The 6 Customer Service Elements That Define the Experience
If you were to set out to improve your customer service, one approach could be to copy the elements that companies like Apple, Nordstrom and Disney throw in their service mix.
This could bring some success, but you would always be trailing behind. What’s more, what works for one company might not work for the other.
You’d be building your castle on a shaky foundation, lacking true understanding of what makes for a great customer experience.
That’s why a first principles approach is more powerful. Instead of copying, you look at the core elements that make up a positive service experience. Once you’ve grasped these building blocks, you can shuffle, rearrange and apply them to your unique situation.
So, without further ado, here are the 6 core elements of customer service:
There’s no denying that speed has a tremendous impact on satisfaction, especially in customer service. Just the thought of being crammed into a queue is enough to break us out into a cold sweat.
Ever-accelerating technology has only shortened our patience span. Nobody seems amazed anymore about our ability to instantly connect with someone million miles away. We expect performance. And if a device has a hiccup, we punish it with cursing and thumb violence.
The speediness of your service depends on a few factors:
Contact channel. Not all channels offer the same levels of speed. Phone waiting lines are frustrating because they leave customers in limbo. Emails could take days to be answered. The success of live chat and messaging support can largely be ascribed to the fact that they’re the fastest ways to get in touch.
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Employees. Fast contact channels are no use without employees who can respond to queries without research or make decisions without deferring to seniority. Here, canned messages and product knowledge training can boost responsiveness.
Automation. Unless the service is the product (e.g. a restaurant or Disneyland), customers are just looking for answers. Automated customer service, for example in the shape of chatbots, can be a good way to improve customer service – if done right .
In the words of customer service expert Micah Solomon, “great customer service is fast but never rushed” . Rushing results in sloppiness and mistakes. You end up having to do redo things or and spend more time fixing errors than on the original task/problem.
Incorrect answers reflect poorly on the company and erode customer confidence. When Amazon charged a customer over $7,000 for shipping toilet paper, it not only led her to think twice about buying from the retailer again but also generated negative publicity in the press.
This does not mean that agents have to have every answer for every possible scenario at hand. But it does mean that adequate training is essential for delivering a high standard of service. Ideally, continual training should be offered to nurture the kind of mindset required for customer support.
How you talk to your customers impacts how they perceive your business. Comprehensibility is about your clarity of voice. If there’s a surefire way to alienate your customers, it’s through jargon and technical language.
Whenever I have a problem with my laptop/phone and the specialist on the other end of the phone dives into deep, technical explanations, my mind wanders off and I get a little frustrated. I’m not interested in the inner workings of my device, I just need to know how to fix the problem at hand.
Simplicity. More is less in communication. When you try to impress your customers with your extensive vocabulary, you run the risk of them misunderstanding crucial information.
A classic example is a terms and conditions agreement. Most people don’t read these because of their length and are then caught out because they didn’t understand a specific clause.
To improve understanding, use shorter sentences and words. Limiting to one idea per sentence reduces mental effort and frees up your reader’s energy.
Structure. Structure helps you speak clearly and stay focused on the topic. It also prevents verbal diarrhea and improves your customer’s perception of your competence. A useful support structure is What? So What? Now What? , which was introduced by Matt Abrahams in his book “Speaking Up Without Freaking Out” .
Explanation. If you’ve ever been stuck on a train, the uncertainty likely sets you on edge even if the delay lasts only a few minutes. Understanding the reason behind the delay calms my mind and reassures me that it won’t be forever.
This is what makes the “because justification” so powerful. If you have to deliver bad news, give the reason why, no matter what it is. It lets them know what’s happening and that you’re working to solve their problem.
This is also about owning up to mistakes. When Sony customers were the victims of one of the largest data breaches in history, the CEO personally apologized, which restored trust.
This is about how accessible you are to your customers across touch points and communication channels. If you can reduce customer effort , you’ll be a step closer to gaining their loyalty.
User-friendly website. If you’re like the majority of buyers, when you decide to purchase from a company, you check out their website. If it’s slow to load or hard to navigate, you’re likely going to give up and go to a competitor.
Your website is your virtual storefront. It’s usually the first point of contact for new customers, so it should impress them and be easy to use. First impressions count, but even more so in the digital space where companies only have a mere 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression.
First impressions are formed on speed, clarity, ease of use and mobile-friendliness .
Contact channels. Contacting support is not an activity customers do for fun. If they have to contact you, it means they’ve got a problem and they don’t want to have to jump through hoops to get it resolved.
Do they have to root around on your website for your phone number or fill in a contact form to which no-one ever replies? That said, you don’t have to offer every channel available. Offering a few channels well can improve customer experience, as Squarespace found when they decided to cut the (phone) cord .
Availability. Technological advancements have shifted expectations for availability. Never has it been easier to connect with someone wherever they are in the world, at any time of day or night.
Your customers will likely have questions outside of business hours, especially your international ones. If you’re not able to offer 24/7 service, automation and self-service options go a long way to increasing accessibility.
As customers, we want to feel in control. Nothing leaves us feeling more helpless and cornered than inflexible policies and bureaucratic loops.
Flexibility. Most people are not trying to pull a fast one when they request a refund or request a little leeway. Yet, many companies treat such requests with distrust.
Take Comcast, which made a customer endure an 18-minute call before they terminated his contract. Flexibility displays compassion for your customer’s situation and shows that you trust them.
Self-service. The majority of customers want to help themselves . Self-service options such as FAQs or a knowledge base let them take care of themselves and give them the feeling of empowerment.
Feedback. Being able to give feedback is integral to feeling empowered. Say, you’ve experienced poor service. You’ll want to express it whether it’s via social media or giving direct feedback to the merchant.
This is a basic expectation, but not every company gets it right. Who hasn’t been served by a surly store assistant who flings your purchase across the counter?
Employees. Friendliness starts from within. You can’t expect your employees to be friendly if you don’t set a positive example. Treat them well and you reduce their emotional labor , the effort required to display workplace emotions such as friendliness. Hiring the right employees also helps.
Respect. It costs nothing to treat customers with respect, but it can cost you dearly if you don’t. When one of its customer representatives changed a customer’s name from Ricardo Brown to “A**hole Brown” on his account, Comcast not only issued an awkward apology but also four years of free service.
Respect is not just about being courteous to your customers. You can also show respect for them by protecting their privacy .
Fairness. Unfairness triggers negative emotions in all of us. Most of us have had a knee-jerk reaction to someone jumping in the queue in front of us or when someone else is served before us.
That’s why customer service ethics are important. These are the set of values that ensure companies are doing right by their companies and employees. A good place to start is the Golden Rule , “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” . If you don’t enjoy hidden charges or misleading contract clauses, then it’s safe to assume your customers won’t either.
Recognition/appreciation. Without customers, you don’t have a business. Expressing gratitude towards your customers shows that you acknowledge their contribution to the success of your business.
How do you show it? You can start by rewarding your most loyal customers via a loyalty program or by giving them access to a product that hasn’t officially launched yet. Referral bonuses also incentivize customer advocacy.
Thanking your customers doesn’t have to mean digging deep into your wallet. Simply saying “thank you” with handwritten notes, can also make them feel appreciated and help forge personal connections with them in an era dominated by digital communication channels.
Great customer service doesn’t have to be a mystery. Whatever your business looks like, if you build your setup around these fundamental elements and you can't go wrong.