Proactive customer service

History has shown that many companies think of customer service as a reactionary response to a customer problem. In the past and still today, customer service focuses on how to deal with customer complaints/problems after the customer is no longer satisfied with a problem. This is like closing the barn door after the horses have been unloaded.

Anyone who is in customer service knows that dealing with dissatisfied customers all day makes for a very long day. If this happens day after day, the problems for the company grow exponentially. A customer who has had service issues multiple times becomes a very dissatisfied customer who may turn to your competitor…costing your business revenue and damaging your reputation. Plus, you quickly burn out your customer service staff. Customer service positions are notorious for their high turnover rates. If your company has a reactionary approach to customer service, it creates a negative environment that substantially accelerates churn rates. This, in turn, causes a significant loss of revenue due to the costs of constantly replacing staff and the time and resources required to train new staff. Keeping customer service staff turnover low is a challenge for all businesses. Many companies simply see it as a headache they have to accept and even see it as a cost of doing business.

But what if you could reduce customer complaints, reduce employee turnover, increase (not decrease) revenue, and save company resources… simply by developing a proactive service approach?

Today there is so much competition that it is very difficult to differentiate yourself from your competitors. A recent article in USA Today indicated that a survey of CEOs noted that because many companies offer the same products and services at similar prices, customer service is the best way to differentiate yourself from the competition. A good way to differentiate your company is to create a customer service program that is proactively focused.
Here are some examples of proactive approaches you can take:

1) Anticipate the problems and/or needs of your clients:
Ask your staff to compile a list of possible and/or likely questions, concerns, and problems your customers may have. Instead of coming up with solutions for when customers call, have your team meet regularly to try to identify new issues that may come up and how to solve them before the customer sees them.

2) Constant/consistent communication:
Have your staff call your customer regularly to show a sincere interest in caring for them, while at the same time potentially catching problems before they’ve been magnified in the customer’s eyes. Good communication can catch problems before they cause more damage.

3) Apologize immediately:
Anytime a customer says or shows they’re not happy with an issue… apologize immediately. This doesn’t mean taking full responsibility before you know it’s your company’s fault. It could be another seller’s or customer’s mistake. This means acknowledging their frustration by saying, “I’m sorry this issue has caused you frustration, and we’ll do our best to fix it.” Even if it’s your fault or another provider’s, just the fact that you’re trying to immediately acknowledge how you’re affecting them will make them feel like you’re a true partner and care about their satisfaction. It is truly amazing how many companies have not taught their staff the golden rule of apologizing immediately. Apologizing immediately goes a long way in dispelling the tinderbox of a dissatisfied customer.

4) Sometimes you have to say “No”:
Some projects or clients are too big. Not many sellers or owners want to say no to any job. But if the job is too big, you won’t be able to serve them well and will reduce resources for other clients. It is very tempting to take on a side job that can bring in more income, especially when it comes to a young and/or struggling business. But if you take a job you can’t handle, it will do more harm than good in the long run.

5) Reward staff for great service:
Reward them quickly and before they ask for appreciation. Customer service is a very stressful job sometimes. Long-term exposure to unhappy customers can be very debilitating for an employee. Therefore, managers must proactively reward staff who go above and beyond. Managers should also keep a close eye on employees who begin to show signs of stress. Proactively plan plenty of breaks throughout the day. Also have light-hearted distractions that can take them away from the stress of dealing with dissatisfied customers.

6) Train your staff:
Give staff the authority to make decisions even before dealing with customers. Give them the power to make judgments the first time they learn of a customer problem. Try to ensure that staff do not have to delay the resolution of complaints as much as possible by avoiding going to superiors to obtain authorization to solve customer problems. Passes add fuel to smoking patrons. The best customer service stories come from companies like Nordstrom, which give their employees complete autonomy to make a customer happy.

7) Compensate your staff based on level of service:
Staff should be aware that the level of service they provide to their clients would directly affect their compensation. Give them incentives to provide the best service they can. Rather, they must understand that poor service can not only affect their compensation but also their job.

8) Hire the right people and instill the right message:
It all starts with the right people! If you hire someone who doesn’t get along well with others and lacks interpersonal skills, you’ve already created a recipe for failure. If necessary, administer personality assessments to gain a stronger understanding of your true ability and willingness to serve others. Also, when you hire someone who will have regular contact with customers, you need to understand how important customer focus is to them. “Customer first” must be the company culture.

9) Be Prepared:
If it’s too late to be proactive and a customer is already dissatisfied, make sure you have as much information about that customer before you talk to them. Obviously, you want to resolve your issue as quickly as possible, but make sure your staff has all of your customer’s files and history before tackling your issue. Once you have all the information you can about the customer and their problem… hit fast and hard. End the pain.

10) Proactive Surveys:
Routinely send surveys to your customers to gauge their overall opinion of the service. Constantly and proactively monitor how they view the relationship with your company.

I once worked with a technology company and we implemented a Proactive Customer Service Policy. In a year and a half we reduced customer complaints by 70%; reduced incoming calls from customers by 66%; and reduced staff man-hours from an average of 50-55 hours per week to an average of 40 hours per week. The company became an industry leader because we consciously reached out to customers instead of waiting for them to come to us.

If a company implements a proactive approach, it does not guarantee satisfied customers, but it can significantly reduce customer problems and demonstrate to your customers that you are focused on them. When customers see that you are focused on their satisfaction, they will have a much more positive view of their relationship or “association” with your organization. In turn, they may also be more loyal to you compared to your competitor and may be more apt to give your company a positive review. That can also lead to giving your company the benefit of the doubt when a problem arises. A positive past is the best way to build a positive future!

Remember, proactive customer service can be the turning point your business needs to take to the next level.

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