Category Archives: Training

How To Align Your Customer Service With Your Company’s Values

Many companies have value statements and company goals, but they often miss the mark when they try to determine how to align a specific team to these statements. When you think about how to align your customer service team with your company’s goals, what comes to mind? Do you only think about the staff on the phones or taking those emails and trying to make the customer happy or do you visualize all of the other parts of the business? Do you think about sales, marketing, and product development side-by-side working with customer service, for example, learning from the frontline team and working together to retain customers? If you do, you’re probably on the right track, but sadly you might be the exception!

Traditionally, the perspective was that each of these groups worked in a silo, each having different objectives and methods of achieving them. However, with new tools and technologies in place, it’s possible for many different parts of the business to have information about a prospect/client and what their circumstances are. The new paradigm is that all parts of the company work together as a whole to create a great customer experience. 

This doesn’t happen by accident. It takes strong leadership and good planning to get everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction. But thorough execution pays off. 

Companies who have successfully aligned department goals have seen up to 36% higher customer retention rates and 38% higher sales win rates

Promote Integration Within Your Company 

When the different departments within your company don’t communicate, each department might have a narrow-minded idea of its function within the company. For instance, if your sales team just worries about meeting its targets by any means necessary, they might promise customers product features that are only in development – or not even planned. Aside from the disappointment, this causes to the customers, this has a significant impact on the support organization also.  Customer’s do not want to call, they are most interested in a product that works and delivers the features they were expecting and have paid for. When there is a discrepancy between expectation and reality, you tend to negatively impact customer loyalty and any short-term gains in sales, are not worth the reward.

A similar problem is when a product is released to the field without involving support at any stage of the process. If a customer has a new product/service or feature that the support team is unfamiliar with, their experience will be less than optimal. While support is often able to find the solution, this experience, is less than professional and will only frustrate your customers.

Clear communication is vital when solving the problem of how to align your customer service with the other divisions in your company. 

Have a Clear Idea of Who Your Customers Are 

A great way to unite all your departments is to promote the idea that they all have the main goal of creating a great customer experience. In order to do that, you have to know exactly who your ideal customers are. 

Customer profiles can help everyone get a clear idea of your target demographic and see them as real people, not just abstractions. 

  • Align your customer service through cross-team training sessions – When everyone in your company has some understanding all the different processes in the organization, they’ll be able to address problems from a new perspective. For instance, if your sales team sits in on a customer service call and sees for themselves the consequences of creating customer expectations that can never be met, they’ll be able to see how they need to re-align their actions. Most of all, shared experiences increase understanding among all your teams. Your customers can only benefit. 

  • Similarly, having developers and other senior technical staff, work on cases will only benefit the customers. Often features are created and designed without a clear understanding of the end user and how they will utilize the solution, if the developers are forced to solve these common user problems, they’ll actually work harder to build a product that meets real-world situations. Everyone benefits from an improved product, and customers love to see their that their voices have been heard. This creates brand loyalty and improves your reputation.

  • When thinking of how to align your customer service with your greater goals, maybe you should really be thinking of how to align your greater goals with your customer service. Your customer service team knows your customers and is plugged into your customers like no one else. In some ways, they have the best knowledge of customer needs and desires, which is a valuable resource to guide the rest of the company. However, there can be a problem with too much information. How can your customer service team identify what is important and needs to be passed on to the product team? An important part of how to align your customer service is to have a clear mission and product goals that are communicated to everyone in the company. If your customer service team has access to your product roadmaps, specs, and design mockups, they’ll be able to tell what customer feedback the product team needs to hear, and what is not relevant to the product in question. 

    Keep Your Brand Consistent 

    Your customers don’t care about your internal organization schematics. They expect a consistent experience whether they’re dealing with sales, marketing, customer service, or any other section of the company. They also expect you to remember them across channels. If they gave information to a sales rep, your social-media guru should be able to access it if the customer sends a Facebook message. 

    There are few things customers hate more than having to repeat themselves, and a good CRM and good inter-departmental communication means they won’t have to. 

    Organize everything in one easily accessible place This could be an extensive software system or a Trello board – the important thing is that everyone has access and can see how the company as a whole is doing. Omnichannel CRM tools like Freshdesk are excellent in this respect as they are simple and easy to use with everyone on the same page.

     Accessible measurements for such things as 

    • customer satisfaction, 
    • team performance for all divisions, 
    • productivity,
    • the number and subject of support requests, 
    • and team member suggestions; 

    let everyone keep in mind the real numbers, making it easier to track trends and implement improvements. 

      Everyone can see the real numbers across the board, so action can be taken based on real data, not emotionally-based motives. For instance, if a few customers are really upset over a new feature, it might seem that it’s not been received well when the reality is that most customers love it. 

      Give Your Outsourced Teams In-House Training 

      It’s very common for a company to outsource at least some of its functions, especially customer service responsibilities. This is fine as long as you make the effort to maintain the quality of your customer experience. Make sure everyone follows the same standards and meets the same KPIs. 

      Show that you value everyone’s hard work and set up rewards for outstanding performers whether they’re outsourced or work in your main office. Aligning your company departments with a shared vision allows you all to work together, which increases engagement and improves your bottom line.

      How Storytelling Helps in Customer Service

      Agents as the Organization’s Ears and Voice

      Call center representatives play the vital role of being the ears of the organization. Most customers find filling formal surveys and questionnaires to be too cumbersome and a lot of feedback is left uncollected. However, customers give out titbits of information during phone conversations which can be eye-opening for the company. Call centers are data rich for this reason and as such should be more efficient in collecting customer stories. 

      Agents at the same time are the voice of the company and customers will often judge the company according to their support team. How your agents carry themselves in conversation and share information adversely affects your brand image. This is why the reps shouldn’t give stories of how they are in a powerless situation where they would like to help but their hands are tied. It gives off a negative impression. Encourage agents to create their own hero stories where they are the main character in the story, who gets the job done.

      Why you Should use Storytelling in Contact Centers

      The reason storytelling is so powerful is that it assists in getting buy-in from both the customers and top executives. After collecting data from various feedback channels like surveys, CSAT, NPS and CES, it is best to deliver the insights in form of stories. Bombarding agents with charts and presentations to show them how to make changes to the customer experience is highly ineffective. Telling a story instead helps the agents to comprehend how they are going to fit changes and improve the customer experience. 

      At the same time, the stories that agents collect are supposed to be shared with the team since they are a rich source of data. CX managers ideally should come up with a framework for sharing stories e.g. a roundtable discussion or channels to communicate with top-level management.

      Another overlooked advantage of storytelling is that it helps the story-teller to fly under the radar. Stories are so effective since the listener gets to learn a lot without knowing it consciously. Nowadays, a lot of companies are being exposed and ridiculed for their blatant attempts at advertising themselves, especially on social media. 

      These range from awkwardly referencing social media trends to tracking website cookies and conspicuously sending tailored adverts based on the viewer’s browsing history. Storytelling is a more covert way of spreading information in an engaging way that makes the customer recognise that certain steps lead to the expected outcome. Customers can also be hesitant to be open and honest when they are asked for feedback about a certain feature or product. But when telling a story about their experience with the new product, they unknowingly offer a sea of valuable and honest information. As highlighted before, stories are also easier to remember and a well told story will leave a lasting impression on the customer.

      How to Create Customer Hero’s out of Your Agents

      Doing this might mean some organizational changes as well as training. Not everyone is a good storyteller but it is a skill that can be taught. A recent study by Microsoft and Nucleus discovered that companies with successful contact centers have designed their organizational structure and leveraged technology to their advantage. As such, the structure can be renovated to accommodate more internal exchange of stories and insights. 

      To teach storytelling, one should break down stories into individual parts e.g. the usual details, the customer problem, the business problem, the steps to take, the actions to take and finally the desired outcome. 

      It instantly becomes easier to relate an interaction into a story and advise the customer. The agents should weave in their own anecdotes or prior experiences to show empathy, but shouldn’t resign themselves to the victim role. Stories should also stay on topic to avoid diluting the message. Integrating storytelling into call center conversations will make the organization more productive and improve the customer experience as well.


      As a manager, it is a key requirement to ensure that your team is appropriately trained on the minutiae of the job. How to find customer information, how to respond to customers, dealing with Irate customers and troubleshooting issues are obviously all things that you would ensure that your team receives. However, how important is it to you to ensure that YOU are receiving the appropriate training and improving your skills?
      It almost goes without saying that the only constant in our world today is that “change is inevitable”. If you understand this fact then dealing with the constant pace of it is something that is fairly easy to take in stride.

      From year to year, and inside each subject itself, what is taught at school and the way it is taught itself changes.  This is natural – new things are being researched all the time and what was considered FACT one day is quite often flipped on its head the next.  With the constant growth and change that we experience every day of our lives dealing with the pace is an issue in and of itself as more often than not, the greatest discovery of the day is just a piece in the puzzle to something much larger.
      Now while you could afford to just “coast” along in school as you were being rated and graded against others being taught exactly the same material, in the “real world” this mentatility just doesn’t work.  Your competitors in business and in your own workplace are constantly advancing their skills in an effort to be more efficient and provide an even better product or service at a lower price all the time – after all we live in a capitalist society and thats the hallmark of it isn’t it?  The customers determine the leader and if you want to be part of that crowd you cannot afford to neglect your personal developement.
      While its clear that this is a message that has been learned at the Senior Level, most employees don’t realize this and think that Senior Management just decide which way to steer the ship and then step back and let it go on its way.  If you really look at it though, the readjustments and refining of technique are something that Senior Managers do all the time and they base this new direction on what they are learning from other companies and even their competition!
      The transition from an average Manager to a top tier Manager is gradual, but knowing the latest trends and information definitely play a factor in this. This is obviously NOT just a matter of being able to spout the latest and greatest “buzz word” that is currently in vogue. The only way to truly advance is to actually understand what you are talking about and to believe in its value and potential. Being ISO certified is easy – understanding that ISO is NOT just paper-pushing which is the common misconception is something else altogether.

      For those at the starting point of their management career the focus should be on Soft Skills. Things like Team Work, Leadership, Dealing with Change, Time Management are all crucial skills that are useful for the young Manager and also show a demonstrable return for the company. 

       With this knowledge in place (and keep in mind, retraining is key as if you don’t use it … you lose it!) the focus should be shifted towards industry and technology specific disciplines. You should aim for courses that not only provide you with an improvement but that can demonstrate an obvious return on investment to your company. 
      Things like Process Improvement and Cost Minimization are both emphasized in ITIL and Six Sigma certifications. Ensure that you are keeping abreast of the latest trends in your industry – read trade publications and technical journals, network with your peers in similar positions … SPEAK TO YOUR CUSTOMERS! … find out what they are interested in and what they would like to see your company provide to them. 
      While Managers today have less time then in days past – if training if structured correctly it can be useful and relevant and should be able to show an immediate impact to the organization. It is key to remember to that training cannot be a single event and should be considered a constant – just like change – as that is the only way to stay in the race and eventually – WIN IT!!

      Why Is Training Important?

      There are several key reasons to ensure that your staff are appropriate trained and skilled.  Perhaps the most important is that it ensures your team is better able to provide a response to your customer that is appropriate to their issue or problem.   In addition, by ensuring that your staff have the right skills, your company is better prepared for the future and will be significantly more efficient and productive.

      Reasons for Employee Training

      Some of the most common reasons for training and development include the following:
      • Based on a performance appraisal and issues identified
      • To improve a companies performance and efficiency
      • To improve an employees future job prospects within the company
      • To help a company deal with a new technology or tool
      • To help a company obtain a specialized certification

      Training Types

      Generally training is split into two main categories (although these can also be combined in some fashion):
      • Internal Training – Provided by the company directly, this is most common with call centers and technical support teams.  Internal training provides information about the specific company and is extremely useful to new employees trying to learn the essentials of what the business does, what products the company provides and what types of customers are serviced by the business.  Internal Training is generally provided by internal resources that have the relevant skills and this type of training can be both structured and unstructured.  Often internal training is conducted for external 3rd parties also to ensure that prospective customers understand the underlying structure of a business and what its products are able to do (and more importantly perhaps, what they cannot do!).
      • External Training – External training is somewhat more structured and is generally provided by a 3rd party business or company.  This training is skill specific and is often provided if and when a business does not have the relevant skills in house.  A good example of External Training are certifications – either technical or quality related.

      Training Benefits

      Training has significant benefits to businesses in several different areas, most notably however with regards to employee motivation and retention.  Training is generally considered a “benefit” and those companies that provide this to their staff on a regular basis have an increased level of staff satisfaction.  Also – those businesses that provide this to their staff have a better trained and skilled workforce which translates directly into an improved level of Customer Satisfaction.

      The Importance of Training (Part II) – Management Skills

      How important is it to ensure that your skills are up to date?  Assuming that you received your certification or degree several years ago, has the technology you are supporting changed?  Are the teams you are managing still using the same tools and resources they used to in the past?  
      The one thing that is constant in this world of ours is that change is inevitable and universal.  This very much means that what you knew last week and last year is now obsolete. Just as it is important to ensure that your team is appropriately trained to support your customers and products, it is also essential that you are trained on the latest and greatest.
      Think about it like this – in school a syllabus would change from year to year.  Regardless of the subject being taught, neearch and knowledge constantly advanced and grew and what the next batch of students were taught differed in a lesser or greater degree.  Now, it was fine in school as you were with your peers and everyone was being tested against the same standard – however in the real world, this just doesn’t work.  Your peers are also your competition and whether they are inside your company or part of another company it is crucial that you maintain a current and relevant base of knowledge with regards to your companies products and services and how to best support them.  There is a constant need to get yourself trained and to upgrade your skills irrespective of your position in the company.

      What most employees tend to forget is that while Senior Management are key instruments in providing direction and support to the entire company, they have not forgotten the importance of ongoing training and learning and this lesson needs to be realized at the middle Management level also.  The transition from an average Manager to a top tier Manager is gradual, but knowing the latest trends and information definitely play a factor in this.  This is obviously NOT just a matter of being able to spout the latest and greatest “buzz word” that is currently in vogue.  The only way to truly advance is to actually understand what you are talking about and to believe in its value and potential.  Being ISO certified is easy – understanding that ISO is NOT just paper-pushing which is the common misconception is something else altogether.

      Someone just starting out on the Management track however needs to focus on soft skills.  Things like Team Work, Leadership, Dealing with Change, Time Management are all crucial skills that are useful for the young Manager and also show a demonstrable return for the company.  Once this base is in place additional training which is focused on industry and technology trends should be looked at and into with the focus being on advancing the Manager and department that he is responsible for.  

      As you gradually work your way up the ladder, this training becomes more theoretical in basis, however it will have an increased value to the organization as the scope of your responsibilities continue to increase.

      A Manager at any level is well advised to keep abreast of the latest trends and information affecting his industry through the use of technical journals, trade publications, networking and even the Internet as a whole.  By speaking to customers and other managers in the industry further training and planning can be determined and while Managers today have less time then yesterday, the training if structured correctly can be useful and relevant and should be able to show an immediate impact to the organization.

      It is key to remember to that training cannot be a single event and should be considered a constant – just like change – as that is the only way to stay in the running.

      Managing Technical Teams

      Managing technical staff is becoming more of a challenge daily.  Even more so, when your staff are MORE technical than you are – which to some extent is expected … you are a manager and responsible for multiple area’s of the company, they are specialists and able to focus on their area to the exclusion of everything else.

      In most cases technical staff are those who prefer to perform their work with little or no supervision and they often view Managment “oversight” as a hinderance to their – getting the job done.  They also quite often forget that at the other end of the phone line, there is a customer (or customers) that has been impacted and regardless of the fact that they “think” they can resolve the problem, there are timelines and SLAs in place to ensure that issues get escalated.   Now, while “techs” are members of the team that managers depend upon heavily to resolve the problem, it is the managers responsibility to understand the “big picture” and also the challenges faced by these key members at a non-technical level.

      The manager is responsible for balancing the needs of the company against the needs of these key resources and obviously directing technical staff can be a challenge.  It is made even more of one, by those managers that are unable to step back and release control.  The understanding between a manager and his team must be such that trust exists at either level.  You trust them to get the job done in a timely manner and escalate those problems that they are unable to handle & they trust you to keep their best interests in mind, work with them to get more training (which is something a “true” techie will never have enough of), ensure that they have the resources and training to resolve the problems that you are assigning to them and in those instances where its necessary … pull them back and away from a problem so that they do not get defeated.  This mutual respect MUST be in place if the team and organization is expected to be effective. 

      The manager of a technically oriented department MUST have a reasonable grasp of the technologies and issues that his staff will face.  They should be able to understand it at a “high” level, but it is OK to let your staff know that they are smarter than you!  Remember they are skilled in their unique discipline and while you could not do their job, they are not managers and could not do your job either.  It is far more important for the manager to be able to direct the staff to the right resources, tools or training when working issues.  If the employee cannot perform the task with his current level of knowledge, it is incumbent on the manager and the company to ensure that appropriate and relevant training is available in a timely (& frequent) manner.  Technical skills “rust” when not used and with the plethora of new technologies constantly being developed and launched it is very difficult to always be current with the newest while maintaining a grip on legacy tools/applications and knowledge.

      Managers are constantly expected to do more, with less resources, regardless of the economy (think about it – in good times, the number of customers you have are increasing whereas your resources won’t (at least not at a comparative rate) as the company is in business to make a profit … in bad time, you lose staff and have to service what customers you have left with fewer and fewer resources) and unfortunately is probably one of the few constants in our world!  Now, not only do you always have to do more with less, but you need to also ensure that the staff you have you KEEP!  The cost of hiring/training and integrating new staff and making them useful is a topic for another day, but suffice it to say, if you have a “good ‘un”, you want to keep him!  Its a fine line between customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction and its a tightrope you’ll be walking every day.  I generally tend to err on the side of employee satisfaction – if you have good staff, doing a good job who are happy doing that job … customer satisfaction just comes naturally!

      The Importance of Training

      How do you treat your new starters?  Do they get thrown in at the deep end – after all, they were hired for the skills you need, they should be able to just “pick it up” – right??  How did that go for you?  Were they your high performers?  No, starting to wonder why?
      Hard to believe as it might be, companies did this!  They left their new staff alone to “find their feet” and pick things up on their own.  However, fortunately most companies now provide some sort of introductory training or orientation for most of their new employees. The better companies have a dedicated training department that helps to integrate all new employees and following this some sort of mentoring from another more senior employee in a similar role or position.

      Now, the initial training – if done correctly – is actually a staged approach.  Generally HR would be responsible for showing the employee around the company, giving a little bit of detail with regards to the kitchen and all the details about time off etc… The training team or department would cover off the products and services that the new employee would be responsible for selling/servicing or supporting – in reality this should be a 2-3 week process at a minimum … think about it like this, unless your company is brand new, the complexities of your product or service are something that has grown over time.  Ensuring that your employee is able to answer questions about it properly using the correct tools is not something that can be picked up in a day.  If you are offering a proper training program – spend the time and do it right.  This should be followed by “on the job” training and again … spend the time to do it right.  One additional point?
      Do not restrict this to your staff at entry level positions.  Ensure that staff in management positions also receive the same or similar training.  This is beneficial for a couple of reasons – (a) it ensures you have a extra staff – your management team- available to “jump in” in case of emergency; (b) it gives your management team an insight into the work your staff do on a daily basis and as such a better understanding of your staff and their challenges and (c) your management team NEEDS to know how to use your tools!!!  I cannot emphasize this enough – you do not need managers able to program routers, but you do need those managers to understand some of the alerts that your monitoring system provides to you.  This team determines what issues get escalated and to whom and as such they need to have the appropriate tools available to them to make that right decision.
      Now so far I have only been speaking about training new staff.  The technology in the workplace is changing very rapidly and companies that can’t keep up will drop out of competition. It is definitely worth stating that you must ensure current and up to date internal and external training is available to your existing staff.  I will cover that in more detail in some later posts though.
      Is Training Worth it?
      Surveys have determined that approximately 60% of companies are planning on offering some level of training to existing staff.  Some of the reasons provided are the introduction of new technology into the work environment requiring staff retraining, improving employee performance and employee retentionin.  The current $ value assigned to these initiatives?  About $2000/employee of which the largest portion was spent on technology and process related training initiatives.  A paltry 2-3% was spent on New Employee orientation.
      Now, I am not trying to dismiss the amount spent – even at $2000/employee it is still a significant  cost and in industries with high employee churn – a major expense!
      Flip it on its Head
      Think about it another way though …
      • Its not a cost if you take into account the amount of time its taken you to find that employee in the first place.
      • Its not a cost if you take into account the inherent knowledge that senior employee has obtained while working for your company.
      • Its not a cost if you can get these new (& old) employees being your advocate OUTSIDE of the workplace.
      • Its not a cost if you want to provide valued and useful and timely service to your customers!!!
      Although mentioned last think about the last point I’ve said.  Which type of employee is going to be able to provide better service to your customer?  One that doesn’t understand your company, its culture, products and services or one that does?  In the end that is really THE MOST IMPORTANT thing to consider.  The only reason you are in business is the customers that you have and the best way to keep them is by ensuring that you provide an unparalleled level of service to them.
      Make sure that training becomes part and parcel of your company and its culture.  You want to get the right people in the door and integrate them into your teams as quickly and seamlessly as possible.  You also want to keep the people you have and ensure that you recognize that the training and development knowledge, attitude and skills of the employees you have are fundamental to your companies efficient and profitable performance.  Training should be so much a part of your culture that it is considered a benefit at the interview stage – you would be surprised at the number of people clamouring for this and the quality of these people!

      Work Ethic and Today

      A famous quote from Thomas Edison reads – 

      Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

      Thomas Edison
      Now how often have you been the one to procrastinate or put something off till later?  How often have you not studied for that big test or perhaps not got onto that train because the weather was a little bit bad or you felt a little bit under the weather?
      The unfortunate truth is that with the prevalence of modern conveniences that we now have available to us, people have gotten lazy.  It is easy to forget that a requirement for success is dedication and hard work.  This doesn’t mean that you stop using the tools available to you … what it does mean though is that you need to learn how to use them correctly.

      Work smarter – not harder … use your email client to track issues that you need to stay on top off – most clients have a “flag” option and any good email client will actually thread conversations together so that you do not need to read every individual message.  Use tasks and task management … if your email client doesn’t support this, use one of the free ones on the net – a great one that I use that is extremely customizable is called “Remember The Milk”.  Make sure that you have access to all the people and resources you need to instantly by keeping your address book synchronized through tools like Plaxo.  If you have a PDA (Blackberry, Palm or equivalent smartphone) make sure that your email client is integrated appropriately so that you can take it with you.  
      Remember however that you need to “clock off”!!  Do NOT work to the exclusion of your family.  You need to remember that the only reason you are there is to support your family and it should NEVER be the other way around.  

      Use appropriate and useful project management tools  – if you do not have access to Microsoft Project there are several free alternative Project Management sites that you can get access to – check out Zoho Doc for a good option.

      Think about MindMapping software – Freemind is a great application if you can download and use it on your desktop.  However, if your IT department has restricted your access you can use – – this is a free and fairly easy to use application.

      Irate Customers

      The unfortunate fact of the matter is that you will receive complaints from customers.  Sometimes these are warranted and sometimes not.  Having the skill and patience to deal with these types of issues is what makes (or breaks) an excellent service & help-desk team.

      People working the Customer Service and Helpdesk fields are often at the sharp end of having to deal with angry customers.  One the one hand, some of these customers are just looking for fault or being extremely picky or even those (shudder, dread) chronic complainers who just like to hear their own voice.  I’m not going to discuss those types of people in this post, as although they exist, generally, people who complain about a product or service are ones that have NOT received what they have paid for.  Most people don’t enjoy complaining and find it a difficult (and to be avoided) process, so keep this in mind when you are speaking to them.  They are NOT trying to just make your life difficult – they DO have a genuine issue that should be looked into and hopefully addressed.

      Difficult customers

      Come in several varieties including (but not limited to) the following: Angry, Impatient, Intimidating, Talkative, Demanding, Indecisive etc… and any (all) combinations you could think of.  Dealing with these extremes is not easy and shouldn’t be considered such, but the key is that they must be dealt with and must be dealt with in a Professional Manner! Just like you cannot change someone else, you cannot control someone else’s behavior  You have control only over yourself and your own actions. You can, however, influence how customers respond to you though, and I hope that my suggestions below give you some ideas.

      Realizing the Issue

      Remember that the majority of customers in the world are reasonable people. They may get “difficult” from time to time if they feel they’ve been let down. It’s how you handle them that’ll determine if they continue to be a problem or if you can turn them around. Difficult customers and situations usually occur because something has gone wrong.  It’s what happens then that’ll decide whether they deal with us again or bad mouth us to other people.  As I’ve mentioned in previous (& will be mentioned again in future) posts, is that the problem you are facing is not the one individual on the phone complaining about their problem.  It is the 10 or more customers that have left without speaking to you because they are dissatisfied!  A very good phrase you see advertised frequently – which you should always keep in mind – goes something like this:

      If you are happy with our service, please tell your friends.  If you are unhappy with our service – please tell us!

      This should be more than just a trite phrase that gets thrown around.  Companies need to actually believe, understand and live this statement.  The only way you are going to ensure that your customers are happy is by talking to them.  While a customer may be berating you, you still have an opportunity to win them over.  I cannot count the number of times that I have been able to do this and not only keep them with my company but transform them into my biggest advocates.  Research indicates that customers who complain are likely to continue doing business with your company if they feel that they were treated properly. It’s estimated that as many as 90% of customers who perceive themselves as having been wronged never complain, they just take their business elsewhere. So, angry, complaining customers care enough to talk to you and have not yet decided to take their business to the competition. They are customers worth saving.

      Turning Them Around

      OK, if I’ve not scared you away already, here’s what you need to do.  The steps below are laid out in a fairly logical fashion (and you will see that some of them overlap in terms of how they work) and is illustrative of most of the cases and situations you will come across.
      1. Control Yourself
      2. Listen
      3. Empathy
      4. Identify the Problem/Issue
      5. Don’t Blame Someone Else!
      6. Resolve the Issue
      Let’s explore each of these in a bit greater depth below.
      • CONTROL – The easiest way to do this is to remember that it’s not YOU!!  When a person complains about something, it’s important to remember that they’re not attacking you personally. It’s the problem they’ve encountered which is causing the irritation.  This correspondingly maps quite closely to the feedback you should be providing to your staff when they are not performing well and as mentioned in my review of the One Minute Manager.  Never argue with customers when they are angry, displeased or complaining. If you allow a customer to push your buttons and lose control of yourself, you’ve lost control of the situation. You can lose a good customer if you show boredom, irritation, disdain or displeasure. Remember if a customer is being abusive and difficult, it’s NOT YOU!!  If you can keep this in mind, dealing with them will be significantly easier … it’s crucial you maintain a respect for the person even if you don’t respect their behavior towards you.  Remember and repeat … they are NOT mad at YOU!!!  Apologies for the repetition, but this fact is extremely important and more than one Help Desk Manager has gotten flummoxed by the fact that they are taking the issue personally.
      • LISTENING – If an angry customer is explaining the situation to you … let THEM talk.  Do NOT interrupt them mid-flow to argue a point.  This sounds easier than it actually is as everyone wants to justify themselves or bring up some rationale for a fault … don’t do it!  Once you’ve asked the person to explain their problem or issue to you, it’s then crucial that you simply listen without any kind of interruption whatsoever until they’ve finished. This is the only way that you will get a full picture of the issue from the customers’ point of view.  Remember they are upset and in their eye’s justifiable!  You cannot take that away from them – regardless of what you say.  It’s your actions after that will determine how they feel at the end.  More often than not, once the customer has had an initial chance to vent his rage, it’s going to die down a little, and that’s your opportunity to step in.

      Say, “I can tell you’re upset…” or, “It sounds like you’re angry…” then connect to the customer by apologizing, or empathizing. When you say something like “I’m sorry that happened. If I were you, I’d be frustrated, too.” It’s amazing how much of a calming effect that can have. 

      • EMPATHY– OK, we’ve already touched upon this a little bit above, but let’s explore this in a bit more depth here.  Put yourself in the customer’s shoes, and try to see the situation from his/her perspective. Don’t try and cut him off, don’t urge him to calm down. Instead, listen carefully. If someone is angry or upset, it is because that person feels injured in some way. Your job is to let the customer vent and to listen attentively in order to understand the source of that frustration. When you do that, you send a powerful unspoken message that you care about him and his situation.  Often, as the customer comes to realize that you really do care and that you are going to attempt to help him resolve the problem, the customer will calm down on his own, and begin to interact with you in a positive way.   Once they’ve finished their diatribe, it’s important that you try to look at the situation from their perspective. Having not interrupted their flow and by listening intently, it’s already sent a signal to the person that you have listened and that you care about them and the situation they’re facing.
      • IDENTIFICATION – Sometimes while the angry customer is venting, you’ll be able to latch right on to the problem because it’s clear-cut. Something is broken. Or late. Or he thinks a promise has been broken.  Once you have identified what the problem is, it’s important that you reiterate it to the customer so that they are sure that you have heard them correctly. If you’ve assumed correctly, the customer will say ‘yes’ and then you can move on. If not, this is a good place for some specific questions. Ask the customer to give you some details. “What day did he order it, when exactly was it promised. What is his situation at the moment?” These kinds of questions force the customer to think about facts instead of his/her feelings about those facts. So, you interject a more rational kind of conversation.  Eventually, you will get to the heart of the matter and at that point, you should reiterate to them to ensure you’ve got it right and then you can move on to the next stage.  However … remember this … you MUST apologize for the problem caused by the customer and the impact that he has felt.  This is NOT an acknowledgment of fault or wrongdoing, simply another part of empathizing with your customer.
      • BLAME GAME – I don’t know how else to say it but to be frank.  This is NOT the customer’s fault.  NEVER blame them for coming to you with a complaint.  You should be thanking them for giving you an opportunity to excel! This might also not be your companies fault either, but it is still proper and correct for you to apologize. 
      • RESOLUTION – Now it’s time to try to resolve the situation. There is never going to be a successful outcome every time here and what may be a satisfactory resolution for one customer may not appease another but what is important is to go about trying to resolve the problem in the correct manner.   You won’t always be able to fix the problem perfectly. And you may need more time than a single phone call. But it’s critical to leave the irate customer with the understanding that your goal is to resolve the problem. You may need to say, “I’m going to need to make some phone calls.” If you do, give the customer an idea of when you’ll get back to him: “Later this afternoon.” Or “First thing in the morning.”
      Then do it. Whatever your commitment has been to the customer it is IMPERATIVE that you keep it.  If you do not, you will have them angry at YOU for not fulfilling your promise and this time they would be justified!   Even if you don’t have all the information you need, call when you said you would and at least let him know what you’ve done, what you’re working on and what your next step will be. Let the customer know that he and his business are important to you, that you understand his frustration, and that you’re working hard to get things fixed.
      If you are not going to be able to resolve the situation to the customers’ satisfaction – as them how they would like it resolved!  There is no harm in asking that simple question, and even if their response is not something you can do, perhaps it is something that could be done at a higher level of the organization. By taking all of these steps, you’ll have done your job to the best of your ability and in a manner which is likely to resolve most issues.

      You have the Power!

      It is important that you remain calm in the face of your customer’s anger.  This will allow you to think rationally and eventually win the customer around.  The moment you start reacting to them is the moment you’ve lost the plot and the control of the situation.  You will not succeed in your intent if you do this.
      The more you encounter difficult customers, the easier it becomes to deal with them and the more you’ll experience satisfactory outcomes. As long as you adopt an approach similar to that above, you’ll win more than you’ll lose.
      Nevertheless, always bear in mind that you’re never going to win them all.  Don’t get disheartened … if you have treated them with respect they will REMEMBER and chances are good when you competition causes them grief, they will be back!

      Exceptional Customer Service

      One important thing to remember from a Customer Service point of view is that the last person you speak to (or chat with or email) is also the most likely to buy your service or product in the future. This is obviously not a hard and fast rule, but more an estimation of the impact word of mouth plays with any business!

      A repeat customer does not happen by accident. It is something that is only developed (& nurtured) through hard graft and constant work. You need to build relationships and this is where Exceptional Customer Service comes into play.
      Communication is key. You have to remember that when a customer first signs up to your service – you should THANK THEM. They didn’t need to bring their service to you as I am sure that regardless of your industry you have competitors. A simple Thank You email will most times suffice. When the scope of the contract is sufficient, ramp it up to a personalized letter or perhaps even a bottle of wine at Christmas time! Now speaking to them when they first sign up is important – granted and mentioned … how about when they are having a problem???
      The only communication a customer has is with you and the only insight they have into the status of their issue is what you are telling them. There have been many instances where I have been able to “Save” a customer simply by giving them updates. Please note – I have not solved the problem, that still existed, all I have done is told them what we were doing to get their issue resolved, gave them a timeframe to when I expected (hoped and prayed in some cases!) their issues would be resolved, and when I would next communicate with them. One key thing to remember here is if you give a customer a commitment – make sure that you stick to it… Think about it from your point of view and if you were the one experiencing this issue – wouldn’t you like to know what was going on? You probably have customers of your own that you need to inform also! This is something that always seems to be lacking at the lower levels of a CSR team but should be enforced and driven down. Remember, your staff doesn’t need to give out sensitive information to satisfy your customers. Most customers know that the people they are speaking to are not the ones who have caused the problem and they are just there to help solve it – for those ones that don’t, I will discuss handling IRATE customers in depth in later posts.
      Give your customer as many ways as possible to get in touch with you. Obviously, resource constraints come into play also as you don’t want to offer 24/7 telephone support if you have a staff of 1. But perhaps in addition to email, offer chat as an option. When you get to the size where you can offer telephone support – do it, even if its only on an outbound basis.
      The one thing that you must always remember and keep uppermost in your mind whenever you are dealing with a Customer from a Service/Support standpoint, is that the issue they are experiencing which has caused them to contact you – is affecting them and THEIR BUSINESS. The only reason they are doing business with you is so that you can provide a specific service to them. Once you fail in that regards you have not fulfilled your side of the bargain and there are many surveys that point to the fact that when someone has a bad Customer Service experience, they are likely to tell at least 10 other people about it. Think about it this way … not only could you potentially lose the business and money this one customer is paying you … you have now lost 10 others also! Word of mouth, unfortunately, is a lot more prevalent when spreading the bad news than it is about the good service you provide.
      Now, what do you do if you had an issue (I’m assuming you’ve kept the customer informed throughout the process so that they are not too annoyed with you!) and have only just restored the customer’s service? Well, the first time it happens, you probably don’t need to do anything, aside from a brief apology! Hopefully, you’ve got an SLA in place and you’ve not exceeded the terms set out inside them. However in some cases, you might want to consider upgrading a customer to a better package or service – even if only for a limited time – you’d be surprised how often that works with customers and although the cost to you is not incidental … think about what the cost could potentially be if you had to find another customer!
      Exceptional Customer Service matters because retaining existing customers are significantly easier than finding new ones. Customer Churn and Retention are two phrases you might hear bandied about quite a bit depending on the industry you are in and in some – Telecoms for example – there are huge teams and departments created to address just these issues. Their main and only goals are to keep the existing customers that they have with them instead of losing them to other competitors. In a very simple example think about it like this. If you are the industry leader and have 1 million customers and your nearest competitor has only ½ a million, you might think you were doing great. However if you are only growing at the rate of 10% per year (due to the negative press you’ve been receiving) and are churning at 25% per year to that competitor (who in the same timeframe is growing at 50% per year) … how long do you think you have at the top? Trust me it’s a lot shorter than you think!!
      You want your customers to experience Exceptional Customer Service and instead of that 50% growth going to your competition you want it to flow towards your company. This mantra must be believed, understood and LIVED by your Customer Service Representatives and Support Teams. They need to understand that the reason they are getting a paycheque is that those customers are paying for it!
      It might be trite and tired and a little bit old but the one phrase that is absolutely true is –

      Love it, believe it and spread it on!

      Importance of Exceptional Customer Service

      When was the last time you had a coffee?  I don’t mean in the office, but in a regular takeout joint, one of those ones with a drive-through window?  Have you gotten to the window after repeating your order to the “big talking head” only to have it wrong when you get there?

      When someone says … “Can I take your order…” they should be prepared to do just that.  Other distractions and conversations should not take them away from the service they are meant to be provided to you!  Your team needs to learn the importance of this lesson – the Customer comes first and its always the customer that’s in front of you that you should be looking after.  Problems with previous customers or planning for future interactions should not impact the service you are providing at that moment in time.  Now some of the blame should definitely be placed at the feet of employers here. 

      Your training should always include a Customer Service component and even for staff that might not necessarily be working on the front lines, this module is a useful skill … if for no other reason than they are better able to empathize and prioritize their work to better assist your front line team that is dealing with customers.

      Remember – the goal at all times is not just solving the problem … even Customer Service teams are involved in Sales and the best and easiest sale is one that your existing customers make for you!  This happens through referrals and the only way you will get those is through Exceptional Customer Service.  If your customers know that you will go the extra mile for them and that you are going to be there for them, they will be happy to recommend your company and its product/services to others.  Conversely, they will also be the loudest voice denouncing your service if it is not up to the standard that they expect and are paying for!!