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I was just talking with a representative of a local insurance agency who mentioned that the older clients love her.  Why?  Because they love the fact that she listens to them and takes time with them and will explain slowly any technology that they may not understand.

This is very instructive.  I often say that in service, you must be almost like a chameleon, adapting and changing your interaction and communication style depending on the different needs of each individual customer.  Now let's take a closer look at an encounter with one of these elderly customers.  The insurance rep patiently listens while the customer tells her all about what has happened in her life since last they met.  A great builder of relationships, the rep remembers that the last time the client was in, she mentioned her grandson was graduating from college.  "Ms. Oaks, I remember you mentioning your grandson's graduation.  I hope that went well.  You said he would be looking for a job... has he been able to find one?"  

This personal service and attention to detail has made Mrs. Oaks a client for life.   It is not about the sale, it is about the life of her client and being genuinely interested in that life.  It also recognizes that this particular client is a bit lonely since her husband passed away and enjoys having conversation with her insurance rep when she has the opportunity.

Now here is the challenge... what if Mr. Lansford, a busy young professional is sitting outside the office while the conversation about the other client's grandson drags on and on.   Someone in the office needs to recognize that he may not be on the same relaxed time frame as the grandmother now illuminating the rep on the fantastic job her grandson has post graduation.  As a matter of fact, Mr. Lansford is getting really irritated by being kept waiting.  Unless someone steps in to offer more immediate service, he is not going to be a happy camper.

This scenario plays out thousands of times every day in every type of business imaginable in service encounters taking place in-person, via telephone and even via automated encounters.  A savvy service rep knows the fine art of balancing the spend time vs. move on and help the next person equation.  Likewise, a great service team knows when someone needs to be 'bailed out' of a too long conversation with a customer.

One of the best things any customer service rep can do to build customer service relationships is to address not only the needs of the current individual being served but also those who may be 'next in line'.  An astute team member buzzes in and says, "So sorry to interrupt but your next appointment is here."  The skilled service rep will be bold enough to use that message and combine it with the friendliness of the rambling customer to politely say, "Mrs. Oaks, it's been great visiting with you.  They just buzzed in and my next client is waiting. I hope you will stop in again soon!"

Here is where the chameleon needs to quickly change color.  While greeting Mr. Lansford, the rep makes a few visual observations and determines that Mr. Lansford is in a bit of a hurry and maybe even a bit irritated for having to wait.  In a much more matter of fact tone than the previous conversation this greeting follows:  "Mr. Lansford, so nice to see you.  My apologies for the wait, it has been a hectic day today."  Staying in full control of this close encounter, the rep gets right down to business... "Mr. Lansford, I have your home insurance quote ready for you.  Let's review it together!"

In your next customer service training session or customer service meeting, take the time to list several categories of customers by age, product lines, personalities, etc. and identify common traits and special needs of which you are aware.  If multiple staff members do this together it is likely to be a more instructive exercise.  After all, as a team we can all learn from each other's close encounters.  What one rep has a certain approach with a customer, that may be a successful approach to use with other similar customers.  This is also a great time to, OH NO, discuss when you have failed with a certain customer type.  Be brave enough to identify what went wrong, the why behind it and explore what different approaches could be tried with similar customers in similar close encounters.  The only bad mistake is one we don't learn from!

Is being a chameleon being phony?  Quite the contrary, quickly adapting to the varied needs of your customers signals that you are a true professional with extraordinary customer service chameleon like superpowers.  Use those changing colors to give exceptional service to each of your varied customers! 
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​At the conclusion of any year it is wise to look back a successes and failures but also to move forward with a specific strategy for improvement and growth.  The five steps below are critical for review of 2017 and planning for future success in 2018:

1. Study and prepare for your customer journey
Identify customer types and map their journey from purchase research through product delivery and customer service follow ups.  Find the specific customer touch points and analyze how you are doing and what improvements can be made.  Study customer feedback data to see where negative customer experience can occur and seek proactive customer conflict avoidance strategies.  Make sure that every employee knows how they fit into the customer journey and desired satisfaction and delight.

2. Provide customization through choice of channel and choice of product features
We are in the era of customer service customization.  Even small business must find ways to adapt to individual desires.  Whether it is a small grocer offering a choice of self service or full service or a large call center offering alternatives of hold or call back, placing the power of choice in the hands of the consumer is critical to winning customer loyalty.  Before adding customer service channels, however, every organization must make sure they have mastered the intricacies of current customer service channels.  Delving into new customer service methods before current methods are mastered is a risky venture.  If you open a Twitter account with the intent of responding to social customer service complaints and then have only intermittent interaction, it would be akin to opening a call center and only answering the phone every few hours.  Financial and staffing commitment are necessary to any customer service channel expansion strategy.

3. Listen to the customer voice
Many technologies are now available to monitor the customer voice and even to route specific voices to specific responses.  For 2018 what is your strategy for gauging customer satisfaction by listening to and monitoring your customer voice?  Simply having a ‘feel’ for satisfaction is no longer a valid strategy even for a small business.  Have a plan in place to formally measure satisfaction and delight at each touch point on the customer journey (see step 1).  Investigate customer voice monitoring and response technologies that can enhance your customer experience.

4. Make service EASY
At the holidays we know everyone is short of time and stressed out.  The sad truth is that for most consumers, business and personal, these factors now exist almost year round.  For this reason, having a handle on customer effort possibly through the use of a Customer Effort Score (CES) metric is critical to success and growth.  Once again, this demonstrates the link between many of these customer service points.  Customer effort in the eyes of the consumer may be a direct reflection by the consumer on whether you gave them ‘their’ choice of channel on their customer journey in the time frame they expected.

5. Have a social service crisis plan
One needs only to have turned on cable news or surfed YouTube videos to understand the magnitude and possible positive or even more likely negative spin that can result from even one close encounter with a customer.  This points not only to having a media crisis plan in the unfortunate case that something does ‘go viral’ but more importantly points out the need for employee customer service training on how words and actions matter critically in an extremely connected world.  Customer service policies need to be examined to see if they support the company mission or if they pose a potential risk of firestorm if they are abused or misinterpreted by an individual employee or customer.  Foster a discussion with your customer service team on what delighted them during their holiday shopping and what made steam roll from their ears.  If they had a bad experience, ask how many contacts they shared it with and if they can remember any of the many viral service blunders of 2017 and how those widely publicized incidents impacted their image of the associated company brand.  Have a plan for customer service training on customer conflict response and proactive conflict avoidance in 2018.

Review these five customer service strategy steps and have an intentional rather than accidental strategy for moving forward and you will bolster your success path and profit potential for 2018 and beyond!

Teresa Allen is the Ranked #1 on Global Gurus list of the world's top Customer Service Experts.  She is often asked to share strategies for customer service success at meetings held across the globe.  Teresa can be reached through her website at www.AllenSpeaks.com or via telephone 800-797-1580.  This article may be reprinted if this credit box is included.
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