By Melissa Rosen
The best companies don’t just have customers, they have fans. My entire Instagram feed is full of food bloggers who “don’t have any affiliation with Trader Joe’s” but have spent the last 10 minutes showing me how to correctly cook TJ’s cauliflower gnocchi.
Leaving a 5-star review is great. Word of mouth is fantastic. Getting people to literally advertise your product to their entire community without paying them…well, that’s gold.
So, how do you get there? How do you go from “Please leave us a Yelp review! We’ll give you a coupon!” to people selling your product without any prodding? It boils down to customer service. Specifically, these are the 10 customer service tips you need to try today…
When a customer emails or calls your company with a problem, it’s already a bad experience. The goal of a good support team should not simply be to answer questions quickly and thoughtfully, but rather to prevent those questions from ever getting asked.
Think about the times you’ve contacted customer support. You were probably already frustrated and this was your last resource. Customer service doesn’t start after someone emails or calls in with an issue. Customer service starts as soon as the customer becomes a customer.
Some might argue, even before then. Regardless, don’t wait for your clients to come to you with an issue. You should always be proactively seeking ways to educate and engage your clientele outside of a typical support stream.
Be A Hypochondriac
If it can go wrong, it will. Customer service is not a job for optimists — at least not yet (once you get to tip #10, you can be as optimistic as you’d like knowing that your support is top notch). You must think about every single thing that could go wrong in the lifecycle of the customer.
Focus on the product: Is anything innately confusing? Is the design intuitive? Does the copy make sense? Anything that can be misinterpreted or misunderstood will be. So cover your bases here.
I’m a strong advocate for putting a CS team member in the room for all product-related meetings. Speak up if something won’t jive with customers and try to implement a fix at this stage. Get the team to alter a design or update copy before it’s released. But if that’s just not possible, or if there are still some lingering issues and you just need to move forward…
Focus on self-help: We learned from tip #1 that no one actually wants to talk to customer support. Enter the beautiful world of self-help. You can offer guidance to your customers by means of FAQs, in-app notifications and tips, or email newsletters and blog posts.
In my experience, the best self-help is the kind that pops up exactly where you need it, when you need it. Don’t make your customers search for an FAQ page, or regret x-ing out from the initial tip notification. Instead, think about adding one of those nifty floating chat icons to any part of your product or site that might be confusing.
When someone does have a question, they’ll be able to tap one button and open up a chat screen. Now, go the extra mile and pre-populate that chat with common questions or issues — even going so far as to differentiate these issues depending on what page the customer is on.
What the misanthropic news cycle won’t tell you is that WE ALL JUST WANT TO BE LIKED. Anyone who works in support can tell you, they’ve spent a lot of time just talking to lonely people. In fact, I can tell you — sometimes I go to Trader Joe’s just for the positive social interaction.
Don’t underestimate the desire to be liked and build a relationship in a customer service role. This is literally the only 1-1 relationship that a customer may have with your organization — so it’s important to think of it like a friendship (unless you’re a crappy friend). Throw in some humor, go hard on the empathy, and treat them with respect. They should leave the interaction thinking, “Oh that was nice, I’d like to talk to that person again.”
This is where inserting customer service into all aspects of your business really comes into play. The way you speak to your customers should remain consistent from every angle: marketing, product, PR, operations, support, and finance. Really, any department that a company can have should all be speaking the same language.
Do you use weird jargon in your marketing? Fine, just use it everywhere. Do you call your customers “rockstars”? Great, just make sure that’s what everyone calls them throughout the company. So many customers are confused by misaligned expectations — marketing said one thing, support says another, and now they’re upset. Get ahead of this by streamlining the way you communicate throughout every part of your company, both internally and externally.
Automate Anything That Can Be Automated
I’ll admit, as a customer support rep turned team lead, the thought of bringing in robots to do my job was terrifying. I was adamant that the tech would never understand the nuance of human language and empathy. Moreover, there was a lot of weird jargon in our app and it just wouldn’t make sense to a robot. Well, I was wrong (don’t tell my boyfriend I admitted that).
Our bot was set up knowing what our weird jargon meant and how to interpret it. It was also programmed with years of customer service documentation that our team had created. So it really was “one of us.” We trained and tested it using common questions and adjusted it until it got the answers right. As a manager, this was the quickest and easiest training I ever had to do. Plus, I got to see in real-time, without any subjective bias, how well it was doing its job.
But, honestly, the biggest accomplishment wasn’t utilizing a chatbot to help our customers. The greatest achievement was the time it freed up for the rest of the customer service team to fly. One team member took on copywriting and product marketing and grew her portfolio of work. Another took an interest in safety and security and worked with the engineering team to build out better procedures. These were people who were previously answering emails for 8 hours a day, responding with answers they’ve used thousands of times already, who suddenly had their groove back. They were still essential parts of the customer service team, but now their talents and abilities were being fully realized.
Mirror Your Customer
There’s a tactic called “mirroring” that I learned about from a former FBI hostage negotiator. It also could be applied to customer service.
In the simplest terms, if someone addresses you formally:
There is a bug in your product and it’s very upsetting.
Then you respond formally:
I apologize for this upsetting bug and I have had our engineers implement a fix. It should be working properly now.
If they write in more casually:
Hey! There’s a weird glitch and I can’t click this button 🙁
Then you follow suite:
Hey! Oh no, sorry about this! Our engineers just put in a fix, so it should be working now 🙂
Empathy is key in CS — do your best to walk in your customer’s shoes. Even if you’re feeling funky and want to send a cute joke in an email, if the customer doesn’t seem like they’d be receptive to it, it might not be the best idea.
Unless you’re a doctor offering customer service to his patients, you’re probably not dealing with life or death situations. In fact, most support reps have a bag full of stories about customers blowing a situation way out of proportion. When it comes to dramatic customers, I like to surpass them. There’s a little Moira Rose in all of us, so let your flag fly in these situations.
I once sent an extremely apologetic email after an outage and blamed myself for many of the pain points that customers experienced. Admittedly, it was a bit much, but that’s what I was going for. A bunch of customers ended up responding with “Omg no worries!” and “It’s okay, it happens!” Making people feel bad for you is a special gift — use it wisely.
Leave nothing to chance. Of course, you want your product to be as intuitive as possible. But support docs are there for when even the most obvious things are not obvious.
Put yourself in a situation where you really have zero prior knowledge. Now, think about all the questions you might have.
For me, it’s driving a car. I never took an interest in the matter. So when I went for driving lessons and the instructor said, “Put your foot on the brake,” I felt like she had already skipped 10 steps. Where is the brake? What is the brake? Why do I need to put my foot on it? Just rest my foot on it, or do I press it? Which foot? Okay, you get the point.
We all have something that we literally know nothing about, and this is where customer service needs to step in and over-explain.
Keep Your Customer Team Small But Mighty
Many companies think that as their customer base grows, so too must their customer service department. That’s not wrong, but it’s also important to be mindful of your current team. Find ways to maximize their potential (*cough* don’t forget to promote them and pay them more! *cough*) rather than just getting more bodies in the room. Think back to the automation tip — maybe you could bring on a chat bot rather than a new team member (or 5), saving money and training time. Or maybe tip #1 is where you want to start — rather than hiring more reps to put out the fire, is there a way to prevent the fire?
Leave Your Customers Alone
For this final tip, let’s go back to Trader Joe’s. When was the last time they sent you an email? Has their cashier asked you to sign up for their loyalty program? Do you get bombarded with review requests from them?
I know, it’s a mind blowing realization — the most successful customer service practice is to leave them alone! If you follow all the tips above, it’s actually pretty easy to do. You’ll start to have faith in your product and services and get ahead of issues before they become real. You’ll go from clingy ex to cool, confident person ready for a healthy relationship. You’ll actually save money and time on retention and marketing tactics by simply providing the best-in-class service from the get-go. Customers will want to come back to you, you won’t have to beg them!
Now get out there and build the best customer service team this world has ever seen! You’re ready for it.