Blue Square Small Business Blog

7 steps to creating a customer service strategy

7 steps to creating a customer service strategy
November 21, 2018  |  Business Advice

Like it or not, your business cannot succeed without exhibiting great customer service. It doesn’t matter what you sell, who your customers are or what industry you’re operating in if you are not making your customers or clients happy, your business will ultimately fail. It’s as simple as that.

Why? According to the most recent UK Customer Satisfaction Index, overall customer satisfaction in the UK has been steadily declining since 2017 and declining customer service equates to declining sales. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Current satisfaction levels are hovering at just under 78% across all sectors, which is around a 0.3% drop compared to this time last year. Of all sectors surveyed, retail is generally the strongest performing in the UK, with a satisfaction rate of 82.1%. Banks are doing better this year, but transport companies are experiencing an all-time low.

Meanwhile, customers who report experiencing a great first impression of a brand have dropped in 2018. Likewise, the percentage of customers who say a company has failed to keep its promise to them has more than doubled in the last year, rising from 5.3% in 2017 to 12% in 2018. When asked, customers told researchers that if organisations wanted to make consumers happier, they should make it easier for customers to contact the right person to assist them.

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So, that’s a whole lot of statistics about the state of customer service in the UK and you might be reading this and asking yourself why any of it matters. But if you think you shouldn’t be worried about delivering mediocre customer service, you’d better think again.

Happy customers tell an average of nine other individuals about their good experience with a brand or company. Where sales are concerned, the probability of selling new goods or services to a previous happy customer is around 14 times higher than the probability your company will sell goods or services to a new customer.

But while a happy customer tells around nine others about how great your business is, an unhappy customer tells an average of 16 people about their bad experiences with your company.

Word of mouth is one of the most effective marketing tools at your disposal, and so any and all bad reviews have the power to decimate your bottom line. Worse yet, it’s important to bear in mind that for every unhappy customer who complains to you or others around them, research has shown there are an average of 26 other unhappy customers who aren’t saying anything.

At the end of the day, that means if you mess up and disappoint your customers, you will end up paying dearly for it. If your consistently deliver poor customer service, it could even cost you your entire business.

So, what can you do to fix all of this?

There are plenty of avenues to explore, and a lot of your customer service journey will be a matter of trial and error. Yet by and large, the road that leads to great customer service begins with establishing and developing a fantastic customer service strategy for your business.

We’ve written this guide to explain what a customer service strategy is, and provide you with some top tips on how to get your strategy off the ground.

What is a customer service strategy?

Before we delve into how you should develop a brilliant customer service strategy for your business, it’s worth revisiting what a customer service strategy is.

Simply put, your company’s customer service strategy is a multi-step and ever-evolving document that outlines the processes in place to address customer journeys, opinions, complaints, feedback and everything in-between.

Your company’s customer service strategy should draw from customer feedback, and offer guidance on how your business has handled customer queries, questions, and complaints. It should include steps and opportunities to train your employees in terms of how your business treats and interacts with customers, alongside troubleshooting advice for employees who are struggling to meet customer service needs.

Furthermore, your customer service strategy should be constantly revised, based upon shifting markets and consumer demand. Bearing that in mind, your customer service strategy should outline broad processes which your company can use to capture customer feedback, and then guidance on how your business will then review that feedback and act upon it.

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So, that’s what a customer service strategy is. But how do you start developing your strategy? This might be new territory for you, even if this isn’t the first time you’ve owned a business and we’re here to help.

No two businesses are alike, and so what works for your company may or may not work for others in terms of establishing great customer service. But generally speaking, you cannot go wrong in developing a strategy for your business by following these seven simple steps.

1. Establish your vision for great customer service

The first thing you’ve got to do when you’re developing a customer service strategy for your business is to sit down and do some brainstorming on what you think good customer service is.

Place yourself in the shoes of your prospective clients or customers, and consider what sort of customer service you would expect. What sort of greeting would you expect, and what sort of communications would you want to receive along the customer journey? What forms of communication would those messages take? What would you want to be told before, during and after the point of sale?

Then, there’s customer aftercare and complaints to consider. All business owners dread receiving complaints that must be dealt with, and in some cases, you may not agree with the accusations being leveled against your business. But again, place yourself in the shoes of the customer: if you were genuinely unhappy with a product or service, what would you expect a great company to do to make things right?

In essence, this exercise will give you a wish list of everything you believe a caring and conscientious company would include within its customer service strategy to make sure that consumers are treated fairly. Upon review, you may need to bend a few aspects in line with the logistics of how your company works and the delivery processes you may have in place. But your wants and needs as a consumer should dictate the behaviours exhibited by your company.

These behaviours will form your customer service vision. Further along the strategy path, you’ll need to spell out those behaviours in terms of processes your employees must be trained to handle and subsequently adhere to. But in the meantime, you should take your vision to any employees or contractors you may have and discuss this vision with them to ensure that they are onboard and understand the expectations you’re setting.

2. Ask your customers what they want and need

One reason many companies end up falling flat on their faces in terms of customer service is because they tend to waste time, money and resources rolling out products or services that customers don’t actually want. If your business has failed to produce adequate market research as part of your business plan, a lack of customer input will lead to your company’s demise.

That’s why you need to find out what your customers want, and then crucially, keep asking them periodically how you are doing. After all, how can you expect to meet the needs of your customers if you don’t ask them what they need?

Business owners often assume that, because they pleased a customer on one occasion, they can get away with doing the same thing every single time, indefinitely. But it’s important to bear in mind that customers change, markets change and demographics change.

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What appeals to your customer base now may not appeal to them in a year’s time, and this could be based on things your company has been doing or it could be based on events that are totally outside of your control. Examples could include a political movement against a certain ingredient people have deemed unsustainable, or a type of fashion that has gone totally out of style.

Bearing that in mind, you cannot hope to deliver on your promises to customers and keep them happy unless you develop a system of gathering feedback and this must be part of your customer service strategy.

There are plenty of ways to do this. You can establish a presence on review sites and encourage your customers to deliver feedback after a purchase, email quarterly or monthly satisfaction surveys to previous customers or even just reserve some time every once in a while to hit the streets and survey would-be customers about what they’re looking for and how you could help them find it.

3. Hire the right employees

This one might sound a little bit obvious, but one hugely disappointing reason that businesses often fail to deliver exceptional customer service is because they’ve not got the right people dealing with customers.

It’s worth pointing out that the right’ sort of person is totally subjective, and depends entirely upon the tasks you’re asking an employee to carry out and what sort of customer service skills you’re asking them to exhibit.

Yet it’s crucial that you educate your existing employees on your customer service wish list and the types of behaviours you are going to expect them to deliver. Likewise, you should be screening incoming prospective team members to ensure that they’ve got the correct disposition and skillset to deliver on your customer service strategy.

You should note that some skills can be taught, and so you should be able to display a bit of leeway in the hiring process, as well as in re-educating your existing employees on how to interact with customers to deliver great customer service. But you cannot teach personality or attitude and so you must tread carefully when choosing who within your company will be entrusted with handling customer interactions.

4. Set lots of goals

After you’ve figured out what it is your customers expect and have responded to those expectations with basic processes of delivery and interaction, you absolutely must identify and create goals to achieve improved levels of satisfaction.

It’s important that you set customer service goals as part of your strategy that are easy to measure and are in some way attainable. For that reason, most successful customer service goals will be spread over a defined period of time and will include a numerical point of reference.

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For example, you could set your business the goal of answering 90% of customer email queries within 24 hours. Likewise, you might want to set a goal of responding to all Facebook messages within two hours, or answer all customer calls within 10 minutes if your business runs a busy call centre.

From there, you can chart success through regular audits. If you’re hitting your targets, consult employees and customers to gauge whether it’s possible to set more ambitious targets, or simply maintain existing goals. If your company has been unable to meet targets, you must assess whether you have been too ambitious and need to try again or whether there are employee behaviours or natural barriers that are standing in the way of achieving your goals.

5. Train your staff

We’ve already covered the fact that hiring the right sort of employees is critical to your successful customer service strategy. But what about training those new employees (not to mention existing staff)?

As part of your customer service strategy, it is critical that you establish training protocols for all new and existing team members. This could include role shadowing exercises, written handbooks with modules and exams, video training sessions and more.

Your company training should outline for all employees how your company wants them to behave in every possible scenario. You need to explain to employees through training sessions how they should respond to customer feedback and behaviours, and fill them in on the sort of guidance and levels of support you’ll be able to offer them in tricky situations.

Don’t forget: staff development is not a one-off exercise. Your customer expectations will change over time, and so your customer service strategy will evolve, too. So, why wouldn’t your staff training protocols change as well?

You should set training targets for your employees, including new courses, modules, shadowing opportunities or simply refreshers on the things you think they should already know.

6. Make sure everyone is held accountable

You may be running a small business that is reliant upon a few people playing a key role and staying in their respective lanes. For example, maybe you’ve got a company with five employees, and one of those individuals has been appointed your company’s designated customer service representative. But it’s important to remember that this individual does not bear sole responsibility for the delivery of great customer service.

All of your employees need to understand your customer service strategy. They must be able to tell you how your company perceives customers and the processes you’ve got in place to make sure your customers are satisfied. Everyone within your company should know how you receive and act upon customer feedback, and everyone in your company must understand what happens when you do not meet customer service goals.

Running a successful business is normally a team effort, and so poor customer reviews or a slump in happy customers will rarely boil down to just one or two individuals within your company. Everyone must be held accountable, and everyone must be held responsible for meeting your company’s wider customer service targets and goals.

Like it or not, you’re all in this together and when business slumps, there’s usually something every member of your team can do to try and fix it.

7. Reward exceptional customer service

Your employees might know what great customer service looks like, but sometimes we all come into work with a bad attitude. Sometimes we all sit down at our desk for the day committed to delivering only the bear minimum and unless you give your team members a reason to give it their all every day, all day, they won’t. It’s as simple as that.

To try and motivate your employees to consistently go above and beyond in helping your business achieve its customer service goals and deliver on its overall strategy, you need to incentivise the delivery of customer service. Create a reward scheme for your team, and when you see an employee truly deliver or go the extra mile to make a customer smile, recognise that effort. Tell them how pleased you are, and share their success with the rest of your team.

That recognition will go a long way to making your employees feel valued, and instil within them a desire to do their best to deliver fantastic customer service.

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The bottom line

As previously mentioned, no two businesses are alike. There are some aspects of customer service delivery that will vary from business to business, sector to sector and even market to market. Yet by and large, there are seven basic steps you should employ when trying to establish and develop a customer service strategy to help your business succeed.

You’ve got to create your vision, talk to customers, hire the right people and set goals. You must also train your staff, hold everyone accountable and reward great customer service. If you’re able to do all of those things, you’re definitely on your way to creating a brilliant customer experience and where happy customers are lurking, success is almost certain to follow.

Are you looking for more tips on how to grow your business? Be sure to check outthe Blue Square Offices blog. There, you will find all sorts of tips and tricks about company formation, virtual office services, marketing and more.