Caring and Creative Customer Service

During the first 50 days of 2017, I’ve already had the pleasure of delivering three customer service/customer care workshops to three companies, each of which is active in an industry that is completely unrelated to the other two.

Part of the workshop was all about ‘mystery shopping’ (I carried out both in-person visits and phone calls to my clients as well as to their competitors) and I presented the findings during the workshops.

Where they all (100%) ‘failed’

Some things may appear obvious and yet an astonishingly high percentage of customer service representatives make the most elementary mistakes. Even though I started every conversation by giving my (false) name, not one of the people from customer service told me theirs. Rapport building – which means finding common ground with prospects and customers alike – begins when we refer to customers by name and give them the option to do the same. And yet, as easy as it may sound, every single customer service representative – in 15 out of 15 telephone conversations – failed to tell me their name, as if it was top secret information!

The best way to turn a transaction (an exchange of goods and services for money) into an interaction (an exchange of emotions, before any goods and services are exchanged), is to start a conversation using the other person’s name. Don’t forget that “the heart is closer to the pocket than the brain is.” In other words, people buy something emotionally and then justify their action logically.

What 75% of them lacked

Three quarters of the professionals that I ‘mystery shopped’ lacked the capacity to ask me the ‘right’ questions. Only 25% of them did so. The majority simply provided answers to my requests. I asked things like:

  • Does it come in black colour?
  • Does it cost a lot? (Asked about an expensive piece of jewellery)

Their answers rarely went beyond “Yes” and “No”. I expect an experienced customer service professional to respond with another question or statement. For example:

  • Is black the only colour you would like it in?
  • It doesn’t cost anything if it’s not what you want. May I ask you a few questions first and then I’ll revert with a price for your investment.

What 50% of them lacked

Half of the customer service representatives lacked product and service knowledge. Having the necessary product knowledge allows you the ‘freedom of mind’ to focus on your customer and his/her body language. It also allows you to set out your arguments in a convincing and straightforward manner. Remember the famous quote attributed to both Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

My suggestion to all three companies was they should start their own brief in-house product knowledge seminars or “Power-shots”. These could be given twice a week – just 10 minutes a session – by an expert professional on the company’s payroll. Over a course of a year, customer service representatives would attend 90 such mini-seminars and gain 900 minutes of training, which would not only ensure that they are able to provide knowledgeable expert advice to customers but would quickly allow them to differentiate themselves from their counterparts in rival companies.

Where they almost all (70%) ‘succeeded’

The products and services I mystery shopped were in stock 70% of the time. This information was provided within seconds thanks to technology that made availability checking just a mouse click away. And yet, even here, very few customer service representatives used the power of ‘availability’ to close a sale at a price that would have been very beneficial to the company (and, in some cases, to themselves through their commission). Customers will often ask for a discount but this does not necessarily mean that they should always be given one simply to close the sale. Carefully phrased questions such as “Who is this gift for?”, “When will you be needing it?”, “What is your budget?” and “Have you bought from us in the past?” can reveal a great deal about the urgency of the purchase and what the final price should be.

New behaviours

According to Clay Shirky, a writer, consultant and teacher on the social economic effects of Internet technologies, “A revolution does not happen when society adopts new tools (i.e. technology). It happens when society adopts new behaviours.

Last year, the world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking wrote that the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to destroy many jobs, “with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.”

Providing top quality, effective customer service is most definitely a caring and creative role. If you make an effort to ensure that your customer service representatives understand this and adopt the above behaviours, you will soon be watching as your sales and profitability soar!