Bad customer service is rarely the fault of a specific customer service rep. It happens because management has failed to equip its service staff with the culture, training, and support they need. Give your team these 6 tools and watch them smoothly convert problems into opportunities.
1. The guarantee that your company is not out to cheat your customer. The truth is, a lot of companies really don’t care about their customers–if they did, they wouldn’t come up with many of the policies they espouse or make customers jump through the hoops they do. At my company, every single rep I hire is taught that, no matter what problem they are asked to resolve, they can rest assured that my company has not purposely done anything that might cause a problem for our clients–we don’t ever cut corners on our products, we don’t make things difficult for customers, and on the rare occasions when we screw up, we stand up.
2. Insensitivity training. Yes, I actually mean a rep must learn to be insensitive–to her own feelings, not the customer’s. Customer service is hard because the rep is almost always tasked with bearing responsibility for mistakes that other people made. Most companies expect her to keep her cool without ever telling her how to do so. Every single rep I hire is drilled to understand that no matter what the customer says or how he says it, she must remember it is not about her. It may feel horrible to get an earful from someone, but the customer who has just been wronged feels even worse. His feelings trump hers because he is the one who has been hurt. By training her to keep that in mind, my company helps to safeguard the rep’s own well-being and exit each interaction feeling she has excelled at her mission.
3. Quickly accessible data regarding every transaction your company makes. I’m sure you’ve called a place and reported an issue with a service or product, only to be told that the person you are speaking with can’t help because she can’t see the details of the order, has to consult the person who helped you initially, or must do some research and call you back. Every single rep I hire is given access to the same information–full order history, account notes, shipping information, and more–directly from her seat. In a heartbeat, she can access any part of what happened from the moment an order was received to the time and place it was delivered. No awkward silence, no fumbling for facts, no need to call back later. She has the necessary information to determine where things went wrong and get working directly on the resolution instead of wasting precious minutes digging for data.
4.The authority to use common sense. It sounds self-evident, but if you call 9 out of 10 customer service departments these days, common sense doesn’t usually factor into the solution. Management prefers to issue pages of rote policy rather than adequately train its customer service team on how to develop custom solutions on the fly. Every single rep I hire is given parameters to help them understand the possibilities for resolving problems that arise, but they are expected to operate on the principle that the best solution will come from listening carefully and acting in the way they would want someone to resolve the problem if they were on the other end of the line.
5. A right to make mistakes. Customer service reps are paralyzed by the fear that if they do something off-book, they will be fired. No one can give righteous customer service when they are concerned that doing so may end their career. Every single rep I hire is told by me personally that I prefer they do what they think is right even if it turns out that there might have been a better solution that would have made the customer happy and cost my company less. Mistakes are not grounds for terminations, they are a moment for rich learning to take place–and allowing them to happen gives customer service reps the chance to give their all.
6. Praise for being on the frontlines. Giving good service is not par for the course–if it were, it would be ubiquitous. It is a very delicate art of listening hard, putting someone else’s needs first, and acting without a safety net. Every single rep I hire is made to feel that what she does is important work, that it is valued, and that without her, my company would not be the company our customers love and are loyal to.
If you want your service team to make you proud, give them the tools to do so. You’ll have less unhappiness to deal with from employees and customers alike, and your bottom line will thank you for it, because good service is the cornerstone of repeat business.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.