the other person has finished speaking.
- Watch for non-verbal cues that come from the person to pick up on unspoken meanings. The tone of voice, a facial expression, and other body language can help you to avoid miscommunication.
- Shut down your internal dialogue. Stay in the moment. It is difficult to listen to someone else if you’re listening to your inner voice.
- Ask questions which clarify the situation. Use open-ended questions whenever possible because yes-or-no questions tend to stop a conversation quickly.
- Don’t change the subject. This communicates that you were not listening.
“As you listen,” says Cuncic, “be open, neutral, and withhold judgment and stereotypes.”
5. Offer a prompt response whenever or wherever possible.
“Customers will pay extra to upgrade shipping from regular to next-day,” says Hyken. “Similarly, they will pay more for companies who respond quickly.”
In the past, that meant a business needed to provide a prompt response. That meant reducing wait times on the phone, shorter lines at stores, and fast resolutions.
70% of the customer’s experience with your business is dictated by how they feel like they are being treated. That’s the same percentage of unhappy customers who have problems resolved through customer service and are willing to shop with the same business again.
Micah Solomon, a customer service consultant and keynote speaker, puts it this one. “Remember, ‘we respond to all inquiries within 24 hours’ means you’re answering in about 46 days, I figure, if you do the conversion to internet time. It’s simply not good enough.”
What are some ways to improve the speed of your customer service?
It starts at the very beginning of the story you create for yourself and your customer. Having a tool like a CRM that tracks conversations makes it easier to recall information that was passed along in that first conversation.
Having access to a positive mobile experience is helpful. Responding to messages or comments within 12 hours is good, but many customers want a response in 60 minutes or less – and sometimes even faster.
Zingaya allows customers to have an instant chat with a representative by having a vocal conversation through their computer if there is a microphone and speakers equipped to the setup.
Speed will always be a relative concept because everyone perceives time differently. In the world of customer service, you must be able to offer a prompt response whenever you can to keep your customers around.
6. Empathy should be offered when it can be authentic.
Oisin Lunny, the Chief Evangelist at OpenMark, says that the customer experience is all about empathy. He calls it the art of predicting what a customer needs to stay two steps in front of them.
“It’s saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got you covered and added some extra cash into your account,” versus the more humiliating, ‘You have exceeded your overdraft limit; penalties will be charged accordingly.”
Empathy is what allows your business to show that it cares about its customers on an individual level. It provides timely, thoughtful interactions that give you opportunities to correct potential problems.
Are some people more empathetic than others naturally? Absolutely. Finding these people to put on your customer service team is a real win.
Empathy is also something that can be taught. That is because it is an understanding of how another person is experiencing a situation in real-time. One of the easiest ways to create empathy within your employee base is to have each person use the products or services they represent.
Listening is a critical aspect of empathy as well. Even on the phone, it is possible to tell when a customer is happy, worried, or angry. Identifying the emotion leads to follow-up questions that help you understand the situation better.
That’s why a customer service experience should be more of a conversation than a predetermined speech that someone reads from a computer.
Then finish strong. You’re going to be judged based on the most intense point of the conversation and how it is able to end. That doesn’t always mean you’ve solved the problem. It does mean you’ve made sure to do everything you could for that customer, then communicating that you authentically care for that person.
7. Take the time to go the extra mile, then be willing to go further.
Going the extra mile for someone is not a new concept. You can even find it in the Bible. Jesus taught in Matthew 5 that if someone asks you to go one mile, go with that person two miles.
This is a core customer service principle for one simple reason: you want to do more than meet the basic expectations of your customer. You want to exceed them.
When you meet exceptional standards of customer service, that becomes the new normal for your company. You must continue setting the bar higher and higher to provide the extra help that your customers need.
There are many ways to do this. Adrian Swinscoe notes that Amazon began testing 1-hour delivery times through the use of remote-control drones because of this very principle.
Adding a fleet of drones is probably not on your business agenda any time in the near future. What you can do is follow these three suggestions from Swinscoe to ensure that your customers are able to remain satisfied.
- Address any major customer service issues publicly. You might not be able to solve a problem right away, but if you make your intentions known, then customers will be satisfied with your effort. Then follow through with what you say you’ll do.
- Use your customer service efforts as a forum for feedback. Many customers turn to social media, Google reviews, and sites like Yelp to leave positive and negative feedback. Listening to this feedback, then engaging with it, will help you show that you’re taking comments seriously.
- Make the customer service experience personal. Create real connections with people. Look for ways to improve the situation for each person and be willing to bend your rules if that’s what it takes sometimes to turn a negative into a positive.
Swinscoe also mentions that customers love to find a good deal. “Announcing deals and steals on social media is the safest – and cheapest – way to reach a large audience successfully.”
8. Empower your people to create positive outcomes.
Many businesses create customer service departments with good intentions. Then they stop their employees from offering a positive customer service experience through the use of metrics, call statistics, and internal rules.
You must be willing to empower your workers to do the right thing on behalf of your business. If you are unable to demonstrate that you trust your people to work with your customers, then your customers will pick up on this trait and look for a competitive product of similar value.
Allan Lee, Sara Willis, and Amy Wei Tian conducted a meta-analysis of 105 studies, which included data from over 30,000 workers from 30 different countries.
Leaders who are more empowering are effective at influencing employee creativity and internal citizenship behavior. They are more likely to be trusted. They are also more likely to influence the overall performance of each person.
When leaders are less empowering, then they are less likely to delegate authority, ask for input, or encourage an autonomous decision.
If employees feel like they are empowered, then their job becomes an important element of their life. When they do not feel empowered, then work becomes less important.
That’s not to say everyone responds to empowerment the same way. Some people become demotivated by empowerment because they don’t want to take on any responsibility. Productivity levels do not always increase with empowerment either.
What must be remembered here is that empowerment is more for the customer than the customer service employee. You want your customers to understand that there is authority, right now, to solve their problem.
That means a customer can ask for someone else to help them if their assigned representative isn’t meeting their needs in some way.
To empower people, you must have a clear vision for your customer service experience. You must demonstrate that you trust your people. Then remember to delegate more than work. Let others hold meetings, resolve difficult problems, or present new ideas.
9. Be willing to take ownership for the situation at all times.
“Delivering world-class service is not a series of techniques, but it is a culture and way of life within an organization,” says Teri Yanovitch, founder of T.A. Yanovitch Inc. and a former Disney Institute keynote speaker.
To take ownership of a customer service situation, Yanovitch promotes using what is called the STOCK method.
STOCK is an acronym which refers to sincerity, touchpoints, organization, care, and knowledge.
Sincerity means to look at the situation through the lens of the customer. Put yourself into their shoes, from a physical and an emotional standpoint.
Then look for points of contact with the customer. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to resolve the situation and build a relationship with that person.
As this is happening, you must organize your department, your processes, and yourself to find effective paths toward a resolution.
Care is self-explanatory. It happens when you show passion for what you do and the people around you – including the customer.
Then knowledge must be applied, through wisdom and experience, to create a pathway forward that leads toward improvement. There are several ways to you can apply this methodology within the workplace when an issue with a customer arises.
Shaun Belding recommends that you attempt to use a personal journey to create more empathy within the situation.
“When a customer comes to you because an item they purchased isn’t working properly, don’t just say, ‘That’s too bad.’ Let them know you understand their feelings on a personal level like, ‘Oh no! There is nothing more frustrating than buying something, getting it home, only to find out it doesn’t work.”
Then make sure that you communicate what you can do for people instead of what you can’t do. Some companies compare the word “can’t” to the 7 words you can’t say on TV routine by George Carlin.
You just don’t say it.
It must be more than words. It must be an emphasis on what you want to be able to do for the customer. You look for a way to find a positive outcome. Then you leave the final decision for the customer to make.
10. Never make a customer feel like they are in the wrong.
If you have an angry customer on your hands, then they believe that your business is in the wrong. Telling that person they are in the wrong will only do one thing: make the situation worse.
That’s not to say the customer is always right. The customer can often be wrong. You can also be wrong at the same time.
The point of customer service must do more than find ways to assign blame. It must work toward correcting the situation in a meaningful way.
Joseph Michelli describes this as the “delight” portion of his LEAD philosophy of customer service.
“Solid service brands remove pain points for their customers, says Michelli. “They ‘get service right’ and ‘make things right’ when there are those occasional breakdowns in product or service delivery.”
Michelli suggests that being “solid’ isn’t good enough. There must be an effort to forge a strong emotional connection with the customer.
Telling the customer that they are in the wrong will not accomplish this.
A better solution is to understand what the problem happens to be. That will give you an opportunity to solve the problem for them in some way.
Only offer solutions when you know that you’ve got the full picture. If you only understand the problem in a partial way, the best solution you can provide is a partial one.
In customer service, the phrase, “the customer is always right,” is more a reminder that it is important to compromise. We must all focus on the needs of our customer, even if we feel that the customer is behaving poorly in some way.
If we are unwilling to look for solutions, there’s a good chance that customer will be unwilling to keep doing business with us in the future.
And worse – they’ll share their negative experience, from their perspective, which can stop other customers from coming along too.
11. Meet other needs through your core customer service principles.
You can reduce the customer relationship into two general rules.
- The customer wants to feel satisfied by the goods or services that you have provided to them.
- Then the customer wants to feel appreciated for the decision they made to do business with your organization.
On the surface, it seems like meeting the needs of your customers should be simple. The reality, however, is that meeting the future needs of a customer is very difficult.
It doesn’t have to be. One easy way to develop relationships with your customer is to ask them questions.
“Is there another need I could meet for you today?” is a powerful way to close any customer service question – if you mean it.
You cannot ask a question like this as a throwaway. If your customer feels like you don’t care about their needs, any progress you just made with them will disappear.
It must come from a genuine place where you want that customer to be happier now than when they were when they first encounter your customer service representative.
For Guy Kawasaki, a former executive at Apple and Chief Evangelist at Canva, that means staying current.
How brand loyalty is built will continue to evolve over time. Companies must stay connected to each other and each customer to be effective in today’s world.
Kawasaki also suggests that we must expand our definition of customer loyalty. Everything you do for a customer becomes a foundational part of your loyalty program. You don’t need a special recognition, an account number, or some process for the customer to follow to prove themselves.
There are no tricks or shortcuts that can be taken. Make a great product. Offer consistent services. Then support what you do in a meaningful way at a price point that is fair.
That’s what it takes to build customer loyalty. That will help you discover if there are new needs that you can help to meet with your customers.
What About Your Customer Service Principles?
Customer service must be a top priority in the modern business world. With access to the Internet, there is a competitor in your industry right now who is undercutting your price.
There is someone who probably makes a better product or offers a better service than you do too.
What separates the better from the best today is how the customer is treated. Your customer service efforts are part of the valuation process a customer uses to choose what they want.
You might not provide the best or cheapest item, but you can provide a customer with an excellent outcome with a professional follow-up if something goes wrong.
Ask yourself this question: if I had a problem with this product, what resolution would make me feel better about this situation?
Once you determine the resolution, then provide it for your people. Incorporate these customer service principles into your business practices.
You may not be able to please everyone. You can do your best to please the next customer who encounters an unexpected problem.