No matter what business you’re in, great customer service will always be an asset. But if you’re in any service-related industry, it’s a non-negotiable foundation.
Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs focus most of their attention on the service itself, without thinking deeply about how it’s delivered by their team. Whether you’re serving patrons in a restaurant, cutting hair in a hair salon, or working with personal training clients, the best “product” will fall flat if the human-to-human interaction is awkward, brusque, or inconsistent.
By all means, you should pursue gastronomical wizardry, keep up with the latest trends in hairstyles, and rigorously study exercise technique. But if your prospects, clients, and customers are turned off by the humans they encounter… your business will fail. And in many cases, your business will be outflanked by ones with inferior technical skills.
Customer service may be a relatively “soft” skill, but it’s one that can be improved with training. Below are a few high level tips to get your team singing from the same songbook and creating consistently excellent experiences.
Always and Never Lists
One of the classic systems for great customer service is creating an “Always and Never List.” Most of the world’s great customer service brands have a simple list of phrases (or approaches) that employees should never use, and a corresponding list of what to say/do instead.
The exact list will of course depend on the business and its brand. For instance, many luxury brands forbid the phrase “No problem,” preferring instead the more formal “It is my pleasure.” This may or may not be something that’s a good fit for your business.
On the other hand, some “always and never” items are more universally adopted; for instance, most brands have an embargo on saying “No” and encourage employees to focus on what CAN be done for the customer/ client.
This may seem like common sense, but without creating clear expectations, even socially gifted team members may misstep from time to time. So it’s well worth the investment of time and energy to create such a list AND to train your team on it.
Phone Communication Standards
Another opportunity for clear standards is best practices for answering the phone. This may be more or less crucial based on how much your business uses the phone, but unless you’re purely an online business, you likely receive calls from current or prospective customers/ clients.
When a team member answers the phone, it’s immediately a reflection of the business. Like the Always and Never List, it’s relatively easy to create simple standards. But it’s also relatively easy to overlook and rely on “common sense.” This is a missed opportunity. And since it’s often the first experience prospects will have of your business, it’s your only chance to make a great first impression.
Their tone of voice, the words they use, the energy (or lack thereof), and their capability to take care of the caller all send a message. Create a clear set of written guidelines, roleplay your team to help them understand it in action, and schedule ongoing training/ audits to ensure consistency over time.
Email Communication Standards
In today’s day and age, much customer service will happen over emails. On the one hand, this can be an advantage. By definition, emails allow for more time to meticulously execute agreed upon standards; a high-performing customer service professional has the opportunity to review their email before hitting send. On the other hand, emails are notorious for accidentally communicating the wrong tone; this goes quadruple when there’s a missed expectation and emotions are involved on either end.
Good email standards should clarify preferred grammar and formatting rules, guidance on the “tone” of your brand, and perhaps most important of all, clear direction on when emails need to be escalated to a phone call or in-person conversation. While emails can be incredibly convenient, some issues are just too complicated (or emotionally fraught) to be handled efficiently and effectively over email.
Unfortunately, the very “distance” that emails create make them a tempting channel to avoid a potentially difficult in-person or phone encounter. Since this will virtually always backfire, be explicit about the expectations for moving a conversation off email.
Training Your Team
You can create the best systems in the world, but if you don’t take the time to thoroughly train your team and alter their behaviors, you won’t see different outcomes.
The good news is that great customer service standards should be simple to remember and follow. If not, it suggests the systems themselves need to be edited.
Once you’ve got clarity on exactly how your ideal interactions will go, the next step is to find novel ways to train your team. Usually this will require some kind of dedicated roll-out where the standards are introduced and taught. In addition to having the simple systems clearly communicated in writing, you’ll need to do on-going training via roleplays to ensure they develop mastery. It’s one thing to intellectually understand what’s supposed to happen; it’s quite another to be able to consistently perform in real world situations with other human beings. Unless you take the time to put your team into imaginary circumstances and get some practice (and feedback!), it’s not fair or reasonable to expect them to be able to execute.
As a bonus, you’ll discover some of your best efforts at crafting clear and usable standards fall flat in the real world. By getting a chance to see your team apply them in roleplay, you’ll learn where you can improve the systems and make it easier to create good outcomes.
The above suggestions are not brain science. And yet, most businesses won’t take the time to give their team this kind of clarity on what great customer service looks like.
Part of the barrier is simply prioritizing. After all, there are always different demands on how to spend one’s time. And you DO need a minimum threshold of professional competence at your core service offerings; it makes sense to devote time to training on whatever skills are required for your business.
However, many service businesses rely on extensive human-to-human interaction as the delivery mechanism. When this is the case, the WAY in which people are treated and HOW the service is delivered will massively impact your client/ customer satisfaction. So it’s not prudent to rely on instinct for something this crucial, no matter how socially gifted your team may be.
Let’s address one other objection: this isn’t about making your team into robots. It’s about turning pro. It’s possible to be systematic and intentional while still being sincere and authentic.
Good systems and training will help your team develop a technique to consistently perform at a high level. This is even MORE important when you have a strong team with great natural instincts, because the occasional dropped balls will be all the more dissonant and upsetting to your clients.
Professional competency at your service is just table stakes. In competitive markets, this is a basic requirement. But if you really want your business to thrive and build the relationships that are recession and competition proof, make a commitment to mastering the human side of the equation.