I’m a customer service staff. Well, the official title is “Client Success” in the agency I work at, but most people would raise eyebrows at that title. To make it easier for anyone not familiar with the service industry, let’s call it “customer service”, because that’s really what it is.
Of course, in more recent times, client success is more often used because there’s a differentiation between servicing a customer and helping a client succeed. That’s a topic for another day or you could read this article.
Most people will never work in any capacity that requires servicing customers, and often these are usually the nasty customers that appear ever so often in horror stories told by customer service staff, like yours truly.
However, I realised working in a customer facing role doesn’t necessarily make a person a more well-mannered customer. The natural response when our expectations are not met (when we’re paying) is the same, regardless of the actual amount we’re forking out.
And that’s probably why working in customer service, especially when it involves managing a huge volume of customers, is such a nightmare and so few are willing to even give it a try.
As someone who serves the agency’s clients day in and day out, solving their problems and helping them achieve their wider business goals, I’ve had my fair share of “nasty” clients.
I personally don’t believe there’s a truly nasty client – their behaviour is usually a result of the situation at that point of time, especially when their business is on the line. When it’s all sunny and rosy, the customer is usually positive.
These are three main points about customer service I feel most people (especially those who don’t have direct experience) get wrong about it.
Courtesy alone is not enough
When most customers are asked, “what’s the most important quality in customer service staff?” the answer is almost always courtesy. But is it really?
The only reason customer service exists is because products and services are not perfect – end-users will face problems and issues when using the product or service. So how would courtesy solve those problems or issues?
Courtesy would only make the experience pleasant, but if the customer service staff doesn’t solve the problem, the end-user will still end up frustrated.
Furthermore, anyone can be courteous with the right incentives and training. Politeness is expected and shouldn’t be a “quality” that’s important in customer service. It’s akin to saying alertness is important for security staff or doctors must pay attention to details and symptoms.
In fact, everyone should be courteous to others, whether you’re in customer service or a consumer.
Unfortunately, even customer service officers themselves see courtesy as being an important quality and that they’re proud if customers praise them for their politeness.
The most successful customer service representatives are usually the ones who actually solve problems for their customers, which brings me to the next point.
Beyond just solving problems
I know this sounds counterintuitive and even contradictory – solving problems is just one piece of the puzzle. It is important as I said, because solving problems is exactly why customers seek help from the service department, anyway.
That said, just solving that one problem wouldn’t satisfy some – it’s the customer service’s basic function, anyway. And sometimes, as end-users, the problem is just the symptom of a larger root problem.
Using a product example, if a smartphone user visits the service centre to get an earlier-than-expected drained battery problem fixed, the typical service staff would just check for misuse or anything that might potentially void the warranty, to close the case as quickly as possible.
When the repairs are done, he or she would just go through the necessary and return the fixed smartphone to its owner. However, the service staff could go one step further – by asking about phone usage habits to diagnose if a similar issue might arise again, or it’s really just a manufacturing defect or problem in the battery.
If it’s indeed because of inappropriate usage habits, not only could the service staff educate the customer on preventing such issues from occurring in the future, but he or she could feedback to the product team.
If there are other customers facing the same problem, future iterations could take that into consideration to reduce the need for repairs, ultimately improving the customer experience and reduce costs.
Heavy impact on internal operations
Last but not least, customer service isn’t just about the “customer”, it’s about portraying a brand image to the customers as well.
As mentioned in the previous point, customer service should impact internal operations too – if many customers are facing the same exact problem, it could be a product issue that should be addressed so future and existing customers will have a better experience.
Service-based businesses are more heavily reliant on the customer service team as compared to product-based companies in this respect, since the frontline staff is the product.
Having worked in a digital marketing agency for almost three years now as part of the client success team (previously known as account management), I learned that servicing customers is both a science and art.
Some people treat customer service as a function that can be easily replicated into a template of sorts, but we all know that dealing with humans is always filled with uncertainties and immense possibilities.
The science part, which is following a process to solving the problem the customer faces, is just the opening act of the entire show. Satisfying the customer’s needs on top of solving the problem and benefitting the brand is an art honed over the years.
The best customer service representatives don’t make you feel like you’re talking to one, they make you feel like you’re talking to the boss or even the brand itself, albeit with a touch of their own personality.
That’s probably why Starbucks and Apple have built such a strong community around their brand, who also act as their very own brand ambassadors without needing to give much incentives.
Think about the brands you feel strongly for – think about how was your previous customer service experience like, and you’ll know what I mean.