Much of my opinions here are based on my own journey in helping build STORM‘s customer service function. (This is obviously a work in progress) Since STORM services thousands of employees across a growing number of firms, we had to make sure from the onset we were making the right choices as far as customer service is concerned.
Here’s what I’ve been learning on how to build truly differentiated customer service. As a startup or an SME (versus my experience in my previous life in HR of bigger firms), you will have a much greater chance of building a culture that’s TRULY centered on customer service.
First 3 rules below, next 3 up in the next post!
1) At the very beginning, DECIDE that customer service will be a priority
This first tip is the most important one. Your startup HAS TO DECIDE to make customer service a priority. Then you have to commit.
This is much easier said than done.
There will be a lot of cases wherein you will be tempted to look back on this decision and compromise – very typically to save money.
For example, as we have been growing in STORM, we have been increasing the number of people in our customer support group. We follow certain ratios which we believe lead to great customer service: such as “one person should not support more than 1000 people” or “one person should not support more than 3 clients.”
As we experienced further growth however, we inevitably were forced to confront the question: in the name of right “scaling,” do we compromise on our ratios? Do we overload our current team to save a significant amount of money in hiring?
We always went back to our initial decision: since customer service IS a priority, then no, we will not compromise on our ratios and our service levels. We figured, if we truly wanted to make customer service as a differentiating competitive advantage, then we CANNOT compromise.
A short-term, traditional thinker would always opt to choose the money.
If you, however, want to really hone in on customer service, and if you see the strategic value of doing so, then you bite the bullet and spend.
2) Recruit the right team
This is another tip that’s very hard to actually implement. Here are some of the things I’ve learned in forming a customer-focused servicing team:
– Hire happy people. If you feel bad vibes during the interview process, don’t second-guess your intuition. The airplane test (if you were stuck in an airport, would you enjoy hanging around with this person?) works especially well with customer service.
– Hire empathic people. The book Strengthsfinder has a good description of what to look for. These guys are naturally able to put themselves in the shoes of the client and say the right things. Hunt for these people.
– Be extra cautious with hiring ex-BPO employees. This seems to be counter-intuitive, after all, aren’t customer service what BPO companies do best? That’s what we thought also – so we hired a number of BPO people for our own customer service team. Then a pattern began to show – we were having problems with them.
Of course, we have to be careful in judging and making hasty generalizations, but this was the pattern we experienced. Perhaps it’s because people from the BPO sector are so used to “traditional” customer service practices – scripts, the faster calls are done the better, having little real freedom to solve problems for the caller – that they get thrown off when we tell them to do something very different. In any case, when you do hire one, you have to make the person realize your definition of “customer service” is vastly different from where they came from.
(for one thing, a company who’s TRULY invested in customer service and considers it a value and its CORE business would NEVER outsource customer service to another company. Think of the companies you would associate with “great customer service” – I bet not one of them outsources it)
– Make the TEAM do the recruitment. Eventually, as you hire happy and empathic people and putting them on one team, something interesting occurs. By the very nature of their personalities (if you recruited well) and shared work, they become a close-knit group. Instead of force-feeding people you (or your HR) select in that close-knit group, make this GROUP decide if they feel someone is a fit to join them.
3) Empower and Trust
Once you’ve hired happy, empathic, helpful problem solvers to work in your customer service team, you have to:
Empower them – they need to be able to have enough resources and accessibility at their disposal that will allow them to REALLY solve problems.
Give them access to decision makers in every department in your firm which affects your service. Give them access to complete client data. Give them enough rope to make calls. Here’s a biggie: give them enough freedom to exercise their natural THOUGHTFULNESS for the clients they service.
If we delivered the wrong item to the customer, aside from apologizing and explaining to her what happened, can we also give the right item to her for free?
If the customer waited 20 minutes for his food, will the customer appreciate a 50% discount?
In order to be truly effective, your guys need to be able have the freedom to make thoughtful decisions like this.
Once they are sufficiently empowered, you now have to TRUST that they will do the right thing. Then just let them do their jobs. Don’t pressure them in a way that they second-guess their decisions.
NO SCRIPTS. No process map. Nothing canned. (we already know these suck when they are used on us, right?)
Let the good people you hire service your clients uniquely. This is what we expect and want when we call any customer service hotline or go to a service center right? We have a unique problem we need help in solving. We have particular needs. We want information as to what’s REALLY happening. We want people to be honest and upfront. We want people truly talking and trying to solve our problems – not be bombarded by scripts we can smell a mile away.
You want to meet (and exceed) these expectations? Then nothing should be canned. You need to empower problem-solvers and give them the needed leeway to their jobs (and more).
3 more rules next post!
(Know anyone who would especially resonate with this service-centric post? Hit the buttons and share!)