During college, I worked in the call center for Kodak Digital Imaging. As part of our training, we were asked to go home and locate the phone numbers on 10 products in our own home and call their customer service lines. We were to evaluate the different types of communication that people used from different brands and give them honest feedback about the products. Then, we needed to write down our results.
I spent an enjoyable evening on the phone getting recipes from the Bisquick helpline, learning alternate uses for baking soda, getting free coupons for Pepsi, and so on. I heard a lot of different accents, and certainly a few similar customer service scripts -- but most of all, I heard friendly people who were interested in assisting their customer.
While customer hotlines have largely fallen out of favor during the internet era, the principles are still the same. Here are some fundamental customer service guidelines your business should implement.
1. Make them feel welcome.
When calling a support line, people are always afraid of the dreaded phone tree, and always have a better experience when the phone answered by a real life human. When thinking about customer service for your own company, you'll need to determine what the "welcome" experience should be from the customer side. What would make that first impression the most favorable, so that no matter the issue, they'll still think well of you?
2. Empathize--don't sympathize--with your customers.
At another job of mine working in a debt collection agency, posted on every wall was a large note that reminded us to "Stick to the script!"--doubly underlined. This was especially important, because a lot of the people working there, while listening to the stories their customers were telling of why they couldn't pay their debts, would start to commiserate. If you agreed with the person in debt that their situation simply "sucks," you were being unprofessional. If, instead, you listened to them speak, and explained that you understood, you were doing your job.
Attempting to ingratiate yourself with the customer by sympathizing removes professional detachment. Instead, use active listening and empathize with the customer, which will build proper rapport.
3. Allow for autonomous decisions.
A United Airlines policy allows free flight changes within 24 hours for their MileagePlus members -- but I wanted to make an additional change that is normally not allowed. With just a quick call, an agent was able to make the exception for me.
For all the calls I made back then, and all the customer service teams I've worked with and managed since, the best of them had this in common: In the majority of issues, agents were empowered to make their own decisions to close a ticket. This is especially important for issues that don't have a script-tree-type answer.
To ensure you can do this in your own company, have an open conversation about why you created the customer service policy that you did. If your team knows why the rules exist, they'll have a better understanding of when it's okay to bend them without needing to call in a manager.
Your customer service team -- whether they man a support email, sit in a call center, or are in plain view at your hospitality-focused company -- are the pillar of your business that keeps your customers happy. Make sure they have the right training and tools to keep your company going this decade and beyond.