Customer service can be a real challenge for small-business owners. The positions rarely produce any direct income, and at many companies, those in customer service positions are often some of the lowest-paid, least-trained staff on hand.
But those same underpaid, under-trained team members are responsible for the lion's share of your company's interactions with customers.
Economics won't change the basic rules of the customer service game—no matter how much you might want to, you won't be able to hire and pay MBAs six figures each to man your phone lines—but you can maintain high customer service standards by watching out for these seven signs of serious trouble.
1. No Contact With Marketing
A smart company understands that its customer service department is the top marketing investment for the company. Keeping an existing customer costs less, and brings in more, than finding a new one. Your customer service representatives should understand your company's key marketing message and how to incorporate it into a call.
2. A Wide Open Back Door
If your ratio of sales leads to actual sales is low, that means your sales force needs improvement. If your ratio of new sales to repeat sales is low—or you have a high cancellation rate in a subscription-based business—it's time to take a hard look at what's wrong in your customer service department.
3. You're Tempted To Forbid Social Media
More than one company forbids its front-line employees, including customer service representatives, from mentioning their job on social media. This comes from a fear of what those employees might publicly say about the company. If you're tempted to enact a policy like this, first ask yourself why your customer service representatives would be tempted to badmouth the job, the product or your company. If your customer service people don't believe in what they're doing, your problems run deeper than what they might say online about your business.
4. Too Few Complaints
Every company receives complaints. If you're not irritating somebody, you're also not pleasing anybody— and it's your customer service team's job to field those complaints. If you aren't hearing about many opportunities to improve, that doesn't mean everything's going great. It means that either your staff isn't telling you about them or your customers aren't bothering to contact you.
5. Too Many Escalations
Some situations are too delicate or complex for your front-line customer service people to handle. That's unavoidable. But if more than one in 10 or 20 have to "go up the food chain" to a higher tier of service, that means your customer service people are either under-trained or under-empowered. Find a way to give them the knowledge and authority to fix the problems customers are bringing to them.
6. High Daily Absenteeism
We're not talking about vacation time—your staff works hard and deserves time off. But if your unplanned absenteeism numbers are high, with a lot of people calling in sick frequently, that could mean your employees aren't happy at work. And unhappy customer service representatives quickly translate into unhappy customers.
7. Speed-Based Numbers
Most professional call centers are moving away from these metrics, but some customer service departments are still evaluating their employees based on measurements like call times and number of customers handled in a day. But this kind of measurement leads to brusque, incomplete customer service. Instead, you should focus on numbers that indicate a positive interaction, such as an end-call survey or trending up-sales by individual reps.
Enough bad news about customer service. What's your favorite tale of above-and-beyond customer service from inside or outside your business? Inspire the community and join the conversation by sharing your story in the comments below!
Jason Brick has contributed more than 2,000 blog and magazine articles to local, regional and national publications and speaks regularly at writing and business conferences. You can find out more about Jason at www.brickcommajason.com.
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