Ahhh, yes. Customer service. Kind of like deodorant: if you don’t use it, you will stink! Customer service is the priceless, intangible product every company offers. Your customer service can gain you business or cost you dearly. As an expert in resolving disputes between businesses and their customers, BBB has had a taste of many levels of customer service from all industries, in businesses small to large. We know what works and what doesn’t. Our advice on managing an outstanding customer service team is simple: It’s all about good people and communication.
Not everyone is proficient in the art of great customer service. It’s a common misconception that anyone can work in a customer service position. You have to find the right people. Not controlling one’s emotions when a problem arises is the start of many complaints that cross our desks. Tact, diplomacy and grace (because no one is always right) are highly-valued attributes in a customer service rep—someone who is truly helpful, not just friendly; and who quickly identifies a customer’s need and responds. Someone your customer can relate to and who presents a collaborative attitude. I can’t offer you a magic employment ad, but I will suggest that finding the right person begins before you advertise the open position.
Setting the Tone
First, take a step back and identify the needs of your customers. What kind of core competencies does a member of your team need to have to not only fulfill their needs, but exceed their expectations? Come up with behavioral interviewing questions and techniques to help you spot those qualities during the interview. Then, once you’ve hired someone, teach them the level of customer service your company expects. Teach them your policies inside and out, and make sure they can not only repeat them, but understand and explain them as well. Be absolutely transparent with policies, warranties and procedures. No surprises and no fine print, with hoops to jump through directing your staff (or customers for that matter) to a surprise behind door number three. Transparency eliminates a slew of problems before they can even begin.
As a manager, being accessible to your team is key. Although you have hired great people, they require great support. Continual assessment of the tools they have, use and need to do their job even better is vital. My motto, a quote by Thomas Edison, is: “There is a better way to do it—find it!” Where are you, geographically speaking, in relation to your team members? Can you hear them on the phone? Can you see their presentation when a customer arrives? Your eyes and ears play a big part in managing your customer service team. You should provide constructive criticism if needed, not to be confrontational, but as an assessment of their professionalism. Assuming you’ve hired the right people, they will appreciate your advice, because they are always looking to improve their game.
Even though you have calls, meetings and a thousand tasks of your own, try to meet with your team members individually and as a group on a regular basis. Ask for input and feedback on new products, suggestions for your website and social media efforts. What are they hearing from your customers? What do they need help with? How do they feel the other team members are doing? Staying in touch will keep morale and productivity high. Open communication will be the wind in your sails on the sea of success! Communication is a deep topic, really. I’ll just brush the top as it relates to managing your team and how the delivery of said communication makes all the difference.
Delivering the Communication
As the manager of your customer service team, you are the glue that holds the whole shebang together. It’s your job to make sure everything is crystal-clear to your staff and customers, and the only way to do that is to communicate. But how you deliver said communication is significant.
First, let’s discuss your team. By now you should know who is a note-taker, who uses Outlook calendar, and who is usually asking to see the notes of the note-taker. You will likely have to cater to the needs of your team when you communicate, but if you are using anything except your voice or physical presence, remember that it leaves the tone of your communication up for interpretation. I am not suggesting that you use emoticons in every email, just that you consider how that person may receive your message. Sometimes managers can come off as being short or rude, when they are really trying to be factual or clear. Reread your message aloud to yourself before you hit “send,” and make sure you use your manners: Barney, please contact the client by 2:00. Thank you. “Please” and “thank you” are not submissive; they are professional and respectful.
Also, consider your verbal communication. Your message should focus on the point and avoid “I” and “you,” which usually cause someone to be defensive or emotional. Instead of “I believe you could handle this task if you were more organized,” you should say, “Organizational skills are crucial to carry out this position’s responsibilities.” The first sentence assigns blame and raises defense. The point isn’t about the speaker (I) or the employee as a person (you). The second sentence takes the “person” out of it and is focused on the job.
Non-verbal communication is just as important; after all, we do most of our communication this way. Does your posture indicate you are open to new ideas, positive discussion and collaboration? Is your overall tone supportive, encouraging and appreciative, or negative, confrontational and stressed? How you handle the situation when a problem arises will set the bar for your team, good or bad.
All of these points can be applied to how you assess communication with your customers. Do your best to leave emotion out, but keep manners and professionalism in. Refer back to those policies you were up front about, and don’t assume your staff or customers know that you appreciate their time or business: tell them so! If you go out of your way to communicate that message, you will have both loyal employees and loyal customers. iBi