How to Train Staff in Great Customer Service
By Ann Palmer
In the current economic recession, organizations may be tempted to cut back on training their staff in customer service. But consumers are becoming more demanding, and whilst prices are being slashed to get them in the door to buy, it is customer service that can be the real difference. This article provides valuable tips and advice on how to train your staff in great customer service.
People want more than just a transaction. They want to have a good experience. And no matter how good the product or service or how competitively priced it is, organizations really are missing a trick if they don’t provide excellent customer service to close the deal, to win repeat business and to build customer loyalty. We all know how long it can get to get new customers, and the sad truth is that poor service can lose them very quickly indeed. Losing customers in this way is sheer negligence.
So what IS great customer service? We’ve all experienced it, although it seems to be the exception rather than the norm. It’s providing what the customer needs, but more importantly it’s about leaving them with a good experience. It’s about how they FEEL, not just what they buy. Customers tend to want four things:
- To feel welcome
- To feel valued
- To be understood
- To have their needs met
Where to Start
Actually first things first. People buy people, not just products and services. Every great salesperson will tell you that. And if they are going to serve customers, you need to recruit the right people in the first place. People who can put themselves in the customers’ shoes. People who can demonstrate core skills of listening, building rapport and empathy. Positive, energetic and enthusiastic people with a ‘can do attitude’. Then the training can begin:
- First comes the induction process, where new hires learn all about the company and its values, as well as its products and structure. They learn who their customers are and who does what in the company, so that they know who to go to for help or to resolve a customer complaint. They are introduced to a ‘buddy’, who can show them the ropes
- Product knowledge is key. Staff need to understand the features and benefits of a range of products so that they can help customers to buy what’s right for their needs. If you have a Training Department, great. If not, then think really carefully about who has the skills to pass their product knowledge on, because not everyone can train others effectively
- Communication skills development is critical. It isn’t enough to have product knowledge; staff need to know the basics such as how to greet the customer (with a smile, even if on the phone, and using their name where possible). First impressions make a huge impact. Be sure to establish and communicate clear and measurable standards for this e.g. answer the phone within three rings; answer correspondence within 48 hours; show the customer to a table within a minute of arrival; take the customer to the supermarket aisle to find the product they’re looking for; offer a hot drink as they arrive at the hair salon etc. Effective questioning and active listening skills can be learned, so that staff can find out what it is the customer actually needs, rather than what they think they want. Help them to pay attention to body language as well as the spoken word. And positive language training helps too. Rather than talking about what the company can’t do, control the conversation and identify what it CAN do. And don’t confuse the customer with jargon; check their level of understanding so that you can pitch your language accordingly. Practice building rapport by mirroring and matching communication styles to build relationships.
- Train people in the end to end process, not just the bit that they are responsible for. Explain the why and how as well as the what. Show them how to do things right first time. Every time. And supervise them closely until they have demonstrated competence
- Training in service recovery or complaint handling is vital. When things go wrong, think of it as a golden opportunity to win the customer. Customers realise that mistakes happen, but it’s the way that companies deal with them that can really make or break the relationship. Even if the customer is aggressive, don’t be defensive, as that will make things worse. The first step is to offer a sincere apology, as that will usually take the heat out of the situation, even if you’re not at fault. Apologising for the impact of what has gone wrong is showing real empathy. Then find a way to fix it. See what you can do to offer service beyond the norm. Take ownership and follow through until the issue is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. If you say you will do something, do it, then let the customer know you did it. And go one stage further; follow up later to make sure that everything’s OK. Remember that you want them to be singing your praises to everyone they know, and turning a complaining customer into a delighted one really is achievable, with just a little effort
- Encourage everyone to look for opportunities to go the extra mile each and every time
Beat the recession. Let great customer service be the norm in your organization.
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