It’s time for marketers (scratch that, everyone) to bow down to customer service

by on October 3, 2010

How to deal with an angry customer

Image: Filomena Scalise /

You know what really gets me sometimes? The lack of respect that customer service guys and gals get. They don’t usually get paid very much money, and not nearly as much as other more “important” people in the company (you know accountants, marketers, sales…).  But being good at it is not easy. Lots of people really suck at it. And there are others that just rock the service world.

So why is this even important? Because customer service staff and how your customers are treated is HUGE. Maybe the most important thing in a business. Don’t believe me? Well, think on this…

How customer service has rocked my world, and made me super loyal in the process

I headed out of town last weekend and I needed to rent a car. Did my research, checked out a bunch of different companies. Everything (price, car) was pretty much the same across the board. No discernible difference. So what did I base my decision on? You guessed it – a past customer service experience. I chose a company that I had rented with before. They were friendly and treated me well. They seemed to enjoy working for the company.  The overall customer service experience told me more than just this guy is a nice person in general. It made me believe something about the company.

Or how about the small company that delivers fresh organic veggies to my door. Things sometimes go awry. But you know what? They treat me so well that I honestly don’t care if they screw up once in a while. Cause I like them. As soon as I contact them, they get back to me. Period. Sometimes, they even call me first before responding to my email (gasp!) And now, I am 100% positive that if I have a problem, they will be there for me. I am completely loyal, and it’s because of the customer service.

Have a customer service person or team? Get them going!!

  • Find ways to make them love working for you. Because you can tell immediately when you talk to someone if they hate their job. Or they hate the company. Or the product. Unless the person you have is really good and can fake it, but trust me, they will burn out or will leave soon and you will have lost a rock star. (And if your company or product really is crap, forget customer service and deal with that 1st!)
  • Make them feel like they are a part of the team. Ask for their input. Include them in processes. Give them the chance to share their experience and expertise. You just might get an insight or a different perspective that could be very valuable to you. They are the closest people to your customers. They interact directly with them. Know intimately what problems/concerns/worries your customers have. The next best thing to asking your customers is asking your customer service team.
  • Make it clear that what they do is important. There’s nothing worse than an employee thinking “it doesn’t matter how I treat this customer – no one is going to notice/care/know.” Ask them to report on their activities and keep track of their interactions (this info is invaluable to help you inform your decisions, discover trends and keep tabs on your target market). Tell them they are doing a great job. Share their successes.
  • Have processes in place and empower them to take action and make decisions. Clearly articulate expectations about how they should handle common or difficult situations.
  • BUT, make it clear that rules were made to be broken. Each situation is different and the usual response might not work. Give them the flexibility to deal with unique and unexpected situations.

Are you a small business one-man or woman show that covers customer service (in addition to everything else)? You have a great opportunity…

Give your customers the personalized service that they just won’t get from a huge company. Try these steps. Pretty please. With a dallop of customer loyalty on top.

  • Smile when you are talking to people. Even if it’s over the phone. Even if you’re having the worst day ever, or you can’t believe the person on the other end is actually wasting your time with that question. Fake it.
  • Get back to people. Don’t leave them hanging. Set up an auto-responder for your online contact form. If you can’t get back to them right away for whatever reason, let them know that. And then follow up as promised.
  • Take the few seconds needed to personalize the correspondence. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use stock responses, because you should, they save immense amounts of time, but address them to the person. If you had a conversation or a personal connection of some sort, reference it in your stock response. Show that you were actually listening or paying attention.  People love to feel important and valued.
  • Same goes for answering ALL questions. There’s nothing worse than getting a stock response, that only answers half of what you asked. A little extra leg work goes a long way.
  • If you made a  mistake, own up to it. Don’t pass the buck.  Take their complaint seriously. Never treat them like an idiot (It’s NOT fine, so don’t say it is and expect them to believe you). Don’t offer minimum compensation in the face of a very serious complaint. They’ll be on to you in an instant. Do what you can to make the situation better. Sometimes, all it takes is acknowledgment of what happened and honest intentions to make good.  People are used to crap treatment, especially from big companies. Here’s your chance to wow them. And why not see if you can take a complaint and turn it into glowing praise for your company and customer service? That’s hands down the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had in a customer service role.
  • When dealing with an irate, rude, irrational customer, resist the temptation to give them a taste of their own medicine (you wanna see rude? I’ll show you rude!). You must tread lightly with unhappy, demanding customers, as studies have shown time and again that people talk ALOT about negative experiences. Challenge yourself to be as calm as possible in the eye of their storm.Yes, there is a very good chance that you won’t find a way to satisfy them (if they are the type of person that just plain likes to complain, nothing you do can make that go away). Just don’t give them a reason to be even more unhappy with your company. Even if you’ve decided that you don’t want this person as your customer, it’s not an excuse to treat them badly. Are you also willing to lose their friends, family, acquaintances, the dude they start a chat with on the bus, their 5,000 Twitter followers? You just never know.
  • Consider the power of a white lie. This can save your butt sometimes. Honesty is usually the best policy, but if the truth in the given situation will make things worse (ie. I didn’t call you back for a few days because this is the 6th time you’ve called this week and quite frankly I’ve had enough), see if you can get around it. Saying that your phones were down sounds much nicer now, doesn’t it?
  • Thank your customers every chance you get. Don’t let them ever forget that you appreciate them.

It’s time for marketers and the whole damn company to bow down to customer service. Don’t ever forget that they are the lifeblood of your biz and if they (or you) suck, the greatest marketing/product/whatever won’t help make up for it.

What do you do to deliver kick-ass customer service? What experiences have you had with great or crappy service?

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