How to Win at Customer Service in 2018

We are already inching towards the end of Q2 of 2018 but it isn’t too late to streamline your support processes. Providing great customer service isn’t only about cost cutting or improving support strategies. It is about leveraging your team’s strengths, data, and support tools. Organizations need to make customer service one of their primary goals and these should also be distilled to the employees. Here’s what you can do to win at customer service.

Set up Your Customer Service ‘A’ Team

The craft of customer support wraps the process we follow to resolve a support ticket with human interaction between customers and the customer support ticketing system. Three essential human qualities that the support team need to project are empathy, understanding and helpfulness.

Of course, you can tightly define the process of dealing with a support incident and precisely map the flow, and with a decision tree direct each customer issue through to resolution. You can use quality management and assurance processes to monitor and improve support. This is all very scientific.

A successful resolution for the customer is essential. Equally important though, is the way that resolution is reached by interaction with the helpdesk team. Ultimately, it is how the team delivers the support desk service that defines the customer experience, and which shapes the ongoing perceptions customers’ have of your brand.

Customer Support Superstars — Are They Born or Trained?

Customer experience is now an important differentiator between brands. To really capitalize on the opportunity to make your company standout, it is vital that you deliver Grade A support. To do this you need to field your customer support ‘A’ Team. But what are the qualities that make up a helpdesk superstar? And are they born or are they made?

Like so many other pursuits where humans excel, customer support ‘A’ Team players need to have a personality type that gives them a natural affinity to performing well in a support role. However, all the talent in the world can be wasted if the natural talent isn’t recognized, coached and optimized so they can deliver Grade ‘A’ support.

Some Customer Support Skills Cannot be Taught

Not to dismiss the value of skilled and experienced support team members, a lot of support and service experts believe that it’s good to bring in newbies and harness them before they develop bad habits.

New hire juniors on the helpdesk, bright sparky learners will pick up the process, working out details like where this is, how that’s done pretty quickly. But what you can’t easily teach is how to be empathetic, proactive, attentive, helpful and patient. Quite simply, when it comes to being ‘people-people’ – those with the appropriate personal qualities, you either have the skills or you don’t.

You can put these qualities above experience and before technical skills. Those chosen for the customer support ‘A’ Team need to have the right personality in order to succeed. You can’t teach personality, you can only teach process and practice.

Qualities to look for when building your customer service ‘A’ Team

When you are putting together your customer service A’ Team some of the qualities to look for inborn helpdesk superstars include:

#1 Good listeners

They listen and show they are listening by responding, confirming or clarifying important facts or otherwise actively acknowledging what the customer is saying.

#2 Good conversationalists

This enables good service team players to strike up a conversation and establish a rapport with customers.

#3 Proactive

Team members are attentive to the customers’ needs and try to anticipate questions and requests.

#4 Provide understanding

Support desk people are good communicators and are clear in explaining the process flow to help customers understand what needs to happen.

#5 Confidence

Team members that are confident performers appear in control of the support incident and instill confidence in customers.

#6 Thick skinned

Vital, because not every support incident is going to start with a reasonable customer interaction that is fair to the agent of the company.

Developing customer service talent

As always with the brightest and best, you need to feed their ambition and map out a clear career progression path. Alongside a structured process for helping them progress and move up to the next level, you need to provide the means for them to improve their knowledge and skills. Make sure to consider things like mentoring, improving personal learning and Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

Choosing Technology that’s Right for Your Business

Like so many areas of business practice today, technology is absolutely pivotal to how well our businesses perform. These days, it can seem like software is everywhere. But choosing software is not about technology for technology’s sake. It is about competitive advantage.

If we fail to make the right technology choice and unlock its full potential by using it properly, then we run the risk of falling behind our competitors.

The role of automation

One of the biggest advantages of using technology is its ability to automate routine tasks that humans normally do. This transforms the efficiency and enables a massive improvement when compared with a manual approach to doing things.

A legacy, manual approach to the helpdesk might be a simple database that creates a unique numbered entry where the details of each incident are recorded. This is highly unsatisfactory, and its flaws become even more apparent as we scale up.

Automation enables the things that required human intervention to be done by the software. This enables more reliable and consistent service by preventing things falling through the cracks as can happen when things are done by people.

The importance of omnichannel

Besides automation, one of the most important things that reflects the way we work (and play!) today is the need for our helpdesk ticket management software to be omnichannel. It must be able to handle incoming information from multiple streams.

Different customers prefer different channels and software should be agile across channels, enabling a single ticket to be handled across any channel that is chosen.

Define the requirements

Before you start researching or making any decisions, one of the keys to selecting the right technology is to make sure that you define the requirements.

If you don’t define requirements you can’t possibly know what you’re looking for. Create a list of ‘essential’ items or functions and perhaps some that are ‘nice to have’ which are not so important. The absence of nice to have items is not a deal breaker, but their presence might help you make a better choice.

Features to consider

A really good helpdesk software product lets your company deliver really outstanding customer service and great brand experiences that differentiate you from your competitors. When you are choosing software, look for integrated features that help you do a better job of customer service.

Some of the key areas to think about are the organization of the helpdesk, streamlining workflows and omnichannel communication.

Organizing the helpdesk

#1 Team Inbox

Centralize inbound messages and track and manage incoming support tickets from multiple channels with one inbox.

#2 SLA Management

Take control of time-critical tickets by setting deadlines for ticket response and resolution based on different business hours or categories.

#3 Custom Ticket Status

Structure incident handling for the way you want to work by creating custom statuses that suit your workflow to identify what stage a ticket is in.

#4 Scenario Automation

Get time-saving efficiency by performing multiple actions on a ticket with a single click by automating repeated actions.

Streamlining workflows

#5 Canned Responses

Improve the speed of resolving common problems by providing quick, consistent responses to common questions by creating pre-formatted replies.

#6 Agent Collision Detection

Prevent inefficient working by ensuring that multiple agents don’t wind up working on the same ticket by accident.

#7 Team Huddle

Collaborate, pool resources and crack those tough nuts by discussing specific parts of tickets with experts from across your company to figure out the best solutions.

Shared Ownership

Divide and allocate responsibility by sharing ownership of tickets with other teams without losing visibility into the progress being made on the issue.

#8 Linked Tickets

Get intelligence from tickets by linking related tickets together to keep track of widespread issues and deliver consistent responses.

#9 Parent-child Ticketing

Break up multi-factor incidents into bite-sized pieces to make resolving complex, multi-stage issues faster by splitting them into smaller child tickets.

Omnichannel communication

#10 Email

Accelerate support by converting support emails into trackable tickets in your helpdesk that you can manage and resolve.

#11 Phone

Take control of inbound voice calls by setting up a fully functional call center and record and track calls by converting them into tickets.

#12 Chat

Text communication enables helpdesk team members to handle multiple concurrent conversations, engaging, supporting, and retaining customers through live chat.

#13 Social media

Incorporate social channels by integrating your company’s Facebook page and Twitter handles and manage them from within the helpdesk.

#14 Website

Enable self-service support by letting your customers raise tickets from your website and display related knowledge base articles as they type.

Omnichannel and Social Listening

Service requests down multiple inbound channels

In 1992 Bruce Springsteen released a record called ‘57 Channels and Nothing On’. Back then the Internet was just getting going as a commercial tool. Although he was referring to TV channels, clearly The Boss didn’t have a crystal ball and he couldn’t see what was coming!

Today, when we are considering how to best manage our support commitment to our customers through the helpdesk, we really need to make sure that we are truly omnichannel.

Omnichannel means we are able to accept incoming service requests using the customers favored channels. The key channels are email, telephone, chat, social, media, and your website. These are all inbound channels that let us interact and help our customers.

Instant satisfaction of your customers’ service needs

Many customers prefer real-time methods of communication. This is especially true when they need support. Quite simply, in B2B as well as B2C marketplaces, today’s customers have become used to having their needs satisfied as quickly as possible. Consequently, real-time methods of communication are highly favored.

However, being truly omnichannel is not just about accepting service requests, it’s also about being able to integrate that request into your workflow. So, for example, an email, when it comes in, it needs to be able to be turned into a service ticket and then dealt with through the process you follow to resolve it.

If that sounds relatively straightforward for omnichannel communications messages based on text, consider inbound telephone calls. A truly omnichannel system is able to handle incoming voice calls, and record and transcribe them to create a ticket. This requires advanced levels of voice recognition using machine learning and AI techniques.

If we try and manage multiple channels using separate tools, then we can end up with fragmented data. Across the support function, customer ticket information is broken up and then held in different pieces of software.  This makes it difficult to track and resolve issues quickly, and in terms of basic efficiency, and for getting insight from analytics, it makes no sense.

To make sure that your helpdesk is equipped with the right tools so that it can provide the outstanding customer service your customers expect, the only real choice is to select a helpdesk application that integrates all the channels.

Social listening across thousands of platforms

There is one area of omnichannel communication that poses one of the biggest challenges to brands that want to protect their reputation – social media. It’s a necessity to make sure customers are happy and that negative comments don’t create problems.

Social media is not just about well-known platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and anything else like that. There are many, many platforms where people talk and post opinions and views.

And it’s not only blogs, forums and virtual communities. It can be anywhere that customers share notes, put up reviews and post feedback. There are literally thousands of places where customers might leave negative comments and potential customers might stumble upon them.

The best companies will use social listening tools to eavesdrop on conversations across multiple web platforms at the same time. This provides the ability to listen out for any mention of their brand or any search term you choose.

The companies doing the best job of protecting their brand reputation are using social listening tools to drive outbound customer service activity to elevate the brand experience. These companies are contacting unhappy customers and are tackling negative feedback and criticism head-on.

Turning your critics into advocates

Some of the techniques that are used as ‘sweeteners’ to change perceptions of the brand are discounts, refunds and free products. Some of the best techniques involve up-selling and cross-selling, increasing the customer lifetime value. In some cases, this helps to turn critics into advocates that become agents for your brand.

To make sure that your customer service team is able to detect negative social comment that is likely to have an adverse effect on your brand, it well worth considering integrating a good social listening tool with your helpdesk software.

This lets you take a proactive role in reversing the views of those that are not happy. Social listening helps you to make sure all of your customers have the great brand experiences that are so important to succeeding in today’s ultra-competitive world.

Get a 360 Degree Perspective

Understanding the Thoughts of Your Customers

A good business is able to communicate what it does really well. Clear messaging drives sales by enabling a clear understanding of the benefits of a product or service. However, the process of good communication shouldn’t end once a customer has signed up.

One of the keys to tweaking and improving customer service is to keep communicating with customers. Companies need to maintain a constructive, friendly dialogue to make sure their customers remain fully engaged.

The point of view of your existing customers about your services is really important because they know more about this topic than anyone, even you. In a nutshell, your customers know you best.

One really popular way of finding out what your customers really think is to survey them.

You can use online digital survey tools or telephone bots. However, tools that script questions and which only allow a range of accepted responses may not get at the truth.

Perhaps structuring surveying as a proactive task with agents engaging one-2-one to talk things through with customers is the best way to get at what they really think. You might choose to incentivize the collection of survey data to help increase participation.

One of the really nice side-effects of knowing what your customers think and maintaining a good dialogue with them is that they are less likely to churn and seek alternative products and services from your competitors. Also, in this vein, on the back of survey data, there are often opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell.

What are your competitors doing?

To truly find out how good your customer services are you need to understand how well your competitors perform. There are a few ways that we can do this. Firstly, start close to home by asking your workforce if they or friends or relatives have had any experiences they can share.

Another way to investigate and research how well competitors perform in a customer service activity is by setting up a ‘secret shopper’ project. It’s straightforward to get one of your team members or a market consultant to engage with your competitors and find out what their experiences of using competitor products and services are.

You could also ask your customers if they have any experience of dealing with your competitors. This is the sort of thing that might fit in well with any survey activity you might wish to conduct.

Finally, should you select social listening software as part of your toolbox to help your company improve customer service, you can also task it to listen in on social channels for mentions of customer services from your competitor brands.

Armed with what we find out from this research we can then see what our competitors are doing well or badly compared to us and vice versa. This can help us to revise how we do things and deliver much better customer service and more meaningful brand experiences.

Not Just Your Industry but Any Industry

The customer service sphere extends way beyond you, your industry and your customers. When you measure what you do against the best across the whole economy, you’re able to see where the benchmark for top-rated customer service is set.

You can learn and perhaps borrow from it and raise the bar in your particular section of the economy. Using this tactic may enable you to truly differentiate your helpdesk and support to create clear daylight between you and your competitors.

You can gather information about benchmarking across the whole industry by using the same research methods that are suggested for finding out about your direct industry competitors. Just include a question that’s something like ‘What’s the best service you’ve ever experienced anywhere?’

Of course, you can also use social listening to eavesdrop for mentions on any company that has a good reputation for customer service to see what being said on social channels about them.

It’s worth noting that research across the economy suggests that challenger brands, often unencumbered by legacy systems and processes, are gaining on their larger competitors. They are doing this by offering a straightforward, personal, seamless and quick service experience.

If you are a larger, longer established company, then you might want to think about a root and branch overhaul of your helpdesk ticketing system. This allows you to better use any newly acquired understanding of customers, competitors and the economy-wide context of the customer service benchmark.

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