Customer Service Skills That You Need to Develop in 2014
As a business owner, there are customer service skills that every employee in your company must master if they deal with clients, and you must lead the way in insuring that these skills are reinforced on a consistent basis.
Without them, you have no assurance that when you are not with the client, you are not losing customers based upon poor employee-customer interactions. These skills are universal and by practicing them you are guaranteed to improve your interactions with customers and create long term advocates for your business.
Anyone can give great customer service, it is first and foremost about awareness and attitude and putting the customer first.
Entrepreneurs and leaders who are looking for the right set of skills when hiring customer facing employees (and let’s face it, every employee is responsible for taking care of your customers).
Here are some SPECIFIC skills that every employee should master to engage customers successfully on a daily basis…
Upselling and Cross-Selling Skills
There are many opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell when you have an existing customer or prospect on the line. Taking the time to help the customer out with their original question or issue, and then transitioning the conversation to additional products and services that your company offers that can help them, is tremendously powerful.
Every time a client is on the phone it is a potential selling opportunity. Solve their problem, answer their question, and then invest some time getting to understand their issues and enlighten them how your products and services can help make their lives better.
A great work ethic and a willingness to do what needs to be done is a key skill when providing the kind of service that people talk about.
Just today, I had a retailer willing to keep his shop open until 8:30pm (he closed his store at 8:00pm) only because I could not get there before he closed for the night. His genuine enthusiasm and willingness to go the extra mile made me a raving fan.
The ability to really listen to customers is crucial for providing great service for many reasons, the least of which it is dangerous to recommend a course of action when you are unsure of what the problem really is.
Paying attention to clients means that they truly have your full attention. You look them in the eye, your tone confident and reassuring. You are not answering other calls, allowing yourself to be interrupted, or multi-tasking in any other fashion – you are putting them at the center of your universe for a short period of time, and making them feel as if they are the most important client in the world.
Time Management Skills
You need to be concerned with getting customers what they want in an efficient manner.
The trick here is that this should also be applied when realizing when you simply cannot help a customer. If you don’t know the solution to a problem, the best kind of support member will get a customer over to someone who does.
Don’t waste time trying to go above and beyond for a customer in an area where you will just end up wasting both of your time! If the decision the client is asking you to make is above your pay grade or decision making authority, respectfully and confidently get the customer over to someone who can help.
Expect the Unexpected
Sometimes there is no way to anticipate the problem you will encounter and you will not get the customer reaction that you thought you would.
When the unexpected happens, it’s best to be able to think on your feet… but it’s even better to create guidelines for yourself in these sorts of situations.
It is best to proactively develop a system for when you come across a customer service problem you’ve never seen before. Here is a suggested model:
- Who should you consider your “go-to” person when you don’t know what to do? Is it the CEO, your financial manager, or another trusted advisor? Define a logical chain for yourself to use, and you will remain in control when the unexpected happens.
- When the situation is especially challenging, what are you going to send along in order to communicate the problem in the most professional manner possible and in order to get the best desired outcome for the customer and your company.
- How are you going to engage your support resources? Internal chat, email, phone, or personal meeting?
Maintain your cheery disposition
Events outside of our control (your client had a bad day, or the customer is just a natural complainer) will hit us when we least expect it. For those “barnacle” customers that seem to want nothing else but to pull you down everyone needs to develop the presence of mind necessary to maintain their usual cheery persona in spite of dealing with people who may be just plain grumpy.
Great customer service people know how to solve problems, and they only know how to solve problems if they have a good technical understanding of the product or service that your firm provides
Not every team member needs to have complete knowledge of your product or service, but they should at least understand the customer experience that is presenting itself when a client purchases from you. If you sell micro-waves, all employees should be familiar enough with the experience of opening the box for the first time, experiencing the set up process and the importance of registering the product.
Knowing your product from with good product knowledge, and also knowing the resources to call if the problem is too complex, will allow you to help customers when they invariably run into a problem.
Patience is not only important to customers, who reach out to you when they are confused and frustrated, but it’s also important to the business at large: as slower and more thoughtful responses to client inquiries often yields less mistakes. Patience, however, should not be used as an excuse for slow service
“Slower Service” has been described as being an interaction where the time spent with the customer was used to better understand their problems and needs from the company. Imagine being with your doctor when you complain of an abdominal pain, and she immediately suggests surgery! Rather, while she patiently asks you questions so that she clearly understands all of the issues surrounding your ailment, your confidence grows that she will recommend the correct course of action for you.
When dealing with clients, be sure to stay patient when they come to you frustrated, agitated, and upset, but also be sure to take the time to truly figure out what they want — they’d rather get great service than be rushed along.
Your client’s time is valuable, so respect it and make sure you’re getting to the problem at hand quickly; customers don’t need your life story or to hear about how your day is going.
Carefully have the customer explain the issue, and ask appropriate questions until you believe that you completely understand the problem. Then, ask the customer if he or she believes that you understand the issue, and only then begin to work out an action plan for the customer.
Be human, be empathetic, but be all business and give the customer the confidence that you know what the issue is and that you have a plan to address it.
Use of Positive Language
We have all experienced doomsayers and individuals where the sky is constantly falling. In business, we deal with an unending flow of issues that we consistently problem solve – it is a natural course of life. Our clients don’t care about our issues, they want to do business with people that have a positive energy and affirm that they made a good decision.
Here is an example of an Accounts Payable scenario:
- With positive language: “We are having a great month and had to purchase more inventory, can you work with me and give me 45 day terms?”
- With positive language: “We have no cash in the bank and the client that was supposed to pay us didn’t, so I won’t be able to pay you for two more weeks.”
The tone of our communications is so incredibly important. Our relationships are constantly being built and it is critical to maintain a positive tone that builds confidence and that creates a win-win scenario for all.
“Read” your Customers
You can’t always see customers face-to-face, and in many instances via the internet you won’t even hear their voice but you can still “read” the customer’s current emotional state.
This is an important because it takes knowing your customers to create a personal experience for them and even more importantly, this skill is essential because you don’t want to mis-read a customer and end up losing them due to confusion and miscommunication.
Look and listen for subtle clues about their current mood, patience level and personality type and you’ll go far in keeping your customer interactions positive.
A Calming Presence
People who can “keep their cool,” or “stay cool under pressure,” represent the ability to stay calm and even keeled when things get hectic. Often, what is needed is to insure that we validate our client’s feelings and not allow ourselves to get into the same emotional state as our client is. We need to keep a calm demeanor if we are going to diffuse the situation. We cannot be argumentative or confrontational, but understanding and kind, patient and problem solving.
Ask for Closure
Getting closure with a customer means being able to end the conversation with confirmed satisfaction (or as close to it as you can achieve) and with the customer feeling that everything has been taken care of (or will be).
Make sure you take time to confirm with customers that each and every issue they had on deck has been entirely resolved.
In doing so, you demonstrate the following:
- That you care about getting it right
- That you’re willing to keep going until you get it right
- That the customer is the one who determines what “right” is.
Gaining closure with your client insures that you are on the same page and that your customer agrees that the issue is either resolved or is going to get resolved.