Customer Service

The customer service tightrope

By Mike Lusky | July 17, 2013

The difference between world class and lower class customer service is often determined by one small step or misstep. Contrary to the preachings of some CRM gurus who advocate expensive, complicated technology as a cure-all, the best service often resides in the simplest of steps.

We’re all somebody’s customers. We all want to be treated respectfully and get satisfactory resolution to issues. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out some of the basics that will accomplish just that. Yet, as everything gets more complex and convoluted, it becomes even more important to revisit the time-tested tenets of how to treat people well.

This has become even more critical as corporate customer service quality has eroded in the eyes of consumers. In an effort seemingly to mollify the masses, many support departments have now introduced cheery greetings and polite inquiries to the customer service experience. But, in the end, the outcome of many interactions is less than favorable for the customer.

That’s because too many customer interactions attempt to make up for lack of adequate resolution with a bunch of hype. Reps are often not empowered to offer much leeway to customers, and in many cases are under strict orders to finish up as fast as possible. These are death knells to consistently positive customer service.

Now for some good news: Most of you reading this article are not saddled with the behemoth mantle of Fortune 500 leadership. Small to mid-sized companies have much more latitude to provide customized customer service because the scale is much smaller than that for, say, a major telecommunications company.

So, make the most of it. Following are basic do’s and don’ts of stellar customer service that your support crew must understand and be empowered to address:

1. Do let customers know you feel their pain. And, add that you will try to provide as much relief as possible. Own up to a mistake or misstep when applicable (versus trying to spin a tale to cast it in a better light). Set a tone of sympathy or, if possible, empathy, from the outset. It positions the support rep and customer on the same side of the fence trying to meet a challenge – and generally will make the customer much more reasonable and cooperative.

2. Don’t be dismissive. We all know the type. They’re so busy regurgitating the corporate party line that there is little room for addressing the customer’s individual concern. This customer support ilk is quick to quote corporate policies and regulations and to emphasize what can’t be done versus what can to resolve a problem. It’s CYA to the max, and it’s a sure way to alienate customers – some of whom likely have been loyal for a long time.

3. Do authorize discretion. Regardless of the issue – from a printing delivery delay to a subpar print job – let the customer know you hear the concern loud and clear, and will do everything possible to gain mutually beneficial resolution.

For example, let’s say a customer has just contacted you with a concern that the custom labels they thought would be waterproof and oil-resistant are degrading quickly when exposed to either substance. While the customer may have misunderstood something and/or approved the print job, it’s clear the labels don’t meet the need. Work patiently with the customer to determine the best resolution; and do everything reasonably possible to make it a win-win situation.

4. Don’t get defensive. Let’s face it, under the best of circumstances being a customer service rep is challenging. Many interactions occur with angry, frustrated, even abusive individuals. This is not a job for someone quick to anger or who takes everything too personally. (This shouldn’t preclude, however, the rep acting with sympathy or empathy to help a customer solve a problem – as discussed in #1 above.)

5. Do speak the customer’s language. This encompasses issues ranging from customer reps having command of the primary tongue of the customer to addressing it plainly without a lot of tech gobbledygook. Effective communication can depend substantially on the customer feeling comfortable that the rep both understands the issue and can communicate clearly about it.

While technology can certainly aid the development of an excellent customer service policy, simple common sense and commitment also can prove pivotal to success. lnw

Tammie MacLachlan contributed to this report.

Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels since 2008.  Tammie MacLachlan is the customer service manager of Lightning Labels, an all-digital custom label printer in Denver, CO, USA. She has been in the printing industry for 19 years and with Lightning Labels for over seven years. Find Lightning Labels on Facebook for special offers and label and printing news.