Marketers: How to Help Your Clients With Customer Service. Seriously.

Garrett SussmanClient Oboarding, Customer Service, Reputation Management0 Comments

“Customer service is the new marketing,” says the new maxim. Still, as marketers, we tend to think there’s nothing we can do about how our clients serve their customers. If the company delivers awful customer service, it’s obviously going to make our jobs harder. But we’re marketers: customer service is out of our hands, isn’t it?

We don’t have the time (or frankly the responsibility) to rebuild the customer experience that our clients provide. But if we’re undertaking to improve a company’s visibility and presence in the marketplace–and especially if we’re developing any kind of reputation management or review management and marketing plan–we’ll want to try to lay some ground rules for (or at least provide some guidance on) customer service.

Every agency educates their clients about how they plan to execute their marketing strategies. An action plan typically proceeds from an audit of where the client currently stands. So if you offer SEO services, for example, you’ll audit your client’s performance in search and use what you learn to develop the strategy and tactics to improve that performance.

Well, if customer service is the new marketing, you’ll want to have a similar process in place to address it with your clients. In this post, I’ll attempt to help you start building the toolkit you need to do so.

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Auditing the Customer Service Team

Businesses come in all shapes and sizes, and so do their support staffs. The responsibilities of a receptionist at a doctor’s office are different than those of a barista, retail manager, or home services technician. One common and obvious responsibility they all share is the face to face interaction with customers.

As technology disrupts various industries and social media places more power in the voice of the consumer, people are beginning to have increasing expectations of customer support no matter the industry. In fact, as people write reviews about traditionally conservative professions, they’re beginning to focus on ‘less important’ features. You wouldn’t expect a patient to judge a doctor’s office on the decor and personability of the staff, but if you look at doctor reviews on Yelp, you’ll see this is the case.

Tools of the Trade Assessment

When meeting with your client, the first thing you’ll want to do is assess the systems they use.

  • Do they have a CRM?
  • If so, are they using it to its capacity?
  • Do they use it to produce analytical reports?
  • If they are using a CRM that captures analytical data, use it to see how quickly they’re responding to customers and if they’re able to solve the customer’s problems and questions without unnecessary back and forth emails/phone calls.
  • Also make sure to ask if they’re sharing the data with the support team. When that information is transparent, customer support staff can have a better sense of how they’re performing and where they need to improve.

Frequently, customer support has some sort of software in place to capture customer information, whether it’s through their POS or CRM. Rarely do they use the software to their full capabilities. Save the client money by suggesting an appropriate level of CRM that incorporates their needs without making their team’s job more difficult.

Is Support Management Supportive?

While many companies are not large enough to require a support manager, whoever is in charge of the customer experience needs to have a range of social and organizational qualities to be effective. In some cases, the owner of the company runs the support team.

When working with your client, ask about the management hierarchy, specifically as it operates for support. If you’re able to get a meeting with the support manager, even better!

You’ll want to zero in on these factors to assess the support manager:

  • Have they created workflows to help their team maximize their productivity? Workflows can include:
  • How is support supposed to handle upset customers?
  • What’s the process for calling out sick?
  • When and how should customers be greeted, when they enter the business?
  • How do you collect customer details?
  • Does the manager embody the personality that the business wants to present to customers?
  • Does the manager model behaviors that they want their team to portray or do they act like they’re above their own policies? (A manager that feels like they don’t have to abide by the same rules as their team can lead to a toxic atmosphere if the team doesn’t respect the manager.)
  • Is the manager patient and do they maintain their composure in difficult situations?
  • Is the manager organized and fair to their team?
  • Does the manager treat each employee fairly or does the team feel that some employees receive professional treatment?
  • Does the manager hold employees accountable to what’s expected of them?
  • Does the manager keep the team updated on daily changes to products, services, schedules, and policies?

Owners may not be the best face-to-face touch point for your customers (not all people are people persons). If this is the case for your clients, then it’s essential that the company employs someone who is and can navigate the social challenges of the customer experience.

Assess the Team

Working in customer service is one of the most under-appreciated jobs. They’re typically underpaid for the emotional stress they encounter on a daily basis. It’s also rare that management respects their role and listens to them for insights into their customer’s experience. Yet, they’re the backbone of your client’s business.

While it can be difficult to identify high performing, responsible, and empathetic candidates through the hiring process, making the wrong call on an employee can have financial AND reputation consequences to your client’s company. Not that your agency should come in suggesting firing customer support representatives, assessing their effectiveness can help your clients move the customer experience in the right direction.

Monitor these aspects of the customer support team’s day to assess the quality of their performance:

  • Are they approachable?
  • Do they greet customers, making sure to make eye contact?
  • When conversing with customers, are they knowledgeable about the company’s services?
  • Can the team provide insight or alternative solutions to customers when they can’t find what they’re looking for?
  • Do they maintain their composure and escalate appropriately when a customer is dissatisfied?
  • Do they ever go above and beyond to help a customer?
  • Are they responsible, organized, and friendly?

It’s unlikely you’ll come across the perfect support team, but when your client is aware of what’s working, what’s not, and how their team is contributing to the success or demise of the business, your job as a marketer will be easier and more effective.

These assessments aren’t meant to be conducted overnight. You can’t necessarily afford to invest too much of your time in helping your clients with customer support. But you can provide customer support guidance as an upsell or complementary materials for self-assessment. Advise your client to take a week to assess their support staff and then report the findings back to you. If their team is subpar, provide advice on how to improve. Even if they’re providing excellent support, make sure they’re doing the little things that will benefit the company, like asking for reviews.

Plugging the Cracks in the Support Wall

After a couple of weeks, when you or your client have completed the audit, it’s time to analyze the results and implement solutions.

As I mentioned before, customer support is a low paying, emotionally stressful position in most companies. Some low performing support employees are salvageable with the proper training and transparent accountability. But if it’s apparent that you have staff members or support managers. that are bringing the entire team down, you’ll need to take a hard look at whether it’s time to replace them.

If it’s apparent that the support team is a low priority for the company, suggest altering that dynamic. Here are a few ways to improve your support team culture and performance:

  • Ask them for their suggestions to improve the customer experience. When you provide your support team the opportunity to have a voice and an impact on the company, they’ll take their jobs more seriously and feel part of something bigger than a paycheck. If you’re asking for ideas from your support team, make sure it’s genuine. The worst thing you can do is ask for suggestions and then completely ignore them. That’s the quickest way to alienate your support staff.
  • Implement a regular support team email that addresses changes in products, services, schedules, promotions and policies. Your support team needs to be able to save face in front of customers, and it’s the responsibility of your manager to make sure they’re prepared. It’s embarrassing for a customer service representative when a customer asks about a sale that hasn’t been brought to their attention, or when a product is out of stock. Sure it’s not the end of the world, but a lot of the stress that customers encounter are typically a direct result of unorganized management. It’s more time and effort on the part of your managers, but isn’t that what they’re paid for?
  • Praise your employees. Let them know when they’re performing well. Give them a shout out when a customer review mentions them by name. Share with the team when one of their suggestions is approved and implemented. It’s easy to develop a culture of complaining and bickering within customer support teams. When praise is consistent, accountability is enforced, and employees feel like they’re making a beneficial impact to the company, the culture will improve and even thrive.

Takeaways

Your clients may not understand how much their customer support team impacts its marketing initiatives. With the voice of the customers being louder than almost any other marketing channel, you could be fighting an unwinnable battle if your clients don’t treat their customers or employees well.

There’s no magic bullet to top notch customer service, but it does start at the top. Your client’s support manager has the responsibility to manage a diverse team. They need to keep them informed of changes within the company both on a daily basis and in the grand scheme of things. They should treat employees fairly and consistently. The support manager is the bridge to execs and needs to effectively convey the support team’s ideas.

Employees need to be invested in their roles. They need to be able to handle unhappy customers, stay educated on the company’s products, and generally maintain a sunny disposition (even if they’re having the worst day ever). Help your clients treat their support staff with the kindness and respect that you expect of them to treat their customers.

One side benefit of a great customer support culture? Your client’s customers might just do the marketing for you! 😉

About the Author

Garrett Sussman

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After 6 years of San Francisco living, Garrett has returned to his roots in New Jersey to manage Content Marketing at Grade.us. He infuses his writing with humor, authenticity, and thoughtfulness. He also happens to be a fan of graphic novels, Philadelphia sports, and content marketing.