Business Customer Service

The six pillars of great customer service

Customers are an essential part of your business, so keeping them happy is vital to the success of your company.

So what's the best way to ensure great customer service?

1. Make it easy for customers

Remove obstacles for customers to smooth their path, both before and after purchase. Make it easy for them to find the information and products they need on your website. Make sure your navigation labels are clear and understandable. Give clear, helpful product information that explains why the product would be useful to them and the benefits to them.

Make sure other information is where a customer would expect to find it, for example FAQs, About us and so on.  Many customers would prefer to resolve their own problems – so make sure that the information you have on your website can help them solve their own problems.

Explain how your customers can contact you – this helps customers understand that if they have a problem they can get in touch so you can help them resolve an issue.

2. Be proactive

Don't wait for problems to arise before deciding how to deal with them. Think through any common scenarios that customers may encounter and then set out your policies for terms and conditions, returns, how you will deal with their personal information and so on.

Address potential issues that customers might have and try to minimise problems arising. For example, show stock levels and indicate what is out of stock on your website and when delivery might be expected. This will prevent customers being disappointed after you have taken their order and then being told something is out of stock. It's also useful to remember here to be positive. Instead of saying "Sorry, we don't have that in stock", frame it more positively by saying "This item will be back in stock in two weeks’ time".

3. Set expectations

Let your customers know what to expect. Tell them how long it will take to fill out a lengthy form, and what documents they will need close to hand to complete it.

When a product is ordered, inform a customer how long it will be before their item is sent and when they can expect their delivery.

If you have feedback forms, indicate how long it will be before a customer can expect a reply.

4. Communicate

Give your customers clear information. For example, acknowledge orders and emails, even if you don't deal with them straight away so that customers are reassured that they have been safely received. Make sure the response lets them know the next steps.

If a customer has a problem, make it easy for them to contact you. Respond when you say you are going to, put in place systems so that they don't have to keep explaining a problem over and over again to different people. Try to resolve problems first time.

Explain exactly what you will do to resolve a situation so that the customer is left in no doubt what the remedy will be – leaving nothing to doubt or interpretation.

Don't forget communication is a two-way street. Consumer research has shown that customers care more about the quality of service than the speed. Customers feeling that they have been heard and had their issues addressed are much more likely to be satisfied customers.

5. Be honest

Don't oversell the benefits of products or inaccurately describe them. If they don't live up to customers expectations, they will be disappointed. A new shampoo might give someone cleaner, shinier hair but it won't make them look like a catwalk model.

Don't tell users their call is very important to you – if you then keep them on hold for 20 minutes. It's frustrating and infuriating. It’s much better to say that lines are very busy and it may take 20 minutes to get to their call, but here are other ways to contact us.

If there are delays to delivery then keep customers informed. They won't be happy about the situation but will be glad that you kept them in the loop.

6. Use feedback to improve

Customer feedback and complaints are a great way of finding out what you have done wrong, but it's not so good at telling you what to do next. Take a look at recurring complaints and see how you can deal with them better.

For example, does the same thing keep breaking on one of your products – a re-design might solve the issues. Do users keep asking your help team the same questions over and over? This might point to rewriting instructions and FAQs better.

Customer service facts and figures

86% of consumers will pay up to 25% more for a better customer experience

82% of respondents said they had stopped doing business with an organisation due to a poor customer experience

55% of consumers fall in love with a brand thanks to easy access to information and support

66% of respondents gave customer service as the biggest driver for encouraging greater spending

89% of consumers began doing business with or purchasing from a competitor after a poor customer experience

79% of consumers have told other people about a negative customer experience

Source: Right Now's Customer Experience Impact Report (2010 and 2011)