No matter which sector you’re in, achieving high-quality and efficient customer service is never an easy feat. And especially because customer expectations are on the rise and the complexity of the digital landscape increases by the day, it’s become more important than ever to invest in improving customer interactions.
The answer often comes down to this: you need to streamline your customer service process.
Think of it as a group of activities that take an inquiry from first contact all the way through to a resolution. A kind of template that provides a set of guidelines for each team member to operate within. This could involve a number of different steps, looking something like this:
Of course, the precise detail and nuance depends on the business, but in general, a customer service process moves customers along a similar workflow.
Often, the steps involved in customer service seem intuitive. So why do companies need to develop a specific process instead of letting the team figure it out on their own?
It’s all about creating a positive customer experience. If you don’t have a customer service process in place, your customers can tell – and they’re unlikely to be impressed. Yet, you have reasons to want them to leave with the best impression possible. For example, research shows that 77 percent of customers are likely to recommend a company to a friend if they have a positive experience.
Every enquiry could potentially be dealt with in a different way. Without an efficient process designed for the customer, they would be left confused and endlessly repeating themselves, while staff would waste valuable time and resources through inefficiency.
On the other hand, if you do have an effective customer service process, it shows that you care about your customers and about creating a customer-centric culture. Your agents will know what they’re supposed to be doing, which in turn means customers know what to expect from you. Hiccups are minimized and you’re well equipped to build true efficiency in customer service.
At the end of the day, it comes down to valuing your customers’ time – something that 73 percent of consumers say is the most important thing a company can do when providing customer service. And to do that, you need a standardized customer service process workflow.
A customer service process brings a number of benefits to both customers and your business. Here are some of the most important.
It’s not that your customers expect perfection – they understand mistakes can happen. But, they certainly do expect you to fix things when they go wrong. The best way to ensure this is by providing agents with a framework through which they can respond to customers consistently, set expectations, and offer any necessary advice.
Customers expect timely interactions, too – 90 percent of customers rate an "immediate" response as important or very important when they have a customer service question; 60 percent of customers define "immediate" as 10 minutes or less. That simply wouldn’t be possible without a customer service process to follow.
Proper communication is key – not only for managing expectations, but for sparing customers the anxiety of uncertainty. And it’s the visibility provided by a well-thought-out customer service process that helps agents keep customers in the loop.
A solid customer service process also helps agents understand how to respond appropriately to customers or escalate internally in any given situation – especially when something unexpected happens that they haven’t dealt with before.
In the end, it comes down to servicing customers respectfully and minimizing any potential frustration.
Customers don’t think of companies as a bunch of different silos operating separately, they think of them as a single, coherent whole. Every time you interact with a customer you’re feeding into their overall opinion of you as a brand. And, in fact, 85 percent of customers blame the company and the agent when they have to keep repeating themselves as if they’re speaking to entities who don’t communicate with each other.
So, regardless of what’s going on behind the scenes, your customers expect to be met by a united front. That means not only offering the same process in the same manner, but also continuing that consistent approach across every interaction, no matter the channel – whether that’s via email, phone, live chat, or any of the other myriad channels now available.
A well-structured customer service process guides your employees on how to effectively handle any interaction regardless of channel.
Agents need flexibility to do their job, but they also need a clear process to fall back on; provided this isn’t draconionaly imposed and agents have autonomy in executing their duties. When agents know what they are supposed to be doing this enables them to be far more proactive, since they’re less scared of making errors.
This also helps when onboarding new hires, as they can get a feel for what they need to do much quicker. Likewise, during trainings, the clarity provided by a customer service process enables learners to understand their duties faster.
A robust customer service process helps build accountability within an organization. This works on two levels. Firstly, it ensures that you’re accountable to your customers. They can rightly pull you up when you don’t deliver against what you promise.
But secondly, it also means you can hold the internal team accountable. With processes in place, your team has a clear understanding of what is expected of them. Or, you can more easily control who works on which issue, as well as the re-routing of requests when, for example, the initial agent can’t solve them.
It’s never good when operations happen within a black box. A lack of a clear documented structure makes it impossible to know exactly what’s going on from the outside (and often from the inside too!).
But when there is a structured process, it brings an increased sense of visibility. That in turn means you can share information more effectively, understand where to look for possible improvements, and, in the end, it provides the possibility to make better informed decisions about your customer service offerings.
Of course, the plan for a great customer service process won’t just fall out of the sky. It’s something you need to think about and work on. And even if your customer service process is looking ship-shape, there are always ways you can improve. Here are some ideas to get you going.
A great place to start when looking to improve your customer service process is by going back to basics and figuring out all of the different tasks involved.
From there you can build out a workflow with all the steps clearly laid out. You’ll want to start thinking about things like what happens, when issues get escalated, and how tickets and conversations are stored and accessed. This way, any glaring inefficiencies should be laid bare so you can take the appropriate action to remedy them.
There’s no better way to find out what your customers expectations are than by asking them. Seize the opportunity to gather feedback immediately after key interactions with customer support to gauge how they felt and how they think the conversation could be improved. Taking a perspective from outside the business can often prove useful for seeing things that would otherwise be missed.
Your agents, on the other hand, have the inside track on what’s going on in your customer service function. They may well be able to provide insight into any bottlenecks or areas that have been overlooked when devising the process framework. As they spend so much time wrapped up in it, there’s every chance they have some thoughts on how to increase efficiency, too.
You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Insights help you to see where issues are occurring and give you a jumping off point for looking into how they can be remedied.
There are a number of metrics that can prove useful in understanding your busiest times, the most frequently occurring issues, among a number of other things. You can then adjust your customer service process accordingly. Reporting may also help understand which of your agents are best suited to certain types of queries and which may need a little help so the process flows as smoothly as possible.
Even with the best intentions in the world, you’ll be hard-pressed to improve your customer service process without enlisting the help of some good technology.
Chatbots, for example, help you provide answers 24/7, live chat allows you to help more customers at a higher frequency, and cobrowsing means you can take support to the next level by providing visual annotation to aid explanations to customers.
Do your research and choose the tools that best fit your business needs.
When it comes down to it, the key factor in creating a successful customer service process is having a way to bring everything we’ve discussed together under one roof. Only then can you create a truly coherent customer experience and maintain relevance across channels.
A customer experience platform, such as Acquire, gives you full control over your customer service process, keeping conversational context no matter when, where, or how customers contact you. With that in place, agents and customers alike can enjoy a truly seamless experience.
Benedict Clark is a psychologist and writer, having previously spent 8 years in the digital marketing industry. With a master's degree in Business and Occupational Psychology from Kingston University, he writes about the interplay between customer experience and psychology for Acquire.