“Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed.”

Those are the words that I dread hearing when I call a customer service number seeking assistance with a product or service. When calling a customer service department, if I cannot get in touch with a real human being within 20 seconds or so, I can just feel my blood pressure beginning to rise. So, this gets me to ponder — what are the do’s and don’ts of exemplary customer service?

Well, you guessed it. The first “do” is to get the customer in touch with a real person to talk to within the shortest possible time. No one likes to be bounced around from one telephone menu to the next, having to listen to a host of options, only to realize that none of these really apply to your situation. So don’t give the customer a long wait on the phone or the runaround.

Once a real person is reached, the next “do” of quality customer service deals with the sincerity level and the respect that you are feeling from the person responding. Have you ever waited minutes to get to a real person only to feel that they are insulting your intelligence with what is obviously a canned response?  You explain your problem and they reply, “I can certainly understand how that would make you feel, sir.” This response in and of itself is not all that bad except for the fact that virtually every time you call this company you hear the exact same phrases almost word for word.

I understand that it is wise to put people in training and that one of the goals may be to teach your agents to empathize with the customer.  But empathy must be given as a real and honest response and not as part of a canned speech.  Hire people who can interact with customers in a genuine fashion and let them do it their way as a natural extension of their own personality. Customers love to connect with real people. So, do put real and genuine people on the front lines, and don’t train them to interact with customers in a rigid and rehearsed fashion.

The third “do” is to show respect to the customer. Listen intently to the them and appreciate the full gravity of the issue or problem. Respond with empathy in an honest and real fashion. Indeed, customer service is all about making the customer feel valuable and important. Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand how they feel…and do it sincerely. Do not get defensive with the customer or try to place blame on the customer.

The next “do” is to be honest. Do not make promises you cannot keep or that require additional authorization beyond your pay grade. But this is where upper management’s role comes into play. Upper management must also give people who are in direct contact with the customer a decent degree of authority to accept returns and make goodwill adjustments in order to achieve a satisfactory resolution in most cases. There is nothing more frustrating than finally getting through to a real person only to find out that this person has no authority to solve your problem.

Okay, so given that you have the proper level of authority to take action for your customer, you must also keep things simple. Requiring the customer to fill out 10 pages of documentation or transferring them to another department only to have that department transfer them to somebody else will create a whole new level of frustration and make this customer never want to buy from you again. Have a customer service solution system set up in advance that keeps it simple and keeps it quick.

Next, be sure to thank your customer for their business. Show appreciation and thank him or her for their business and their loyalty. Customers never get tired of receiving appreciation, and I am surprised sometimes how many times I see people in sales positions who simply forget to do this. Don’t leave for home or hang up without a thank-you.

And finally, always follow up to make sure the solution was fully executed and do your best to see to it that the problem does not happen again. Try to be an “intrapreneur.” Work within your company to help solve the underlying issues in the company’s infrastructure that caused the problem to manifest itself in the first place.  Then communicate back to the customer what is being done to fix things so that the problem they experienced does not happen again. It is this last step that elevates good customer service to the level of exemplary customer service. You become not only invaluable to the customer but also to the company for which you work. So don’t rest on your laurels and assume that the promises made to the customer will be executed promptly and that the issue will never happen again.

Olympic target shooters are taught to keep their eye on the target even after the trigger is pulled. Its called “follow-through,” and mastery of this technique is what separates championship shooters from the rest of the pack. So never forget to follow up with the customer to make sure that he or she is completely satisfied and let them know that solutions are being sought to improve product performance and service. Doing so will enhance their appreciation of your company and strengthen their loyalty.

Everyone knows that problems will crop up along the way. But it is how you deal with these problems that ultimately defines your level of commitment to the customer and determines their future loyalty.

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