A brief history of customer service:
In my 24 years, I’ve never had an attendant pump gas for me at the Shell station or the Valero. After receiving my license at the ripe age of 18, I learned how to gas up my car with a little trial by error that ended up with my shoes covered in diesel fuel.
Even as a child, I always saw my parents get out of the car and self-serve, leading me to believe this is the way it has always been.
What is a customer service philosophy?
A customer service philosophy is when customer service teams develop a strategy on how they handle service and support issues, guided by a brand's guiding principals and company values.
In this customer service guide, we'll cover:
- What is Customer Service?
- Best Customer Service Strategies
- Proactive vs. Reaction Customer Support
- Customer Support Hiring Strategies
- Customer Service and Support Software to Consider
- The Future of Customer Service
If you ask someone slightly older, they might have a different recollection. There was a day—and there still is, for a minority of locations—when station employees would perform the service for you. Due to the innovation of self-serve machines in 1964, stations learned they could continue to offer the same quality fuel without dispensing labor costs.
Image courtesy of Vlada on Flickr
This change was revolutionary to the fuel industry, and sparked much debate by those who were uncomfortable performing this service for themselves. It also cut a human interaction out of this process.
The oil and fuel industry was not the last to undergo such changes. We’ve seen customer service interactions and exchanges evolve with the popular establishment of ATMs, which allow users to receive cash without ever conversing with a bank teller. Retail purchases can be accomplished entirely online, without the eager assistance of a salesperson.
When processes change, the people working alongside them must adapt. Although clients and customers are presently much more independent than they once were, problems still arise that may require human interaction and/or resolution. The modern-day customer service strategy looks wildly different than it did before the advent of digital communication.
Previously, customer issues would be handled by in-person. These interactions were much more personal, as a lack of access to distant retailers would mean shopping locally and maybe even having a friendly relationship with store owners.
Rotary dials and call centers soon after made it possible to reach companies with complaints more quickly. These became popular and widely accessible in the early to mid 20th century. What was originally only a face-to-face conversation could now be had miles apart. Although less personable than the in-store option, phone conversations retain their human element.
Call centers evolved over the years, eventually giving way to the internet—and we pretty much know the storyline from there. Digital communication has changed every aspect of modern society, from the way we communicate, to the way we perceive communication itself. We chat instead of call, and we tweet instead of chat.
The evolution of customer service is far from a standstill. So long as communication methods mature, our way of handling clients and their concerns will, too. If you’re hoping to develop a new customer service strategy, or just update some pre-existing practices, you have to understand the service channels and tactics that will make your customer service team extremely effective.
Clientele is not limited to a 10-mile radius anymore. Business is conducted worldwide, and some companies have thousands to millions of customers whose loyalty they hope to maintain. In order to keep up with demand, companies must have proactive strategies that inform how they’ll respond to customer discontent, as well as continually strive to make customer appreciation known.
There are so many facets of customer service in the present era that it’s easy to lose track of what matters. Do I monitor my consumers on social media? Or do I dedicate our team to pursuing resolutions for email complaints? If I have a brick-and-mortar store, should I be more focused on how we treat customers in live interactions?
Truthfully, your strategy should be multifaceted, covering some combination of these landscapes and proving your business to be accessible and caring. If you’re unsure how to create a comprehensive customer service strategy, pay close attention to the following chapters.
We are about to cover topics such as what software you should be using, what the makeup of your team should look like, and how to handle escalations and/or other PR nightmares, to give you a small idea. Sit back, grab a snack, and allow me to serve you.
“I’d like to speak to the manager.” Every retail employee’s most resented phrase, this used to be the only method of customer service. Clients would enter a shop with a problem and have to physically discuss the solution.
I do not recall the last time I walked into a store to discuss a problem. In present day, there are multiple channels and ways to get ahold of the company whose service you require. To get a better idea of how users are looking to get in touch with organizations, let’s talk these methods and channels out.
- Social Media: Have you ever been publicly shamed? It does not feel good. Having your dirty laundry or mistakes aired out for others to see is not only embarrassing as an individual, but it can even be harmful to a company or organization. Users often take to social media to air their grievances because it invokes a response from both their following, and the vendor.
Once a vendor realizes there’s a conversation going on publicly about an issue it’s imperative to jump in and respond. How you respond is dependent on your company vibe and audience relationships.
Spotify's customer service strategy involves a lot of Jeff Goldblum Gifs:
Sometimes, companies will respond in a snarky or sarcastic way, which is relatable to the joking or roasting culture that is common for Twitter users. Many others take a more earnest approach, apologizing for the situation and promising a solution.
Your company should interact on social media in a way that is most in line with your brand. If you’re an insurance company known mainly for tweeting promotional information, it would be out of character to joke around with or tease an unhappy customer. If you’re an organization whose social media presence is overwhelmingly casual and fun — take @MoonPie, for example — it would make more sense to send a playful or sarcastic response.
No matter what, always keep your audience in mind, and consider which is the best way to respond in any situation. When you’re on social, you don’t know who’s watching or taking screenshots for later. Even if something is online for a second or minute, a user may have already captured it and can share it with their following.
We talk more about best customer service practices for social media in a further chapter on which software solutions can help you with customer service strategies. This guide on customer service social media reputation management from ReviewTrackers is another great resource.
- Live Chat: Live chatting is another quick and easy way customers have recently been able to get in touch with support. Cable companies and phone companies alike are beginning to offer assistance through live chats with agents.
Live chat software allows customers to continue on with their chores or business while they wait for an agent to respond, as opposed to being tied up in the store or on the phone. It also creates documentation or textual proof of the conversation so there can be no bones about what information was given, or what solution was decided on.
Many organizations are also adopting chat windows on their website homepages in case visitors have questions or want additional clarification. This gets them talking to an informed employee who has a chance to make a positive impression. This also provides the opportunity to collect a visitor’s contact information, should they be willing to provide it. The company could later choose to reach back out to that client to see if they have further questions or if they have continued interest in that organization’s products or services.
We will talk more about how to develop a live chat strategy in a further chapter on which software solutions can help you with customer service strategies.
- Phone: Phone calls and call centers are still a viable way to contact customer service representatives or, for smaller businesses, the employees and managers themselves. It may seem old hat to pick up the phone and dial your way through a phone tree, but this is still a main form of communication for much of the population, as well as many organizations who have yet to adopt other methods.
Depending on your good or service, phone communication may make more sense than a live chat. Many drug stores or stores with multiple departments use phone trees as a way to direct questions to the correct employee. Larger organizations have call centers built out with employees whose roles center around the efficient handling of phone communications.
We will talk more about how to develop a phone call or call center strategy in a further chapter on which software solutions can help you with customer service strategies.
- Portals: Portals are only relevant for organizations that have a customer-facing web solution. For example, if you’re a doctor’s office that wants to offer patients a way to look at all of their healthcare information, you’ll have a patient portal that gives them a unique login and individual account.
Portals exist for software accounts, pharmacies, banks, and more; there is no limit to which industries can deploy portals. Within portals, there will often be a way to get into contact with the company or organization through a module that allows users to send messages. If your organization has this type of software, it’s imperative employees are monitoring communications.
Often, a portal software will integrate with your email systems so any messages sent through the software will be directed straight to an inbox.
This ensures no vital messages are missed and employees don’t have to keep eight different tabs open in order to catch customer concerns. While portal software itself is mostly a self-serving tool — it empowers users to find and analyze their own documents and information — it does have some customer service elements in it and could be worth considering to expand your offerings.
- Email: Many websites feature a “contact” page where users can include their name, contact information, and a message of what they need or what’s concerning them. Those messages can be customized to go to a certain inbox for a company's email software, again putting these requests where your employees already spend their time. We will talk more about email strategies in a further chapter on which software solutions can help you with customer service strategies.
- Review Sites: People are writing reviews: on G2 Crowd, on Yelp, on TripAdvisor, just to name a few. Anything from restaurants, to nail salons, to historic monuments (seriously, you have to check out reviews from Stonehenge tourists who were upset the site is just a bunch of rocks) are being reviewed online after a visit.
More importantly, people are reading these reviews. I have friends who travel and won’t visit a restaurant unless they know it has a good rating. Other friends won’t buy makeup unless they’ve heard someone they know vouch for it. People share experiences, and people trust experiences.
If an organization is not keeping up with their perception on review sites, and not responding to negative reviews, they’re missing out on an opportunity to manage their brand. Companies should look to a reputation management software to help manage their online reviews in one single dashboard.
While customer reviews aren’t a direct request for customer service or attention, it’s an opportunity for a company to go above and beyond by proving they look for that kind of feedback. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, and receive more earnest feedback than even a focus group could provide, try and be present on the pages where your company is listed.
- Self-Service/Knowledge Base: Many customers prefer to handle issues through learning. Especially for software products or anything that requires user adoption, a knowledge base, forum, FAQ, or other genre of self-service content is a great way to help users help themselves.
There are more opportunities for outreach and customer conversations than ever before, and it can certainly begin to feel like there’s more dialogue than you can keep up with. But what a wonderful challenge to have! It means your customers are so affected by your business or service that they want to understand it better, offer opportunities for improvement, or confront issues to continue your relationship effectively.
Keep in mind that your organization does not have to be on every one of these channels. This breakdown exists to inform you of your options and let you know where your customers may be gathering to discuss your business. A customer service manager will have to deep dive into the company’s core values to determine where you can and will make yourselves available.
Now that you understand some of the popular channels associated with customer service, continue reading to learn about the various professional teams you may need to construct in order to keep business running smoothly.
TIP: Learn about developing customer-support channels with the biggest trends in customer care for 2019.
Customer service strategies will vary from one industry to another. Xfinity has a different strategy from Walgreen’s, which has a different strategy from Amazon, which has a different strategy from a local clothing boutique. Although strategies may differ, every organization can improve their customer service experience by understanding some basics about their company as a whole.
In order to build an effective support or service team from the ground up, we must first ask ourselves a few questions.
Answering these questions will help you understand overall company priorities and build out a cohesive support team or strategy.
- What are our company values and how will they affect our customer service team?
Developing a customer service team means developing a customer service philosophy, or deciding on guiding principles that motivate how your employees handle certain situations. A philosophy is different from a set of rules because it allows your employees to act out of their own convictions and see conflicts on a case-by-case basis as opposed to a formula. This hierarchy of ideas is what informs your employees of when to come down hard on a rule, and when to make exceptions for extreme situations.
Developing a philosophy requires management to dig deep and ask what role customer service plays in your organization. If you own a service-oriented business, then your philosophy might focus on the healthy resolution of issues. If service is only tangential to your business, you may not build out a large team to address issues, or you may side more often with company policy. Customer service should be a vital concern for every organization, but it will be amplified in industries that exist to serve others.
Hotels and restaurants are examples of industries where the service philosophy is typically to resolve issues in a way that makes the client happy. Regardless of industry, make sure your philosophy is written out and communicated to new employees before there is any interaction with customers and other contacts.
- What are we doing for our customers?
Understanding your customer’s side of the equation will help inform your customer service strategy and philosophy. Part of this could include establishing company core values, or declaring a hierarchy of needs. Core values are helpful because they offer employees a few words to help remember the priorities of the company as a whole.
During a live chat or a phone conversation, an employee may not be able to look at a customer service handbook and figure out how to deal with a situation by the book. But if these core values are instilled in them from Day 1, it can inform their decisions when dealing with customer dissatisfaction. Organizations need to know what customer service metrics and KPIs they're tracking.
- Where are my customers conversing?
Do some research on the demographic of your customer base. What are their ages, locations, industries, and will these things affect how they communicate? For example, older populations are proven to be more interested in customer service over the telephone than, say, a 20-something.
If your demographic is overwhelmingly 50 and older, you’ll have to develop a call center team and maybe invest in a digital operator who can direct them to the correct department. Compare yourself to competitors in your industry. Figure out what policies or strategies they have in place, and consider if these are relevant to your organization, as well. Looking at where your competitors put their money
- What software or technology strategy best serves our industry?
If you’re an employee at a software startup, your users likely expect more modern and digital methods. Slack, a popular communication software for offices worldwide, offers support through chat or a “Contact Us” page as opposed to a 1-800 number. (It should be noted that, when an organization purchases a software solution, they are usually assigned a customer service representative whose job is to specifically resolve their issues. We will talk more on this.)
Xfinity, being that it is a cable, internet, and telephone company, allows users multiple ways to get in touch with them, including a 1-800 number. Cable is an industry that has been around for decades, and longtime users would be dumbfounded if they suddenly weren’t able to call a representative to discuss their bill. Again, this plays into user expectations and making yourself available in forums where your customer base already expects you to appear.
TIP: Discover more customer service tips in 2019.
Customer Service Representative Team
The makeup of a support team will look different depending on your industry. A great way to determine what kinds of roles to develop is to take a look at your competitors’ support teams. To give you an idea of some of the roles you may need to hire for, I’ve created a list of customer service roles below.
Customer Service Call Center Employees - Agent, Manager, Director
Call centers function because of a dedicated team comprised of a director, managers or supervisors, and agents. The director is a senior-level employee whose job it is to oversee a number of agents and ensure quality of care. Call center managers report to a director and will ensure the success of their agents, as well as solve support queries as they are escalated. Call center agents take customer calls and work hard to resolve issues at the ground level. Agents are the first responders to customer problems.
Customer Support - Representative, Manager, Chat, Social Media Monitoring
Customer support is a general term used to define anyone tasked with resolving client conflicts. A customer support representative could be found in store, over the phone, on the receiving end of an email, or on the other side of a live chat. A customer support manager oversees these representatives and handles any escalations that may arise.
A live agent is someone who is in charge of manning live chats either on your organization’s website, or within the customer portal. Live agents can help answer quick one-off questions, or can help resolve issues with a user’s customer experience. Although most live agents are classified as customer service professionals, leads-focused companies benefit from the contact information gathered through these interactions.
We’ve already mentioned how social media is a popular gathering place for clients with complaints. It is not uncommon for organizations to have an employee or team of employees dedicated to resolving customer issues communicated through social media. Some software solutions create support tickets from social media mentions that ensure agents never let an issue slip away.
We also mentioned that some support issues are transferred to an organization’s inbox. If so, you’ll need someone manning those queries. Your organization may find an email support team necessary to facilitate timely responses and conflict resolution.
Customer Success Teams - Relationship Manager, Implementation Specialist
First off, what is a customer success team? Customer success teams are often found in technology companies, or any organization where clientele will benefit from customized and accessible support. Customer success managers (CSMs) are experts at their service offerings and are familiar with how to navigate the solution they’re selling. If a CSM doesn’t understand how to resolve an issue at hand, they know how to quickly get in touch with someone who will. They work to keep long-term and mutually beneficial relationships, often with executives or other high-level employees.
A company selling software will have a customer success team with agents each assigned to their own portfolio of clients for immediate support. These agents are often referred to as relationship managers or client success advocates. A relationship manager exists to nurture the relationship between company and client, and serve as the first point of contact when issues arise. Implementation specialists help companies onboard their employees to new software or products, and remain at their side until the organizations can stand on their own two feet.
Customer success managers often oversee relationship managers and implementation specialists. It is the manager’s job to ensure client portfolios are evenly distributed among employees and ensure all issues are resolved completely and in a timely manner.
This list is by no means conclusive, as new means of communication necessitate new roles on a yearly or sometimes monthly basis. Even the role of customer success manager is a fairly recent creation. These job titles and descriptions should give you a decent starting point for your customer support strategy, but ultimately your build out will be as unique as your company itself.
Hiring is such an integral piece in having an incredible customer support system in place. If you think about companies known for their exceptional support—i.e. Southwest Airlines or Disney Parks—you know it’s special because of the way individuals go beyond expectations.
Take, for example, Bonobos, the menswear company which so highly values customer service that it refers to its relationship managers as ninjas. Bonobos has been known to far surpass the minimum effort, giving its ninjas close to free reign on how they resolve problems.
As narrated on the Work Life with Adam Grant podcast, a customer once wrote Bonobos to replace a flannel shirt that had burned up in a house fire. The ninja on hand, Kelsey Nash, learned that the fire took the life of the family’s 15-year-old dog, and wanted to do something special for them. He found a picture of the dog on social media and commissioned an artist to paint a portrait of it, sending the painting to the customer along with a few replacement flannel shirts.
While this specific practice certainly is not a hard rule in any Bonobos handbook, it falls in line with the company’s core values and its desire to retain the human element in its work. Had Bonobos not hired a team of exceptional customer relationship managers, this customer may have received different treatment and, while it may still have been okay, it certainly would not have made nearly the same impact.
No two customer service strategies or teams will look exactly alike. There is no expectation that every organization will give their customer service representatives complete freedom to act. Not every company has the ability to do that. However, there are a few universal philosophies or best practices to consider that can help you put an effective, ferocious team together.
- Consider the Source: This is a best practice for hiring in general, but consider how that candidate’s resume got to you. Did they submit online through a trusted job site, or were they an internal referral? Different job sites, just like different dating apps, might have a different vibe of candidates. While one job site can produce long-lasting relationships and career hires, another job site may only produce short flings. Consider which hiring strategies overwhelmingly have worked for the rest of your company, and make those your standard sources.
- Take more than resume into account: People are not paper. Try as we might to summarize ourselves in a one-page description of our experiences, there’s still so much more to say. So when you’re interviewing candidates for a potential customer service role, don’t necessarily rule someone out because they haven’t had the one-to-two years at a similar role you’d like. Read their personality, get a glimpse of their outlook on life, and a feel for their attitude.
Customer service personnel often have to be hospitable even in the case of extreme customer discontent, depending on your company’s service philosophy. Use an interview as an opportunity to read if they have the correct disposition for the job, as specific methods can always be trained after the fact. Preference passionate self-motivators who will confidently advocate for your company, but who understand the importance of quality customer care. Hiring the right people will do so much more for your organization than simply selecting the best resumes.
- Hire a team: If you’re building your customer service team from the ground up, you have a unique opportunity to hire employees you believe would work well as a team, as opposed to on an individual basis. It’s a lot like casting for a play. Instead of picking out a bunch of individuals, you’re picking out an ensemble who you think will be able to bring their own skills to the company and also learn from each other. Help Scout Inc. wrote a blog on The 5 People You Meet In Support.
It makes the argument that hiring five of the same person—no matter how productive that one person proves to be—might actually not be as effective as hiring five support personnel each with different strengths and personalities. Support teams will have to deal with a variety of issues and concerns, and different people will have their specialties.
For example, one employee may have an excellent grasp on billing policies, while another could explain the intricacies of various cable packages in their sleep. Instead of looking at one nuclear candidate or persona, hire with the mindset of creating a team.
- Be Yourself: Interviews should not be a mind game, nor should the applicant have to jump through hoops to impress you. Interviews are as much a chance for your company to be judged as it is a chance for you to judge the candidate. Treat the candidate the same way in an interview as you would in the job.
If the job is high stress, it’s fair to run them through some scenarios and discover how they’d handle it. But being that we mentioned earlier how integral working as a team is to the success of your customer service strategy, you’ll want candidates to want to work alongside you. Yes, an interview is more about the candidate proving their ability to do a good job at your company.
But taking advantage of your position of power will only serve to scare away potentially qualified and hard-working candidates.
I don’t know sports references, or I’d make a comment here about how important it was for LeBron James to have his INSERT NAME OF TALENTED AND VITAL TEAMMATE HERE. But I do know my own work experience, and it has only been made better by the conscious hiring of intelligent and ambitious individuals.
It may seem daunting to be building out your customer support team, determining and designing roles, and then hiring for them. But it’s really an opportunity for you to mold another aspect of company culture and, when done correctly, takes you farther than you ever could have gone alone.
Here we are folks, the moment you’ve been waiting for. We’ve talked channels of support, and we’ve talked who to hire, but what in the world kind of software should you be using?
There’s a whole world of solutions out there that didn’t exist even a few months or years ago. It can be difficult to determine what’s a must-have, and which solutions are superfluous. In this chapter, we’ll discuss the various types of customer service software and how to develop a suite that fits your needs.
- Contact Center Software:
Contact center software can be broken up further into Contact Center Infrastructure Software, Contact Center Workforce Software, and Telecom Services for Call Centers Software.
Contact center infrastructure software provides the functions necessary for running call and contact centers. It is commonly used by support teams to man a help line or sales teams to handle prospecting. They frequently integrate with CRM applications.
Contact center workforce software enables companies to manage their call center employees’ schedules, activities, and performance. In businesses where call center responsiveness to incoming calls is critical, contact center workforce software helps businesses run the line of business efficiently. Contact center workforce software is used by managers of customer service call and contact centers to effectively monitor the quality of calls and manage agents’ time and learning. They can also be used by the agents themselves to self-schedule, submit time-off requests, receive feedback, and access training materials.
Telecom services for call centers include a variety of solutions for optimizing and simplifying call centers, involving cloud technology, intelligent response, and human-assisted components. A number of established telecommunications companies leverage their proven technologies and networks to provide telecom services for company call centers. In other cases, independent providers specialize in telecom services using their own unique approach.
You may need these tools if: You’re running a call center. These tools are entirely directed toward call centers, their employees, and their directorial staff. Contact center infrastructure offers you the technical tools to complete the job. Contact center workforce offers managers and directors support in monitoring their call center activity. Telecom services connect your call center with a secure, advanced network and integrate with common contract center software to create a comprehensive system.
- Customer Self-Service Software: Customer self-service software provides a platform for end users, prospects, or customers to access information and perform tasks without the need for live chat or customer support representatives. Companies utilize the tools to provide around-the-clock support for customers, visitors, and employees to access information.
These products provide support in a variety of ways. Many come in the form of web portals where simple, commonly asked questions are answered in the form of an interactive FAQ. Others are more consumer based, allowing users to complete tasks like performing self-checkouts and retrieving product information. Others function over the phone to guide users through a purchase or support process.
Many utilize live chat software tools to interpret text and interact with AI platforms. Help desk software is geared toward providing similar assistance, but those require human or AI assistance from the provider’s end. Social customer service software can be confused with customer self-service products as well. Those tools, though, are meant to aggregate social data and respond directly to users needing assistance via social media platforms.
You may need this tool if: Customer self-service software is useful for organizations that want to empower their customers with the tools to resolve issues or access solutions independently. The self-servicing aspect helps users be self-sufficient and encourages them to exhaust helpful resources before graduating to live chat or a phone conversation. Customer self-service software should not be your only support strategy, as there should always be a line of contact available between consumers and customer service representatives. However, it can significantly reduce the number of support tickets created by giving users immediate answers.
- Customer Success Software: Customer success software is used by businesses to ensure, through interactions with the company, customers achieve the outcome that enterprises anticipate them to reach as they use the product. This software uses detailed analysis of past behavior to create a “health score” to predict future satisfaction of a customer, allowing companies to systematically grow an established customer base, identify any red flags, and increase customer retention rates.
These products are used by customer success and sales teams for the purpose of optimizing customer relationships. Customer success initiatives are vital to preserving and expanding revenue, boosting customer advocacy, and sustaining corporate profitability and growth. Customer success software often integrates with CRM software, help desk software, and social media management software tools
You may need this tool if: Customer success software is necessary if you have a customer success team, or if you’d like your sales team to prioritize the maintenance of customer health. Customer success tools are best for companies with long term relationships with executive-level clients. They ensure expectations are being met and clients are satisfied with the service or quality of product they are receiving. Customer success software is fairly straightforward in that, if you don’t have an internal team built out to intentionally monitor customer satisfaction, there’s no need for these software solutions.
- Employee Monitoring Software: Employee monitoring software provides businesses with the ability to record employees interactions with customers to ensure the quality of service is up to par and ensure employees are using time productively. These solutions can log phone calls, emails, social media interactions, and live chats to make sure that specific strategies are working and ensure employee quality.
Employee monitoring products are most frequently used by managers of customer service teams to make sure representatives are working appropriately and to the best of their abilities. The solutions can also benefit sales teams that are implementing new pitches or approaches to establish that proper messages are being conveyed to prospects.
These products allow organizations to be agile and quickly determine which methods are working and pivot depending on the level of success. Most frequently implemented alongside contact center software, employee monitoring software can also be used alongside live chat and outbound call tracking products.
You may need this tool if: Employee monitoring solutions are necessary or useful in organizations that are always trying to improve the quality of customer/employee interactions. While “employee monitoring” may sound a bit like Big Brother, it’s more for the benefit of the customer than to make employees feel watched (although accountability is beneficial when dealing with so many customers per day). Customer service interactions can often escalate, and recording or capturing conversations provides managers a record of service. This record proves the representative followed protocol and allows the manager to catch up on previous communication before continuing to handle the concerns themselves. Employee monitoring software is useful for organizations that want traceable proof that they’re offering quality customer care.
- Enterprise Feedback Management Software: Enterprise feedback management (EFM) software allows companies to solicit and centrally manage feedback and data from their customers. EFM software transforms customer feedback (e.g. surveys) into actionable information and enables the distribution of that information throughout an organization.
Companies can use EFM systems to get data on customers, employees, and market research. Ideally, EFM systems allow organizations to better respond to customer needs. These tools are often designed to be used by multiple users in an organization, and the tools are often designed for users with varying roles and permissions. EFM applications are often integrated with CRM software as well as HR management software.
You may need this tool if: Enterprise feedback management software is not a customer service tool that is necessary to the daily operations of a consumer-centric team. Rather, EFM software is an accessory to customer service and experience, and can be used to make your team look and function better, much like a Prada bag or Hermes scarf does to an outfit. Mopinion has a great piece on how to turn online customer experience feedback into actionable items.
EFM tools also help provide more transparent customer feedback that can inspire changes and improve the service strategy or process overall. Consider an EFM tool if you feel your company would benefit from this type of customer response.
- Field Service Management Software: Field service management (FSM) software helps companies manage the business activities performed by field workers. For many services companies, field work is the most important part of their business, and field service management software can help them manage and optimize these activities.
It is primarily used by companies that manufacture industrial products which require on-site services such as deployment and maintenance of equipment, cleaning, repairs, etc. Field service management software is used by managers and supervisors to allocate workers to field tasks and monitor their performance. Employees use it to find information about their tasks, report on their work, and optimize the time and resources allocated for each job.
You may need this tool if: Field service management tools are necessary for organizations that are sending workers out into the field. They help ensure the quality of things such as repair visits, or large deliveries. If your organization does not have a field component in your customer service offerings, you do not need field service management software. If your company is sending employees out to separate locations, consider an FSM tool to help monitor successful service.
- Help Desk Software: Help desk refers to software platforms designed to provide a customer with information and support regarding a company’s products or services. Customer concerns are typically submitted via email, phone, or social media channels. Help desk software provides a ticketing system for staff to organize and respond to external customer inquiries as well as create information portals on the company’s website.
Help desk platforms are used by customer service teams to streamline the support process and provide analytics into customer engagement across all communication channels. Help desk products may contain self-service, social customer service, or live chat capabilities for a complete customer service experience.
Those that strictly concentrate on customer support tickets often integrate or run side-by-side with these other customer engagement products. Service desk software products are help desk ticketing systems that only focus on IT support, normally within a single company.
You may need this tool if: Help desk software takes some of the strategies you may already have in place for customer service and filter customer concerns into a ticketing system. This ensures all queries and conflicts are being tracked within one place and followed through to completion. Help desk software is useful for organizations whose service agents aren’t always the ones able to answer questions.
For example, if a software user is having technical trouble with their tool, they may have called customer service over the phone. However, the customer service representative may not have the knowledge or understanding that would resolve this issue. With a help desk tool, they can create a ticket that routes this issue to the correct personnel, who can then follow up with the user at their nearest convenience. If your employees are in need of a way to transfer concerns to a more appropriate department, consider a help desk solution.
- Live Chat Software: Live chat software allows companies to communicate with their website visitors in real time via chat windows. Customer service representatives can utilize live chat software to provide support to users who have questions regarding products or website navigation. Support agents can prompt user interaction with pop-up chat boxes or wait for visitors to proactively reach out with questions or concerns.
Some features include reporting and analytics, interactive chat notifications, and conversation archiving. Live chat software can be used by customer service teams to quickly respond to inquiries, employees in business development roles to reach leads that may be unavailable by phone or email, or administrative staffs in the education sector to connect with incoming students, among other uses. Live chat functionality may come as a feature of other software types including e-commerce and help desk products.
You may need this tool if: Live chat is a helpful solution for answering questions on the front end of a website, or as a contact solution within a user portal. A visitor on your site may have a quick question about demoing a product, or they want to know how long larger items usually take to ship. Live chat is a great way for visitors to quickly get in touch with knowledgeable support without feeling like they had to chase down a phone number, or wait days for an email response. Within the user portal, live chat is a great way to get detailed support from customer service agents.
For example, if a user is logged into their account and is having an issue with billing, etc, they can live chat with an agent instead of calling, and can even verify identity through these chats. Live chat solutions are helpful for organizations that wish to give their consumers or visitors a quick and easy way to get in touch with a representative. It is an alternative to phone calling and emailing that often takes less time, and more flexibly works with the recipient’s schedule.
- Proactive Notification Software: Proactive notification, also known as proactive multi-channel communication or proactive engagement, helps raise awareness for customers and companies by providing useful information or alerting individuals to some upcoming activity or action. You can utilize this software to alert customers of upcoming deadlines or payments, product updates, and noteworthy promotions, in addition to suspicious activity on their accounts.
This software can also alert your company of customer events and other information to help optimize your customer service and increase sales. The platform you use may integrate any combination of SMS (text), voice, email, or fax notifications, and can often allow for two-way chat.
You may need this tool if: Truly, proactive notifications are a form of marketing as well as a customer service solution. This is the tool you would seek if you wanted to notify a large customer base of deals or other updates to your company offering. Additionally, it’s a way to get into touch with customers for more service-oriented conversations.
Proactive notifications are not the same back-and-forth conversation you would have over the phone or through live chat. It’s a one-way notification from company to client, patient, user, etc. The company can include actionable options such as a phone number or clickable link, but users are often unable to respond directly to the number from which the notification came.
- Social Customer Service Software: Social customer service software allows companies to reach out to customers and users via social media outlets. Social customer service solutions collect and organize mentions on such social media platforms as Twitter and Facebook, among others, and create tickets for support agents to best respond to mentions and provide proper service.
These solutions are not only used by customer service teams, but are also utilized by marketing teams that can promote brand awareness and turn customer concerns into positive advertising to a large audience of social media users. Social customer service features are often provided by help desk software software products, which collect customer inquiries from emails and specific user portals.
Companies may use social customer service tools in conjunction with other social tools such as social media management software, social media monitoring software, and social media analytics software tools.
You may need this tool if: As we mentioned earlier in the breakdown of various communication channels, social media platforms are a huge gathering place for consumers. Not only are they already on those channels for recreational purposes, or the consumption of media, but many also take to social media to inform their networks of discontent.
Social customer service software is good for any organization that wants to be made aware of how customers are talking about them on social networks, because they probably are. Not only does this tool help brands resolve concerns publicly, but also to positively engage in casual mentions. You should consider a social customer service solution if your organization values having a presence on these channels and wants to use that engagement to your advantage.
Purchasing a software solution is a financial investment, as well as an investment in the time it will take to have full user adoption. Possibly, your fleshed out customer service strategy includes a multitude of these products, and that’s okay.
Tip - If you're interested or looking to research any of these software types, the buying advising team on G2 Crowd exists to talk you through possible solutions in real time.
Additionally, many of the vendors for these categories have dedicated customer support teams that can help you determine if a tool is appropriate for your needs, and remain nearby as you grow accustomed to how it works.
A universal truth of customer service and support is that people get mad. It’s why these teams of expert de-escalators exist. Problems frequently arise in service-oriented industries that require exceptional attention or treatment. A successful team knows how to be both proactive and reactive.
In other words, they have an efficient strategy in place, but know how to handle things when it hits the fan. This chapter will walk you through the intricacies of both: hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.
Proactive Customer Service
A good customer service representative goes into support conversations knowing there is a possible solution to every problem. Representatives are the experts, the people with the plans and the power, whose knowledge and expertise can turn a situation completely around. This optimism can stem from their personality, but ultimately follows good training and support resources. Arming your representatives with the tools they need to succeed in customer communication will be a huge aspect of your team’s success.
Employees should be well-versed in and comfortable with your customer service philosophy or strategy. A lot of these regulations and guidelines will come from your company values, which is why there’s so much variation from one organization to another. Whereas Bonobos gives its ‘ninjas’ complete freedom to design a customer solution, other organizations will ask employees to stick to a script.
Regardless of the specific policy, the customer remains at the core. That’s what links this industry together: the unique and specialized interest in satisfying the consumer’s needs. Though you have the freedom to design your philosophy as desired, we’ve developed a list of core ideas to consider that will help you foster a proactive service attitude.
- Definition of Service: What does service mean to you? Is it one of the core aspects of what your company offers, or an accessory to doing business? Defining service within your organization empowers employees’ understanding of culture and inspires them to consider what that definition looks like for them. It also gives your employees a base-level understanding of expectations and ensures there’s no confusion about prioritization of the customer.
- Core Values: Core values can mean the fundamental beliefs of the organization as a whole, or they can be more specific to your company’s customer service department. Either way, core values are a few of the company’s most important convictions written out as a promise, to both employees and external partners or clients, of the inarguable standards set for themselves.
Core values are helpful because, unlike a handbook, they can be memorized or easily displayed where service representatives can see them during customer interactions. These snippets or keywords serve as simple reminders of what an organization considers most important. Before writing your commitment to service, have a general idea of what comes first.
- Return Policy, Rules of Contract: This rule should be fairly obvious, but your company needs a policy for returns or exchanges, or, if you offer a subscription service, you need to have fleshed out your terms of services.
These policies are often things customers have agreed to, and are effectively impenetrable. Creating well-developed policies and terms of service can not only protect your organization from legal trouble, but can also reduce customer turnover.
- Exceptions: Contracts and policies are on paper, but people are human, meaning things will happen that contracts may not have prepared for. Say, for example, someone signs up for a gym membership, but receives a dream job opportunity and moves across the country.
They need out of that gym contract, right? This is where some of your core values and definition of service come into play. Are you a money-oriented organization that would rather keep this customer locked in until the end of their contract, or do you want to be as flexible as you can and offer them a way out?
Consider these situations before they arise. What does your organization find worthy of reconsideration or negotiation? In what areas will you encourage service representatives to budge, and in which areas will you expect them to hold steadfast to the rules? Will your company ever make exceptions for clients? It’s important to be proactively considering these scenarios so they don’t catch you by surprise.
- Boundaries and Freedom: While you may have a detailed handbook on how to approach and resolve customer situations, your representatives are still humans, and no two people will approach every situation identically. Customer service representatives should have a clear idea of how much freedom they have to solve an issue creatively.
Can they send customers packages or goodies to make up for an error? Can they offer a discount to a customer who is thinking about canceling their subscription? Also helpful to your agents is understanding how far they cannot go. Does your organization consider it inappropriate to send customers packages? Are you strictly against offering discounts for discontent? Again, these are conversations worth having before enacting your customer service plans.
- Chain of Command: When issues or escalations arise, who do your representatives pass the problems up to? It’s important to establish this service tree so employees don’t feel stranded during the midst of a negative interaction. Having this chain of command developed and understood in advance will help your employees feel supported and prepared should issues arise.
It also gives employees an idea of when a conflict goes beyond their level of expertise. If an employee is in billing but the customer on the line is yelling about service, that employee should understand when and how to transfer the communication to a more appropriate representative.
- Offer Solutions, Resources: Sometimes, the best you may be able to do is say, “Your experience is unfortunate, and we are sorry that happened.” However, that should not be the normal reaction from your company’s customer service representatives. Your organization should be able to offer users deliverables.
- Measurement and Training: One of the best ways to be proactive within your customer service strategy is by training employees thoroughly before they enter the field. Putting amateurs or unprepared employees on the phone with clients is a surefire way to upset someone.
Train employees properly ahead of time and reduce the number of escalations later on. Additionally, measure your representatives’ success and use that to determine if any follow-up trainings are necessary.
Your individual strategy can look however you’d like for it to. There’s no one way to do customer service right. Keep these ideas in mind when forming your policies and prepare for success.
Reactive Customer Service
Things go wrong. Mistakes happen. Customers misunderstand agreements or representatives reflect their bad day in an interaction with a customer. In the event of one of these, or the millions of other ways customer relationships can go awry, it’s important to have a reactive strategy.
How does your management team plan to de-escalate things with an individual who is upset? Do you have a strategy for handling negative attention on social media? What about responding to scathing reviews?
No brand or customer support team wants to think they will need a reactive strategy, but you’d have to be a fool to think bad things won’t happen. Even unicorns fall sometimes. Here are some considerations that may help you when forming an effective reactive strategy.
- Chain of Command: We mentioned this earlier when discussing proactive strategies, but having a clear chain of command is key to resolving customer conflict, and is a reactive strategy, as well. When I worked retail in high school, I called my manager over the moment things became unruly. Handling shoplifters or customers who wanted to fight our return policy was way above my paygrade and expertise.
Knowing exactly where to direct these concerns took the stress off of my shoulders and allowed me to go back to the job I was trained to do. Whether in retail or another industry, be sure to clarify who your employees can and should go to for support.
- Social Response: By the time consumers go to social media for complaints, the issue has already escalated. They’ve either received poor initial customer service, or bypassed that step completely and taken to their social networks. Your social media marketing or community management team, or whoever’s responsibility it is to monitor social media mentions, has to get to work handling this situation publicly.
First of all, you should always respond. Not responding says you don’t care, or don’t want to offer a solution. Experts recommend responding within an hour of receiving the criticism. Reps should be friendly and helpful, even and especially if customers are already upset or are becoming volatile. Make sure your employees have an understanding of your expectations within the realm of social media response.
A guidebook of proper social media etiquette would benefit your employees and help them interact appropriately. Either ask the user if you can commence a private conversation, or set out to handle the aggravation in front of their and your networks. Either way, remain respectful, and follow protocol as you would in a live chat, phone call, or other customer service conversation.
- Respond to Negative Reviews: As a software and services review site, G2 Crowd is passionate about transparent feedback. This sometimes translates to negative feedback. Your company, product, or service will likely be negatively reviewed at some point in time. Customer review statistics show that the review itself is not as important as how you respond to it, and experts say you should respond.
Check out this article by social media marketing expert Mack Collier discussing the finding that responding to negative feedback is beneficial to your organization and its image. “The survey found that 68% of customers that left these negative reviews got a response, and 18% of these people became loyal customers as a result, and made additional purchases from the company,” wrote Collier. Our own chief crowd 0fficer, Adrienne Weissman, has written on The Positive Side of a Negative Review, saying they generate interest in your company and provide valuable insight.
You can check out this helpful article, How to Handle Negative Reviews Checklist, published on G2 Crowd. We have also created this flowchart on responding to review that can help your organization navigate sensitive situations.
- De-Escalation: Negotiation has been called an art, and I’d argue that de-escalating conflict is an art form, as well. If you find a customer is becoming unruly or increasingly difficult to deal with, engage in a few de-escalation tactics.
Firstly, take a deep breath and steady yourself before responding to the individual. Take on a calm and friendly voice, if speaking over the phone, and use calm, non-threatening verbiage if speaking over live chat or on social media. Listen and acknowledge the other person’s concerns, and try to make personal connections, if possible. Show that you are alike in more ways than different. Let them know you understand their frustrations, and empathize with them.
Maybe voice that you’re also frustrated with their experience, and you’re eager to find a solution. Connecting with the customer on a person-to-person basis can ease tensions and show you’re truly there to help. These tactics aren’t foolproof, and sometimes angry people just want to be angry—in which case you follow protocol and pass that customer up to the next line of power.
- Take Notes/Make Records: In customer service, it’s important to record interactions, or at least have a record of how they went. For example, a live agent may explain billing options to a user, but billing changes have to be made over the phone. So the live agent can save the chat conversation or put a note on the user’s account so the call agent has context when helping a customer.
This ensures customers aren’t receiving mixed messaging or being forgotten about. It’s also a record of appropriate communication between employees and customers. Say there is a misunderstanding and it’s your company’s mistake, so your representative sends a customer a flat screen TV as an apology.
As manager or director, you’ll want a record of those exchanges just in case a higher-up ever questions the appropriateness of that decision. Taking notes and keeping records of interactions and exchanges are insurance for the customer as well as the company.
Customers want to feel taken care of. They’ve trusted your organization with time and money in the hopes that they’d benefit from what they’re buying. Good customer service should not be a privilege, but a promise. It’s your company’s promise to take good care of the people who are investing in you. While your company’s comprehensive solution will have a lot of unique variations, these core ideas and strategies can be used as a generic starting point.
This industry is in constant flux. To think we stop here is to think we’ve perfected the art of customer service, and is anything ever really perfect?
Channels of communication will change, technology will evolve, and we will find ourselves here once more, discussing an entirely different strategy for an entirely different era. Although nothing is for certain and tomorrow is never promised, we can take a little peek into the future and dream of what customer service may soon become.
Understanding what we can expect in the future is helpful as the future may not be that far away. Social media and the way society connects with each other is an especially rapid setting. Looking to the future can help you get ahead of these curves and not be deemed irrelevant when the world around you starts adapting to new methods.
Here are some projections and predictions of where customer service may be headed:
- Digital Assistants: You’ve probably experienced this already on a support call “What are you calling for?” speaks a robotic voice. They give you a couple of options, and you speak your response. They understand you, and route your call to the right place. Or you’ve been on a live chat and wondered, “Am I speaking to a human?”
That’s because chatbots are becoming an efficient way for organizations to bypass the initial questioning that begins many service conversations. Digital assistants, such as Alexa and HomePod are expected to increase in usage, further normalizing us to communication with digital beings and representatives. Being that the bot market is expected to double in 2018 (VentureBeat, October 2017), it’s only natural that digital assistants would further integrate with the customer service sector.
- Personalization through Machine Learning: Customers like to feel known. It’s why Amazon suggests products and Netflix suggests TV shows. Our buying patterns are often just that—patterns. It makes sense that personalization would become a larger expectation than it has been in recent years and decades.
We can see this in subscription-style organizations such as BirchBox and customized wine delivery services. Consumers create profiles of what they like and dislike, and are delivered related products and services. From the consumer perspective, we often see this through targeted advertising.
When you search for stores that sell Converse high-top sneakers and then see an advertisement for them on your Facebook newsfeed the next day, it’s because an algorithm has picked up on your interest in these shoes and is using that to target you. This is one of the many capabilities of machine learning.
- Virtual Reality: Virtual reality is still just gaming to most of our population, but it has potential for more than just video games. Virtual reality and augmented reality could both play a huge role in the future of customer service. Imagine being able to “try on” clothes while you online shop, or see yourself with bangs before you cut them.
Imagine, also, being able to use VR to have a “face-to-face” conversation with a representative. Instead of the usual misunderstandings that can happen over the phone or chat, VR conversations would add a little personalization to the conversation by allowing the parties to make “eye contact.” These are but a few of the possibilities for consumer-facing VR.
- Artificial Intelligence: Artificial intelligence is the parent term under which machine learning software and digital assistants fall. AI helps consumers feel more independent and more able to self-serve.
Conversational AI especially streamline the customer service process by taking users through a formula and getting responses more quickly. Additionally, AI devices retain the information communicated, removing the need to repeat phrases or information.
These are only a few examples of what to expect in the future. If you’re still struggling to develop a decent service approach in chat and over the phone, you may experience some serious customer discontent, as expectations are already moving beyond those mediums.
While you don’t exactly need to adopt digital assistants and AI headsets for your business just yet, it’s valuable to try and stay one step ahead of the curve.
A customer service philosophy is crucial
Customer service is about making your users feel heard, valued, and supported. It’s the business that carries on after the sale, and, to some, this is the business that matters most.
Your company’s convictions will motivate the final priorities of a customer service strategy. How you treat users is a reflection of your company’s own values and morals, which is why it’s impossible to narrate one correct format of the customer service philosophy.
Before you try to figure out your company’s customer service philosophy, know its philosophy in general. Know who you are as people, and what role you’re trying to play in your customers’ lives. That will inform your actions more than any customer service strategy formula every could.