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How to Build a Proactive Customer Service Culture

Isn’t the best complaint the one that never has to be delivered?

More and more interactions between customers and companies are taking place in public via social media, review sites, and the like, raising the stakes on your experience. Attention and budgets are growing, yet the overwhelming majority of customer service resources are reactive.

Team members in almost every department already know what customers are likely to complain about. Despite a few outliers, most complaints tend to cluster over time into a few, specific buckets, that reoccur again and again. If I asked you to stop reading right now and write down the five complaints you hear most from your customers, almost all of you could do it within 60 seconds. It. Is. Obvious.

Yet, even though we’re aware of our customers struggles, we haven’t put much time or effort to getting out in front of the problem.

Certainly, with customer service becoming a spectator sport, handling customer questions and complaints better and faster will have a material impact on your business. If a customer has a positive experience, they’re more likely to become a repeat customer. In fact, engaged consumers buy 90 percent more often, according to a study by Rosetta Consulting. And, they spend 60 percent more per transaction than those left unsatisfied by their customer service experience. Furthermore, 33 percent of Americans say they consider switching companies after just a single instance of poor service.

Take a look at five steps outlined below to start building your proactive customer service culture.

Step 1. Listen to your customers

If a group of customers experience a certain problem and tell you about it, there’s likely a silent majority of users with the same problem.

One way to find and fix customer pain points is by actually asking the customer. Gather feedback through surveys, emails, or questionnaires at the end of a chat or call. Use resources like SurveyMonkey to email out quarterly surveys, or quick questionnaires.

Get a pulse on your customers’ pain points, understand the gaps of experience, and solve the problems before your customer needs to complain.

Step 2. Build a customer fanatic culture

Any business with customers is in the “people” business. For proactive customer service to work, you need your people to live it. It needs to be a part of your service vision and overall company culture.

Chat about your customer fanatic values at every all-hands meeting. Intentionally talk through decisions that are made with the customer in mind. Get every department on board and trained to how they’re involved in building a customer fanatic culture.

Those with customer-facing responsibilities will be trained differently than those who might not interact directly with a customer, but every person in your company should get some sort of training about culture and vision. If being proactive is one of those standards that drives the vision, then everyone must understand how their roles and responsibilities can positively contribute.

Step 3. Map your customer journey

Create a visual representation of every experience your customers have with you from first engagement into your long-term relationship.

At first glance, a customer’s journey is pretty straight forward. You offer something. They buy it. But once you get into the details, customer journeys are quite complex and come in many shapes and sizes.

To get started, try actually going through the customer experience. Find the touch points where your customers interact with your organization. Look for both major and minor touch points, starting with marketing and followed through with post-sale surveys and communications.

Once you have your touch points mapped, get feedback from your peers. Then use the map to find and address gaps between the desired customer experience and the one actually received.

Step 4. Make answers easy

A third of customers say they’d “rather clean a toilet” than talk to customer service. That’s unfortunate (and kind of gross), but it says a lot about how your customers want to interact. They want to find the answers to their questions on their own. According to a 2017 report out of American Express, more than 60 percent of US consumers say they turn to a self-serve channel for simple inquiries.

Create a frequently asked questions page on your site and link to it in your social channels to answer some of your most straightforward questions. And build a knowledge base with in-depth content to address your customers’ most common and specific questions or concerns. Of all self-service tools, customers make the most frequent use of knowledge bases, according to research from Forrester.

Inside your knowledge base, make how-to videos to teach your customers best practices for using the product. Then create guidebooks and toolkits to offer up actionable tips and advice on your services. The easier (and faster) it is to find a solution on their own, the happier your customers will be.

Step 5. Take ownership for your missteps

People actually like a little imperfection every now and then. It shows a level of authenticity and vulnerability that resonates at a human level. If your company finds a problem, you can build customer trust and avoid damaging PR by owning up from the get-go. Plus, it’s really hard to be angry with someone who says, “Yeah, you’re right. I messed up.”

If you find a problem, inform your customers and offer an apology. Give them a discount on a future purchase or offer up a refund if the action you take to fix the problem doesn’t satisfy their needs.

Give your customers a clear explanation of what you’re doing to find a solution and how you’ll avoid another similar problem. And provide a contact in case they have more questions.

In May, pizza delivery service Papa John’s came under fire for racial profiling and discrimination during a training on how to deal with racially sensitive situations for its founder and former CEO and chairman, John Schnatter.

Last week, Schnatter resigned as chairman of the board as a result of the insensitive and offensive comments and the popular pizza chain wasted no time in proactively addressing their customers. They started with an open letter from current CEO Steve Ritchie:

Papa John's Proactive Customer Service

Ritchie took ownership early in the message and apologized. He then outlined several ways the company is prioritizing a total eradication of racism in the company’s culture. The plan includes an audit to find where Papa Johns is falling short and what they’re doing to fix the problems.

Read more on improving your proactive customer service and improving your experience here!