November 28, 2014

10 Ways to Avoid Becoming a Customer Service Robot

customer service robot

In thinking about another area of business where brands often fail due to over-automating activity, customer service comes to mind. Who hasn’t been a victim of a customer service rep mechanically reading off of a script, never pausing to genuinely ask how we’re doing?

If you train customer service representatives for your company, pay attention. And if you’re a solopreneur and running the customer service yourself, you’ll also need this advice for how not to become a customer service robot.

10 Ways to Avoid Becoming a Customer Service Robot

1. Start with a Script…Then Throw it Away

There is value in using a template of sorts to help anyone in customer service understand the key points to hit in a phone call. But relying on that script too much leads to an unfeeling and unpleasant experience for the customer. If you’re training, run through plenty of scenarios until your staff feels comfortable winging it. This should be common sense:

Hello, Ms. Smith. How are you today? How can I help you?

You can include prompts in your software to help reps deal with specific types of situations, but encourage them to extrapolate what they need to say, rather than reading it verbatim.

2. Engage in Chitchat

While starting a casual conversation with a customer might cost your business money in call-time, not doing so could cost you as well. After all, your customers are human, and they like being asked how their day is going. There’s ample opportunity to talk about the weather, kids and other generic topics and doing so can help keep a distraught customer calm, providing better results.

3. Invest in Culture Training

The biggest complaint customers have about brands that outsource their customer service is that they can’t connect emotionally with the reps. That’s usually due to different culture sets. Imagine how you’d fare if you were hired to address customer service issues for Chinese customers. Where would you begin? What would be okay to talk about and what would be crossing a cultural line?

There are consultants who specialize in training overseas teams to better understand American tastes and interests. If you’re trying to save money by outsourcing, this is an investment that will reap benefits over time.

4. Simplify the Call Process

A few years ago, I participated in Dell’s Customer Advisory Panel. One of the complaints we customers had was the number of buttons we had to push to reach a human, only to be transferred repeatedly to someone else. The company listened and a year later, reported that they’d reduced the number of transfers a person experiences on a call by 40%. That’s significant.

5. Expand Your Customer Service Connect Points

There’s nothing worse than emailing a customer service department only to never get a return email. Invest in more ways your customers can reach you and use them. Email and social are easy to implement and they don’t have to be responded to in real time. But do respond in a reasonable amount of time (same day or less).

6. Define Your Company Culture

Customer service is a high-turnover industry. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest in identifying what you want your company culture to be. Just look at Zappos. Customer service is its priority and it makes plenty of resources available to its customer service team, including boot camps, coaching and forums.

7. Look at the Right Numbers

In his Inc. Magazine article, 37Signals Co-founder Jason Fried talks about paying attention to the right numbers: customer numbers. Move away from stressing the importance of your call-time numbers to save money and instead focus on the bigger, better picture: How many calls are you getting with customer issues? How can you reduce that? How many satisfied customers do you have?

8. Examine Your Efforts

Just like with marketing, it’s important to look at what’s working and what’s not in customer service. Listen in on your reps’ calls to understand how they’re interacting with customers and how customers are responding. Try new things and measure results. If customers are being turned off because your reps are trying to upsell them, nix that effort.

9. Respond Quickly

Customers want answers and they want them now. Taking too long to respond to a customer may trigger them to leave a bad review for you on Yelp or a nasty comment on Twitter. But that shouldn’t be your motivation for quick response. Simply aiming to exceed customer expectations should be.

10. Underpromise and Overdeliver

If you’ve ever received something sooner than expected, or if a company did a better job than promised, you were probably delighted. On the other hand, if a company told you it would do something and didn’t, you were probably peeved. Try to promise what you know that you can absolutely deliver, and then some. You’ll consistently impress customers and they’ll tell their friends.

We’re all human, whichever side of the customer service equation we fall on. It’s time we act like it.

Customer service Robot Photo via Shutterstock

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Susan Payton - Awards Communication Mgr.


Susan Payton Susan Payton is the Communications Manager for the Small Business Trends Awards programs. She is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, an Internet marketing firm specializing in content marketing, social media management and press releases. She is also the Founder of How to Create a Press Release, a free resource for business owners who want to generate their own PR.

8 Reactions

  1. Nice article, Susan. On your point #3, I would offer that customer service reps who can’t (or don’t) connect with customers on an emotional level during interactions is not limited to overseas outsourcing and cultural differences. The failure of reps to identify, address and overcome the emotional barriers underpinning the practical reason for the customer’s call is a significant factor in hindering the creation of real customer loyalty, without regard to language or cultural differences. The emotional dynamic of the customer interaction is often overlooked or underappreciated, which is ironic since a person’s decision to become loyal to a company, product or brand is almost always an emotional one.

    If companies want their reps to become less robotic and move the needle on their customer loyalty metrics (like NPS) on a sustained basis, they need to make sure their reps are being taught and coached on a regular basis how to satisfy the customers’ emotional need related to the practical reason for their call, not just solve the customer’s practical problem or issue. Once reps learn the specific skills necessary to master the emotional dynamic of the interaction and they do it on every call, the calls get easier, the customers have a better experience, and loyalty numbers improve.

  2. I like how you have endorsed training on the job. It’s important to continue learning in order improve performance.

  3. Giving more than what your customers expect and never give false promises = customer satisfaction.

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