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Raising the Bar
on Customer Support

To raise ordinary customer support to the level of extraordinary, you need to improve in two areas: first, raising the bar for your customers, and second, raising the bar on business results. Impossible task? We don’t think so. In fact, we believe it’s the natural conclusion to everything we’ve covered in this book — tying it together while bringing it all into focus. Let’s get started.

Raising the Bar on Customer Support

The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best but LEGENDARY.

Sam Walton

Raising the Bar for Your Customers

Your customers want to be heard. They want to know you care. They want to feel that you’re doing everything in your power to make them happy. In other words, they want a personal experience with your brand. They don’t want generic, algorithm-driven treatment. They want to feel important.

According to Accenture, ninety-one percent of consumers are more likely to shop with brands that recognize and remember them. And nearly half of consumers admit to having purchased an item from a competing business because the first website they visited was poorly curated.

Consumers have always wanted to feel important, but today, they have no patience with companies that fall short of their expectations. You must create a personal experience for every customer.

Creating a Personal Experience

If you’ve undergone any business training at all, you’ve been told to create a persona for each of your customer segments. Different segments describe the different types of customers you may have, each with different reasons for buying from you. In many cases, businesses will name each of their personas and develop a long list of their likes, needs, and wants.

While this sounds helpful, especially for marketing and sales teams, it’s dangerous to apply this kind of information to customer support.

You see, no one wants to be lumped into a group. People don’t like being seen as a number. Every customer wants to be treated like your highest priority at the moment. They want to feel that your business is customized to them (alone) rather than a group of people they happen to belong to.

This is where personalization can make a difference. Personalized support means every touch is customized to the customer’s preferences and history with your company. There are several ways you can do this.

Offer Multiple Ways to Connect

Different people have different preferences about the technology they use, when, and how. Even more importantly, they want to be able to control their own brand journeys — tailoring their experience without the brand-defining it for them.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to offer multiple customer service channels, then allow visitors to reach out in whatever way they’re most comfortable: live chat, email, phone, or social media.

Know Your Product

You can’t offer support on a product you don’t know. When customers come to you with uncommon questions — say, how to choose the best product for their unique need, or how to perform an unusual task — they expect you to know the product inside and out. You need to know every feature, how to use it, what the common problems are, and how to solve them.

Copying and pasting answers from the knowledge base won’t cut it. You must be able to hold an intelligent conversation about your products. Your answers must be accurate. And you must be able to field even the most random questions.

Know Your Customers

Your customers have a history with your company, and they expect you to know that so they don’t have to repeat it at the beginning of every query. You need to be able to create a continuous conversation, where one interaction builds on the previous one — instead of existing in a vacuum.

You can only do this if you have a good CRM (customer relationship management) software. As you engage with a customer, you need to have their details on the screen. Use your customers' history to make appropriate recommendations and provide more relevant support.

It’s your goal to understand who they are and why they’ve chosen your products, then build on that relationship.

Always Be Listening

You can’t help someone if you don’t understand their problem, and the only way to do that is to listen. So remove distractions. Be present. And listen closely, not just to the words being said, but the emotions and meaning behind the words.

Try to gather the full story behind your customer’s problem. Listen actively. Encourage them to talk. Be sure to ask questions to clarify anything you don’t understand.

Be Generous

Your customers can sense when they’re perceived as a burden. They know when an agent is bored or irritated with them. They also know when you’re genuinely interested in helping them. It shows in your tone of voice and your willingness to help.

Generosity isn’t always associated with personalization, but it’s almost impossible to be authentically generous without personalizing the experience. You see, being generous is about more than giving discounts or free gifts. Generosity can be shown through the time you spend with your customers, the quality of the answers you provide, and the relevance and appropriateness of any compensation you offer.

Your goal is to be as generous as you can afford to be, to give freely of your time and resources until your customer is happy with the outcome.

Be Human

While technology and automation save time and money for businesses, it can build distrust with consumers who still (and will probably always) prefer the human touch. They want to speak with someone who can understand their issue and work with them to find a workable solution.

On the back end of live chat software, it seems obvious that a human conversation is taking place, but customers may not understand that. The solution? Show your face. It helps customers feel more connected, makes them feel they’re having the next best thing to a face-to-face chat — even if they’re writing their responses in chat, email, or social media.

Chatra's agents names and faces

Let customers see the faces and names of the agents who will take their calls.

An interesting factoid: The need to see a face is so important, artificial intelligence (AI) interfaces are beginning to give their interfaces a human face.

Be Fully Present

Templates are helpful while you’re learning how to provide the best support, but once you’ve mastered the basics and know your products, they can keep you from sounding human or empathetic.

The solution? Avoid overly scripted responses. Be present — and be human — helping your customers as a living, breathing representative of your company. If you use templates, customize them to suit the situation. And remember to update your saved replies when something changes in your product or service.

By offering personalized answers, you’ll make your customers feel they’re getting real solutions that are tailored to their specific needs.

Reply to Everything

When your customers reach out for help, they should get an immediate confirmation that their request has been received. On the phone, a recorded message or background music confirms that they’re in the queue. In the email, an automated response can tell them their message has been received and give an expected timeframe for a human response. If your chat is offline or if no one is manning your social media, leave an away message. Tell people when you’ll be back and what to do in the meantime. Perhaps another channel is open, or maybe they need to check back in office hours.

Even when you aren’t available right away, clear communications can reduce stress and help customers feel they’re still being taken care of.

Then, once you’ve initiated a human conversation, be accessible and present until it ends. Reply to every message your customer sends. Answer every question.

Respect People’s Time

Understand that your job is to talk to customers; your customers' job is something else. And in many cases, talking to customer support takes them away from that other job.

Respect that. Offer the best help you can as quickly and efficiently as possible. Don’t keep your customers endlessly on hold. Don’t take too long providing a solution. And don’t transfer them endlessly to get a simple answer.

Bottom line, to create a more personal experience, be real. Be human. Treat your customers as you’d want to be treated. Make them feel valued. Work hard to provide real answers. And leave them feeling happier than you found them.

Words You Can Rely On

Here are some phrases that can help you provide more human, personalized support. Use them generously. Your customers will appreciate them.

“I’m happy to help”

Your job is to spread happiness. So bring some enthusiasm to your job. Then express it by generously giving your time and energy to your customers. A friendly “I’m happy to help” lowers your customer’s stress and helps them trust that their issue is about to be taken care of.

“I’ll send you an update by [specific time or day]”

If you make a promise, make sure you also give it a deadline. This tells your customers that you aren’t blowing them off, that you’ll continue supporting them until their issue is resolved.

One more tip: The more specific you can be, the better. Explain exactly what you’re going to do and the precise time you’ll have it done.

“Would you like me to [unexpected support]?”

This is a simple way to show generosity to your customers: Don’t wait for them to ask for something. Offer. Especially if your offer goes above and beyond their expectations.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?”

In some cases, your customer has a nagging question they’d like answered or a lower priority problem that needs solving. If you don’t ask, they’ll leave the conversation with it still unresolved — which means they’ll feel slightly dissatisfied.

So ask. Make sure there aren’t other issues your customer would like to address. Make sure they’re one hundred percent happy when the ticket is closed.

Words to Avoid

Similarly, there are phrases and words that don’t generate empathy or build rapport with your customers. Avoid these at all costs.

“I don’t know”

“I don’t know,” is a quick way to offend your customers. After all, your job is to provide answers. So when your customers ask something that you don’t immediately know, say, “Let me check.” Then do the research and get back to them as soon as possible.

“No, you understood it wrong” or “You caused the problem”а

Never blame the customer for their problems. And don’t make them feel inferior. Instead, adopt a helpful tone and say something like, “I’m afraid there was a misunderstanding. Let me clarify….”

“Don’t panic”

Never put a label on your customer’s response to their issue or something you’ve said. By insinuating that they’re overreacting, you’re taking a judgmental stance that isn’t appropriate. Remember, your job is to create happy customers, not make them feel bad.

“It’s not our fault”

Don’t get defensive. Understand that your customer’s feelings aren’t personal. Listen, apologize where necessary, and focus on fixing your customer’s situation.

“I can’t help you. Let me transfer you…”

Try to avoid transferring your customers — ever. Do your best to find answers for them and reduce their time seeking support.

Raising the Bar for Your Business

Raising the bar for your customers is just half of the job of customer support. The other half is to raise the bar for your business. How do you do that? By improving customer relations and boosting customer lifetime value through upsell and cross-sell offers.

Upselling and Cross Selling

Upsells and cross-sells can improve customer satisfaction by giving them the features and functionality they want. That said, they don’t often think about upgrading until the need is triggered.

When a customer contacts you with a problem that could be easily fixed (or doesn’t exist) in another product, you’re in a good position to make an upsell or cross-sell offer. There’s no need to push a sale — just comment that the problem they’re experiencing is already solved in that product.

But offers don’t always have to be part of the solution. Once you’ve successfully resolved a customer’s problem, you’ve earned their trust. You only need to make an offer to see if there’s an interest.

Consider saying something like:

“I notice that you’ve been using [product name] for several years. Did you know we’ve created a premium version that gives you a lot more [list the relevant benefits]? Would you be interested in trying it out? I can give you a free trial to see if you like it.”

Emphasize the Value of your Product (Before and After the Sale)

Both before and after a sale, customers will try to evaluate whether your product delivers more value than it costs.

To calm these doubts and fears, your level of support needs to hit all of the issues we’ve talked about in this section. By making people feel important, listening to them, empathizing with them, and offering your best possible solutions, you can easily reframe the conversation.

Instead of leaving them wondering if you’re the best solution, you can leave them reassured that no other option is worth considering.

Save for a Positive Moment

An upsell offer can feel like an unsavory sales tactic if it’s not done right. But it can feel like a natural part of the conversation if it’s presented in the right way and at the right time.

In most cases, an upsell offer should be saved for the end of your support conversation. The customer should feel as if you’ve given them a good solution, you’ve saved them time, or you’ve completely erased a worry. In other words, they should feel as if you’ve given them immense value — and they’ll get even more value if they accept your offer.

This can work in any channel: live, phone, email, chat, or social media. For example:

When I, Kathryn, sold our previous home, we had to close long-distance and needed a notary to help finalize the paperwork. Trying to keep the closing on schedule, we drove to the bank on a Saturday morning and met Louis, who said he could help us.  We sat in his cubicle, signing all the papers while he notarized them. And then we saw it: a clerical error that required the papers to be amended.

There was no quick fix. We’d need to wait for new papers to be sent to us and come back to get his notary services again. Louis could have grown impatient or made us feel bad for not having proofread the papers before arriving at the bank. But instead, he offered to have the new papers waiting for us if we’d email them to him on our way back to the bank.

When we arrived, as promised, he had our papers waiting for us. After notarizing them and making a copy for us, we honestly felt like Louis had saved the day. So we didn’t blink when he recommended a new credit card to help us with some upcoming bills we had mentioned to him.

Now, in most instances, we’d turn down a new credit card without thinking about it. But Louis had already earned our trust. He’d also asked enough questions to be able to position the card as a good solution for us, and the offer felt like a natural extension of the support he’d been giving us all morning.

This was exactly the right moment to offer us an upsell. We had our documents signed, we knew our paperwork was correct, and our house closing concerns were resolved.

If there’s any secret to how or when you offer an upsell, this is it: Wait for a positive moment. After solving your customer’s problem, when they’re feeling relieved and happy, you’ll find them much more receptive to any offer you might make.

The opposite is also true: Never offer an upsell when your customer is angry or upset. Always wait for a positive moment.

Make It a Clear Win

Now that you know when you should and shouldn’t make an offer, let’s talk about how to transition from support to sales without drawing attention to the shift.

It can feel uncomfortable to make this transition as if neon signs are alerting your customer that a sales pitch is coming. But remember, you aren’t trying to convince them to spend more money. You’re offering real solutions that can make a tangible difference in their life.

An upsell or cross-sell offer doesn't feel out of place if it's a natural extension of the support you've just given. And it won't offend if it delivers a clear win.

Louis did this perfectly when he transitioned from notarizing our papers to making a credit card offer. He said:

After looking at your account, it looks like you’re eligible for…

Then he told us how he had used the credit card to solve a similar problem and ask if we’d like to learn more.

You could just as easily say something like:

You know, based on what you’re saying, I think you’d benefit from…

Then explain how the product can help your customer. Maybe it will save them time, save them money, or solve a problem they’re worried about. If they say no, there’s no need to push; close the conversation as you normally would. If they say yes, you’ve not only benefited them but your company as well.

The key, though, is to focus on the benefits. As business trainer Jeffrey Gitomer says:

Tell me how I win. When I win, you win.

Customer support is at its best when it delivers a win-win. It starts with serving your customers, but in the end, it serves your brand, building profits and giving you long-term, loyal customers.

We’ve talked about the importance of raising the bar, but in reality, you can become unforgettable by simply attending to the basics: Be present. Be genuine. And care about your customers.

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