Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm
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7 Steps to Customer Service Excellence Online or Via Email

Complaints are a necessary part of doing business, and when complaints are made in online websites or forums, they can spread fast unless you address them immediately. Customers are also becoming increasingly choosy about how they spend their limited available cash. When they make a decision to purchase a product or service, they expect excellent customer service to accompany that purchase, whether they’ve dealt with your company in the flesh or in cyberspace.
 
 
Difficult clients are nothing new, but if you have systems set up to consistently help them, you are one important step closer to assuring that you deal with the emotional and practical aspects of customer service. These 7 steps should form the core of your customer complaint resolution process--online or off.
 

1. Greet

Always answer the phone, greet people in person, or address people in a forum or email as though you are happy to hear from them. Begin in a friendly way and thank them for reaching out and letting you know of the problem. This first step can be more difficult than it sounds. You need to be able to separate previous negative customer service and daily life experiences from your present customer contact. Focus on this person and meeting their expectations.
 

2. Listen

In customer service, you often hear the same kinds of complaints, so it can be challenging to give each customer’s complaint your full attention. If you can truly listen, however, and give each customer an opportunity to vent some frustration, your customer will appreciate the special attention. Listen for facts and feelings. Show signs of active listening. Respond to any email or online complaint by using the person’s name, and letting them know that you personally are going to help them. This will let them know their complaint isn’t going to be lost in the vast world wide web.
 

3. Ask Questions

Resist responding until you fully understand your customer and their issues—even if you’re familiar with that type of concern. Ask specific questions to clarify your customer’s concerns. Use these three types of questions to gain a comprehensive understanding of your customer’s issue:
 
Elementary questions capture the basic facts of the problem. These questions give you an opportunity to take some of the emotion out of the customer’s experience and complaint. What exactly is the problem, in terms of nuts and bolts? What happened?
 
Elaborative questions gather more details. These questions give the customer a chance to expand on their issues and feelings. These questions should be relatively short but inquisitive to encourage the customer to talk more about their concerns. You don’t want to hear every single emotion they feel, but you do need to understand what they’re going through.
 
Evaluative questions help you determine how severely this issue effects the customer. This is also where you evaluate what you can do to satisfy the customer. How has this inconvenienced them, and how best can you help?
 

4. Empathize

Find a point of agreement with the customer. This does not necessarily mean that you agree with the complaint, but only that you are able to find a common ground. This is where you show the customer that you heard and understood their concern and that you recognize that this issue is important to them--and that is is important to you and your company, too. Empathy is not always intuitive via email or in an online forum. You can’t adapt your tone of voice, so you have to choose your words even more carefully.
 

5. Address the Issue

Now that you have addressed and helped diffuse some of the complaint’s emotional issues, do everything in your power to resolve the practical aspects. Take responsibility for your organization’s role in the customer’s dissatisfaction. If this is a lemon of a situation, this is your opportunity to make some frozen strawberry lemonade out of it! People who have their problems successfully resolved tend to choose to do business with those companies again. If your business is online, offer to solve the problem in that space. If this person reached out to customer service in a forum on your website where you do sales, let them know if you can offer them a discount or credit on that same website for their convenience.
 

6. Test Questions

Once you’ve offered your solution, you’re halfway done. Ask questions to test how well you have resolved the emotional and practical sides of the complaint. If the customer is satisfied with the resolution, this will make it easy to end the experience on a positive note. If they aren’t, ask questions that will help you get to the root of the problem. If online correspondence (like email) is feeling tedious, ask them if they’d prefer to connect over the phone at a time that is convenient for them.
 

7. Follow Through

Often, complaints cannot be resolved completely on the first point of contact. If you need to get back to the customer, do so quickly and be thorough in your response. If they contacted you online or via email, respond to them in the same way. Even if the complaint has been resolved, create a reason to contact the customer again. For example, find a way to offer added value to the customer’s experience with the company. Also, look for ways to solve the root cause of problems within your organization. And if there were any issues with getting the complaint into the right hands quickly, have your web team address that by creating system that operates more smoothly.
 
68% of customers leave because of what they perceive as indifference from the merchant or someone within the merchant's organization. They feel unappreciated, unimportant, and taken-for-granted. (Source: Research by Dan S. Kennedy)
 
Today’s customer is more educated, better prepared, and has more alternatives than at any other time. Given that so much business is conducted on the web, a customer has only to click a finger to say hello to their new vendor and goodbye to you. Given the complexity of the marketplace, it is not enough to merely satisfy your customers. You must turn them into fans, who will not only remain loyal to your product or service, but who will spread the good word about your company. You need to exceed expectations, show customers you care, and provide exceptional customer service--whether you’re face-to-face, on the phone, or online.
 
 
 

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