EPMEPM: Customer Service

As Easy as ABC

It’s easy to make your agency even more successful by returning to the basics of good business. To shine in customer service, go back to the classroom and rethink your ABCs.

A is for Attitude; B is for Business Knowledge; C is for Customer Satisfaction
We all know the essential ingredients of what makes great customer service; after all, we are all customers ourselves. We know what we like and don’t like, we know how we feel as the recipients of poor customer service at the shops, or waiting for a tradesman, or the frustration of hanging on the phone trying to get through to a utilities provider.

What are some of the things we look for ourselves as customers? Run through your alphabet. Do words like Answers, Courtesy, Dependable, Fast, Genuine, Helpful, Integrity, Knowledge, Listen, Quality, Respect and Trust come to mind? Take five minutes and think about it. What’s important to you?

Good Customer Service is the lifeblood of any business. Even if you reduce your rates or fees, or if you run a highly successful marketing campaign resulting in many new clients, unless your customer service is first-class, meaning your clients are bringing you repeat and referral business, your agency won’t be profitable or sustainable in the long term.

As a customer yourself, you already know the answers: good customer service is all about keeping the customer happy. Success comes from more than industry skills and knowledge; it’s about developing rapport and trust, respecting your stakeholders, delivering on your promises, exceeding expectations and most of all listening, listening and listening some more!

It’s been said that good customer service is based on 90 per cent listening to your customer or client and 10 per cent action. Try and understand what your client is really saying to you. What do they really want or need? Not everybody is a great communicator, and if you’re not listening, you could miss the important messages. Make it a habit to paraphrase back your understanding of the situation and also clarify expectations, including cost and timelines. You’d be surprised how this simple action increases your outcomes and effectiveness through eliminating misconceptions, delivering quick turnarounds and enhancing your relationships. People appreciate the fact that you are listening and on the same page.

If you have forgotten the easy lessons of customer service, here are some quick and easy reminders to get you and your team back on track and reaping the rewards of best practice customer service.

Answer The Phone
Sounds pretty simple, but nothing is more certain to annoy your clients than not being able to get through to you. They may feel offended that you are apparently more important and busier than them. Your clients are busy people too. If necessary use call forwarding or a short voice message which outlines a response time.

Promises are not Made to be Broken
Don’t make a promise unless you can keep it! Nothing is worse for your reputation, to say nothing of your nose-dive in customer satisfaction levels. Reliability is a key to developing trust and confidence with your client. If you can’t meet your promise, advise your client as soon as you can, apologise and find a solution.

Complaints – Take Them Seriously
No one likes hearing a complaint – but don’t be tempted to put your head in the sand and ignore it. Here’s where those words like listen, courtesy, polite and response come into play. You may not agree with the complainant, but you must always deal with it. Ensure you investigate or can explain the situation. Keep the customer in the loop. You will be surprised at how quickly the complainant cools down once they know you are serious and respectful. And if the mistake is yours, you’re only human. All it takes to rectify the situation is to admit fault, apologise for the inconvenience, and take responsibility to fix the problem. It’s only when companies start covering up their mistakes and refusing to admit their faults that customers get aggravated and leave in disgust.

Always be Helpful – Even When There’s Nothing In It for You
Ever heard of paying it forward, karma or word of mouth? This is one of my favourite customer service tips. People really notice when you go the extra mile, and rest assured, you will get the benefits one day if being helpful is part of your agency’s culture.

Call Customers by Name
Did you know that psychology studies have found that names have a profound impact in any social setting because people like hearing their names spoken? Customers are no different. Make a point to remember and address customers by their names, and you’ll immediately notice the difference it makes. Customers feel respected and pleased when you remember them. It develops a bond and people like doing businesses with people they like.

Are You Visible?
It makes good business sense if your clients know who’s who in your agency. The hardest thing when looking for customer service support is finding out how and who to get help from. This is made more difficult when a business’ contact information is not made visible enough. It’s a good idea to train clients to recognise you and know you by name, so they’ll know who’s in charge. When they need that service they’re looking for, they immediately know how and who to reach.

Don’t Confuse Customer Service with Sales Opportunities
Nothing will annoy a client more than being given a sales pitch when they are seeking technical support. Remember, you should be listening to your clients’ needs and providing reasonable answers.

Don’t hesitate to seek feedback. Ask questions that will lead you to new ways of improving your business and better serving your clients. It’s a win-win situation for both of you.

Don’t Forget to Say Thank You
A thank-you call, note, letter of appreciation or site visit is a simple but highly effective gesture. It can mean a client lost or a client retained for the long term. Always find ways to genuinely let your customers, clients, stakeholders and staff know how much they mean to you and yourbusiness.

Finally, don’t fall into the trap of customer service just being a policy without action. Whether you’re an independent agent or part of a large franchise group, providing best practice customer service should be part of your culture. Remember, it’s as easy as ABC!

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Natalie Hastings

Natalie Hastings is the Managing Director of Hastings + Co. For more information, visit hastingsandco.com.au.