better customer service

8 ways to coach employees to better customer service

Good customer service is a cornerstone of successful businesses. So, it makes sense that every business leader wants their employees to deliver the best customer service possible. Are your employees already providing excellent customer service to your customers? Or, are there areas where they need a little polishing?

Regardless of your exact circumstances, there are always opportunities for improvement. Giving your workforce the tools, resources and inspiration to deliver exceptional customer service is a sure-fire strategy to help keep your clients happy and loyal.

What can you do to coach employees to provide the kind of service that wows clients? Here are eight tips to guide you.

1. Hire problem-solvers

Good customer service is essentially good problem-solving. If you want to deliver good customer service, you need to hire people who are interested in helping others and who enjoy solving problems.

Make sure your job description and interview questions focus on characteristics associated with good customer service and critical thinking. Look for candidates who communicate and listen well, who manage their time well, and who demonstrate empathy, attentiveness and patience. They should also have the ability and interest needed to learn about your product or service.

Your company may be able to dramatically improve its customer service ratings simply by hiring with these skills in mind.

2. Empower employees to solve problems on their own

Hiring problem-solvers does you no good if you don’t empower them to actually solve the problems that come their way.

Every company has rules, but beware of creating such a rigid structure that your employees can’t deliver good service. Whenever possible, give your customer service representatives (CSR) the leeway to solve a customer’s problem within guidelines you’ve created. Empower them with the authority and flexibility to find creative or alternative solutions to issues when they arise, without having to get your sign-off on every little thing.

For example, if the company makes a mistake on a long-time customer’s order, give frontline employees the freedom to offer a one-time incentive to make it up to them. It could be as simple as free shipping or a 10-percent discount on their next order. You could cap any incentives at a certain dollar amount, say $15-20, and let your staff know that anything over that figure will require your approval. Something like this can go a long way toward keeping customers happy, without adding to your load or crippling your budget.

3. Encourage active listening

Listening is perhaps the number-one skill necessary to deliver good customer service. Teach your employees to listen well by reminding them to let their customers finish their sentences before responding. Everyone wants to feel like someone genuinely cares about their problem and is there to help them.

Another tip: Have employees repeat back to their customer what they heard when discussing a problem. This allows the customer to clarify what is being discussed and helps them feel heard.

Listening, especially when it’s something you don’t want to hear, can be hard work. This is even more true when dealing with disgruntled customers. But the rewards for listening well are immeasurable when it comes to keeping customers happy.

Coach employees to understand that, through active listening, they have a unique opportunity to turn unpleasant situations into positive ones – for the customer, your company and their own sense of satisfaction.

4. Invest in training and development

Young employees and those new to customer service may need some training to get up to speed on the basics of their jobs. For more seasoned employees, it’s still a good idea to offer opportunities for continuing education and development.

Training on topics such as phone etiquette and how to deal with difficult people can prove especially beneficial for CSRs and other frontline employees. If your company doesn’t have the budget to bring in a trainer, or you don’t have the time to do it yourself, you can harness a wealth of affordable online training courses.

Another cost-effective strategy is to find relevant articles online and share them with employees. At your next staff meeting, discuss one or two points from the article and how your team might incorporate new ideas. Get some additional leverage from your staff meetings by asking each employee to bring their biggest or most unusual customer service challenge. Then, discuss these challenges and look for ways client issues can be resolved more quickly, more creatively or more effectively.

Taking the knowledge-share concept a step further, you can also tap into the expertise of more experienced staff members and provide monthly lunch-and-learns where employees take turns presenting. Such shared learning helps the whole team become more adept at problem-solving and increases everyone’s knowledge of how to help their customers.

5. Support wide-ranging company knowledge

A good CSR is informed about their product line and the company’s services. But a great CSR knows their company inside and out.

Often, the best way to solve a customer’s complaint is simply knowing who and what to ask when a problem crops up. This begins with a thorough onboarding process and continues throughout a worker’s time with your company.

Inspire employees to develop a deep understanding of where your company has been and where it’s going. Keep them informed about what’s happening throughout the company by introducing them to people and initiatives in other departments. Cross-functional teaming can be a great tactic for encouraging this type of broad company knowledge.

To motivate ongoing learning about the company, you can schedule tours of other areas within the organization. Or, ask another department to present their work at your next staff meeting or lunch-and-learn. Interdepartmental interaction helps employees learn how different parts of the company operate, and how they fit into the whole.

6. Talk to your employees

Managers often fall into the trap of thinking, “My team knows I’m here if they need me. Isn’t that enough?” The answer is no, it’s not.

Your employees need to have enough of a relationship with you to feel comfortable bringing forward problems, asking questions or making suggestions for improvement. And, every relationship requires conversation. It doesn’t have to be in-depth, daily dialogue, but it does need to be frequent and substantive enough to build rapport.

Depending on your company, that may warrant:

  • weekly, 15-minute meetings with individuals
  • weekly, one-hour group meetings
  • daily stop-ins for a quick “What’s up?”
  • a combination of all three

Yes, it’s time-consuming, but it’s still the best way to ensure you’re all focused on excellent customer service.

7. Model patience and empathy

Unfortunately, there will be times when your employees can’t give customers exactly what they want. However, that doesn’t mean they have to say no without first looking for a compromise of some sort.

Help your employees learn to practice patience and empathy. Teach them phrases such as, “Let me ask my manager about this and see if there’s something we can do.” Even if it’s just a few minutes of conversation, taking the time with a customer to establish some rapport can make it more palatable for the customer if their request ultimately can’t be fulfilled.

But, there’s a catch: In order for empathy to be effective, it must be genuine. So, it’s important for you to model the appropriate behavior in your dealings with your employees (i.e., show them the same level of patience and empathy you expect them to show customers). It’s also critical that you place the right employees in customer service roles. Not all personalities are suited to customer interaction.

8. Make customer service everybody’s job

Remind your employees that everyone contributes to the overall customer experience, even the most backstage worker who seemingly interacts with no one. They’re still doing something that impacts the customer, whether it’s preparing orders for shipment, servicing the phone conferencing system CSRs use, or something else.

Show your workers who aren’t on the front lines that what they do helps shape customer service and that you appreciate them. You can acknowledge their contributions publicly at staff meetings or personally with a handwritten thank-you note – or even an in-person pat on the back. However formal or informal, the idea is simply to help them understand that their role matters.

Nothing prompts the recurrence of desired behaviors like encouragement and appreciation.

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