I’m going to go ahead and say the un-sayable… Customer Service is soul sucking work. There, it’s out there. I said it, I meant it, I’m here to represent it! But, whether we like it or not, difficult as it may be, it is AS IMPORTANT, if not MORE IMPORTANT than Conversion, ROI, CCP, and all the other juicy buzz words we associate with marketing and business building.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  All those things are mega important. Conversion… HUGE one. From optimizing your sales funnel to nailing your pitch, if you’re not selling, you have no business, right? Truly mature businesses understand, however, that rocking your conversion rate is only the first step to success. To reach the next level, you need to go beyond conversion and build customer loyalty.

Loyalty is what keeps your customers from dropping off when it’s time to renew their subscriptions.

Loyalty is how you build a receptive audience for your next product launch.

Loyalty is social proof and brand ambassadors, grassroots marketing and word of mouth.

Loyalty is buzz, all grown up.

That all said, can you guess what a mega factor in customer loyalty is? Yup. Great customer service. You knew there had to be a reason I even mentioned, right?

What does that even mean, though? Answering phones? Changing passwords? Letting someone buy at a discount because they missed the launch promo? Unlike our furry, four-legged loved ones, who are loyal no matter what, the same cannot be said for customers. To maintain their loyalty, you must produce, put out, and put up. You can’t just throw ‘em a bone, scratch them behind the ears and expect unconditional love.

ife would be so much easier if customer loyalty were as simple as the loyalty of our beloved pets.

So, it’s vital you have an understanding of what great customer service is.

Let’s begin by talking about what great customer service is NOT.

Great customer service is NOT doing it all just so you can say you do it all.

It’s about doing the right things – right for your customers and right for your business. It’s tempting to look at some of the great service organizations out there like Zappos or Disney and try to mimic their models as a shortcut to good service. This generally fails because, unless you sell shoes online or imagineer theme park experiences, your business is fundamentally different than those service giants. I personally am madly in love with BarkBox customer service. However, I don’t sell doggie treats, sooo….

Your customers have different needs.

You operate on a different budget.

Your service staff needs to have different skills, resources, and tools at their disposal.

Adopting a one-size-fits-all approach is the fastest way to failing your customers and, with it, damaging that critical concept of customer loyalty. Even the examples listed above don’t all provide service the same way. Some products need service 24 hours a day and some don’t. Some customers are best served online, while others need the familiarity of a phone call.

Like optimizing your conversion rates, optimizing your Customer Service is all about understanding your product and your audience. There are certainly lessons to learn from the world’s best service organizations, but finding the right service for your business is going to be about flexibility, not dogma.

You’ve probably seen Andy’s 5 Laws for Successful Webinars (if you haven’t, be sure to check it out)… We don’t have hard and fast Laws for Customer Service. Instead, we have 3 Key Principles:

  1. Great Service is Tailored
  2. Great Service Meets Expectations by managing them!
  3. Great Service is Personal

The best customer service department is tailored to meet the needs of those specific customers.

Great Customer Service is Tailored

Whether it’s a cash budget, headcount limitation, or even your own time handling your own customers when you’re just starting out, you’ve got to work within a service budget. When we talk about tailoring your service, we’re talking about how best to apply your service budget to meet the specific needs of your customers. Consider two different service departments with the same budget:

  • Service Department #1 provides Phone support from 9am to 6pm PST Monday through Friday. They ensure that no calls sit on hold for more than five minutes during their service hours.
  • Service Department #2 provides email support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including holidays. They ensure that all emails are answered within 1 hour of being received, no matter when.

Which department should you be?

It honestly depends on who you are and who your customers are. If you were to sell an online video series about smart saving habits for retirement to homeowners in California, Florida, and New York, Service Department #1 would likely meet the needs of your customers well. If, on the other hand, your product was an online SaaS application for business owners across the globe, you’d serve those global needs better with Service Department #2.

Here are the 4 main questions to ask when tailoring great customer service:

  1. What hours will I operate?

This should be based specifically around when your customers will need your help. They should never feel abandoned, so your hours should amply cover the timeframe they’ll be using your product. Your operating hours decision doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can choose to answer more slowly outside prime hours or offer different levels of service.

2. What channels will I offer? (Phone, LiveChat, Email/Webform)

Customers value immediacy, but they value getting the right answer the first time even more. Online service has advantages, like allowing you to capture customer information before the conversation begins and allowing you to maintain perfect records to easily reference in the future. The real question is: what does your product need? Are you likely to hear from a customer often enough for their history to matter? Are you dealing with a less technically savvy audience that may not be comfortable receiving service online? Are you dealing with a younger crowd that won’t tolerate sitting on hold on the phone?

3. Which issues will I help with?

Deciding on the scope of your support and holding to it is critical. Even famous service companies often set reasonable limits. BMW offers brag-worthy full service to customers, but they won’t help you get through driving school or teach you to change a flat. When deciding the limits of your support, you should consider the customer impact of each type of issue you expect to handle.

You want to make sure you’re covering two main types:

  1. Deep Impact Issues
  2. Broad Impact Issues.

A deep impact issue is a customer problem that undermines the core value of your product. These are customers who can’t login to your membership portal or who are attempting to buy, but realize your shopping cart won’t accept their national currency. It’s also users who just can’t figure out how to actually use your software, simply because they aren’t savvy. It doesn’t matter if the problem is the product or the customer; if they aren’t getting value from you, you must solve that. Payment for value is the foundation of your relationship with them.

It has to work.

A broad impact issue is a customer problem that affects a large number of customers. Even if those customers can all still get value from your product or service, denying a common, widespread request can sour your reputation. Remember the point of this article: fostering loyalty. This is when you’ll want to eliminate the issue by either fixing the product or creating great self-service options. Those things take time, however, and the way your service department responds can define the chatter around your brand.

If you’re looking at a shallow-impact outlier issue, consider culling it from your scope of support or offering it as a premium service (unless you’re already selling a high-priced premium product, in which case white glove service may be part of your sales pitch)!

  1. How long will I let customers wait?

In general, here are a few windows you can consider for your service levels.

  1. 5 minutes
  2. 1 hour
  3. 8 hours
  4. 24 hours

But, get this! You don’t have to make the same choice for every type of issue or for every contact channel. Identifying the right service level relies on two factors:  the seriousness of the customer’s pain and the time-sensitivity of a resolution. If you’re able to separate deep impact issues from broad impact issues, deep issues should have a much more aggressive service level.

The poor, long dead horse is begging me to stop, but I’ll say it again anyway… the goal here is customer loyalty. That means you should consider the impression the customer gets from your service level.

A 5 minute service level for phone or chat (or 1 hour for email) feels extremely responsive.

An 8 hour service level feels like “Same Day” service.

24 hours feels like “Next Day” service.

Decide the impression you want to give and staff for it. Don’t compromise. From a Customer Experience viewpoint, there is no point to an 18 hour service level because it still feels like “Next Day”. On the flip side, customers who expect a 10 minute response time to an email need to have their expectations better managed.

There’s a temptation when designing your service department to believe that more is more, that offering all channels at all hours with the most aggressive service level will always improve your customer loyalty. That isn’t necessarily the case. Like every decision you’ll make on your way to success, focusing on the right opportunities will always yield better results than spreading yourself too thin by trying to do it all.

Next time, we’ll talk about managing expectations effectively, in a way that fosters loyalty, and benefits both you and your customer.

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