10 Important Responsibilities of Customer Service Departments Today
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The topic of customer service is not a new one. In fact, the age-old retail adage, “The customer is always right,” has origins which back over a century. Coined by Selfridges’ founder, Harry Selfridge in 1909, the phrase rings true today, showing that little has changed. Although the way we do business is evolving, customer satisfaction remains paramount.
Now though, the landscape of customer service interactions is vastly different from the turn of the 20th century. Actually, it’s vastly different from the turn of the 21st century. With the emergence of a largely eCommerce-focused retail sector face-to-face interactions are decreasing. But that doesn’t mean customer service is.
In fact, the need for good customer service only seems to be increasing. Millennials are likely to spend more than any other demographic group with customer-care-focused companies. This perhaps indicates an emerging trend within younger generations.
Whichever way you look at it, the case for investing in customer service is certainly strong. According to Temkin Group, 77% of customers would recommend a brand after having just one positive experience. Glance found that 78% of consumers have backed out of a purchase due to a poor customer experience. Not least does this demonstrate the importance of customer service, it positions it as a driving force in a business’s overall success.
Customer Service Departments Are Game-Changers
Over the past decade, consumer shopping habits have changed. Overall comfortability with online shopping means in-store visits are decreasing. This has not only impacted customer expectations of business interactions, it has shifted the paradigm of what a business owner looks like.
These days, the ease of launching a business has paved the way for minimal or non-existent customer service departments. Many would-be entrepreneurs have identified that they can find an eCommerce builder and start an online ‘business’ in a matter of hours. With the focus on launching and sales, not much thought goes into how they will service their customers.
Even those who have a more well-thought-out approach often get caught up in their launch and acquisition strategy. It’s so common for business owners to ignore their retention strategy. In a world where bootstrapped companies work to minimize costs, it’s easy to see why customer service is on the chopping block.
The reality is though, great businesses don’t see customer service as a cost. They see it as an opportunity to grow, both in terms of acquisition and retention. Many savvy businesses see it as the part of their business that they should invest time, training and money into.
The fact remains though, even with the desire to delight customers, not all businesses do customer service right. Even if they are, in a world of shifting consumer expectations, customer service departments take constant work.
That said, there are ways you can set yourself up for customer service success. The following 10 customer service responsibilities will do just that. By understanding these principles, you can audit your business’ customer service practices, allowing you to give attention where needed.
Picture 1. Customer service departments are a significant part of a customer retention strategy
These days customers expect answers, fast! With live chat becoming the norm, getting back to your customers quickly can make the difference between a sale and cart abandonment.
A recent study by Super Office found that 88% of consumers expect a response within 60 minutes. 30% of those expect a response within 15 minutes or less. It’s easy to see then, that a customer service department with the capacity to respond within the expected time frame will win.
Picture 2. Customer service response time
Take An Omnichannel Approach
The speed in which you respond to your customers is only part of the availability equation though. As important as when you’re available is how you’re available. The focus on omnichannel communication has heightened in recent years. Now, consumers expect businesses to provide support through an increasing number of channels.
Further to this, each segment of the market seems to prefer one channel over another. So, if your business serves several demographics, offering customer service across multiple locations is necessary.
Allowing customers to direct their queries across multiple channels can present issues though. Collating tickets from different locations can be time-consuming. Implementing a process for efficiency is, therefore, vital.
There are several solutions on the market that provide a central location for accessing and responding to all enquiries. Using such a service is key to effectively running an omnichannel customer service operation.
Know The Product
Customers usually only contact customer support for two reasons: to clarify or complain. It’s the customer service team’s responsibility to respond in a manner that ensures the best outcomes in either situation.
To ensure agents are able to respond in such a way requires investment in training. It requires businesses to equip their agents with expert knowledge of the product. It means creating a schedule of ‘refresher’ sessions.
Upskilling in this way obviously takes an investment of time in each staff member but it eventually pays dividends. An American Express survey, found that 68% of customers identified the service rep as the key to a recent positive service experience. 62% said that this was also due in part to the rep’s knowledge or resourcefulness.
But that’s not all. A knowledgeable customer service team responds to questions quicker than one which must consult a manual with each query. Not only that, training results in greater peace of mind for you as a business owner. You can be confident that your agents will not only convert customers but keep them, too.
Picture 3. Customer service department skills
Know the Business
Providing expert advice doesn’t end with product knowledge.
Good businesses ensure their customer service agents know their products and services intimately. Great businesses empower them with a more in-depth understanding about the business as a whole entity. It’s seeing the big picture that can lead to more insightful responses and greater customer satisfaction.
Focus on Customer Success
With the rise of service-based businesses, focusing on customer success is more important than ever. While customer service sees customers reach out to you, customer success initiatives see you reach out to them. This proactive approach to customer service is a critical component of a business’s customer retention strategy.
Sometimes, customers will cancel a subscription to a SaaS product without giving you an opportunity to convince them to stay. There are a number of reasons this happens but by performing customer outreach, you can mitigate pretty much all of them.
A great example of successful customer success initiatives in action is with free trial follow-ups. A huge number of people who sign up for a free trial never actually log in or use the service during their trial period. Thus, they will likely not convert into paying customers once the trial ends.
But, if a customer service or sales agent contacts those customers, 70% of them are 70% more likely to convert.
Ask for Feedback
Customer outreach isn’t just limited to free trials, or even SaaS companies. Reaching out to customers at various intervals during and after their purchase will unearth concerns that irked them. Though they were not bothered or outraged enough to contact you, they simply won’t shop with you again.
By actively asking for feedback, you are effectively doing two things. Firstly, you are showing your customers that you care about their satisfaction. This, in turn, could potentially win any dissatisfied customers back. And secondly, you give yourself an opportunity to grow as a customer service department too.
One tip though: If you’re going to ask for feedback, do not ignore it! It is vital that you either solve the issue or demonstrate how you will implement their feedback. If you fail at this step, your customer success initiatives will have the opposite of your desired effect.
Create an Internal Feedback Loop
A good customer service department goes beyond solving customer problems and answering questions. The deeper role requires a proactive approach to solving those issues on a company level.
The daily happenings of a customer service department provide a valuable insight into a company’s shortcomings. Interactions between customers and agents offer a basis of learning for change. But if agents only focus on ensuring they are putting out spot fires, your business loses its opportunity for improvement.
For this reason, customer service departments must understand their position within the company. They must understand that the information they receive every day is much more than mundane customer queries. They should be encouraged to identify patterns, read between the lines and ring the alarm when needed.
But to do this, they must have a system of feeding this information back to relevant departments. Even if the agents themselves cannot do much with it, they should know who can. A system for reporting of this kind ensures information gets into the hands of those who can make changes or improvements based on it.
Work Collaboratively with Other Departments
Customer service departments are only as good as the team behind them. As a front line between the business and customers, insights provided by agents must not fall on deaf ears. If this happens, your agents hear the message that customer service is not really that important to the company. A terrible mindset for a customer service agent to have indeed!
All departments of the company must understand that they are part of the customer service department too. They must understand that what they choose to prioritize affects the overall success of the business.
Audit Communication Style
Aside from lack of knowledge, there is another main reason customers class a customer service experience as ‘bad’. Bad attitudes!
If the attitude of the customer service agent did not meet a customer’s expectations, it generally leads to a ‘bad’ interaction.
The way customer service departments communicate with customers can make or break a customer’s perception of a brand. According to Right Now, 73% of customers fall in love with a brand and remain loyal because of friendly customer service reps.
This is perhaps one of the easiest issues to solve within your customer service department. If your agents don’t always provide a happy, friendly and helpful tone to their interactions, you need to find ones who do.
As humans, we all have the ability to smile, be polite and approach situations with a can-do attitude. So make sure you choose agents who are happy to bring out that side of them, without fail, every single shift.
That said, not everyone understands how to communicate this side of them. Therefore, implementing a process for internal communication auditing is a must.
Customer service expert, Brittany Seigfried recently told of how an issue with a customer service representative almost led to a string of unnecessarily unhappy customers. The rep’s mistake? Innocently using all caps, unaware of the ‘shouting’ connotation. This shows how small issues can turn into big problems if not kept in check.
Break Up With The Wrong Customers
The focus on sales and retention is obviously a top priority for customer service departments. There are times, though, when the opposite is true. Sometimes it becomes clear that it’s just not a good fit between customer and company. And that’s ok – you can’t please all of the people, all of the time, as the saying goes.
As customer service departments try to build a mindset that is sales and retention centric, they often fail to think about the other side of the coin. They fail to empower their support reps with the skills they need to break up with the customers who don’t fit.
As important as training reps to sell and retain customers is training them to break-up with them. It is vital for reps to be able to identify ‘lost cause’ customers. But more than this. They must also understand how to help those customers move on in a positive way, leading to an amicable uncoupling instead of a bad break-up.
It is important to remember that even though you’re losing a customer, the way they exit will influence their perception of your company. It’s the overall perception of your company that will influence the purchasing decisions of future customers.
Customer service is all about understanding the correlation between your product or service and the expectations of your demographic. Depending on the size of your business and what you do will determine the level of complexity needed in your customer service department’s SOPs. In any case, the 10 key concepts discussed remain constant.
Simply put, if you are not investing in customer service, you are waving goodbye to an inordinate amount of potential revenue.
Rose Foster is a writer, marketing consultant and entrepreneur. Drawing from her experience in running her own successful businesses, Rose is passionate about sharing business, marketing and branding tips to help others run theirs.
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