Engaging with customers
People are at the heart of outstanding customer service and customer engagement is essential for success in this area. You can have a fabulous product that meets customer needs, but if customers cannot easily engage with your people to explore their options, get advice or receive good after-sales support, then their desire for your product will be short lived.
This is especially true when a competitor comes along offering a similar or enhanced product version. In a service environment, people like to feel valued and respected, so here are some practical tips and strategies to help demonstrate this to customers:
- Have a warm greeting to create the right first impressions, e.g. a telephone verbal handshake “Good morning, Textile Maintenance, Chris speaking, how may I help you?”, or a face to face greeting “Welcome to Clifford’s Restaurant, my name is Jenny; I will be looking after you this evening”. This is just so much better than “how many?” as the customer walks into your restaurant!
- Use the customer’s name. Ask for their name early on in the dialogue and use it throughout the customer interaction and introduce them by name to colleagues who may also support and interact with the customer.
- Respond to different styles of communication from your customers. Recognise their needs and circumstances will be different. We all take information in and make decisions in different ways. Facts, efficiency and speed will be important to one customer; whilst another customer may want empathy and personal interest taken in them, for example.
- Ensure the correct spelling of the customer name in all correspondence. If in doubt, ask, and repeat back to the customer when recording their name. This also ensures that you refer to the customer on the name basis they prefer, e.g. first name only, or preferred title such as Dr Harper.
- Refer to your customer database if they are a current customer, so that you can quickly see who they are and how they have utilised your business to date. Use the information to anticipate their needs next time.
- Find something out about the customer that connects you with them, e.g. where they are calling from, what the weather is like today, what brought them into your business, how they will be using the product, their children’s age, their hobbies/interests; be guided by their interests, and of course anything that you know about them from your customer database.
- Be accessible to your customers by ensuring they know how and when to contact you, e.g. by telephone, email, web site, on-line forum, letting them know when you will contact them back – e.g. response within 2 hours.
- Have a human contact option to support fully automated environments. Whilst customers today want speed of response, there are times where they need the human touch. Usually where guidance is needed, the customer wants something slightly different to your standard product offering.
- Personalise standard templates for regular information requests, enables you to quickly respond to customers without it coming across as ‘standard’ to the customer.
- Present solutions not problems in response to customer questions and comments e.g. “what we can do is …”, “on this occasion, what I can do for you is …”
- Use positive language that demonstrates a ‘can do’ approach. For example, if asked by the customer when he/she can speak with the manager …. Always say “He will be back tomorrow morning” instead of “I’m afraid he has left for today“, and avoid being asked two questions “Is he there?” and “When will he be back?“
- Help those whose first language may not be English. Rather than speaking louder, listen really carefully, slow down slightly to absorb every piece of information, use phonetics to capture information correctly, use visuals to explain something to the customer, call upon a colleague to takeover if there is someone who speaks the customer language (or similar).
- Respond quickly to customer requests, from their initial enquiry through to after sales service, to demonstrate their importance and value to you.
- Respond positively and supportively to customer concerns, objections and complaints. It is important to think of ‘difficult’ customer interactions as opportunities. They present you with the chance to transform both the situation and the customer’s views of the service or product being offered, potentially winning you a customer for life.
- Let your customers know who and how you will address concerns or complaints upfront, by explaining this on your promotional communication such as brochures, web site and buying platform. For example, in a recent Premier Inn hotel I stayed in, there was a business card for the hotel manager and area manager, explaining how I could contact them, if I had any difficulty with my stay.
- Address customer concerns or complaints on the spot by training and empowering your front line service teams to rectify issues as they arise. See our tips on handling customer complaints. Customers who have their concerns or complaints swiftly and effectively handled are far more likely to return in the future, as they now know that you value them and are reassured that if anything goes wrong in the future, you will remedy it for them.
- Thank the customer for connecting with you, using your service or buying your product, again recognise their value – they are the reason that you have a job or a business!