How to Ensure a Great Customer Experience Through Personalised Customer Service
Two years ago, I was at the Manchester, Piccadilly Station waiting for my train to London. I’d just returned home from a two-week holiday in Greece, rejuvenated and relaxed, albeit exhausted from travelling the entire day. In an effort to restore some of my lost energy, I scanned the waiting area for a coffee shop and spotted Pret A Manger – an easy choice.
I was greeted by a friendly barista who took my order. I made a mental note to organise my wallet as I clumsily searched for 5 pence change through the mix of European currencies I’d needed that summer. “This will just be a second”, I said nervously. I was trying to reach a coin stuck in the seams of the change compartment while looking over my shoulder to ensure my suitcases were where I’d left them. The barista waited patiently, and just then, I chose to reward him by spilling all my change across the floor! He responded with a big smile and said “don’t worry about it, this one’s on me.” And just like that, my coffee and cookie were on the house.
I look back on that simple act of kindness often, and when I can, I choose Pret for my coffee on-the-go. The barista gauged what I needed as a customer (some sustenance after a tiring day) and was quick to ensure my needs were met. He was observant, empathetic and extremely proactive. It may be hard to believe but that’s all it takes!
We’re constantly surrounded by stories of failed customer service and unsatisfied customers. Some of the best staffed customer service departments still falter if their reps or agents don’t correctly appraise situations and take appropriate action. In this article, we’ll be discussing how personalised customer service can change a bad experience into a great one!
Keep it real, keep it human
One of the biggest challenges with customer service delivery today, is the fact that it is spread across multiple platforms. Be it social media, email, live chat or in-person, each channel serves a specific purpose but it can often become difficult to handle incoming traffic from so many places simultaneously. To mitigate this, you could move to a self-service model however, bear in mind that many customers need human assistance, especially industries like medical or financial services that are in high-anxiety settings.
Personalise your communication
Last Christmas, all the department heads at Translate By Humans, spent three entire days writing holiday cards to clients. Each card contained a handwritten, custom message. It was a humbling experience that allowed each team member the time and space to express their gratitude and send some holiday cheer to the clients that are an integral part of the company’s success. As the days went by, we began receiving emails from them expressing how touched they were at receiving our cards – they had felt special. That wouldn’t have been possible with automated emails or generic cards. When you want a customer to feel cared for, you have to put in the extra effort to personalise how you communicate with them.
1) Create templates that can be easily customised
Whether you have generic email templates or call scripts, I can’t stress how important it is to make minor edits to those every time you communicate with a client. The goal is to build meaningful professional relationships with your customers. The best way to do that is to let them know that you are invested in them. Greet them well, match their tone and ensure what you communicate is relevant. For example, if you send an email on a Friday evening with a line like ‘have a great week’, it is indicative of the fact that you’ve used a canned response or generic template without thinking twice.
2) Support a multilingual audience
One of the best ways you can personalise communication is by offering support in a customer’s native or preferred language. While it’s not always possible to do that, it is much easier today than it was a few years ago. You can start by hiring a human translation company for your online resources such as your website and help centre. As your foreign users increase, you can follow in the footsteps of leading global companies and have your correspondence from other channels translated to provide a more interactive form of multilingual customer service.
3) Set-up frequent interactions with clients
Research shows that its 6 to 7 times more expensive to gain a new customer than it is to retain a current one. It’s not right to assume what your clients need next – you need to ask them. As a company, we often set-up calls with clients for feedback or to understand what’s in store for the next few months. On one such call, we realised that one of our clients wasn’t aware that we translate from and into 180+ languages! They were actually working with another service provider for a certain language and were happy to learn that they could have all their translations handled under one roof.
Provide customised solutions
Who doesn’t love a customised experience? Whether it’s a tailor-made outfit, a custom engraved pen or a travel itinerary to suit your needs, they all have one thing in common – they make you feel special and there is an air of luxury about them. Why should customer service be any different? What most customer service teams forget is that a small investment in providing an off-beat solution goes a long, long way!
1) Every once in a while, do something extraordinary
A prime example of this is US based Southwest Airlines’ prompt customer service which got a forgotten bridesmaid’s dress from Houston to Costa Rica after her friend tweeted to the airlines for help. Southwest Airlines is known for its impressive customer service which is well integrated with their social media channels since 2011.
2) Stray away from the ‘it’s a policy’ excuse
Policies are created to help structure processes and give them a direction. The minute your customer service team begins following them blindly, you’re approaching dangerous territory. I’ve witnessed so many occasions when a solution to a common issue went unaddressed because of a company policy which a service rep was too scared to challenge.
Let’s take a recent example of a pizzeria that I was at for dinner. I had reward points that allowed me to order two pizzas, free of cost. In the mood for pasta, I quickly browsed through the menu and noticed that a pizza and a plate of pasta actually totalled less than 2 pizzas. I assumed this was a fair deal for the restaurant when I went to place my order. Unfortunately the waiter said he could not process my request as it would go against the restaurant’s policy. While I respected that, I know that thinking beyond the policy would have befitted the pizzeria in the long run and I would have been much more satisfied with my meal.
3) Reinvent your understanding of the term ‘solution’
Our traditional understanding of a solution is that which is provided as a response to a problem. In reality, you don’t need to wait for a problem to occur to offer the right solution – do it from the start and through every step of your customer’s journey. One look at companies that ace customer service and you’ll know how close knit their operations and customer service departments are. Pay close attention to what the customer needs and then deliver it with the works. If you think a product may break in transit, wrap it twice, don’t wait for it to break first.
A colleague from our operations team recently shared something interesting they did for a client that needed an English movie script transliterated to Japanese (English script written with Japanese pronunciations). The project manager and translator working on the order felt that the transliterated text may be misleading in terms of pronunciations and so they sent an audio recording of the entire script to the client as a gesture of goodwill. Needless to say the client was very appreciative of the fact that the team went beyond their responsibilities to provide a pleasant customer experience.
Hire the right talent and empower them to enhance customers’ experience
A great customer service team needs employees that are balanced in their abilities to be both personable and tech savvy. Although many new reps and agents may have what it takes to be excellent in assisting customers, each team member should be thoroughly trained with their responsibility areas and expectations laid out clearly.
Employees should be encouraged to go the extra mile in providing customer service and rewarded when their efforts pay off. A great example is that of the well-known hotel chain Ritz-Carlton, where each employee has a daily budget of $2000 to do what it takes to improve a customer’s experience. This initiative was highlighted in John DiJulius’s book, The Customer Service Revolution. He had forgotten his laptop charger in his room and before he knew it, the loss prevention clerk at their Sarasota hotel air-mailed it along with a new one and a handwritten note. The next day, the package arrived at John’s office even before he did!
This goes to show that empowered employees, regardless of their designation or key responsibility areas, can be ambassadors of great customer service!
Pro tip: Approach customers with empathy
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another person and feel what they may be feeling. It is different from sympathy wherein you simply acknowledge the feelings of someone else.
When it comes to customer service, empathy is an essential quality to possess. This requires a good understanding of people and a high emotional quotient – things to look out for in your next hire!
So how exactly do you take on an empathetic approach? Start by listening actively when customers reach out to you. Make some mental notes and try to understand where they’re coming from. Ensure you’re respectful in your demeanour and be vary of the customer’s preferences, including which language they are most comfortable conversing in. Lastly, try not to make the customer feel you are simply sympathising with them. The difference is as simple as saying ‘I know how difficult this is for you’ instead of ‘this must be difficult for you’.
As we begin depending more and more on technology to provide customer service, the examples in this article should be more than enough reason to remember why a personalised, human touch is needed to turn a bad experience around. It’s important to embrace each customer’s individuality and remind them every now and then that they truly matter.