While on a support call recently, I had the misfortune of suffering through long hold times, dreary music, and being transferred from person to person with no end in sight. While I waited I had plenty of time to think about what could be done better not just for this experience, but also from my own perspective to improve interactions with my own business.
Listen More, Speak Less
First, start by listening to your business—really listening. Let the business talk and show them that you are listening by capturing not only the concerns but also what is working well so far. You certainly do not want to be in a position where the business needs to repeat information over and over. In an effort to understand your business needs, build in a way to regularly have conversations with them to ensure that you are both making progress and are a part of their journey to achieve those goals.
It should come as no surprise that many shared service providers such as IT and HR have been described as poor listeners. To combat this we want to become better active listeners. A good place to start is to let the business finish their thoughts before we jump to the solutions phase. Always make sure the customer has an opportunity to give you all the information and details before engaging in the situation.
Try Something New
I was once told by an IT person that “they were good with change because they work in IT and we are always adapting.” While this might be correct in some cases, we tend to work within the confines of our roles, which are often very process-centric. Because of this we find it difficult to step outside this space. People in this position may assume that they are better at changing than is the reality.
Be flexible to looking at new ways to improve service delivery and work with your business. Going the extra mile may require you and your team to step outside the lines, but remember failure is OK so long as you learn something from it.
When dealing with people, one of the main areas of focus should be on—you guessed it—people. Use the name of the person you are speaking with to personalize the experience and build rapport.
Communication and understanding between you and your business are critical for the relationship to work. Make sure that you are on the same page about your discussions and that nothing is left to interpretation or assumptions. Clarify details so you have facts captured versus opinions or feelings.
People-focus means that you really need to place that focus where it counts. Just because you think you are good at multitasking doesn’t necessarily mean you should do more than one thing when you are talking to the business. Make sure you are giving your full attention to people. They can always tell when you are preoccupied, and if you’re not fully listening and engaged, you may miss out on important details. At the end of the conversation, remind your business you are there to help and support them in any way they need.
They say that knowledge is power; who “they” are I am not quite sure, but after you capture all the information from your business you should position yourself to keep the information available for others in your team. Have a way to share knowledge and collaborate. Doing this will allow others to reap the benefits of your information gathering with the business, as well as provide a more consistent experience for the business with your team should they connect with someone new.
As this capability improves you should be able to have some self-service functionality that your business can leverage, allowing them to quickly get answers to the questions they have as well as allowing your staff to focus on more important matters.
Measure What You Do
I have seen reporting done many ways. In some cases too little, while others too much. Having a balance to be able to build a strategy is important, as it impacts the value you can extract from what you have collected. Bottom line is to target what is important to your business; just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should.
A perfect example to see what consistency looks like is to look at restaurant chains on a global stage. If you were to visit a particular restaurant in Portland, Oregon, you would get a similar experience in Osaka, Japan. In a world that is always changing people need certain levels of consistency. Especially when service is exceptional, this draws people back over and over again to consume that great customer experience. This also applies to the flipside as well. A consistently bad customer experience is equally important to dissect. While it is a negative, as long as you can learn what is consistently bad and make adjustments, this will allow you to make improvements that matter for service delivery.
Make sure that you deliver on what you promise. You may have some established expectations regarding service delivery, whether formal or implied. Make sure you are setting yourselves up to be able to follow through with these. One of the biggest reasons people fail to deliver on this is because they take on more than they can handle, under the assumption that it is what their business wants or needs.
Many people will tell you that improving customer service is a process that will really never reach an end. The key is to create a continuous improvement plan; enlist help from outside your team if you need to get another perspective on how to improve the service you provide.
In an effort to make this journey, get you and your team as prepared as possible. Ensure your team can get training as it pertains to customer service. Talk to them about good customer service and what that means as regularly as possible. Share this article with them. Allow them to try new things and support them in those decisions. The risk of not doing this will be that you might reach some plateaus in your service delivery.
Understand Your Business
A surprising realization to us as service providers is that we don’t understand the business that we are supporting day after day. Once you understand the business, you can make some adjustments in how you provide service to suit them better. This applies to the hours you are available and the way in which you interact with them on a regular basis.
As you strive to get better information from the business, don’t forget to keep them in the loop on what you are doing as a service provider as well. They may not need to know intimate details of how you are helping them, but informing them that you are getting someone else to help you and that you will call them back in 15 minutes with some information will go a long way to improving that transparency on your service delivery.
All about Verbiage
It’s not only what you say that counts, but in many cases how it’s said that makes the difference. We are all in environments that are governed by a policy of some sort. The policy should not be the limiting factor in addressing customer concerns. If a suitable workaround is not possible, then you may need to either escalate or see what is possible. A flat “no” is not the answer. If the customer perceives that you are trying to help, they’ll be less disappointed even if they don’t get exactly what they want.
If you were to ask any actor, they will tell you that they prefer to deal with those who are “open” as compared to “closed” (yes vs. no). Try to use verbiage like “Could you” or “May I ask you.” Dialog along these lines will go much further than the closed “You’ll have to” or “You can’t” verbiage. The most important thing to remember when dealing with customers is to focus on what you can do for them, not what you can’t. Use phrases like “Here’s what I can do” or “Here’s how we can handle this.” This suggests as a business partner what you can do together to make this work.
You only get one chance to make a first impression. Unfortunately not all first impressions are good, but this is a marathon rather than a race and we need to continually work to improve this relationship.
It has been said that you can hear a smile through the phone. Having a good level of energy can translate to interactions with your business when you are speaking to them even though they cannot see you.
In some cases following up with your business after the fact will let your business know that they are front of mind. In some cases this will also allow you to find out additional issues that might be present and put you in a good place to get in front of the issue before it gets worse. In turn, it allows you to be more of a business partner as you work together to address concerns.
Manners are important too; don’t forget to take the time to say thank you. Let the customer know that they are appreciated. Thank them for contacting you, and if something is not working as it should, also thank them for letting you know. This will go a long way toward customer satisfaction.
These are a few of the many small things that you can do to improve not only service delivery but also the relationships you have with your business. Remember, you have to exercise these skills to maintain them at top form, so keeping at it even when times are tough is crucial.
For more brilliant insights, check out Ryan’s blog: Service Management Journey