Invest in Customer Service Training
Training yourself and your employees to see things from the customer’s point of view is a crucial early step toward creating a culture of customer service. Training can help you nix simple mistakes and turn your employees into customer service standouts.
Learn the Ins and Outs of Customer Service
Consider starting your customer service education with the basics: free online resources, such as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s free video training on customer service.
To delve more deeply into your customer service education, consider turning to organizations like SCORE that offer free training, resources, and mentoring for small business owners. For example, SCORE offers business workshops on an array of topics, including customer service, both in-person and online, with recorded versions available to view at any time.
Make it a practice to read blogs and books and listen to podcasts to continue learning on your own. If you have a commute, consider using that time to cue up audio versions of must-reads like “Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service” by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, or “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose” by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, in which he explains the thinking that makes his company legendary for wowing customers.
Taking the time to continue to learn, think, and improve on your service delivery will put you far ahead of the competition because so many small business owners are still making basic customer service mistakes that are easy and often free to fix.
Train Employees to Provide Excellent Service
In order to provide good service, every employee in your organization needs to be trained on what to do and what not to do. Here’s a step-by-step guide to training your employees:
Hire the Right Employees
Start by recognizing that all of your employees are in sales and that you need to hire people who can provide great service, no matter what the position. That’s because you should create a company culture in which, if an employee were hired to take out the garbage and they see a customer who needs help, they stop what they’re doing and help, says Susan Solovic, aka “The Small Business Expert” and a New York Times bestselling author on small business.
Take your time to choose a candidate who has a caring attitude, patience, and the ability to listen, empathize, ask questions, and solve problems. For example, years ago, small business owner Deborah Sweeney, of MyCorporation.com, decided to provide better customer service by switching from an automated phone answering system to human beings. When she hires people to answer phones, she knows that she’s not hiring a “receptionist,” she’s hiring the face and voice of her company. She tells new hires that a big part of their job involves “answering the phone and being fabulous.”
2. Coach New Hires in Simple Techniques for Talking to Customers
Immediately teach new employees the best ways to interact with customers and role play with them so they can practice their new skills. They need to learn to empathize, apologize, and defuse the situation when dealing with an upset customer.
Train your employees to truly listen to a customer and to adapt their approach and words to the situation. A casual-yet-professional style of speaking, with contractions, short sentences, and a light tone of voice, can warm up an interaction with a customer and help your company build a relationship if the customer has a question or minor concern that your staff can easily fix.
However, if a customer is angry or extremely frustrated, or if you are unable to give them exactly what they want, it can be helpful to adopt a slightly more formal, serious, manner.
It can be helpful to teach easy-to-remember techniques that your employees can rely on in a stressful service situation. For example, the Telephone Doctor, a business that offers customer service training, recommends using the “ASAP” approach to diffuse a problem. ASAP stands for Apologizing immediately, Sympathizing with the customer’s situation, Accepting responsibility, and Preparing to help solve the problem.
Small business owner Jen Oleniczak Brown uses a simple “improv technique” at The Engaging Educator, a company that teaches communication, presentation, and social skills to everyone from kids on the autism spectrum to senior VPs of large companies. Teach employees to say, “Yes, and …” when interacting with a customer, she recommends.
For example, if an irate customer accuses your employee of being rude, teach them to say, “Yes, you feel I was rude, and I think we have a misunderstanding. How can we make this better?” This way, “You’ve given the customer the control, defused the situation, and shown empathy,” she says.
Consider Sending Employees to Outside Training
Various organizations and companies offer customer service training that can help take your business to the next level, says Gene Marks, who owns a small tech company.
Consider sending key employees, such as your customer service manager, to an in-person seminar or bringing in a pro to train your whole team.
For example, the American Management Association offers two-day customer service seminars in large cities across the country for under $2,000 per person.
Dale Carnegie Training offers two-hour mix-and-match modules on various customer service topics, and these can be delivered online or in a classroom on site. Topics include building customer loyalty, telephone service, and service-based selling.
Model Good Customer Service and Enlist the Help of Customer Service Standouts
Make it a point to solve customer problems in front of your employees so they can see how you want it done.
If you have an employee who’s particularly good at customer service, ask them to help teach others their techniques. Set up lunch-and-learn sessions or just ask the employee to provide tips to others throughout the day, Marks says. “That way, people can learn right there and then,” he says.
Watch and Offer Feedback in Real Time
Make it a point to work near your customer service employees occasionally. One of Marks’ clients learned the importance of this when he moved his desk into the middle of the customer service area while his office was being painted. “He learned a lot during those two weeks,” Marks says. During that time, he was able to offer on-the-spot training by popping his head over a cubicle and making suggestions for alternate ways to deal with customer issues.
Sweeney makes sure she’s often out on the floor among the employees who field calls. If she hears an employee having a tough time on the phone, she signals them to route the call to her so she can help out. Afterward, she talks with the employee to offer pointers.
Create a Library of Customer Service Resources
Another way to help employees cut the learning curve on training is to build a library of frequent customer issues and questions, says David Kosmayer, founder and CEO of Bookmark, which helps people build websites. The library is a guide for customer service reps on how to solve common problems with which customers regularly need help. “This has been the greatest component to the success of our customer service team,” he says.
Once they’ve been trained on the basics, new customer service reps can learn more in depth by browsing and using the library, which is kept in folders or by topic on Google Drive. “My advice is to start early,” he says. Start building it by simply adding frequently asked questions with in-depth answers. It doesn’t have to be exhaustive, and it will grow over time, he says.
The system helped the Bookmark team provide excellent service during a recent product launch when thousands of new users signed up in a day. “This would’ve normally been a nightmare for our customer service team,” he says. “However, since we had previous expectations of what new users ask in our library, that made the customer success team’s job 10 times easier.
SOURCE: The Hartford SmallBiz Ahead