Customer Service Principles

Customer Service Principles

Customer Service Principles Jonathan Poland

Customer service principles are guidelines that an organization follows to shape its service strategy, policies, procedures, measurement, and culture. These principles are unique to each organization and are based on factors such as its goals and brand identity. They can be presented as slogans or more detailed statements that function as rules. They can serve as a foundation for an organization’s customer service efforts and help to ensure that its service meets the needs and expectations of its customers. Both styles are represented in the examples.

Always Help

One of the most widely disliked customer service attitudes is coined in the phase “It’s not our problem.” As such, many firms have established a culture of always helping the customer, even if a request is completely unrelated to their products and services. Principle: it’s always your job to be helpful to customers.

Measurement Balance

Performance measurements such as average call time, often have unintended consequences such as rushed, impolite or inadequate service. Principle: performance indicators are designed to maximize customer satisfaction, including qualitative assessments of results.

Common Courtesies

Modern customer service approaches often emphasize personality and informal service styles that attempt to build rapport with customers. Nevertheless, many customers continue to value the polite treatment that is often associated with a more formal approach. Whatever approach is taken, common courtesies are a fundamental customer service practice. Principle: customers are addressed with polite language.

Complaints As Opportunities

Establishing a policy of learning from complaints and generously compensating where complaints have any merit whatsoever in the interests of brand reputation and customer loyalty. Principle: every customer interaction is an opportunity to learn, improve and impress.

Customer Experience

Viewing customer service as part of a comprehensive brand experience that is carefully designed to express your character as a company. Principle: customer service is a cornerstone of our brand and reflects our values, spirit and quality.

Customer Is Always Right

A well known customer service principle that suggests that customers be treated with great respect. It is associated with practices such as no-questions-asked product returns, valuing customer feedback and treating perceived problems as problems. Principle: the customer is always right.

Customer Perspective

Viewing each interaction from your customer’s perspective. Avoid saying things like “Do you know how expensive it would be if we gave every customer a refund?” or “We are so busy today, you called at our busiest time.” Principle: customers are uninterested in our business constraints, view each interaction from the customer perspective.

Customer Relationships

Building business relationships with customers and valuing customers on a long term basis. Principle: impress customers to build lifelong relationships.

Customer Satisfaction

Valuing each customer’s opinion of your service, experience, brand and products. Principle: continuously gain feedback from customers.

Emotional Intelligence

As a skill, customer service demands insight into emotions and the capability to effectively use emotion. Principle: value and develop emotional intelligence as an ability and skill.

Employee Satisfaction

It is unlikely that your customers will receive exceedingly good customer service if your employees are overworked, stressed out and under appreciated. This can result in a downward spiral whereby unhappy employees make customers angry, leading to more unhappy employees. Principle: employee happiness and customer happiness are the foundations of a profitable business.

Engage Customers

Actively engaging customers as opposed to waiting for them to call. For example, by joining relevant conversations in social media. Principle: engage the customer at every opportunity.

Escalation

Providing customers a path of escalation if they are ultimately unhappy with your service. This is widely considered critical to handling service quality issues, reputation and compliance. Principle: customers can reach managers who are empowered to handle special complaints.

Feedback Loop

Improving processes, products and practices based on customer feedback. Principle: customer service is a critical source of feedback that is actively used to drive business improvements.

Frontline Decision Making

Empowering customer-facing staff to make decisions as opposed to merely applying a policy. Principle: frontline staff are empowered to make exceptions to policy.

Frontline Information

Customer-facing staff are provided with ample information. Principle: frontline staff have full access to organizational knowledge and are informed of relevant situations as they arise.

Know Your Product

Customers expect your staff to be experts in your products. Principle: employees are experts and evangelists for our products before they ever face a customer.

Listening

Listening to the customer with intent to understand their unique situation, personality and needs. Principle: listening skills and abilities are a key skill for customer-facing staff.

Make Exceptions

It is often neither practical nor desirable to develop policies that cover every possible customer service scenario. As such, exceptions to policy are a regular course of business. Principle: policies are helpful guidelines not an unbendable set of rules.

Measure And Improve

The practice of measuring and improving your service culture. Principle: our customer service performance is measured and continuously improved.

Multi Channel Support

Customers often have a strong channel preference and may resent being forced to a particular channel such as web, phone or in-store for service. Principle: customers are free to choose their preferred channel for support, a full array of services are available on each supported channel.

No Scripts

Customers commonly complain that scripts are used as a substitute for thinking and that they result in irrational responses that indicate a lack of listening or comprehension on the part of a customer service agent. Principle: each customer interaction is unique, improvised and unscripted.

Patient And Fast

Ideal interactions with customers can often be described as both patient and fast. Think of the barista at a cafe who engages customers in a unrushed conversation but then prepares beverages with skill and speed. Principle: customer interactions are unrushed, work that keeps the customer waiting is conducted with speed and accuracy.

Performance Management

Regularly rewarding and recognizing employees to mitigate the work related stress that is commonly associated with customer service. Principle: superior performance is regularly rewarded.

Persona

Customer service is often described as being an acting skill that requires a professional or calming persona in the face of the most difficult of situations. Principle: employees are expected to maintain a calm, professional demeanor in the presence of customers.

Personal Responsibility

It is common for customers to complain that customer service representatives don’t apologize when the company they represent is clearly in the wrong. In some cases, representatives are known to say things like “It wasn’t me who over-billed you, it was our billing department.” In other words, representatives may confuse apologizing on behalf of an organization for taking personal blame. Principle: you represent our organization and are expected to apologize and take responsibility for perceived problems.

Personalized Service

Customers have different personalities, situations and needs. Principle: service is customized to individual preferences and needs.

Plain Language

Avoiding the use of jargon such as industry or technical acronyms and communicating with intent to be clearly understood. This often needs to be balanced with other principles such as respecting the intelligence of the customer. If it’s likely that a customer will understand a particular technical term, it’s often better to use it. Principle: avoid jargon and complex terms that the customer may not understand.

Positive Language

Use positive language where possible by focusing on what you can offer as opposed to directly saying no. However, positive language should not be used to deliver bad news such as a flight delay announcement. Principle: use positive language to avoid challenging the customer or directly saying “no”, instead focus on what you can offer.

Process Hiding

Customers tend to dislike being told “you’re not following our process.” As such, many organizations establish the principle that customers don’t have to jump through hoops or understand processes. Principle: the customer is never required to understand or follow our processes, they are guided through each process without having to be aware of it.

Professionalism

Most organizations set principles related to professionalism such as standards of appearance, behavior and habit. For example, employees may be heavily discouraged from talking about personal things such as their dating experiences in front of customers. Principle: standards of professionalism are clearly communicated to employees and are incorporated into performance goals.

Provide Certainty

Customers tend to value certain information over uncertain. For example, it’s often better to tell customers a flight will be delayed for an hour than to say “15 minutes to an hour.” Principle: communicate unambiguous information to customers.

Provide Choice

Customers value choice. If a package is lost in the mail, give them an option of an immediate refund or shipping the product again with free express shipping. Principle: offer customers pleasant choices.

Provide Information

Customers value information and want you to respect their intelligence. Unless information is truly a confidential secret that’s terribly important to your competitive advantage, it’s often better to share. For example, if a flight is delayed, tell your customers about the problem. Principle: share information that customers may find interesting.

Rapport

Building rapport with customers is a well known way to gain loyalty and brand value. Principle: building rapport with customers is a valued skill and ability that is core to our recruiting, training and performance management.

Service As Marketing

Viewing service reactions as an opportunity to show off your brand culture and values. Principle: each interaction with a customer is an opportunity to impress with everything that our brand represents.

Service As Public Relations

Service both exceptionally good and exceptionally bad tends to attract media and social media attention. Principle: treat each interaction with a customer as if your conversation will be published in media and social media.

Service Commitments

Publishing service commitments and guarantees and earning a reputation for living up to your commitments. Principle: our service commitment and values are openly published and we talk about them proudly with every opportunity.

Service Culture

The idea that service extends beyond a policy or set of practices but is reflective of your organizational culture. This includes factors such as organizational values, norms, habits, language, history and symbols. As such, efforts to improve customer service may require a culture shift that impacts your entire organization. Principle: service is reflective of corporate culture, improving service requires improving as an organization.

Service Delays

Waiting times are amongst the most common customer complaints. Principle: we do everything we can to avoid making the customer wait.

Service Diligence

Customers commonly dislike being bounced from one representative to the next. They also may resent being directed to a self service tool when they’ve gone to the trouble to reach a human representative. Service diligence is the idea that at least one employee stays with a customer until their request has been satisfied. For example, when a customer asks for directions to the customer service counter in a department store, an employee walks them to the counter and stays with them until someone helps them. Principle: the first employee to receive a customer request is responsible for ensuring the request is completed and the customer satisfied.

Service Fairness

Customers may feel stressed out and unappreciated if they feel that service is unfair. For example, customers tend to prefer a single line for all windows because it guarantees first-in-first-out service. Principle: processes and practices are designed to treat customers consistently and with fairness.

Set Expectations

When customers know exactly what to expect, they are much less likely to be disappointed. For example, detailed and honest product descriptions can improve service rankings and decrease returns for online sellers. In many cases, communicating negative information such as things that a product can’t do is greatly appreciated by customers and may improve sales as a result of improved trust. Principle: set customer expectations with as many honest details as possible.

Single Point Of Contact

Be easy to contact. Principle: we publish a single phone number and web address that can be used to access all of our services.

Stand Out Service

The idea that customer service should stand out by going beyond the call of duty. It is common to use true stories of employees who did great things for the community or customers as a foundation for corporate culture and marketing. Principle: going beyond the call of duty may pay off in unexpected ways.

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