Ask an Expert: Improve Your Customer Service Today

Q. I want to make my business more agile in terms of responding to customers more quickly. What are some best practices I can implement in my smaller businesses so that I can go toe to toe with my larger competitors?

In this age of instant communication, many companies are focusing on faster response times, often using automation to achieve that goal. The thinking seems to be that a boilerplate e-mail saying a question or complaint has been received will make customers feel heard, but that isn't always the case. While responding quickly when contacted by customers is a good goal for any customer service program, the other half of that program should also be responding correctly and completely. A customer service program that’s truly dedicated to serving customers will combine speed with an awareness of the needs of each individual customers and a recognition that some problems can be handled quickly and others will take more time. The good news is that speeding up the process will allow easier issues and questions to be handled speedily without sacrificing customer satisfaction, which means that more time will be left for handling complicated customer issues.

1. The first thing to do when setting up a customer service communication platform is ensuring you have multiple methods by which customers can make contact. The days of simply having a contact form on a website, or offering a phone number, are over. Companies that are using any social media platform should expect to be contacted through their accounts, and should have someone who monitors those accounts on a regular basis to ensure that any messages received are answered quickly. Similar steps should be taken if a company uses an online chat program. If chat is available through your website it should be monitored regularly. If employees are available to chat only at certain times, make sure those times are posted prominently on your website. Nothing is more useless than a chat function that’s offered but never answered. If customers reach out to you through chat, make sure someone is available to reply. Contact may also be made through e-mail, a message function on a website, fax or phone. All those channels must be covered and monitored as well.

2. Once the channels have been established, the next step is to designate who monitors what channels, and to set a standard for the speed in which replies should be made. Designating specific people to reply to messages from specific channels helps avoid overlap and multiple replies to the same message. The goal is a speedy and helpful reply; multiple people replying to the same message isn’t efficient, and may often present the customer with conflicting or confusing answers. If the responsibility is clearly delineated, then you avoid confusion about who is to answer a message and the even bigger problem of no one answering because they thought someone else would be handling the contact.

3. Setting a standard for how quickly replies should be made is also important. Remember that the standard set should be reasonable. Responding in one minute to any message is a lovely thought, but probably not reasonable given that most employees will have many claims on their time in a given day. Responding in a couple of hours is generally considered a good response time, responding within 24 hours is acceptable to most customers. Whatever the response time that is set, make sure that it’s clearly communicated to customers and that it’s adhered to by employees. If your customers are told someone will respond to them within 24 hours, and they get a response within that time period, then they'll find that time period acceptable. If your company promises 24-hour response time, and the customer doesn't get a response until 72 hours later, there’s a problem.

4. The main thing to remember is that speed is trumped by sincerity when it comes to customer service. Yes, customers like speedy answers to their questions, but they like sincere answers more. A slower answer that tells the customer that you’re concerned with their particular problem and committed to solving it will carry much more weight than a speedy boilerplate answer. Make sure that your first goal is always to address the customer’s concerns with empathy. Fast replies may give the appearance of good customer service, but if they don’t address a customer’s concerns or solve their problem, all the speed in the world won’t result in a happy customer.

KRISTINE SHREVE is director of marketing for EnMart and Ensign Emblem, and regularly writes about embroidery, sublimation, decoration, social media and business. Besides her DecQuorum blog on www.ASICentral.com, she also writes for the EmbroideryTalk Blog at http://blog.myenmart.com and the SubliStuff blog at www.sublistuff.com. Contact: kristine.shreve@myenmart.com.