I write quite a few articles and mainly to help and support customers but I have to admit that this one may have been a little bit inspired by recent terrible customer experiences with Scottish Power. I heard on the news a couple of weeks ago that they had been banned for 12 days from making any outbound sales calls and instead, those staff needed to be reassigned to help clear the enormous backlog of customer service complaints. This article provides a few rules to follow if you wish to avoid your organisation getting into that kind of situation or if you wish your team to be fabulous and enjoy their work more!
Step One - Ban negative language and get people solution focused
A great first step towards improving the service is to ban negative language and to encourage team members to pull each other up when they overhear each other saying things like ‘Can’t’, ‘Don’t’, ‘Won’t’, ‘Problem’.
Of course as managers and therefore masters of human psychology (!?) we also realise that putting up a list of banned words in the office will actually result in people accidentally saying them even more, so what you also need to do is to offer people an alternative list of recommended words and phrases like…
What I can do for you is…
The situation currently is…
An alternative solution might be…
You then need to spot people using them and give them positive feedback!
Step Two - Encourage specificity
It really annoys customers when people say things like, “I’ll get back to you”, “Leave it with me”, “I’ll get someone to sort it out for you”, “I’ll remind someone in the customer service department” especially when absolutely nothing happens as a result! Instead you to need to enable staff to practise being really specific about what they intend to do and by when. For example, “I’ll find out this information for you and give you a call back by 2pm. Will you be able to take the call then?”. Encourage team members to tell each other when they have used lazy non-specific phrases with customers and point out great examples of being specific when listening into calls.
Step Three - Make sure people follow up on specific commitments they have made to customers
There is nothing worse than being told that something will happen and then it doesn’t! I have lost count of the number of e-mails I have received from Scottish Power saying that they will get back to me in 7 days or latterly within 30 days, and they’ve never got back to me at all! Customers will not stand for violated expectations or broken promises. People in your team need to make sure that they take responsibility for anything they say they will do and to this end will probably need to write a list of all commitments they make and prioritise these.
Step Four - Get your team valuing customer complaints
It’s a bit of a cliche, but complaints really are a great opportunity to create massive customer loyalty. The information that customers give can really shape and drive improvements in the organisation and so it deserves to be valued. Encourage your team to take the following steps when there is an issue…
- Listen - fully and completely, asking questions and summarising to check and clarify understanding
- Empathise - briefly with the customers situation or at least repeat it back to them to show they you fully understand it
- Apologise - on behalf of the organisation without passing the blame onto anyone else or any other department
- Fix - Sort out the problem. Say specifically what you are going to do by when.
- Plus one - Explain what you will do to go above and beyond simply rectifying the problem situation. How will you compensate them for the trouble they have had?
Step Five - Give your team the power to sort problems out fast
When a customer complains, 54-70% of them (depending which study you read) will stay with the organisation if their problem is resolved to their satisfaction. That goes up to over 95% if it’s sorted within the first contact. For this reason, it’s essential that you give people the power and authority to do what is needed to resolve the problem there and then. Sometimes they will need to check things with a manager but where they do they should do so as quickly as possible and call the customer back.
When an issue is resolved really well, it turns customers into fans or promoters of your business and sources of future business; it gives customers a positive story to tell and that can only be great for business.