In organizations, we celebrate the sales team for bringing new business to the firm. After all, a company can’t survive for long without revenue. But, on the other side of many org charts sits the isolated, often forgotten, customer service team. This department is usually regarded as a cost center, rather than a company asset.
If you’re considering customer service as a money pit, think again. According to American Express, 90% of Americans use customer service as a factor in deciding whether to do business with a company. Quality customer support is imperative for sales.
If your company sees service as a weight, you’re likely leaving revenue on the table and alienating customers. Invesp notes that investing in new customers is between 5 and 25 times more expensive than retaining existing ones. In fact, in 2019 nine percent of American consumers switched companies due to poor customer service, says New Voice Media.
For best results, both sales and service need to work in tandem to provide the best-in-class experience your customers deserve. Let’s explore how to foster a winning dynamic between the two teams.
Before we dive into strategy, let’s examine the true significance of your company’s customer service department. Although the perception often is that this team exists solely to put out complaint fires and appease customers, the reality is that they do so much more. Did you know, 73% of customers fall in love with a brand and remain loyal because of friendly customer service reps, reports RightNow.
Customer service is the front line for your business. They make or break the customer experience. Want more proof? New Voice Media also reports that the #1 reason customers switch to a new brand is that they feel unappreciated, while 78% of customers have backed out of a purchase due to poor customer experience.
Starting to see how customer service impacts sales? If you need more convincing, consider that consumers are willing to spend 17% more on a company with outstanding customer service, reports American Express, and 93% of customers are likely to make repeat purchases with companies who offer excellent customer service, according to HubSpot Research.
When the customer service team is operating at peak efficiency, they do much more than resolve issues. They foster relationships with customers. They put smiles on their faces. And they leave a favorable lasting impression of your brand in their minds. All of this equals a high customer retention rate, which means higher revenues. Bain & Company quantified this in a recent report stating that increasing customer retention rates (i.e. keeping customers happy) by just 5% can increase profits between 25% and 95%!
And, if they have the right skill set, personality, and training, your customer service team can actually bring in new business, too. They’ll nimbly move from problem solver to cross-seller or upseller, which increases customer satisfaction -- and your profits. Essentially, they’ll become an extension of your sales team.
In short, the department is absolutely vital to your company’s longevity and growth.
It’s tough for customer service to shine when they’re in conflict with the sales department. And you want them to shine, because as many as 49% of buyers have made impulse purchases after receiving a more personalized experience, according to a Segment Survey. Often selling on commission, your sales team is typically concerned with one thing and one thing only: closing the deal. This revenue-oriented drive can lead them to over-promise things to your customers. And, when the company can’t deliver, customer service is left holding the bag.
Over promising and under delivering comes with a whole host of problems for your customer service department. Those issues include:
And -- the detrimental impact to your customers can’t be overstated. When your company fails to serve them as promised, they’ll rightfully become angry and distrustful. Even worse, you’re likely to lose repeat business and, according to American Express, angry American customers are likely to share their negative experiences with about 15 people.
So, when sales and service are at odds, interdepartmental communication will be poor, job satisfaction will plummet, customer retention will worsen, and the company’s bottom line will suffer. If you can get them in sync, though, you’ll have a happy, tight-knit workforce that closes more deals and delights customers. So, how can you get the two departments on the same page?
As a leader, there are four key things you need to do to improve the interdepartmental dynamic:
Let’s look at each in turn.
The first place to look is your scorecard and your company metrics for success. Do sales and service match up? Are they working towards the same established goals? And, more importantly, do employee behaviors align with those stated success indicators?
For example, if customer service has a goal of responding to all inquiries within two business days, the sales team shouldn’t promise a same-day response. The two teams must act as one and present a clear and consistent message to customers. After all, they are both working towards the same ultimate goal of making the company successful.
Your company needs to make collaboration a normal, celebrated part of doing business that gets prioritized. Ideas and data should flow freely between the two departments. And everyone in the firm, including the sales team, should adopt the mantra that customer service is a mindset, not just a department. Bottom line: the lines of communication must stay open, and the once near-adversarial relationship should become more team-oriented.
To promote unity between the two groups, offer ample opportunities for team building. When sales and service get together in an informal but planned way, they’ll get to know each other as people and gain empathy for one another’s perspective. Sales may think twice about promising the moon to a customer just to make a sale when they know service could have to deal with customer disappointment down the line.
In addition, seeing each other perform their respective roles can be eye-opening. They’ll understand the other department’s challenges and gain respect for everything that goes into being successful in that position. Consider arranging cross-department job shadowing between sales and service at the time of hire - and on an ongoing basis to cement these new perspectives.
And, if appropriate, consider job swapping. An extroverted customer service representative with a competitive streak might enjoy being in sales for a day or two. And a detail-oriented sales associate may benefit from taking on a temporary customer service role. Just be sure you’re not setting your employees up to fail. If their personality doesn’t lend itself to the opposite role, this strategy isn’t a good fit for them - or your unsuspecting customers.
The best philosophies and attitudes don’t mean a thing if the actual company structure and business processes don’t support them. As a leader, you must provide the structure, tools, and resources your teams require to perform at their best. That could mean ensuring adequate communication systems exist (think interoffice messaging) or physically situating the departments closer together in the office to facilitate more face-to-face conversations. The key is to make collaboration as easy as possible.
If you want to better understand your team members and discover ways to help them function as a cohesive group, a Team Dynamic Report can help. Based on the results of our signature behavioral assessment, this report shows how likely each team member is to communicate with each other and reveals deeper insight into their individual strengths and weaknesses. The report will give you an action plan to facilitate collaboration, improve communication, and unify your team.
The report can be customized to fit your firm’s unique circumstances. Getting one is easy. Simply fill out a questionnaire and hop on a quick call with us, and we’ll do the rest!
Sales and service have long been at odds. But, the truth is -- they’re both playing for the same team! Sometimes, employees just need to be reminded of that. As a leader, you have the power and responsibility to foster a winning dynamic between the two groups. When you do, you’ll have an unstoppable, connected workforce that wows your customers and positions your company for long-term success.
We can all think of a time when we have received horrible customer service, right? Unfortunately, poor customer service experiences are usually easier to recall than good examples. For instance, I once had a waiter spill water on me four times...during the same meal. My mother, a teacher, once had to retake an entire series of end-of-year student pictures because the photo printing company refused to send her prints. The reason given? She had not yet paid for her slide-show disk. One problem: the disk was included for free as part of the picture package!
A surprisingly bad customer service moment can do more damage than a history of mediocrity. Those terrible moments stand out in people’s minds and are readily shared with others. According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, the average dissatisfied customer shares their bad experience with 9 to 15 people, and 13 percent of them tell more than 20 people. Research estimates that companies could be losing as much as $62 billion each year due to poor customer services.
Thankfully, though, other stories are told and retold, the ones about surprisingly GOOD customer service. Recent research has found that while 30 percent of customers report being likely to share their bad experiences, 49 percent of those same customers would be willing to share examples of good customer service situations. Truly going above and beyond can make the difference between a satisfied customer and an intensely loyal customer who gives you repeat business and sends other people your way.
Of course, everyone has bad days (including service providers and customers), and you can’t please everyone. Here are a few tips to avoid creating outrageously bad customer service experiences that are likely to get you called out on social media (you know, the ones that get nearly 20 million YouTube views)
So what is bad customer service, and why is it so damaging to your organization? Perhaps the best way of understanding what poor customer service looks like is to stress how it takes any situation and makes it worse. Making a mistake is one thing; even people with good customer service skills will occasionally fail to meet expectations. What distinguishes poor customer service is the way people (and organizations) respond to those situations.
One of the worst mistakes you can make is failing to be professional in the heat of the moment. This should go without saying, but there should be a zero-tolerance policy against any foul language or insults toward a customer, no matter how rude or insulting the customer is being. Remember that while customers speak for themselves, you (or your customer service employee) represent your entire company.
The process of obtaining services should never be more painful than the problem. Nobody likes long hold times, tons of complicated rules, multiple phone transfers, and/or untrained service people. If customers deal with this enough (and once might be “enough” for some), they’ll think twice about doing business with that company in the future. Good customer service makes dealing with your company as easy and frictionless as possible.
As an organization, you should never go back on your word or try to duck responsibility. It’s important to think beyond the short-term incentives of standing your ground on an issue. When companies use loopholes to avoid honoring return policies/guarantees or flat-out choose not to honor them, they may keep that one sale, but they damage their reputation and lose future sales.
When things go wrong, there is often a temptation to throw someone under the bus to absolve the rest of the organization of wrongdoing. However, in most cases, the customer doesn’t care who made the mistake; they want to know who will fix it. Good customer service skips the blame game. If a mistake was made, apologize, fix it, and move on.
To provide the kind of customer service that gets people talking in a good way, every organization should take to heart a few features of good customer service.
Now more than ever, customers want to feel acknowledged, respected, and valued. Ensure everyone from reception to IT to sales knows how to get your customers the help they need. Cultivating good customer service skills is critical to delivering a positive consumer experience.
Delivering on all promises and being unerringly reliable are core features of good customer service. If you say you are going to do it, do it.
If you cater to busy business people, help them without wasting their time. If you provide technical products to people who are not technically savvy, focus on patience, and attentive training. The same information you used to win the prospect can be used to keep the customer.
Can you get them the product sooner than expected? Can you solve a problem they didn’t know they had? Train your service people to head off issues at the pass and build a positive experience from the beginning.
Make it your goal to shock people with amazing service. Give them more than they expect, surprise them with contests or prizes, send thank you cards, follow-up, and endear them with personal touches.
Any time there is a chance to build a one-on-one relationship with a customer, take it. If someone tells you their situation, take notes. Being remembered is a big deal to people (and having to repeat the same info over and over is annoying).
Not everyone is so nice, and not every customer who complains will be satisfied with your response. Always have a plan in place to deal with the one who wants something for nothing and who will be unhappy no matter what you do.
As good customer service increasingly becomes a competitive differentiator, there’s no excuse for failing to instill good customer service skills throughout your organization. Addressing your customer’s needs, pain points, and complaints quickly and effectively will help you to create the kind of lifelong advocates who are so essential to growing your business.
You’ve likely heard the newest workplace buzz around strengths-based cultures. But what exactly is that? It's not how physically fit your employees are, but an atmosphere that relies less on the hierarchy of function and more on flexible and goal-driven teams. These teams can continually change, adapt, form, or reform based on a specific assignment or project. It’s a way to tap into the individual's strengths for maximum impact and productivity to the group as a whole.
A strengths-based culture capitalizes on strengths rather than focusing solely on improving weaknesses. This doesn’t mean people can skip the parts of the job they don’t like or that they should give up trying to become competent with tasks they aren’t great at. It simply means you can exercise more flexibility in how you assign tasks, projects, and levels of authority for those tasks or projects. It’s thinking outside the job description!
When functioning optimally, a strengths-based culture boasts an environment in which employees contribute by working primarily in roles that play to their talents. For example, if your top sales rep is terrible with details, don’t make them responsible for servicing the account post-sale. But…don’t let them off the hook for turning in incorrect information to the customer support team! You want each team member to function as the go-to resource for whatever they excel at, and collectively, all aspects of the business are covered expertly. This type of culture also places a high value on professional development so that the powerhouse of talent continues to strengthen as skills are further honed. Your company, in turn, experiences growth and an increased competitive advantage.
As if that doesn’t sound amazing enough, here are four more benefits of a strengths-based culture:
Let’s look at each in turn.
When an organization exhibits a strengths-based culture, they are sure to appeal to workers looking for an opportunity to showcase their talents and continually refine their skills. Your company will get to select workers from a pool of motivated candidates who are eager to perform at a high level and join a team committed to doing the same. Additionally, hiring processes can be tailored to entice and identify candidates with specific strong suits, making them more efficient. Finally, current employees, who are satisfied with and good at their jobs, will likely refer to high-quality candidates that can help the company, resulting in lower recruitment costs.
Individually, employees that leverage their strengths will carry out their responsibilities more effectively, exceed goals, and strive for continuous improvement. Collectively, their efforts will bring about increased competitive advantage and, ultimately, profitability. Moreover, customers will enjoy doing business with your strengths-based organization because they will receive service from employees that are uniquely suited to help them. Customers receiving superior care will remain loyal and may even refer to new business. The bottom line is that companies fostering a strengths-based culture will find that each part and the business's collective whole perform better as a result.
It’s no secret—people enjoy doing what they’re good at. When they can work in their strength areas, they’re happier, experience less frustration, and enjoy praise for a job well done. They experience a high level of engagement with their work and with the organization. Moreover, when employees can exercise their talents, they become energized and give off positive vibes. That elevates the office's overall mood, making it a place where employees want to be every day. They will do their best to keep everything operating at that level—or better—so that the good times continue.
The turnover rate is an excellent barometer of an organization’s health. When employees are happy and feel that they contribute at a high level, they are less likely to leave an organization. As mentioned, a strengths-based culture promotes both contentment and high performance. Therefore, organizations employing this type of culture enjoy a lower turnover rate that results in more satisfied customers, lower recruiting costs, a stronger human capital pool, and a more positive workplace environment.
Tapping into Strengths
So how can your company discover the strengths of candidates or employees? While interviewing certainly is a critical component of the employment process, it often fails to capture the interviewee’s personality and psyche's nuances. Consider using a behavioral assessment in your hiring and talent management process to get a more holistic picture.
Behavioral assessments provide an organization with deep insight into a candidate’s potential by uncovering their natural behaviors, strengths, and motivators. Obtaining this information before hiring will help fill roles with the right people without wasting time on those who prove not to fit down the line. This saves you both time and money; poor hires are a costly misstep.
Using these assessments with your existing workforce ensures that in-house strengths are appropriately leveraged. The assessment data will also guide employee development and succession planning. Overall, behavioral assessments have the power to help build and fortify a high performing and engaged workforce, which is the crux of a strengths-based culture.
Putting it Together
It’s easy to see why cultivating a strengths-based culture should be top of mind for any organization. At the end of the day, companies are comprised of people. When they can spend their time playing to their strengths, they will be happy; they will produce, stay, and, most importantly, tout the culture to whoever will listen, attracting more people like them to your company.
It’s a rare company that can thrive despite its reputation for bad customer service. To be sure, such companies exist, but they’re not common.
Perhaps the company offers a product most consumers can’t live without, or the organization is practically a monopoly in a market where people have few choices. Or, maybe the company’s product is integral to how we work and live that consumers couldn’t avoid it if they tried. (We see you, Google!)
Alas, insurance providers generally don’t fall into this category. Instead, good customer service is a differentiator between your team and every other team selling what you sell.
But take heart! In a real sense, this is good news. Developing quality customer service is within your control, and the rewards are high.
So here’s the $64,000 question: how do you know if your customer service is good?
Your Customers Say So
Customer praise, whether private or public, is an indication your customer service is good. Notice that you’re not looking for the occasional positive comment, although that’s nice. You’ll know you’re on to something when you’re getting regular positive feedback via multiple channels (e.g., snail mail, email, social media, client surveys) from various delighted customers.
Your Customers Recommend You
It’s one thing for a customer to do business with you herself but another for her to recommend your product or service to someone else. A recommendation is a huge vote of confidence and ought to be regarded as such. When we recommend a product or service, we show our willingness to be held accountable for our opinion. Most people won’t do that unless they’re supremely secure in that good or service quality.
Your Customers Stick With You
Repeat business is a big way customers say, “well done!” There’s no shortage of insurance agents and no reason for any client to give you his business unless you do your job well.
So when the competition is high, but your customers are loyal, most likely, you’re giving them what they want and need (i.e., good customer service).
Customer Complaints Rarely Reach the Executive Level (Or Heaven Forbid, Go Viral)
You know your customer service is good when complaints (and every company has its share of customer complaints) rarely reach the executive level. Most likely, that’s because your team is skilled and adept at resolving conflict before it gets out of hand. Consider this: when your customer service is good, problem-solving almost looks easy!
Your CSRs Are Happy
Is a happy employee a guarantee of high performance that positively affects the bottom line? Probably not. As the author of “Employee Happiness Isn’t Enough to Satisfy Customers” put it, employers must “engage employees by giving them both reasons and ways to please customers; then acknowledge and reward appropriate behavior.”
Even so, it’s hard to imagine that miserable employees who blame the company for their grim attitudes are treating customers well. Putting aside any intentional malice, these employees most likely don’t possess the zeal necessary to interact with customers in a friendly and solution-oriented manner.
The truth is, we’ve all encountered the robotic, noticeably-lacking-in-enthusiasm CSR who didn’t seem to care whether we ended the encounter satisfied, unsatisfied, or even angry. Happy employees plugged into the company mission have a totally different attitude, and it shows how they address customers and their concerns.
Your Customers Are Engaged
Do customers respond to your survey invitations? What about your email or text messages? Are they commenting on your blog? Do they return phone calls? If the answer is mostly yes, your customer outreach is working, and you have the satisfied customers to prove it.
Your Customers Don’t Begrudge You Making a Living.
Insurance can be expensive, and most customers are aware that part of the cost goes to pay insurance agents' services. However, when customers like the job you’re doing, they’re okay with that. Everyone has to make a living, so why shouldn’t you? Plus, you’re serving their needs, so you’re worth every penny.
Last Words …
Recognizing what good customer service looks like, or even what it can sow (that is, increased business) is not the same as recognizing how to deliver it. Here, then, are a few tips for creating a work environment that encourages good customer service:
Even companies that can afford bad customer service don't want it. However, it’s not enough to merely think your customer service is good. Knowing is so much better.
By now, you may have heard about that audiotape featuring a Comcast employee and a long-suffering customer who wanted nothing more than to have his service canceled sans fuss.
Unfortunately, the very aggressive and very talkative sales representative refused to comply until the customer would tell him why he “wouldn’t want the fastest internet in the country.” Apparently, this employee was not deterred by the customer’s numerous attempts to assert his right not to answer the question.
However, the customer’s persistence eventually paid off, and received his cancellation … but not without a bunch of grief.
Um... It’s safe to say that when we talk of “empowered employees,” we are not thinking of this sales guy. We are not talking about employees given authority to bully and otherwise run roughshod over customers—anything to close the sale. Nope.
(Comcast later offered a public apology for the employee’s behavior, claiming that his conduct was “unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives.” Okay.)
Truly empowered employees make customers’ lives easier because they resolve their problems without much fanfare.
Whether the issue is a broken item presented for a refund, unexpected and too-high fees due for a reversal, or shoddy service that now requires an apology, when a customer representative can satisfy the customer quickly and fairly without jeopardizing profits, everyone wins.
So why are some companies so good at this while others are so lousy? I believe it comes down to trust and planning.
Trust. Companies committed to good customer service know their employees must be trusted to make decisions. For example, when someone contacts “customer service” with a problem, they don’t want to hear how the problem can’t be resolved or what the representative can’t do. That’s frustrating and causes the customer to wonder, “Then why am I talking to you?” Provided the customer’s expectations are reasonable; someone ought to do something without transferring the customer to three other people, giving conflicting advice. When employees aren’t trusted to exercise sound judgment (even within strict guidelines), customers lose out.
Planning. As they say, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” Most likely, whatever problem your customer has today, another customer had it yesterday. And when leaders take advantage of that consistency to plan how typical dilemmas can be handled by whatever party customers will naturally approach with a complaint first, the result is happier customers and employees.
When employees are empowered to make some decisions within their area of responsibility, rather than rely on other employees further up the corporate ladder, the company saves time and (therefore) money. Who wouldn’t want that? Responsibility without authority breeds big-time stress. Understand that regardless of what’s written in the job description, your customers want and expect the employees with whom they interact to solve problems quickly and efficiently and will (to some degree) hold these employees responsible when it doesn’t happen.
But even when the customer is (eventually) able to receive some satisfaction, the employee who wasn’t empowered to help the customer is left with negative feelings. Think about it. Who could really like a job that requires being confronted regularly with complaints they’re not in a position to address? After a while, it’s only natural for the employee to become apathetic, indifferent, or even hostile to customer concerns.
Excuse me, did you say something? Trusting employees to make decisions on your behalf is an important way to increase feelings of empowerment (and ultimately job satisfaction), leading to more positive customer experiences, but it’s not the only way.
Another way to empower employees is by providing an opportunity for them to voice opinions and offer input into the business.
Smart leaders know that a good idea can come from anywhere, and they’re savvy enough to develop processes that facilitate the sharing of ideas amongst staff because when staff is empowered to “speak up” without fear of reprisal or ridicule, customers are sure to reap the benefits of better ideas crafted from multiple viewpoints.
An employer can test candidates for assertiveness, candor, honesty, persistence, and so on (and the employer should if those qualities are essential for performing the job), but it won’t matter how well the candidate tests if that same employer won’t give employees the authority to exercise assertiveness, candor, honesty, etc. without experiencing harm.
Theodore Roosevelt once said: “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants to be done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
It’s becoming quite common for employers to look beyond the specific job qualifications or the technical expertise of an individual applying for work. These hard skills are critical as to whether or not a person can do the job…but there’s more.
The second kind of skill set that companies are seeking is what is referred to as soft skills. These are the people skills, personal attributes, also known as interpersonal skills. Most positions require some interaction with fellow employees, vendors, or clients, and employees need to be able to interface and…well…basically get along with people.
|Here are some results from a recent poll conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management. Two-thirds of the companies trying to hire full-time employees find it difficult to find the right skills in both categories. The hard skills required are more obvious. I want to discuss the soft skills. What are they, and why are they so important?||
Regarding these skills, this same report goes on to say, “HR professionals continue to report gaps in basic knowledge and skills in job applicants.” Following are the percentages of respondents that found these skills lacking in their candidates:
|Critical thinking/problem solving||53%||Professionalism/work ethic||46%|
|Basic knowledge of writing in English||55%||Mathematics||38%|
In another informal poll conducted by Amdur Coaching and Advisory Group LLC, they found that 90% of those recruiting new hires said their greatest gaps came from communication skills and teamwork.
Why are these soft skills so important? Why should organizations put so much emphasis on them? If you think about the various jobs in the world today, their importance becomes quite clear. Almost all jobs have some interaction with other people. There may be a few jobs with no connection with the outside world, but those are rare.
Doctors learn a highly technical discipline or set of hard skills so they can practice medicine. But their patients are people, so their soft skills are still important. How many times have you heard of people changing doctors because of poor bedside manner? If you’re treated like a number and rushed through the office like cattle in a cattle car with no opportunity to ask questions or learn more about your ailment, you will not be a happy camper and may decide to change doctors. Another example of soft skill importance is calling a service center. How many times are you tempted to scream at the phone and hang up because the person on the other end of the phone is not listening to you, nor can they appropriately communicate with you about your issue? The person on the other end may be highly skilled in his field, but if he cannot work with people and get them to understand, then it’s wasted time and effort on both sides, and the customer is unhappy.
For the next example, let’s move inside the company. There are always interactions between departments or coworkers. If the communications are stifled because the players cannot agree, then work is stopped, and the bottom line can suffer. Case in point…even though I didn’t have a high level of technical expertise in one of my jobs, I was literally hired into it because of my negotiation skills and ability to get the different segments to work together. This was my strength, and my boss recognized it and took advantage of it.
Many soft skills can impact an employee's performance and their ability to succeed in the workplace. I’ve already mentioned a few of the most important ones.
Here are some other significant soft skills that you may not think of:
…And the list goes on, but you get the idea. Some of these are more obvious than others, but they all impact the employee’s ability to survive in the workplace and its success.
If you are uncertain about analyzing an employee’s or your own soft skills or want to understand it better, try using Omnia® Behavioral Assessments and specifically the Omnia® Selection Profile. These products will give you the right questions to ask and help you analyze the results. Having employees with strong, soft skills is a must in the business world today.