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How to scale your customer services operations

2nd Oct 2017
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It is a business story which customers have experienced for ages. A new, small business pops up with an exciting new product or way of doing other things and offers excellent customer service. Customers flock to the business which grows over time. But as the small business becomes a large corporation, customer service and product quality declines and customers end up flocking to a new small business which starts the cycle over again.

So why does the small business’s customer service drop off to begin with? While it can be sometimes due to complacency, the primary reason is that small businesses simply do not realize that customer service processes must change as the business grows.

A business owner cannot greet every customer when there are hundreds or thousands of customers, and so must learn to delegate and build a real corporate structure if not a bureaucracy. Some never do, which creates an ad hoc approach where customer service members are running around putting out fires instead of developing a real strategy.

A true commitment towards customer service requires new approaches and strategies beyond the expensive approach of just hiring more customer service representatives. Here are some strategies which can help.

Internet Self-Service

Large companies advertise telephone hotlines and social media as ways for customers with a problem to contact the company. But most customers with a problem do not initially turn to a support hotline and often require a signal booster to get good reception. They turn to Google, looking up to see if other customers have had similar problems and how they resolved it. Customers want to find the answer to their problems themselves instead of having to wait for some tech support person to give them the answer.

Larger businesses need to get in front of that approach by setting up an online knowledge base which customers can easily find through Google. A good example is Nintendo, a company which is well known for providing excellent customer service even though gamers can be a particularly difficult crowd to please. Nintendo’s customer support page leads to a search bar, and customers can click on different Nintendo products to find popular articles and featured topics. That support page means that Nintendo needs less people on the phones to answer questions as customers can find the answers themselves.

Remember the 80-20 rule. 80 percent of your customers’ complaints are going to be about 20 percent of possible errors. If you list a FAQ of the most frequent complaints, it will be an efficient way to help customers in an empowering fashion.

To use or not to use automation

No one likes dealing with an automated voice when they call a support hotline, and there are plenty of ways in which companies can use automation in customer support incorrectly.

But there are also ways in which automation can take care of customer support issues faster and cheaper than a human operator. As IBM points out, automation “can respond in real-time offering support through FAQs or virtual service agents across platforms and devices.” While human customers have to wait until there is a complaint to respond, automation can take care of problems before a customer notices. For example, airline automation software can automatically detect a missed flight and arrange a second booking without the customer having to do anything.

Automation cannot totally replace the personalization of human to human contact, and much of automation’s work is handling repetitive tasks while your human customer service agents communicate with their customers. But for a smaller business looking to grow larger, automation can let a smaller number of agents handle a growing number of clients without the owner having to hire more workers.

Write Processes Down

A small tribe where everyone knows everyone can survive relying on customs and traditions to govern how to behave, but a large empire needs a written code of laws to ensure good administration of justice.

The same principles apply with small and large businesses. If a business owner knows every worker in their business, then it is easy to ensure that every worker knows how to treat their customers or how to handle complaints. But when the owner can no longer do that, it is important to put such procedures into writing and for training to become a crucial part of ensuring that workers know how to treat their customers.

This does not just apply for basic customer service procedures. For example, suppose a company faces a major crisis such as a data breach or product malfunction. Customer service will have a major role in any such crisis to prevent customers from assuming the worst and salvaging the company’s reputation.

Other websites such as Ready.gov with the Department of Homeland Security detail what a crisis management plan should look like. This is just one example of how businesses need to document their customer service processes, something a small business may not need to do.

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