The Complete Guide to Succeeding in Customer Service
Even if this is your first customer service job, you’ve likely contacted a service representative at some point, and you know the simultaneous relief and frustration the interaction can cause. Though somewhat vilified as a nightmare hole of automated phone systems and endless stretches on hold, the customer service department is essential for any company providing a product or service, both as a source of assistance and as a valuable live contact between the consumer and a faceless company. That said, it’s not an easy job. Difficult callers and complicated problems require a good deal of skill, so read on for a few tips on acing the role.
Cultivate patience – a lot of it.
At the top of the list of skills needed to be a good customer service representative, patience is an asset you’ll use constantly. The fact of the matter is that people most often contact customer service when they have a question or problem. That means that inevitably you’ll be dealing with at least a few unhappy campers. Regardless of how legitimate the complaint or how pleasant the inquirer, your job is to resolve the issue and provide the best possible experience with the product or service.
There are a few key elements to this. Keep calm and always respond with politeness and respect. Even if the remedy is laughably obvious or the complaint absurd, never treat a customer like an idiot or a child or talk down to them. Listen to their concern, show that you care about the client’s satisfaction, and do your best to find a solution. Perhaps most of all, prepare yourself for the occasional grumpy or irate individual, and don’t take it personally.
Remember: How you say something is as important as what you say.
Whether you’re providing service in person, over the phone, or through email, communication skills are essential. Since your job is to provide answers, you won’t be much help if you can’t effectively explain the how, what, and/or why. Be direct and concise, presenting information in a logical order and as clearly as possible. Make sure to confirm that the customer understands and elaborate or explain if necessary.
In addition, pay attention to how you say everything – tone and word choice can make a huge difference in an interaction, and unspoken signals say a lot. Use a friendly yet professional tone and positive language. A few words and phrases it’s best to avoid: don’t know, can’t, nope, it’s not our fault, you’ll have to call X, please calm down. You get the idea. Keep in mind that you’re talking to a client, not your chatty best friend, a child, or your mortal enemy, and adjust your manner and language accordingly.
Don’t be a robot.
Plenty of support services are now automated, so there’s no reason to act like a machine when a caller reaches a live agent. A large part of this depends on empathy. We’ve all been there: an eagerly awaited package didn’t arrive, a clothing item didn’t fit, a computer crashed. Though you’re spared suffering the difficulty personally, putting yourself in the buyer’s shoes will make you a much better customer service employee and make the experience more pleasant for everyone.
Try to personalize the conversation a bit by giving your name and asking how the caller is doing. Efficiency is important – you aren’t here to tell, or listen to, a life story – and there will likely be specific things you say on repeat, but avoiding a rote script and treating the client like a human (and acting like one yourself) will go a long way in providing the best service possible.
Always be attentive to the customer.
In the spirit of the above point, keep in mind that the customer is your main focus. That means that attentiveness is a required element. Even if you know exactly how to address an issue, launching into an automatic response isn’t the most effective method, and it won’t win you brownie points with clients.
The key here is active listening. Show that you’re giving your full attention by not interrupting, repeating the query in your answer, and asking for clarification if necessary. Not only does this make the patron feel prioritized, it also increases the efficiency of the entire exchange.
In addition, an ability to read people is a huge boon in a service role. This is an acquired skill, and is especially challenging when working over the phone or Internet, but it’s worth putting in the effort to develop. Paying attention to tone, word choice, body language, and other subtle cues will help you cater to the customer’s mood and give him or her the best experience possible – which, remember, is your goal.
Make sure you have a good knowledge of your product or service.
It might seem obvious that you need to know about your product or service in order to assist a consumer with it, but if you’ve ever contacted customer service, you know that plenty of reps have no idea what they’re talking about. That only ends up being frustrating for everyone, and detrimental for your job performance. Make sure you know the basic facts and workings of your product or service, as well as recurring complications and how to fix them.
It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the systems used by your company – the computer system, how orders and/or accounts are set up, main contacts within the company, and so on. You’ll likely be trained in all this when you start the job, but it’s your responsibility to make sure you know it all from top to bottom. And since you can’t possibly know everything, know who to contact or connect a caller to when you can’t provide a solution.
Take responsibility for problems.
The hard truth of customer service is that whether or not a problem is your fault, it’s always your responsibility. There will be times when you or the company has made a mistake, and in those cases, own up to the error frankly and take action to fix it. Excuses have no place in your repertoire. Then there will be occasions when the situation is no fault of yours, and it’s still your job to help solve it. In any case, stick through to the resolution, and make sure the client is entirely satisfied before you end the conversation.
And even though the patron is the one posing a question, it’s also your responsibility to guide the encounter. You know the solution and the route to get there (or at least, it’s your job to find it), so be assertive and move the conversation along to resolve the issue as efficiently as possible. Finally, your job doesn’t end when the customer leaves or hangs up. Listen to feedback, make changes, and note repeat concerns to fine-tune your strategy and approach. If necessary, follow up with a client later to check on the results. Bringing the interaction to a complete close is the cherry on top that takes a service experience from so-so to stellar.
With that, you’re all set to become a customer service wiz. As with any job, it takes some practice and a lot of patience, but it can also be extremely rewarding. Above all, remember the key elements: service, and the customer. Those are your top priorities. And for every complaint, there will someone you just helped breathe a sigh of relief.