Customer service and outsourcing are two different things. But when one of them is being discussed, the other, more often than not, will get into the topic as well. While most people raise their questions on these two topics, we at Infinit Contact believe that experts on the field can answer the most frequent and pertinent ones.
We had the opportunity to speak with one of the best influencers in the customer service industry, Shep Hyken. He is a renowned speaker, best-selling author at New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame.
Shep is the first on our Influencer Interview Series and we’re honored that he shared his expertise with us by giving his pieces of advice, especially to start-ups and small businesses. Read on to find out what he thinks about customer service, its future, outsourcing, and more:
Q: What would you say is the number one key to success in every business and why?
Shep: The number one key to success in every business is to have many customers. That sounds kind of like, “Hello? Isn’t that obvious?” But think about it – you can have the best product in the world, you can even have the best service in the world; but without a customer to buy from you, it doesn’t matter. Once we get beyond that, the customers you have won’t care how good your product is and how good your people are because most people sell what somebody else sells. And the only way you’re going to differentiate it is with your service and experience – that’s the most competitive thing can have.
Q: How would you give your customers the best customer service experience?
Shep: To recognize every interaction that you have with your customer is an opportunity for them to form an impression, so make that impression a positive one. And I need to emphasize that every interaction, the smallest to the ones that are obvious, you have to analyze every single touchpoint that you have with your customers and realize that’s an opportunity for them to form an impression so make it a good one.
Q: Can you give an example of one or two companies today that give an amazing customer service experience?
Shep: There’s so many of them. You can have some obvious answers. Basically, the best companies make themselves available, they’re easy to contact, they’re easy to do business with, and they’re very convenient. For example, Amazon. You can love them or hate them but I personally love them. But what have they done to make life easy? Once you set up your system and once you give them your information, you can buy something with one click. Also PayPal, the same way. Once you set up your information with them, it’s easier to deliver money from one side of the world to another side instantly. And here’s the other thing, if there’s a problem, the response time is very fast with PayPal because they’re dealing with people’s money and people want to have their money situations managed very quickly. So if there’s a problem, PayPal steps up quickly to resolve.
Q: What are the three top qualities that a customer service representative should have?
Shep: One, I think they need great communication skills. Two, and this is up to the company, they need to be properly trained. And that doesn’t happen at one time, it has to be ongoing, never ending. Finally, the third would be having the right mindset. They have to be in the mindset of the willingness to serve someone else and help someone else.
Q: What do you believe is the biggest challenge that businesses face today in achieving high customer satisfaction rate, and what steps can they take to overcome it?
Shep: There’s several answers I can think of right away. One of the biggest challenges that a company has is making sure the right people are in the right place – hiring the right people.
Two, most companies are inconsistent in their experience. Most of the time, they are good then once in a while, they are just okay. I think that erodes the confidence of the customers when they receive an inconsistent experience. Quick example would be calling to a customer service representative from a call center and I got the wrong answer, and when I called again and somebody else took my call, I got the right answer. It’s very frustrating.
And the final challenge has to do with the culture. If you decide you want to be customer-focused, you have to engrave it into your culture. And that means, the leaders of the business have to decide “this is what customer service looks like in our company”, and define it very clearly in one sentence. For example, Ritz Carlton. Their slogan is 9 words which are, “we are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” You understand that. You get it. And once you get that, you can say “okay that’s what we’re going to live with, now how do we make it happen?”. It needs to be communicated. Everybody has to be trained. Leadership has to set the example. It needs to be kept in alignment. And when it’s working, everybody will know and you can celebrate about it. You can say thank you to the people you’re working with and you can let them know they’re appreciated.
Q: Considering these challenges, do you think outsourcing customer service is one of the best options, especially for start-up companies?
Shep: Is it the best option? I think it’s a good option. Outsourcing with the right company is sometimes a very, very good option depending upon your business model.
In the very beginning, if it’s a startup, depending upon the size of the startup, before I would outsource, I would make sure I understand why our customers are calling. What issues are they having? I need to know as much as any customer service representative would. And this doesn’t matter if I’m doing this internally or if I’m outsourcing, I would need to know what questions are coming in, what issues I’m having to resolve day in and day out. So, before I could start thinking “how do I want to handle my customer service?”, I need to understand what my customer service looks like to begin with. I would encourage, even if a service is outsourced, that employees of a company still spend time talking to customers on the frontline. And that could be jumping in and doing a shift on customer service. It could be listening on calls that are from reps that are outsourced.
The point is we, in a company, regardless of whether we keep it internal or outsource it, we need to know what our customers are saying. We really need to stay close to that customer. So, if you can do both – and by the way, there’s some great companies, and I know I’m talking to one of them (Thanks, Shep!), that are offering great outsourced customer service. But the key is, it’s one thing to outsource, but you don’t want to outsource with the idea “I don’t want to deal with it, let someone else deal with it” – that’s not why you do it. You outsource to give the customer a better experience. Because you need people that are properly trained, professionally trained, understand better how to work the support system. Maybe by outsourcing you become available 24/7, because your small business might not be able to deliver that type of coverage.'There are lots of great reasons to outsource and doing it for the right reasons is key.' @Hyken Click To Tweet
Sometimes, the outsourced company is truly an extension of the actual company. That’s what we want to create – we want to create a seamless experience. It doesn’t matter if I’m calling somewhere on the other side of the world, as long as I feel I’m calling the company and I feel I’m being taken care of by the company.
Q: How far do you think (in terms of going above and beyond) companies go to deliver the best customer service?
Shep: So, if I’m calling to ask a question about my most recent bill, there’s nothing you can do to go above and beyond to give me that answer other than just answering my question which is just about my bill. I don’t really have a problem, I just have a question. So, some companies would say, every time we interact with a customer, we gotta go above and beyond. It’s unreasonable to expect that to happen. The only time you get to go above and beyond is when the customer has a complaint or problem that you have a way to resolve it and go above and beyond. But the reality is, most issues that come your way don’t provide that opportunity. So, what we try to teach and train to our clients is to recognize every interaction as an opportunity to be above average and that might mean the positive attitude, the thank you, the interaction on the phone with knowledgeable reps, perhaps a follow up email or phone call to make sure that the customer is taken care of. Those are the little things that you can do to bump up a typical experience that a customer might have with an ordinary company.
Q: What are the key trends you think will rise in 2018?
Shep: I think self service solutions are going to become more important than ever. They already are important. People like going online, finding an answer, finding it easy, finding it quickly. Sometimes we need to train our customers on how to do that properly.
Another key trend that you’re going to see, well, it’s already happening now, but you’re going to see it getting better and better, is the use of virtual assistance in chatbot. So, you’re gonna see these technologies managing lower level customer service functions – that question about the bill, a change of address, many simple types of functions allowing the customer service reps to focus on higher level issues. And also freeing up their time because they don’t have to handle some of the lower customer service functions. Now, a customer doesn’t have to wait on hold for an hour. They might wait on hold for 30 seconds. Everybody’s worried about that technology, the AI and virtual assistance in chatbot taking over. No, they’re gonna support us and make us even better if we use them the right way.