Poor customer service is one of the silent killers of modern business. Just think about it. You might spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to acquire a customer. Then, poor service angers the customer, and you lose years of future revenue. How much is at stake?
A 2018 article in Inc. magazine estimated that, on average, a customer stays with a company for 2.5 years. In other industries such as banking and insurance, the goal is even more ambitious: retain customers for decades.
If everyone knows that customer service and retention matter, why does this happen? There are a few common causes of most customer service complaints.
The Anatomy of Poor Customer Service
The fundamental problem lies in viewing customer service as a low priority cost center. If the goal of the customer service department is to minimize cost, you start to see problems like the following.
1. Speed over service
Some customer service agents are encouraged to end calls fast whether or not the problem is solved. That approach frustrates customers, and they'll complain to friends and family about having to call back several times.
2. No timelines for response
How long do customers have to wait for a decision on their request? In poor functioning customer service departments, the answer is, “as long as it takes.” That’s a surefire way to encourage customers to look elsewhere.
3. Poor product knowledge
If a customer knows more about your product than the customer service rep he or she talks to, then the customer is unlikely to have a good experience. At best, such interactions waste time. At worst, customers will write off your organization as incompetent.
4. Management reporting weaknesses
What reports and data does management receive about customer service? A typical report will solely focus on the costs of the department. A better approach factors in customer surveys and retention measures.
5. Not enough discretion
Have you ever been told, “I can’t do that because of company policy.” Hearing that as a customer is frustrating. Instead, look for ways to empower customer service staff to go the extra mile. Here’s an extraordinary example: Publix employees dig through landfill to return girl's stuffed bunny. Not only did those employees delight a young girl, but their efforts also landed them valuable publicity in Alabama.
Now that you know some of the causes of poor customer service, what can you do about this situation? There are plenty of solutions available.
Which Options Should You Choose to Improve Customer Service?
As you consider these customer service improvement strategies, keep in mind a few principles. First, you may not see an immediate return on investment. Second, robust customer service means you're more likely to receive referrals from your customer base. Now, look at ways to reduce customer service complaints.
1. Diagnose patterns in customer service complaints
If your company receives constant complaints about late delivery or billing errors, use that information to implement changes to your procedures.
2. Make better decisions about customer service staffing
Some complaints are likely about the customer service process itself. When customers are kept waiting for more than 10 minutes, they're likely to become upset. A study of 10 banks found that calls are answered, on average, in less than four minutes.
3. Equip staff with customer service skills
The way you handle a complaint makes a difference. Train your staff to listen carefully before offering a solution.
Whichever customer service improvement strategy you choose, you need a way to know if it's working.
The Foundation of Better Customer Service
Ultimately, senior management can only improve and direct customer service if they're equipped with reliable information. That begs the question: what's the quality and quantity of data sent to management? Use a handful of factors to assess the quality of the customer service reports sent to management.
1. The frequency of reports
In general, we recommend receiving reports on a monthly and quarterly basis. If you're working to improve a low performing customer service department, ask for weekly reports.
2. Alignment to company goals
After reading a report, you should be able to make better decisions to advance toward your goals. For example, if your goal is to retain 90% of customers, your customer service metrics should relate to that goal.
3. Paper vs. digital reports
When you rely upon paper forms and reports, making good management decisions becomes more difficult. There's no easy way to circulate data among managers in different locations. It's also tough to share rich media such as photos and charts submitted on paper forms.
How do you improve the data you receive? Simple: you need to implement an enterprise data collection solution. Design a few digital forms for your customer service staff to fill in each week.
Once all these reports are received, you can automatically transfer the data to Podio for project management (useful if you're gathering data for a customer service improvement project), SQL, Evernote, and Salesforce. Since the data is submitted as a digital form, you never need to worry about smudged or illegible data entry.
Use mobile forms to easily improve your customer service. Try it for free.