Whether you are answering enquiries yourself, employ staff that answer calls, or outsource to call answering to a call centre, the call outcomes and customer service experience warrant close attention.
Having an answering service can be an important backup to the small business entrepreneur that tries to handle everything, so reliable answering, a cheerful manner and message accuracy will be the key. For the bigger business, you can lose quality and consistency to your handling of new sales enquiries during a campaign when you ask your foreman or accountant to answer the phone when things get busy; more careful design of the sales process is important as you scale up. And when you use a call centre, it pays to talk with the people who set up your service to get a better understanding of how you should structure your scripting and call handling procedures, so that someone answering your enquiries on standby can run with this easily even if they personally don’t take many of your calls.
In other words, you have to consider the context in which your enquiries are made, and what you can do to ensure that the caller finds it easy to contact you and receives excellent customer service. But how can we measure this, particularly when it may be that we can’t always provide what the caller wants?
Think like your customers
Putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and replicating the experience is a good way to see the pitfalls in your service handling, and working through this with your staff or call centre provider is the next step.
If you can’t help with a particular product or issue, sounding like you have understood and care about the customer’s concerns is a start. Being able and willing to suggest alternatives is often appreciated and still considered as good customer service.
Look at the various channels available to a customer to contact you. A phone number on your website answered 24x7 lends credibility. Social media can be useful in different contexts; users have formed self-help communities for software and systems; professionals might post on new research in their area of expertise; it’s being used by local government agencies to post updates about cultural events and unfolding emergencies. Try getting people from different ages and backgrounds to navigate your website and ask how clear everything was and what problems they encountered. Do your search fields react to both a click and the enter key? (I've seen this glitch on an online booking form once and couldn't immediately see why my quote failed to appear.) Can people find the information they want?
If you are using a call centre, service issues can arise from overly complicated procedures combined with low call volumes, gaps in the training for your service, technical issues that need to be isolated and rectified, or a problem with an individual agent. There are processes to track these through and ideally you’ll want to work through this with providers that you can communicate openly with to get the best results for your service.
You will get a better response from your staff if you involve them in the customer service evaluation process and get their commitment to improvement in customer service as both a process and a goal. Will you testing be periodic or sampling ongoing? What’s your aim?
Mystery shopping of a service should involve asking questions that reflect the normal range of issues likely to be raised, not test for obscure knowledge unlikely to be required. Ideally about 80% of calls made would focus on mainstream work and only about 20% on complex issues for a more sophisticated service.
For example, we know at Well Done that after hours calls that we handle for Council clients concern a different mix of issues to overflow calls we might be sent during business hours. It follows that the after hours call centre agents and the normal business hours staff will each be stronger in the area of issues they normally handle, and the sets of questions directed to the call centre team and the dedicated staff should reflect this variance to be a fair measure of knowledge and performance.
Often good customer service comes down to confidence and emotions. A simple set of questions with simple ratings 1-5 may give you a better overall picture.
For example –
- How comfortable were you with the call?
- How much effort was required by you?
- Were your objectives met?
Getting responses from different demographic groups can also provide qualitative feedback. Retesting can provide a benchmark to track your service levels over time.
You also need to define what good, acceptable or bad service is in consistent terms. What does ‘good’ customer service look like in your view?
For example –
GOOD Professional, knowledgeable, engaged
FAIR Got the job done, but it required prompting
POOR Didn’t care, not helpful, seemed bored or hurried
Positive feedback will help your staff or call centre team engage more with their work. You might link staff remuneration or promotion to KPIs or use ongoing training to keep engagement high.
With muddled customer service, a careful review of the procedures is indicated. What’s going wrong here?
With poor customer service, there may be underlying issues or a return to basics may be needed. Is the problem general or isolated?
Focus on specifics of recent issues and how these could have been handled better rather than generalities that no one can identify with, and then follow through with feedback to the team as changes begin to show results.
Tell people exactly how and why they are doing a good job. Articulate and encourage pride in service standards throughout your organisation; culture is a powerful predictor of customer service standards.
At Well Done we have training programs in place that cover listening skills, handling difficult callers, effective telephone communication and handling complaints. Ongoing training improves both skill and morale in the workplace, and this will be reflected in your customer service standards.
Provide your team with the opportunity to make suggestions and ensure that they have the systems and equipment to do an excellent job. Provide channels for them to flag issues and encourage different work groups to work together to solve problems. Call centre services require complex coordination to work well; at Well Done Sales, Accounts, Client Services, Operations and IT regularly consult to resolve issues that arise or come up with solutions for clients that individually we may not have considered.
As scale makes personal involvement more difficult, larger organisations will often have formalised quality assurance programs in place. This may involve recording and assessing call samples against set criteria, or scheduling a set percentage of follow up calls to customers a week later to ask for feedback. It’s less personal than what is possible in a small business, but the principle is still the same: ask, consider and act to achieve and maintain customer service excellence.