We've all been there; the shoddy product that fell apart mere moments after you took it out of the box; the impatient sigh that escaped from a phone support agent's lips. Or the worst offender, a dismissive eye-roll from behind the customer service desk. Ah, nothing like great customer service, right?
These customer service failures not only send a customer's blood pressure skyrocketing, they can have a disastrous effect on both a business' image and its bottom line, says Micah Solomon, customer service consultant, keynote speaker and the author of the book, "High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service."
And good luck winning back a dissatisfied customer, or their friends and family for that matter; consumers aren't swayed as easily as in the past. "It used to be that customers could be convinced by slightly deceptive advertising," says Solomon.
We're in the "3H era" of customer engagement, says Solomon. Each "H" stands for the humans who play a pivotal role in helping a customer decide whether or not to patronize your business.
Who are they? Solomon lists them as:
- Humans who customers interact with at your company.
- Humans who customers know in their so-called real life.
- Humans who customers know and trust online.
A less-than-stellar experience with any one of them—or worse all three—could send both current and potential customers into the arms of your competitors. Solomon offers advice for delivering truly exceptional customer service.
4 Pillars of Outstanding Customer Service
1. The Perfect Product
Don't wait for something to go wrong to prove that you can offer a great customer service experience. Make sure that your "product or service is designed to work perfectly," advises Solomon.
In short, don't peddle junk. Offer your customers products and services that you would be glad to spend your own hard-earned money on. That way you build a solid relationship with your customers from the start.
2. Caring Delivery
No matter how great a product you offer, customers will avoid it if you don't deliver it with care and attention. "Customers tend to fixate on the caring delivery part," warns Solomon.
Take the airlines, for instance. No one is tweeting about the U.S. airline industry's stellar safety rating, reminds Solomon. Not a single passenger has died in a jetliner in the U.S. since 2009. Ironically, because "the airlines have done an astoundingly good job" on safety, other issues get magnified, he says.
Today, airline carriers are getting constantly dinged by complaints about lost and abused luggage, unfriendly service and other mishaps that go viral on Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels. Remember United Breaks Guitars?
Sure, your product may be the bee's knees. But if it's uncaringly plopped on your customers' laps, expect a revolt.
"A perfect product that you deliver late is a defective product," says Solomon in harsh, but accurate words.
Consumers don't play the waiting game anymore. "More and more millennials are coming into the marketplace," Solomon says, and they're bringing their want-it-yesterday attitudes with them. Millennials, having grown up with the instant-everything nature of the Internet, will move on rather than waste time.
"Expectations of what is timely are really changing," adds Solomon. With no shortage of choices, millennials have spoken. Better never than late.
4. Build an Effective Problem-resolution Process
"Expect things to go wrong," cautions Solomon, and be prepared to treat customers well—like family, practically—when they do.
Solomon calls his secret the "Italian Momma method."
He explains, "Think of your customer as the little bambino that took a spill on the sidewalk." Channel your inner Italian mother and shower your customers with attention and genuine concern when they come to you with an issue.
You see, a funny thing happens when you fuss over a customer.
Just as the bambino who survived his tumble largely unscathed—"Ma, it's not that bad," he might utter as he squirms out of mom's arms, says Solomon—a customer's perspective of the situation will wind up getting reset. Essentially, the mountain shrinks into a molehill.
Whatever you do though, "never try to convince them that it was not such a big deal," warns Solomon. And always "let the customer make it clear" that it's OK to move on to the problem-solving phase. Doing so makes for a smoother interaction for everyone involved.
Along with the four pillars, follow Solomon's tip for building long-lasting customer loyalty and stepping up as a truly exceptional customer service organization.
Create Anticipatory Customer Service
Want a customer for life? Follow the Ritz-Carlton's lead. The legendary luxury hotel chain operates under a credo that perfectly encapsulates the essence of world-class customer experiences, says Solomon. Employees serve "even the unexpressed wishes of their guests," he points out.
Needless to say, a stay at a Ritz-Carlton property is a memorable one that travelers delight in repeating.
Anticipatory customer service hinges on "paying attention to the customer in front of you" and what the customer wanted in the past. This way, "the customer feels that you know him, and you're anticipating what he wants before he even knows," says Solomon.
What if you don’t own a hotel or a customer-facing company (in the literal sense)? These days, great customer companies "allow an element of self-service," states Solomon. When you give consumers a measure of control over their accounts, and they can enter their own information—at a payroll services provider, for example—there will be fewer errors and negative experiences down the line.
If you provide self-service tools, chances are that you'll get to know your customers practically as well as they do.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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