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Customer Service Baby Steps: Make These Simple Changes To Improve Your Customer Service

When the phone rings, start aiming to answer it immediately. PURE Insurance strives to do it in eight seconds; that’s just a little more than one ring.

by Micah Solomon

Today, I'm going to share a list of customer service "baby steps." These are quick-win improvements you can make that won’t cost a lot or take too much time to show results; stuff you can dig into right away that will improve your customer experience and elevate the quality of your customer service.

I concede that these quick wins won’t fix the fundamental issues (like hiring and talent management and designing and implementing an effective customer service training approach) that I typically to dive into as a customer service consultant on assignment.  But though the items on my list today are all small or small-ish, they're far from trivial and they’re all worth undertaking, the sooner the better.

1. Park where you customers park, and then pay attention to what it’s like as a customer to schlep from that parking space to your business. Is the directional signage to your entrance clear? Are the sight lines good? Is the area clean and attractive? Are the handicapped spots in a sensible location and clear of any obstructions between them and your entrance? (If you don’t have your own parking lot and you’re in an urban location, do customers know ahead of time where they’re most likely to find street parking? And if that street parking requires change for the meters, can you come up with a proactive approach to help out your changeless customers? Certainly, you should at a minimum be reactively offering to provide change, but, if it makes sense in your context, consider proactively scanning for arrivals–and running out to get the needed change to them, even before they need to ask.

2. Don’t screen calls. Nobody likes to go through a gauntlet to get to the person they’re trying to reach, so don't screen your calls unless you absolutely need to (and I'm betting that you don't).  If, in fact, your business setup is such that you can’t follow my “don’t screen calls” mantra, then screen calls tactfully. Don’t risk insulting the caller by demanding their name before you’ll consider putting the call through. Instead, give the caller the impression that they’re making it through your filter regardless of who they are (even if that’s not necessarily the case), as follows: “Absolutely–may I let him/her know who’s calling?” That way, if you do have to tell them their desired party is unavailable, it doesn’t sound like a personal slight. And don’t ask more questions than you need to ask. Avoid nails-on-chalkboard questions like “and what is this in reference to?” unless that’s something you absolutely need to know.

3. When the phone rings, start aiming to answer it immediately. PURE Insurance (whom I profile here) strive to do it in eight seconds; that’s just a little more than one ring. See how close you can come to this ideal yourself, by setting your mind–and staffing levels–to it. Answer tweets immediately as well; answer emails within two hours or better. (Important: In the last hour of work, strive to answer all emails immediately, to avoid leaving customers hanging until the next day. Don’t misuse my two-hour guideline to allow you not respond to everyone before business closes–even if your response needs to be, "I've received your note and I'll be sure to address this in the morning.")

4. Put a mirror at each phone user’s desk to cue them to smile when they’re on the phone. Smiling adds treble and other pleasant cues to the sound of a voice, even through a tinny phone line.

5. Figure out a buddy-check system to ensure nobody is assaulting customers with onion breath, cigarette breath, or the cigarette scent that can linger on clothes when you return from a break.

6. Stop being on time. If your hours are posted as “We open at 9,” showing up right at 9:00 isn’t good enough, for two reasons: First, because service begins when the customer makes contact, not when the business chooses to make contact with the customer–and odds are very good that your most engaged customers will tend to make their appearance a bit before 9:00. Second, when you aim to open at 9:00 on the dot, it’s inevitable that you’ll find yourself opening at 9:02, :03, or:04 out of inertia or sloppiness before long. So, keep those hours posted as “opening at 9:00,” but tell yourself that you really open at 8:50.

7. Prominently post the positive letters you receive from customers. Read those positive letters aloud at your employee meetings as well.

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As I conceded at the outset, this list of baby steps won’t solve all of your woes. But each of them addresses a woe worth solving (or an improvement worth making), and I promise you they’ll pay off.

Micah Solomon is an author, consultant, keynote speaker and trainer. Customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, hospitality, innovation.