Stalking might be frowned upon, but in the world of customer service it’s the only way to excel at your job. Think about it: customers make up your business. Knowing everything about them and predicting their needs is not only how you gain their loyalty, but also how you stay ahead of the market curve. In the past I mentioned making customer service a really personal job. For example, don’t think of customer service as a bored worker pegged into the drudgery of an office cubicle for eight hours a day – their only contact with customers at the end of a phone line.
Re-envision the role. Your customer service personnel should resemble the guest service representatives at high end hotels – the ones that take the extra time and consideration, who look forward to filling your needs. These people should be as charming as well-paid lobbyists and pharmaceutical representatives, without the sleazy association. They should also mirror your industry’s core audience group. If you’re dealing in products catered to the average buyer, including women and homemakers – then your customer service reps should be as inviting as pie and coffee on a chilly day. They should have the gift of gab and be able to engage in ongoing social conversations.
If your products or service require specific knowledge or cater to one type of need, then your reps should be more technically oriented and able to answer specific questions. They should also be removed from the cubicle and allowed ample time to roam. They should be at conferences, seminars, and attending local events likely to attract your target demographic. Allowing them to engage and mingle not only gives them insider knowledge into the mind of your customer, but it allows them to give your company a face, to be visible, and it allows them to be of integral assistance to your marketing department.
Kayak founder Paul English also feels it’s important to raise the bar for customer service personnel. In an interview, he was quoted saying:
“Why would you pay an engineer $150,000 to answer phones when you could pay someone in Arizona $8 an hour?’ If you make the engineers answer e-mails and phone calls from the customers, the second or third time they get the same question, they’ll actually stop what they’re doing and fix the code. Then we don’t have those questions anymore.”
English has an odd obsession with customer service, going so far as to play “hot potato” with customer service calls. He’s known for bringing in a red telephone with a real annoying super-load ring like rotary phones. His engineers hated it, but the only way they could get it out of their office and into the office of another engineer was by answering and handling a customer service call. English clearly sees customer service as a game of sorts, and he uses that to advance his products. His team actually use customer service queries to “learn how people actually use the features they create and how to make their site better from the people who are actually using it. There is no bureaucracy—it’s one-on-one interaction with customers that drives the product. English goes as far as to give out his cell phone number to customers he speaks with; one in about 20 people actually calls him, but all of them are blown away that he gives it out.”
You can still pack a punch even if you’re not willing to go the extra mile for customer service. Inc. recently hosted a fantastic article on “6 Signs Your Failing to Put Your Customers First” that highlights one of the key issues with customer service failure. The problem is that most people are so busy running their day-to-day that they fail to focus on this component (which I argue is crucial to marketing and PR). The article, written by Minda Zetlin, interviews Joseph Callaway, known for his billion dollar real estate sales, who offers six pivotal strategies customer service. Interestingly, Callaway isn’t a fan of that dog-ear saying ‘the customer is always right.’ We all know customers aren’t always right and if they’re acting “against their self-interest,” then it’s our duty to voice our expertise. Not voicing the obvious means that customer goes about it the wrong way, and likely blames you for his inevitable failure or loss – which means he’s not a repeat clientele.
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