Understanding the Basics of Customer Service

Enhancing the Customer Experience

How can I help you? Did you find what you were looking for today? Thank you for your business. What do all these statements have in common?  They are all designed to enhance a customer’s experience and make them feel appreciated. Using these few simple words can have a powerful affect on your customer’s perception of your business.

The bottom line is that regardless of what products or services you offer, you are also in the business of servicing customers. And your approach to customer service can make or break your business.

Even if you have the luxury of being the only company providing your particular product or service, you should always work to provide outstanding customer service. The truth is that new businesses appear on the horizon all the time. You can easily lose customers to a competitor who excels at dealing with customers, even if your product is less expensive or better. This is especially true with web-based businesses, since it is often easy to find someone else with just a few mouse clicks.

This post will help you to understand the importance of quality customer service and introduce you to some of the ways you can go about delivering it.

What Constitutes “Good” Customer Service?

Good customer service occurs when all aspects of a business seek to give customers what they want and need. To evaluate your business’ customer service practices, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How well does your product or service meet a customer’s needs/wants?
  • Does it deliver whatever qualities your customer is looking for in this type of product?
  • How well is it priced in their eyes?
  • How easy is it to find out about your products?
  • What will they see when they visit your website?  Will it encourage them to shop?
  • How easy is it to navigate your website?
  • How easy is it to place an order?
  • How secure do customers feel when placing an order?
  • How will you get the product to them?
  • Are your shipping terms reasonable/competitive?
  • Will the product arrive quickly and intact?
  • What could go wrong, and what will you do about it?
  • How will you handle complaints and problems?
  • What do you need to keep track of, and how will you do it?
  • How are you going to interact with your customers?

If you can’t answer these questions or you aren’t providing favorable answers, you need to spend some time honing your approach.  All of these elements go into effectively serving your customers. And, it’s not just up to the “frontline face” to handle customer service; it’s built into every step of the process.

Taking a Customer-Focused Approach

Walking in Your Customer’s Shoes

Often, when you ask customers what they want, you may find that they really don’t know, or can’t express, what they want, or sometimes even what they need.  Perhaps what one customer finds extraordinary strikes the next one as barely passable.  Even what a customer likes one day may not quite do it for them the next.

You may be tempted to throw up your hands and despair over the futility of trying to work with such fickle people…until you realize that you have been there yourself.  Remember that your customer has experienced everything that you have experienced as a consumer – a product that is not quite what you wanted; merchandise that breaks and then no one returns your calls; late shipments; the wrong color; and the list goes on…

Remember this:  With good customer service, the Golden Rule expands into the Gold Rule: Doing for others as you like it done for you wins repeat business.

The Benefit of the Doubt

Whenever possible, give your customers the benefit of doubt.  Always try to keep the peace by avoiding engaging them in an argument just to prove who is right. This is hard to do and you may fail at times.  You may have to say something like, “Let me ask my supervisor about this,“ just so you can put them on hold to give them – and yourself – a chance to calm down and take another run at this.

There are customers who are totally unreasonable and completely wrong, but you may have to swallow your sense of justice, smile and discount the price on the sale or even go negative on profit.  However, this is part of good customer service and, in the long run, you will win!

Resolve All Disagreements

When it comes to conflict resolution it is always in your company’s best interests to come to some sort of agreement with customers.  If the customer doesn’t like something about their purchase, either promptly refund their money or exchange the product.  The last thing you want is a chargeback.  Any customer who uses a credit card to purchase has the right to contest the charge with their credit card company.  When this happens merchant services debits this amount fromyourbank account until the disagreement is resolved.

Usually this process takes about 6 weeks to resolve and requires about 1-3 pages of response from you. When it gets right down to the decision, you will probably lose… about 98% of the time merchant services sides with the customer.  Chargebacks are rare, but it is far less complicated to resolve the issue directly with the customer than to go through the detailed process of dispute.

Make Good on Your Errors

Hey, stuff happens!  A large order that is expensive to ship gets sent to the wrong address. A box gets packed with the wrong item. A customer is billed for the wrong order. To be honest, the temptation to place blame on someone else will be there.  It’s difficult to eat the cost of sending and retrieving a product that costs $70 shipping each way! However if you make a mistake, be sure to make good on it promptly… your customers will appreciate you for it.

A tip: if you make a shipping error sometimes it’s much cheaper to discount the product if the customer agrees to keep it.  Ask them and see!

Moving Beyond Face-to-Face Communication

Your business may not be handling customer transactions face-to-face, but that does not mean that courtesy and decorum are thrown out the window. It’s important that your smile be heard even over the phone and your enthusiasm is conveyed in the text of an email.

Providing good service through email or over the phone can be a challenging proposition.  When you aren’t communicating in person, there is a lot left to interpretation. Sometimes when using these forms of communication the meaning of our words are lost in translation. Just think of when you receive an email from a friend in capitalized letters. Perhaps this friend intended to send you a friendly correspondence that came across as a ranting chastisement simply because they hit “shift” and “caps lock” on their keyboard.

So, if you didn’t sleep well the previous night and you pick up the phone sounding groggy, or if you craft abrupt responses to customer emails, remember that you are likely to alienate them. Think twice before you pick up that line or hit send on that email. Always make sure you are putting your best foot forward and your customer feels like you value their business and you are there to help.  Otherwise, they will more than likely go elsewhere.

Dealing with Exchanges & Refunds

To keep the customer happy it’s important to refund their money as soon as possible and without question. Major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Target have set the standard here.  If you want to return anything at anytime for any reason to one of these retailers, they will take that item back, no questions asked. Do they lose sometimes? Of course they do, but they gain so much more as customers keep coming back.

Make sure you post your return policy on your website. This policy may evolve over time as you encounter and resolve situations. Here’s a suggested policy statement to begin with:

“XYZ Corporation gladly exchanges products or refunds your money (less shipping charges) for products that are returned in the original package and in resalable condition within 30 days of purchase. Washed or used items are not accepted. All defective products must be exchanged within 60 days of purchase”

What if they want to return a product that was purchased 45 days ago?  Should you refund? The answer is yes, most definitely. If a customer wants to return an item purchased 4 months ago, why not compromise and give a store credit?  It’s a judgment call; try to please the customer with a fair solution. Most companies, however, do not refund shipping costs as this is paid directly to the carrier and is non-refundable.

With exchange items you should implement the same philosophy. Be liberal and fair with exchanges.  Many companies offer free shipping on exchanges, or you can charge actual shipping costs.

What do you do with returned products? If you are not able to resell the product as new (such as the packaging is destroyed or a small scratch), then you have a few option to consider before throwing it in the trash. You could offer the product at a discount or sell it on eBay.com. Remember, it is important to disclose ALL product flaws. Customer are sometimes willing to purchase a product at a discount with a small scratch.

The Benefits of Technology

Many businesses have found that the speed and convenience of the internet is a God-send from the customer’s point of view, evidenced by the fact that more and more are joining the ranks of cyber-buyers every day.  And cyber-buyers continue to choose their favorites and establish their loyalties just as they do in traditional retailing, if they find that all goes well in their dealings with you.

Technology even allows for some customer service bonuses – such as point-of-purchase product reviews, customer comments, and product popularity rankings – that are just not feasible in the brick-and-mortar store. Amazon and E-bay have set a new standard, and what they do is by no means beyond your reach. You may not have yet achieved the same volume as these e-commerce giants, but picture having to handle thousands of transactions per minute, nearly flawlessly.  And that’s just the beginning.

How do you keep track of all those customers and their buying habits?  Send them word about specials that they may find interesting?  Resolve issues with as little hassle as possible?  Since customers can shop and buy so quickly, they expect you to be able to handle their concerns just as quickly.  Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software solutions allow you to do just this.

CRM providers, like SalesForce (http://www.salesforce.com/), Highrise (https://highrisehq.com/) and Sugar CRM (http://www.sugarcrm.com/crm/) offer software that integrates processes across departments – marketing, sales, distribution, manufacturing, inventory, and customer support.  This keeps everyone in the loop by contributing and analyzing data on prospects, customers, manufacturing capacities, inventory levels, customer experiences, shipping concerns, and reasons for lost sales.

Watch for Fraudsters

An unfortunate side issue related to customer service involves dealing with the dishonest few that may attempt to purchase from you on the web. It is your responsibility to verify that all transactions are legit. Even if you receive an approval on the transaction, all fraudulent transactions result in a chargeback.  Mistakes come out of your pocket each time. In most instances the law does very little to investigate fraud of this nature. More than likely you will not catch the perpetrators nor hear back from the police. Stopping the fraudsters from the get-go is the only cure.

The good news is that you can eliminate 99% of fraudulent transactions by taking a few simple steps. Utilizing fraud tools like Address Verification Service (AVS) and Card Verification Number (CVN) checking can help keep your business safe.

In Summary

Your customers are your partners in business and taking their wants and needs into account is your primary concern. Use each contact as an opportunity to win your customer’s trust and loyalty. Make good on your mistakes, quickly and with a positive attitude. Be sure your smile is heard when handling inquiries and complaints, whether through e-mail or over the phone. Make full use of technology to gather, analyze, and use customer data in such a way that it helps you better serve them.

IMPress Action Checklist

Below is a list of the steps that will help you as you begin to integrate customer service into your business processes. Check off each step as you complete it to keep track of your progress.

  1. Evaluate your approach to customer service
  2. Work to take a customer-focused approach
  3. Develop a return policy that’s liberal and fair to your customer
  4. Take advantage of technologies that will help you to service your customers better

Written by

In 1999, Lisa Rae created her first online small business eCommerce website. She successfully achieved a client base of over 15,000 active customers by implementing customer creation and retention projects. Her execution of online advertising campaigns, as well as print media campaigns that lead to annual revenue of over a million dollars annually. After six years of leadership, Lisa Rae sold the company and began offering marketing consultant and website services on short and long term contracts for businesses of various sizes. She meets her clients’ objectives through customized marketing plans using a wide range of marketing tools including WordPress website creation, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Social Media Marketing, print collateral, email marketing, and more.