Ten tips for providing great customer service

The Alltel Team
The Alltel Team

Good customer service is the lifeblood of any business.

We've all experienced customer service that is excellent, awful, and everything in between, and we know how that experience affects our on-going relationship with different businesses:

  • Delight me with great customer service, and you'll not only retain me as a loyal customer, I'll also recommend you to others.
  • Give me poor customer service, and I'll not only take my business elsewhere, I'll also delight in telling others how rubbish you are.

It costs roughly five times more to bring in a new customer than to keep an existing one!

Keeping your customers happy can be one of your best (and most cost effective) marketing tools.

1. Answer your phones

One of the most common gripes you hear is how difficult it is to contact some businesses. Unanswered calls, long hold times and disconnected calls all add up to unhappy customers.

When someone is ringing about an urgent issue, they want their call to be answered quickly by a real person. If there are times when you're not able to answer all incoming calls, consider using a Live Answering Service to capture those calls you might otherwise miss.

This is not just about keeping existing customers happy. Up to 75% of first-time callers simply hang up if their call goes through to voicemail. So ensuring that your phone gets answered will not only make existing customers happy, it will also give you more opportunities to sell to new customers.

2. Listen to your customers

Show an interest in your customers and their needs. Ask them questions to make sure you understand their situation. Come up with constructive ways you can help them that address their individual requirements.

Keep it personal. Customers can sense when you're reading from a script. Engage with them and be engaging.

By fully understanding your customers' needs, you often have the opportunity to sell them an entire solution instead of just an individual product. Their input can also help you to identify ways to improve your existing products, and also which new services you should consider adding.

3. Accept complaints constructively

It might not seem like it at the time, but every complaint you receive is a gift.

Not everyone takes the time or effort to complain. Many customers will just walk away or switch to a competitor instead of telling you what is wrong and giving you the chance to fix it. And even though they're not taking the time to complain to you, they'll often warn friends and colleagues against doing business with you.

When someone contacts you with a complaint, listen to them politely. Understand their problem fully: don't just pay lip service. Thank the customer for contacting you and tell them you value their input. Keep them informed about how you're going to address their problem, and also about any improvements you make to the way you do business to avoid the issue from arising in future.

A customer with a complaint that you've fixed can become one of your staunchest advocates.

4. Build a great customer service team

It takes a special sort of person to be a good customer service representative. Not only does this person need to be friendly, likeable, intelligent and well-spoken, they also need to have a thick skin and good sense of humour! They need to be able to deal with all types of callers, including those who are difficult, confused, and even hostile.

Once you've found the right people, make sure they receive appropriate training. They should not only be experts in your products and services (able to recommend the correct solution to customers), but also be good listeners, be friendly and helpful, and know how to handle difficult customers and diffuse potentially explosive situations.

Try doing some role playing exercises. Let your staff blow off some steam by taking it in turns to be the difficult customer. Discuss different ways in which to handle each situation. Prepare them for the worst so that they can deliver the best.

5. Go the extra mile

Don't just look at what your competitors are doing and try to match them. Instead, you need to look for new and innovative ways of providing your customers with better service.

As an example, a bank branch recently opened in an area with lots of shopping, lots of restaurants and lots of tourists. The big four banks were already there, so the newcomer needed to find a way to differentiate themselves. With a few imaginative things like a multi-language ATM and self-service coin-counting machine, they've become very popular with locals and tourists alike and their business has quickly grown.

Think of things you can do to improve your customers' experience. It's those differentiators that will help you to attract and retain customers.

6. Keep the conversation going

Your relationship with your customer doesn't end when the sale is made. That should be just the beginning!

Keep in touch through things like newsletters, social media and blogs. Follow up (either by phone call or email) a few months after the sale to make sure your customers are happy with everything and see whether they've got any questions you can answer.

Build a relationship with your customers so that they feel comfortable to contact you with any questions or problems they may have. Create a community and a desire to belong.

7. Make it easy for customers to contact you

Provide customers with multiple ways to contact you (e.g. phone, email, fax, social media). Then make sure that you respond quickly to all of your provided contact methods. And don’t make it difficult for customers to get help once they’ve contacted you. If someone doesn’t remember their customer account number of password, don’t treat them as though they’re a nuisance. Stay on the line until their question is answered or their problem is solved.

If you find that customers sometimes need to contact you outside of regular office hours, consider using something like an Australian-based phone answering service that allows you to provide callers with a stress-free experience with a real person 24/7.

8. Keep your promises

Remember that you'll be judged by what you do—not by what you say.

Don't make promises you can't keep. It's often tempting to make offers you know you can never achieve, but it's never worth it in the long run.

Nothing annoys a customer more than a broken promise.

9. Be helpful even when there's no immediate profit in it

Not everything is about making a sale today.

Be generous with your knowledge and advice. If someone rings with a few questions about your services but no intention of buying today, be as helpful as possible. Provide useful information, tips and hints on your web site for free.

Establish yourself as a friendly, helpful expert, and the chances are good that you'll be the first company people think of and call when they're in the mood to buy.

10. Lead by example

Your customer service team aren't the only ones responsible for keeping your customers happy. Good customer service should be part of the company philosophy and integral to all aspects of your business.

Everyone from the CEO down is responsible for creating products and delivering services that delight your customers. Remember how important customers are to your business and treat them accordingly.

Alltel has always had a strong focus on providing great customer service.

Attending complaints and emergencies from customers has always been a priority: no matter the time, day or issue. We work continuously for our customers' business improvement, because at the end of the day, the better our customers do, the better it is for us. Without their success, Alltel's success wouldn't be possible.

Customer service for Alltel is about improving every area of our business to the point that the only calls and emails we receive are related to new sales enquiries, new clients, and the very welcome thank-you letters and testimonials.

Focussing on providing good customer service has worked well for us. We highly recommend it to other businesses!

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