“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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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! 😉