The 26 Principles of Good Customer Service

Compass of principles

Our panel of experts share the principles of good customer service.

1. Make Sure Your Staff Know Your Product

Every single member of your customer-facing staff needs to be knowledgeable about your products or services. They need to know where everything is located, brand names, place of manufacture and price etc.

The more they know, the more confidence they can build in the customer. Staff need to recognize product/service features. Turn these features into benefits for the customer. Ensure your staff can inform customers about the features and benefits you can offer.

Customers like to know that they can rely on you whenever they have questions about your products. If you can’t answer all of the customers’ questions, due to a lack of knowledge, then your relationship with these customers will suffer.

On the other hand, when you know all about your products/services, guiding customers through their difficulties becomes a breeze. Knowledge allows you to build better relationships with your customers, which in turn encourages customer loyalty.

2. Put the Customer First

Headshot of Tom Nicholls
Tom Nicholls

You have no doubt heard the adage “The customer is always right”, while any of you who have worked in retail know that this is a hard rule to follow! However, it is okay to admit that difficult customers exist.

What businesses must do is assess a customer’s needs before seeking a solution. When looking to provide for your customers, businesses should be proactive not reactive. Any business must make all of its decisions with the effect on their customer base in mind.

The customer is the centre of your universe. They are the most important stakeholder. All decisions must start with the question, how will this affect our customers?

It is therefore important that businesses maintain open lines of communication with their customer base to have an idea of what their thoughts and feelings are. Forums such as Trust Pilot are invaluable for these sorts of insights.

Again any new marketing strategy, product, service, supply chain etc. must start at “how will this affect our customers?”. Your goal is to exceed customers’ expectations not meet them.

3. Follow Up to Gather Customer Data

We all love to hear positives. It’s human nature to crave recognition and endorsement. And when we receive these positive comments we respond in turn, whereas with negativity we tend to respond negatively or not at all. The same is true in business.

Companies can fall into the habit of thanking positive reviews and ignoring or challenging negative reviews. What businesses of all sizes should look to do is gather as much information as possible from their customers.

Whether your customers have left feedback or not, follow up, check in and take what they have to say on board. If it is negative, ask them how they would like to see it improved. If it is positive, ask them if there is anything they would change.

The more data you can gather from customers who have experienced your product or services, the more you can look to channel this information into improving your businesses outputs.

Thanks to Tom Nicholls at Comdata

4. Demonstrate Empathy and Ownership

Thumbnail image of Frank Sherlock
Frank Sherlock

One of the most critical customer service principles employed by companies today should be “demonstrate empathy and ownership”. In the context of customer service, empathy and ownership means putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and trying to address their concerns with a meaningful outcome.

Phrases like “I know how frustrating it can be when this happens, let’s get that fixed” or “I am so sorry you’re facing this problem, I’m here to find a solution” let your customers know that you understand their point of view and make them feel as though they are being taken seriously and that they’ll walk away with their problem being solved.

This doesn’t, however, imply the need to agree with everyone. Nor should it be used excessively so that it becomes perceived as exaggerated. When used correctly, empathy combined with ownership provides the game-changing ability to turn a potentially negative experience into a positive one – a valuable competitive differentiator for your company.

Thanks to Frank Sherlock at CallMiner

5. Listen to and Use Customer Feedback

David Evans Vonage
David Evans

Feedback loops are a great way to listen to and learn from your customers. Creating a systematic approach to collecting feedback gives your organization a unique opportunity to hear what your customers think you are doing well and what you could be doing better.

Used effectively, this means you can do three things: reinforce the positive behaviours that lead to successful customer interaction, acknowledge agents who are doing a great job to motivate, and optimize your customer service to ensure it’s as personalized as possible.

A well-integrated CRM can also help you implement automated tools such as post-call IVR surveys that provide even more insightful feedback.

Thanks to David Evans at Vonage

6. Empower Your Teams

Claire Benbow
Claire Benbow

The most important principle of good customer service is empowerment. By which I mean giving your teams the power to truly believe in what they are doing.

This can be as straightforward as giving power to your advisors to: set their own shifts, maintain their service levels (and keep their smiles!), and know and speak about their limits. It is also important to give them the opportunity to provide constructive feedback and encourage them to speak up when something doesn’t work.

If someone feels empowered in their job they feel valued, which is usually then passed down to the customer to improve the service they are providing.

Thanks to Claire Benbow at Sensée

7. Ensure All Channels Provide a Human Experience

A thumbnail picture of Sebastian Reeve
Seb Reeve

One of the key principles of good customer service – and something that all contact centres should be focusing on – is to ensure a human-like experience for customers, regardless of what channel they are using to communicate with agents.

This is particularly important in our post-pandemic landscape, with recent Nuance research revealing that over half (55%) of UK adults believe they will interact with brands more through digital channels than face-to-face in the future.

While many of today’s post-pandemic consumers prefer online communication, the importance of that “human touch” still cannot be overlooked. Whether a customer chooses to communicate in-person or online, the challenge for all organizations will be maintaining tailored services and providing a smooth, human-like interaction.

Thanks to Seb Reeve at Nuance

8. Keep an Ear to the Ground

Ultimately, your customers decide what good customer service is. This changes with technology, world events and competitor comparison. So a key principle to keep in mind is to listen to your customer.

This starts a cycle of events that begins and ends with customer opinion.

Feedback becomes the catalyst for change that then creates a new wave of customer sentiment. It is up to organizations to listen. If customers don’t feel valued or understood, they vote with their feet and many will also share negative experiences publicly.

As the traditional soft skills associated with customer service are increasingly supported by digital services, this also has an effect on customer feedback. Voice of the customer programmes are now about more than simply listening; they are also tracking their digital footprints along a customer journey. A combination of analytics and surveys provide a more complete picture in the digital age.

9. Plan, Prepare and Predict

A headshot of Richard Gregory
Richard Gregory

Calls are costly and agents are valuable, so good customer service uses agents wisely.

The way to do this is with informed data-driven policies. The volume of data organizations can utilize is enormous and is constantly increasing, thanks to advances in technology which can harvest even more through speech analytics.

All this data can be put to work in several key ways to improve strategy.

  1. Plan out customer journeys to understand where automation can be usefully employed.
  2. Prepare for fluctuations in call volume by making sure you have flexible systems in place and functional not frustrating digital deflection.
  3. Attempt to predict the key times when specific messaging or outreach will be beneficial.

This holistic approach will not only keep your customer services flowing but boost agent satisfaction while improving cost efficiency.

10. Provide a Personal Service

Customer service is one of the key differentiators an organization has over its competitors. Crucially, although there are a wide range of customer expectations, not every expectation is applicable to every customer. This is why personalization is so important.

Listen to customer trends and make sure your services are convenient and low-effort but then take it to the next level.

Data management provides the tools to identify where personalization can be applied. Speech analytics and integrated cross-channel conversations give both virtual and human agents the information they need to provide relevant services and answers.

This not only speeds resolution but also increases satisfaction and reduces customer effort. The icing on the cake? It provides the context for proactive outreach and follow-up contact, which turns customer service into customer care.

Thanks to Richard Gregory at Odigo

11. Identify 10 Core Principles for Your Business Sector

Headshot of Andrew White
Andrew White

There are many principles of good customer service, and the exact mix depends on your business sector and the part of the customer journey you are dealing with.

Speed of service in the buying of a Rolls Royce may not be the most important metric, as I am sure you all witnessed personally in your last purchase, whereas it would be vital in case of a stolen credit card.

Here are the top 10 items I would focus on:

  1. Speed to answer / and therefore domain knowledge or access to domain knowledge
  2. Attempts to answer (FCR)
  3. Accuracy / right first time
  4. Clarity
  5. Trust
  6. Access (convenient channels)
  7. Friction/effort (lack of)
  8. Empowerment
  9. Emotional intelligence / and therefore perception, understanding, intuition, feeling, friendliness
  10. Trans-cultural understanding

Thanks to Andrew White at Contexta360

12. Manners Matter

“Good manners reflect something from inside – an innate sense of consideration for others and respect for self.” – Emily Post, US author.

Such a quote highlights the importance of manners and mindset. After all, service with a chip on the shoulder never ends well for the advisor or customer. It perpetuates negative sentiment. Yet, displaying manners and being nice feels nice. It raises morale.

As such, encourage advisors to think about their thought processes. Ask them to consider the following questions, which will change the lens through which they view their job:

  • When faced with a challenging but familiar customer enquiry, what do I typically think?
  • How do these thoughts make me feel?
  • What happens next?

Support this by considering how advisors use courtesy words. For example, “please” and “thank you” are critical.

For example, one company realized “I’m sorry” was being used to pause conversations rather than as a meaningful apology. After apology skills training, insincere apologies shrank by 40%, escalations decreased by 45%, formal complaints reduced by 40% and advisor satisfaction grew by 26%.

Using analytics provides the perfect way to understand the perceived strength and sincerity of advisor apologies.

13. Create a Positive Culture

When people new to contact centres accept an advisor role, they have a few preconceived ideas and little know-how. A positive culture is essential to turn raw potential into industry professionals who deliver super service.

Of course, this can take years. Developing a service delivery vision and defining a set of principles that guide decision-making is, however, an excellent starting place.

Sharing successful customer interactions, and a few not-so-good ones, with the team strengthens bonds. After all, both storytelling and creating rituals are significant when building a positive culture.

A headshot of Magnus Geverts
Magnus Geverts

Putting these building blocks in place is crucial for advisor development and to influence customer experience transformation.

In a world where evolving customer expectations accelerate the progress of transformation programmes, culture must keep pace. Otherwise, the contact centre will face many problems further down the line if it finds itself working in a silo and unable to recruit the right people.

14. Develop Staff and Provide Clear Progression

Job adverts for contact centre advisors are often underwhelming. They contain statements such as:

  • “Empathy is great!”
  • “We’ll give you a buddy.”
  • “Look, we have a pool table.”

Consider how much more stimulating it is to read: “We will teach you invaluable skills for the world of customer experience and your role within it.” Such sentences hint that development comes first. It emphasizes that the contact centre cares about the futures of its employees.

When a contact centre backs this commitment to development by creating progression pathways through the company, it improves recruitment and motivation. In turn, the team delivers better service.

Also, as the advisor role becomes more complex, enhancing team development increases in importance.

With self-service and chatbots dealing with simple contacts, advisors now handle a succession of challenging calls. In this reality, contact centre leaders must consider – are we training our people to be better than robots? The truth may hurt and changes may be required.

15. Keep Service Connected

Disconnected data results in assumptive decision-making and an incomplete view of customer journeys. Neither bodes well for customer service.

Typically, according to CX Effect research, contact centres that struggle to connect data face one of three unfortunate realities:

  1. Leaders can’t access all their data.
  2. Leaders can access their data, but they can’t make sense of it all.
  3. Data does make sense but contact centre leaders don’t have corporate alignment to make the necessary improvements.

Plug systems together, uncover trends and generate visually appealing insights.

Use your systems to gather compelling statistics and create storylines – look at how and with what frequency this is shared with different functional leaders. Doing so may increase future investment into the service experience.

Thanks to Magnus Geverts at Calabrio

16. Always Lend an Empathetic Ear

Sabine Winterkamp
Sabine Winterkamp

As we continue to service customers online in a distanced way, empathy will continue to have a significant role along the customer journey in 2022 and beyond.

Therefore, it is crucial for businesses to adopt the right contact centre technology, which gives agents the time they need to treat every customer interaction with care and deliver on customer expectations.

For example, virtual agents can resolve more simple and frequently asked questions, while agents can focus on high-value customer interactions that require empathy.

The new normal is digital, and we can no longer rely on traditional methods to connect with customers and build trust.

Thanks to Sabine Winterkamp at Five9

17. Take Ownership of Customer Problems

Headshot of Lee Cottle
Lee Cottle

Customers just want their problems solved, and this means taking ownership control.

Every employee should know their role in the business, what the company’s goals and aspirations are. Customer service is both internal within the company and external end-customer or partner facing.

Always be respectful, listen and acknowledge any issue or problem statement, seek clarification where needed, and show genuine interest. Being empathetic is very important but it needs to be genuine, remembering that the issue or complaint itself is rarely as important in the customer’s mind as how the issue is managed and resolved.

Offer a timely response and resolution, take ownership, and if you can make the decision to solve the issue immediately, do so. If not, take ownership, summarize the issue and the next steps, commit to a timeline to process and resolve the issue. Basically, take control and own the customer journey.

Always check that the customer is happy with the outcome, and ask if you can do more.

For all this to work, good training, ongoing quality reviews, coaching and feedback is needed, and employers need to empower employees to deal with customers’ outcomes. This means asking employees’ opinions on how to improve customer service based on frontline experiences and reacting in a timely and appropriate manner to address each piece of feedback.

Thanks to Lee Cottle at Playvox

18. Have a Customer Service Objective

Ben Booth
Ben Booth

Often in customer contact roles, individual and team objectives are focused on average handling times or number of complaints – which are great measures of efficiency.

However, in order to really focus on the delivery of better customer service, consider aligning your team behind a customer service objective. Perhaps obtaining x customer satisfaction ratings over the period of a week is a better mission for your service-focused team.

Thanks to Ben Booth at MaxContact

19. Know Your Customer’s History

Chris Holt
Chris Holt

Wherever you sit within an organization, when you interact with a customer, you should know relevant information about them and anything that allows you to help with their situation.

In a support setting, this means understanding their history, learning the services they consume and using that information to tailor the conversation.

This is no different in sales, where understanding your customer is key to ensuring what you are talking to them about lands. As customers, we don’t want to feel like we don’t matter, that we are just a number. Speaking to companies we transact with should be frictionless and easy.

As a business, we can reduce the effort involved by all parties by combining our data with our communications platforms, ensuring that any customer is identified and tailored to.

Thanks to Chris Holt at RingCentral

20. Use Data to Enable Personalization

Collecting strong data is no longer a luxury; it’s the price of entry. And getting it all in one place in a format and interface that makes it easy for your frontline teams from different departments to use, update, and leverage is crucial to your bottom line.

Having data in one place means you can use it to create the most meaningful and efficient experience possible

21. Eliminate Friction via Automation

Eric Leboeuf
Eric Leboeuf

There is nothing worse than waiting to make a payment or sign up for a service, only to be greeted with a “check your email” pop-up. Friction can be painful, especially for customers who want to complete their purchases or processes fast and on the go.

The easiest way to eliminate friction is to introduce self-service options, such as keyword or AI chatbots. These chatbots can answer frequently asked questions, share relevant information and process personal details on secure channels such as WhatsApp.

With an abundance of brands to choose from, an endless number of industries to explore, and a seemingly never-ending list of ways to connect, customers today have the power to design the experiences they want. Good customer service forms an integral part of this experience.

Thanks to Eric Leboeuf at Infobip

22. Engage and Collaborate

Your business is built on customer engagement. Product use, consultation, application and brand interaction are all components of your engagement strategy.

In order to excel in this area, your business must be willing and able to engage with your customers in ways others can’t and that your competitors won’t. It’s risky, but the payoff is huge.

Multiple media platforms have made this easier than ever; but they’ve also made it a virtual minefield to navigate. The key is focus. Pick a few talented individuals in your organization with a specific set of skills and goals to lead your engagement strategy. Remember – it only takes one viral moment to make you famous (or infamous), so choose your moments carefully.

23. Don’t Just Try to Cut Costs

Julian Evans
Julian Evans

The easiest of all the goals is also the most dangerous. It’s simple enough to lower your costs and trim expenses to the point that you’ve made a number your biggest feature. Proceed with caution.

Servicing customers whose main goal is lowest price is almost always a losing effort. Instead, focus on value proposition. Cost relative to services rendered is a conversation worth having. Businesses and agents that can turn a cost-cutting exercise into an ROI analysis will win the race to the bottom line every time.

24. Create a Repair Strategy

A major touchpoint of customer service is after things go wrong. While issues unavoidable, your business can create a repair strategy that is largely proactive. Repair can be any aspect of the brand as well.

Products, communications, alliances, and most recently, public relations can require a repair strategy. Too often, our repair strategy is reactive and based on damage control. Outbound marketing strategy should prioritize customer service and address any repair needs before they overwhelm your agents.

Thanks to Julian Evans at Alvaria

25. Solve Problems Quickly and Effectively

Solving any problems quickly and effectively is central to achieving high customer satisfaction levels. Consumers don’t want to be forced to make contact again to resolve an issue. They don’t want to wait for an agent to call them back with an answer.

According to research by ContactBabel, UK consumers and UK customer service professionals both agree that First Contact Resolution (FCR) is key to customer service success. Across every age group, consumers ranked FCR as the most important factor when dealing with an organization.

Achieving high FCR rates helps consumers and businesses. Eliminating the need for customers to make multiple contacts to resolve their issues is a clear signal that a business values their time. Done well, it can turn around negative opinions and boost customer loyalty, as well as increase efficiency by reducing contact volumes.

26. Prioritize Customer Service Agility

Gary Bennett
Gary Bennett

Having a focus on agility is an increasingly core principle of customer service. We are now living in a fast-moving, more disrupted world. While the impact of COVID-19 is part of this, other factors also contribute to this instability.

These include customers being more and more demanding and fickle, supply chain disruptions and ongoing staff shortages. As a result, there are now fewer constants that businesses can rely on in planning their operations.

Businesses therefore need to prioritize service agility. That requires an open, collaborative culture that breaks down departmental silos and brings together teams to work together to solve customer problems.

It requires new skills to handle specific types of interactions, more flexible processes and supportive systems and technologies, including cloud-based and collaborative solutions, as well as empowering omnichannel self-service options.

Thanks to Gary Bennett at Enghouse Interactive

For more great insights and advice on the provision of good customer service, read these articles next:

Author: Robyn Coppell

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