8 Principles of Customer Service

Published on:

April 20, 2021

Woman sat in front of PC smiling and laughing with someone in the distance.

How many times have you heard the same tired old tropes like “the customer is always right” or “service with a smile”?

Though perhaps there’s some truth in them somewhere, the reality is these approaches to customer service are far too simplistic for today’s customer-centric world.

That’s why we’re saying out with the old and in with the new to help you build a strong customer service strategy. In this article, we’ll be covering:

  • The principles of customer service
  • Customer service philosophies
  • Examples of customer service philosophies

Let’s dive in.

The 8 Principles of Customer Service

Every business takes a slightly different approach to customer service, but they all share some commonalities. All of them are built from the same core principles that guide their approaches. They’re as follows:

1. Be Responsive

Is there anything more frustrating than spending your precious free time trying to get in touch with a company only to be put on hold for what feels like hours?

Responsiveness is vital for customer service. But so many companies are falling at the first hurdle due to a lack of staff. Here’s the numbers:

  • A study by Which? Revealed five out of the six big energy firms left customers waiting for 10 minutes or more on average.
  • A more recent study by Money Mail revealed wait times of over half an hour for major banking phone lines.
  • Even trying to get through to HMRC will set you back an average of 47 minutes according to Citizens advice research.

It’s not just over the phones either. Other communication channels also need to be responsive. This includes email and social media channels. Companies must be monitoring these, or outsourcing someone to monitor them, even during weekends.

A short initial response time can increase customer satisfaction substantially. But it doesn’t end here.

Agents need to continue to be responsive. This means whatever issue or query a customer has also needs resolving quickly. In an ideal world, these issues are resolved straight-away on the same contact, but anyone in customer service knows this is not always the case. Employees and companies must make resolution a priority to deliver good customer service. 

Companies can increase responsiveness by training and empowering their employees. It might be stating the obvious a little, but employees need to have the initial knowledge to be able to resolve customer queries. Without good training, they’re unlikely to have the knowledge necessary to have an immediate solution for customers.

But even with this knowledge, employees may not feel empowered to make the decisions to resolve issues. The more back and forth an employee needs to make to get decisions approved, the longer customers wait. Employees who are empowered to make decisions and resolve issues will be more able to come up with solutions to less common problems.

You should also have a host of communication channels open to your customers. This could include phone, live chat, social media and email. This allows customers to choose the channel that they prefer. Just make sure all your channels are as responsive as possible.

2. Be Knowledgeable

We hinted at this above, but it couldn’t be more true.

How is an employee supposed to help a customer when they don’t know any more about the product or service than the next person?

Employees who have been given the best training deliver better customer service. They can give accurate, detailed answers to customers. They can even answer questions the customer didn’t know they had, because they’re not the expert in your product or service — you are!

Employees shouldn’t just be trained in your product or service, but also in the systems you use in your workplace. They should be confident using software and supported with regular training for new features. 

The confidence that your employee gains from great training transfers to your customer. Your customer feels reassured that their problem is being dealt with by a competent and helpful employee. 

3. Be Consistent

A lack of consistency can really damage your customer service and your brand authority. 

From the first moment you interact with a customer, you’re setting an expectation of service. This is great when you’ve nailed that interaction and a customer has a positive view of your company. But later down the line, if you fail to meet that expectation, your customer will be more disappointed.

To keep things consistent, you need to communicate internally. Different departments must have easy ways to contact and discuss issues to best resolve customer problems. All teams that need it should have access to customer history through the CRM and this should be updated after every contact. This avoids customers repeating themselves anytime they contact you.

You also need to align your inbound and outbound strategy communications. Customers often have wildly different experiences when dealing with an agent they’ve reached out to versus one who has reached out for them. A lack of consistency here can cause confusion and frustration for your customers.

You’ll also need a customer service philosophy — but we’ll get to that later.

4. Be Effortless

It shouldn’t take MI6 training to contact you.

In fact, quite the opposite — it should be effortless.

Aim to have a variety of channels on offer and this information should be easy to find. Customers shouldn’t have to trawl through pages of “helpful” FAQ materials just to find a number to speak to a real human.

Once a customer contacts you, communications should be effortless. This means clear, consistent and helpful advice or resolutions where you go above and beyond.

For example, if a customer needs to speak to another department avoid the caller having to make another call which increases stress all around and takes up more of your company’s valuable time later, time better spent on other things. Complete a warm transfer  — a transfer where you pass the call details onto the next agent before transferring the call. This can help improve sales and service call productivity.

5. Be Human

Time for a serious question… does anyone like the automated answering services?

We’re yet to meet a customer who does and we get it. Especially when you’re pressing endless different numbers to get through to the right department just to be told it’s the wrong department or, worse yet, to be cut off.

A human touch goes a long way in customer service. Though we understand the need for automated answering services for busy periods, it shouldn’t be the default if at all possible.

Personality and empathy make a huge difference to a frustrated customer. Think about the last time a customer service agent made your day. We bet it wasn’t a robot that did it.

6. Be Open

There’s a reason honesty is a virtue. Just as we value it in people, we value it in companies.

Maintaining transparency and honesty with your customers is part of outstanding customer service. 

It’s okay to be wrong sometimes. It’s okay to make a mistake. It’s okay to not know something.

Transparency shows your customer you value them. Just be sure to emphasise that you will resolve the issue. Be transparent about how long it will take and why. Most customer frustrations stem from a lack of being kept in the loop, not the actual initial problem itself.

You should encourage the same transparency back from your customers with feedback methods. Ask for honest and open feedback about how you can improve. This again emphasises to customers you’re serious about delivering great customer service.

7. Be Proactive

Proactive customer service is great customer service. So anticipate problems and needs with a proactive approach.

This allows you to not only meet customer expectations, but exceed them. 

There are so many ways to be proactive in customer service, but here’s just a few:

  • Reward loyal customers
  • Inform customers about upgrades or new services
  • Collect customer feedback
  • Monitor social media

8. Be Continuous

The thing about companies that deliver really great customer service is that they never settle for being great and stop trying.

There is always something you could be doing better.

Use customer feedback to gain insights into your customer service, but then actually follow through on those insights and make changes. Review complaints to discover the root of the issue and then create a solution so it’ll never happen again. Review calls and chat transcripts to discover more about your frontline service. 

This ethos of continual improvement ensures that you will always be looking ahead, instead of settling for what you have.

Create A Customer Service Philosophy

You can use these principles of customer service to help create a customer service philosophy.

You can put as much, or as little, emphasis on each principle of customer service as you want. You can also add your own like be fun or be friendly to better match up with your brand. 

This philosophy can guide you and define you.

The reality is without a strong focus on customer service, your business will struggle to grow and rival competitors that are focused on customer service. The days of slashing prices to compete died with Amazon. There’s one thing that many companies that are thriving have in common — a philosophy of customer service.

Everybody’s competitor now is Amazon, Apple and Valve. Today we buy experiences - how something or some service makes us feel - more than we ever did before.

Examples Of Outstanding Customer Service Philosophies

It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that Amazon is the absolute leader of the pack when it comes to customer service. That success comes from their own unique principles of customer service. In their own words, “to be earth’s most customer-centric company”.

Their philosophy lies in continuous improvement. Products can always be delivered faster, to a more convenient location, at a more convenient time. That’s why they’ve been testing drones for the past decade to drive forward their 2-hour delivery goal for prime members.

This philosophy is what drives the company to continually out-innovate competitors.

Learn More

Use the principles of customer service to help your company create your own customer service philosophy. This philosophy should reflect your brand and your values, helping to guide your employees to deliver outstanding customer service every time.

You can find out more about everything you need to know about phone skills in our ultimate guide.

About Paul Freudenberg

Paul Freudenberg is a business productivity coach and consultant with a focus on operational excellence delivering improved profitability and business performance, and Founder of Awardaroo in 2005. Paul has set the mission of Awardaroo to help raise UK Business Productivity from one of the lowest in the G7 to one of the highest by 2030. Connect on LinkedIn

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