In the current economic downturn, organizations may be tempted to cut back on customer service training for their staff. But consumers are becoming more demanding, and while prices are slashed to get them to buy, customer service can make the real difference. This article provides valuable tips and advice on how to train your staff in excellent customer service.

People want more than just a transaction. They want to have a good experience. And no matter how good the product or service is or how competitively priced, organizations really miss a trick if they don’t provide excellent customer service to close the deal, win repeat business, and retain customers. We all know how long it can take to get new customers, and the sad truth is that poor service can lose them very quickly. Losing clients in this way is sheer negligence.

So what is excellent customer service? We’ve all experienced it, although it seems to be the exception rather than the norm. It’s about providing what the customer needs, but more importantly, it’s about leaving them with a good experience. It’s about how they FEEL, not just what they buy. Customers tend to want four things:

  1. feel welcome
  2. to feel valued
  3. will be understood
  4. So that your needs are met

where to start

Actually, first things first. People buy people, not just products and services. Every great salesperson will tell you that. And if you are going to serve customers, you must first recruit the right people. People who can put themselves in the place of customers. People who can demonstrate basic listening, relationship-building, and empathy skills. Positive, energetic and enthusiastic individuals with a “can do attitude”. Then the training can begin:

  1. First comes the induction process., where new hires learn everything about the company and its values, as well as its products and structure. They learn who their customers are and who does what in the company, so they know who to turn to for help or to resolve a customer complaint. They are introduced to a ‘friend’, who can show them the ropes.
  2. Product knowledge is key. Staff must understand the features and benefits of a variety of products in order to help customers purchase what is right for their needs. If you have a Training Department, great. If not, think carefully about who has the skills to pass on your product knowledge, because not everyone can effectively train others.
  3. The development of communication skills is critical. It is not enough to have product knowledge; staff must know the basics, such as greeting the customer (with a smile, even on the phone, and using her name when possible). First impressions have a big impact. Make sure you set and communicate clear and measurable standards for this, for example answering the phone within three rings; reply correspondence within 48 hours; show the customer a table within one minute of arrival; take the customer to the supermarket aisle to find the product they are looking for; offer a hot drink as they arrive at the hairdresser, etc. Effective questioning and active listening skills can be learned so that staff can find out what the customer really needs, rather than what they think they want. Help them pay attention to both body language and the spoken word. And positive language training helps too. Instead of talking about what the company can’t do, take control of the conversation and identify what it CAN do. And don’t confuse the customer with jargon; check your level of understanding so you can adapt your language accordingly. Practice building a relationship by mirroring and combining communication styles to build relationships.
  4. Train people in the end-to-end process, not just the part they are responsible for. Explain the why and how, as well as the what. Show them how to do things right the first time. Every time. And monitor them closely until they have demonstrated competence.
  5. Training in service recovery or complaint handling is vital. When things go wrong, think of it as a golden opportunity to win over the customer. Customers realize that mistakes happen, but it’s how companies treat them that can really make or break the relationship. Even if the customer is aggressive, don’t get defensive, as that will make things worse. The first step is to offer a sincere apology, as that will usually ease the situation, even if it’s not your fault. To apologize for the shock of what went wrong is to show true empathy. Then find a way to fix it. See what you can do to offer service beyond the norm. Take responsibility and follow through until the issue is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. If you say you will do something, do it and then let the customer know you did it. And go one step further; follow up later to make sure everything is ok. Remember that you want them to sing your praises to everyone they know, and turning a complaining customer into a delighted one is really possible, with just a little bit of effort.
  6. Encourage everyone to look for opportunities to go the extra mile each time.

Beat the recession. Let excellent customer service be the norm in your organization.

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