Employees are where customer service rubber meets the road

Companies can tout customer service, execs can make sweeping statements about its importance, reviews can show how good a job the company is doing—but at the end of the day, day-in and day-out employee performance and commitment are where customer service succeeds or fails.

Perfect example: I received a text from T-Mobile telling me that I had used up most of my speedy mobile hotspot data for the month. So, I called to confirm status and determine what to do. A cheerful, clear-communicating rep apprised me that I could double it for $5 more per month. Easy peasy. I understood her, she understood me, I felt properly taken care of, and I’m left feeling really good about T-Mobile customer service.

Here’s where the system breaks down. I had called previously to check options and received varying feedback. The last call led me to believe I was getting the most hotspot data possible on my plan. I would have doubled it then if made aware of that option.

Presuming today’s information was accurate, this rep needs to train others to provide clear, accurate information. And, that’s the rub today—consistent, reliable customer service that offers the same aptitude and attitude no matter who’s contacted.

My recent T-Mobile experience, while sanguine and satisfying, reminds me that “employee training” must be ongoing, vigilant and thorough. Optimally, the answers should be “the correct answers” no matter who’s providing them on which day to which customer.

An Insperity blogpost entitled, “8 ways to coach employees to better customer service” offers reminders about ways companies can stay on top of ever-changing training demands. Among the tips, some of which should serve as common-sense reminders, are:

  • Hire problem-solvers…people who are interested in helping others and who enjoy solving problems.
  • Empower employees to solve problems on their own.
  • Encourage active listening…Everyone wants to feel like someone genuinely cares about their problem and is there to help them.
  • Support wide-ranging company knowledge…a great CSR knows their company inside and out. Often, the best way to solve a customer’s complaint is simply knowing who and what to ask when a problem crops up. This begins with a thorough onboarding process and continues throughout a worker’s time with your company.
  • Talk to your employees. Managers often fall into the trap of thinking, ‘My team knows I’m here if they need me. Isn’t that enough?’ The answer is no, it’s not. Your employees need to have enough of a relationship with you to feel comfortable bringing forward problems, asking questions or making suggestions for improvement.
  • Model patience and empathy. Unfortunately, there will be times when your employees can’t give customers exactly what they want. However, that doesn’t mean they have to say no without first looking for a compromise of some sort. Help your employees learn to practice patience and empathy.
  • Make customer service everybody’s job. Remind your employees that everyone contributes to the overall customer experience, even the most backstage worker who seemingly interacts with no one. They’re still doing something that impacts the customer, whether it’s preparing orders for shipment, servicing the phone conferencing system CSRs use, or something else.

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Essentially, treating people well and keeping them happy is substantially about treating others the way you want to be treated. Putting together and maintaining a system that will do this reliably across all customer service audiences in a rapidly expanding marketplace is the biggest challenge. Where to start? By understanding that the most successful customer service programs stem from caring, committed performance inside the company. Any efforts to market good customer service should come from authenticity, not grandiose, exaggerated claims unable to stand up to the light of day.

Do you have customer service snafus or stellar experiences to share? If so, feel free to comment on this post or email your thoughts to mark@marklusky.com.

Mark Lusky is a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience.

Author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage,  Mark (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm.

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