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Webucator's Free Customer Service Tutorial

Lesson: Customer Service Best Practices

Welcome to our free Customer Service tutorial. This tutorial is based on Webucator's Customer Service Training course.

Best practices are those techniques within a particular industry that, when applied consistently, produce the best results. When applying best practices in customer service, we look at the methods used to perform certain activities that will result in loyal customers, happy employees, and successful businesses.

In this lesson, we will look at best practices in customer service and turn them into service standards that will help employees across the company provide the best possible customer service experience for all customers, both internal and external.

Lesson Goals

  • Learn how to create customer service standards from best practices.
  • Learn how to implement service standards.
  • Learn how to monitor service standards.
  • Learn how to maintain service standards.

Creating Customer Service Standards from Best Practices

Best practices in customer service will vary by industry, but there are some broad practices that can be applied to all industries:

  1. Service with a smile. While this might sound old or even trite, smiling when serving customers can make a big difference in the customer's perception of the company.
  2. Listening to the customer. Truly listening to what the customer is saying and showing the customer you have heard and understood him or her shows that you care about the customer's ideas and opinions.
  3. Empathizing with the customer. Being sincere when using empathic statements such as "I am sorry you had this experience," or "I understand how you feel." will go a long way toward creating a connection with the customer.

When establishing the best practices for your customers:

  1. Consider the standard best practices listed above.
  2. Review your company's mission and vision. The mission will help you focus on the results you wish to achieve with the standards. For example, if the mission of the company is to grow the company by offering an excellent product and creating excellent customer relationships, your standards must all track back to that mission in order to help achieve both the standards and the mission.

Once you have developed a list of best practices that make sense for your company, it is time to create a series of service standards that can be used throughout the company to ensure a satisfactory customer service experience. Standards are similar to goals in that they share some of the same characteristics:

  1. Specific. A standard must be clearly written and specific enough that everyone understands it.
  2. Measurable. There must be some kind of measurement included in the standard in order to know if the standard is being met.
  3. Attainable. The standard must be challenging enough to make employees work to meet it, but not so challenging that it is impossible to meet.
  4. Relevant. The relevancy of the standard will be determined by how it tracks to the company's vision and/or mission.

As an example of creating a service standard from a best practice, with the mission stated above (to grow the company by offering an excellent product and creating excellent customer relationships) in mind, let's look at the generic best practice, Service with a Smile. In order to make this specific, measurable, attainable, and relevant, we might write it like this:

Calls will be answered courteously with a smile within three rings whenever possible.

The standard states specifically how calls will be answered, and is measurable (within three rings), realistic, and attainable. Finally, it is relevant to the mission statement in that it is intended to provide a satisfactory service experience.

Check for Understanding: Create a Service Standard

Duration: 10 to 15 minutes.

In this exercise, you will create a service standard.

  1. Think of a broad customer service best practice.
  2. If possible, review your company's mission statement.
  3. Write a service standard for your company that is specific, measurable, attainable, and relevant.

Solution:

Standards will vary. Here is an example of a service standard that contains the four elements: Respond to customer calls (specific) within 24 hours (measurable) with a smile (attainable) and a positive greeting including your name and the question, "How may I help you?" (relevant)

Implementing Service Standards

All employees should be aware of the standards and how they affect job responsibilities. There are several ways to implement the service standards across the company, including:

  1. Incorporating them in job descriptions.
  2. Making them part of new employee orientations.
  3. Providing ongoing training.
  4. Including them in annual goals for performance reviews.

Service Standards and Job Descriptions

One key element to the successful implementation of service standards is to incorporate them into job descriptions. New employees will be aware of service expectations from the beginning if the standards are built into the job duties. Some examples of job descriptions that include service standards are:

  1. Answers customer calls courteously and in a timely manner.
  2. Understands the product or service and appeals to potential customers by accurately answering questions and offering information.
  3. Resolves product or service problems by clarifying the customer's complaint, determining the cause of the problem, selecting and explaining the best solution to solve the problem, and following up to ensure resolution.

As you are creating or revising job descriptions, review the service standards document and incorporate each of the standards into the job description. The standards should also be incorporated into interview questions for use during the hiring process.

Service Standards and Employee Orientations

Activities during new employee orientation can be structured around the service standards. All new employees should be given a copy of the standards document followed by discussions of the standards and how they will be used to evaluate performance throughout the employee's tenure at the job.

Mentorship programs are good ways to help new employees understand and follow the service standards.

  1. Mentors can show the new hires how to follow the standards.
  2. Mentors can coach new hires if they are having difficulty understanding how they work.
  3. Mentors are also instrumental in monitoring the performance of new employees during their first few weeks on the job.

Service Standards and Ongoing Training

One of the barriers to successful implementation of the service standards is lack of commitment by employees. In order to ensure commitment, it is important to keep the service standards in front of employees at all times, not just in the interview and orientation process.

By implementing an ongoing training process that focuses on the service standards, the company shows the employees that it is committed to the standards. Some possibilities for ongoing training are:

  1. Quarterly training sessions focusing on particular standards or refresher sessions reviewing all the standards.
  2. Semiannual review and updating sessions where the standards are revised if necessary.
  3. Role-play activities at monthly meetings focusing on one or two of the key standards.

Service Standards and Performance Reviews

Another way to gain employee commitment to the standards is to incorporate them into annual goals that will be used in the performance review process. Some examples of annual goals that include service standards are:

  1. Prepare a minimum of six service reports by collecting and analyzing customer information.
  2. Contribute to team efforts by participating in a minimum of four service team activities.
  3. Open a minimum of nine new customer accounts by updating account information accurately and completely.
  4. Maintain all customer records in the company's database by updating account information as new information is collected.

Performance goals that are tied to the service standards will encourage employees to continually review and monitor the standards. Service standards that are incorporated throughout the company's procedure will help ensure consistent behavior and service throughout the company. Employee expectations will be clearly understood by employees when they are part of every step in the employee hiring and management process:

  1. The initial job description posting.
  2. The orientation process.
  3. Ongoing training activities.
  4. The performance review process.

Check for Understanding: Implementing Service Standards

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

In this exercise, please respond to the following questions:

  1. Service standards should be included in which of the following business processes?
    1. Job search for upper management positions.
    2. Job search for customer service positions.
    3. New employee orientations.
    4. Performance review processes for all employees.
    5. Ongoing training efforts.
  2. Service standards are applicable to only the customer service department.
    1. True
    2. False
  3. Which of the following can be considered as a service standard?
    1. Customers will receive return calls within 24 hours on regular business days.
    2. Customers may be given the option to be put on hold or called back if the lines are busy.
    3. Meetings will be organized, run efficiently, and conducted in a professional manner.
    4. Regular business hours will be posted and observed.

Solution:

  1. A, B, C, D, and E. Service standards should be included throughout all listed business processes.
  2. B. False. Service standards are applicable throughout the company.
  3. A, B, C, and D. All of these are service standards.

Monitoring Service Standards

As discussed in the previous section, monitoring service standards can be done through the performance review process, but an annual review is not enough. The management team and the service team both have a responsibility to monitor the services standards throughout the year.

Management Role

The management team is responsible for scheduling training and ensuring the service standards are part of that training. Supervisors and managers can also monitor service standards in the following ways:

  1. Through daily observation.
  2. In one-on-one meetings.
  3. During regular staff meetings.
  4. During informal discussions.

Monitoring of the service standards is an on-going process that will regularly provide information to the management team about the effectiveness of the service standards and employee performance.

Service Team Role

The service team is made up of the employees. Sometimes a company will have designated service teams in the customer service department, but all employees are essentially part of the service team and are responsible for providing service, whether to internal or external customers.

The service team role in monitoring the service standards starts with each individual employee, who is responsible for his or her own:

  1. Knowledge of the service standards.
  2. Adherence to the service standards.
  3. Performance relevant to annual goals.

Every time an employee interacts with a customer, internal or external, that employee is making an impression. The interaction may be through email, phone conversations, at meetings, or hallway encounters. It is the responsibility of the employee to ensure that the quality of the service provided meets or exceeds the customer's expectations.

Check for Understanding: Monitoring Service Standards

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

In this exercise, please respond to the questions:

  1. Monitoring service standards is the responsibility of which of the following groups?
    1. Managers.
    2. Customers.
    3. Service Teams.
    4. Financial Partners.
  2. In the following scenario, which method of monitoring service standards is the manager using? Manager Bob calls a meeting of the department supervisors to discuss a problem he noticed when walking through the call center. Several of the employees were on break at the same time and the phones were ringing without being answered.
    1. Observation.
    2. One-on-one meeting.
    3. Regular staff meeting.
    4. Informal discussion.
  3. Each employee is responsible for his or her own performance relevant to the annual goals. How is this related to service standards?
    1. There is no relevance. Annual goals and service standards are different responsibilities.
    2. Service standards are the same thing as annual goals.
    3. Annual goals are tied to service standards.
    4. Performance levels are calculated based on service standard adherence, not annual goal achievement.

Solution:

  1. A and C. The managerial staff and the service teams are responsible for monitoring service standards.
  2. A. Observation.
  3. C. Annual goals are tied to service standards.

Maintaining Service Standards

Once the work of creating a service standards document is completed, it must be maintained. Standards can become obsolete as business practices change. Regular review of the standards by management teams is critical and should be communicated to employees on a timely basis.

The standards can be revised, deleted, or new ones added at any time if sufficient information is available to warrant the revisions. Information can be gathered in the following ways:

  1. Through feedback from employees and customers about how the service standards are working.
  2. Customer service satisfaction surveys.
  3. Review of employee performance processes to assess the effectiveness of the standards and annual goals.

If the standards are revised, the new ones need to be disseminated to the rest of the employees. This can be accomplished by:

  1. Regularly scheduled quarterly training sessions.
  2. Providing the service standards document to employees through email.
  3. Using the company newsletter.
  4. Handing out the new service document at regularly scheduled meetings.

Check for Understanding: Maintaining Service Standards

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

In this exercise, please answer the following questions:

  1. Why is it important to maintain service standards after they are created?
    1. Keeping the services standards updated will ensure continued customer satisfaction.
    2. Business practices change over time and standards may become obsolete.
    3. Employees will feel more connected to the company if they continually have to update service standards.
    4. Well-written service standards do not need to be updated.
  2. Which of the following are good ways to disseminate information about changes in service standards?
    1. Through regularly scheduled quarterly training sessions.
    2. Through email.
    3. Telling one employee and expecting the grape vine to work.
    4. Handing out the new service document at regularly scheduled meetings.

Solution:

  1. A and B.
  2. A, B, and D.