Understanding what elements of customer service their customers really want is the magic dust that every business hopes to find. Luckily, we don’t have to go as far as Mel Gibson in the movie What Women Want, in which a supernatural accident leaves him a selective mind reader. We can just look at the data.
Naturally, each customer is unique, and not everyone wants the same thing from your business. There are, however, identifiable trends in what customers want. For example, customer service is the second most important item on the list of customer priorities, according to 47% of respondents.
Let’s break this down even further: actually, numbers three (keeping promises) and five (ease of doing business) are also a big part of customer service. So when it comes down to it, customers care about three things, and three things only… price, quality, and customer service.
So, if you want to keep customers happy, you better provide great customer service!
Now, let’s explore the elements of customer service that customers really want.
1. To receive a basic standard of service
Too many companies invest their efforts in “delighting” their customers when they haven’t actually fulfilled basic expectations. “Friction is what kills the customer experience,” says Shep Hyken in The Convenience Revolution.
This one comes under ease of doing business. Customers expect you to make interacting with your company as easy as possible. Yet, they often have to jump over painful hurdles just to turn over their money.
Here are some examples: many businesses make it hard for customers to locate returns policies on their ecommerce website. Customers often encounter out-of-stock products, with no idea when more stock will arrive. They can be required to fill out and return lengthy paper forms, just to renew a service.
Image source – survey measuring Customer Effort Score
There’s a huge difference between what customers deeply desire, and what they would accept as quite sufficient from a business. First and foremost, meet the basic requirements. You can measure whether you’re on the right track using Customer Effort Score (CES). CES analyzes the ease of user experience for a customer to get their problem resolved, typically using a seven-point scale ranging from “Very difficult” to “Very easy” (although this can vary).
2. To have their problems understood and addressed
We accept that it’s impossible to avoid every customer problem. Inevitably, mistakes will happen, or things will go wrong with your product or service, and customers will need to contact you. This is seen as a lapse in service by the customer. You should aim to neutralize the perceived “cost” of them having to contact you in the first place.
It’s a question of reliability. When customers run into trouble with your products, they feel like you’re holding them hostage. It’s your job to free them from the predicament they find themselves in – even when the problem isn’t necessarily your fault. Customers expect you to reduce the burden on them created by taking time out of their busy lives in the first place. That’s why you should never leave any customer conversation unresolved – whatsoever.
It’s important to proactively serve your customers, too. For example, don’t just fix one problem on a customer’s bill, only for them to call back later to address a subsequent issue. Instead, solve a problem once, and prevent it from happening again. “Businesses can’t afford to react to what their customers want; they need to anticipate their needs,” says Parker Harris, co-founder of Salesforce.
This means empowering your agents to be customer centric, and go beyond restrictive measurements of success like average resolution time, although these can be useful. The quickest resolution may not always be the most satisfying for the customer.
3. To encounter a positive and personal manner
When customers call your company, they’re already frustrated and disappointed. The manner in which you receive them is incredibly important, and a cornerstone of customer service. But for customer service agents, it’s a hard balance to strike between being genuinely friendly, and overly saccharine. While standards of friendliness differ around the world, the common thread for customers is the desire to interact with pleasant and polite human beings.
“I’m not against rapport. But fake rapport is transparently fake in fractions of seconds,” says Elizabeth Stokoe, Professor of Social Interaction, in the context of customer service. Customer service reps should strive to be friendly, but also genuine.
A positive personal manner involves having empathy, which means being able to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. And “even in a rapidly automating world, we can’t automate empathy,” says George Anders, Senior Editor at LinkedIn. You need to make your customers feel that you understand and care about their position.
If customers do end up approaching an agent, they definitely want human service instead of interacting with a machine. An authentic emotional connection is what matters most. Customers want to feel like you know them and their history. They want to be viewed as a whole package, rather than seen solely through the lens of their current issue.
“Customer service, by definition, is about serving people; it should be genuine, personalized, and compassionate—or, simply put, human,” says Kristin Smaby, Customer Service Manager. CRM (customer relationship management) tools enable agents to quickly pull up information about a customer during an interaction, which they can use to tailor their response and provide that personal connection.
4. To have their time respected with quick speed of service
Providing a pleasant service for customers must be weighed against efficiency and speed – another aspect of making it easy to do business with you. Customers want you to respect their time and not keep them waiting, but also to devote enough care and attention to fully appreciate what they want.
Customers only expect to wait three minutes on the phone, while Twitter response times should be under one hour. They not only expect a fast solution to their problem, but they also want you to prevent it from ever happening again. As mentioned earlier, customers won’t have the patience to deal with the same problem twice.
Speed is why customers also need to encounter the possibility of self-service: an important part of overall customer service. Most customers will begin their search for help online, and they don’t want to contact you just to change a password or add a new user. Provide answers to every conceivable question in an online knowledge base.
Dealing with your business should be a connected and convenient experience, too. Customers want a seamless transition from tablet, to mobile, to desktop. Nobody wants to repeat information to your customer service team.
“Today, successful companies start with the customer. They recognize that customers spend their time across many channels, and wherever those customers are, that’s where they should be meeting their customers’ needs,” says Tien Tzuo, co-founder of Zuora.
5. To have two-way communication
Communication should be a two-way street. Businesses always say that they want customer feedback, but rarely follow up in practice. Just like Mel Gibson’s character learned in What Women Want, customers also want you to listen to their feedback, but half of them doubt that companies can be bothered to do so. If their comments are going to tumble into a black hole, unhappy customers will simply defect – and potentially air their unhappy views to colleagues, friends and family.
Uncontrolled spamming is not the answer here. Avoid inundating customers with lengthy surveys that they don’t have time to complete. Instead, use customer feedback survey software to capture succinct metrics like CSAT (customer satisfaction) and NPS (Net Promoter Score®️), with optional qualitative feedback.
It’s not enough to collect this feedback in a folder that only gathers dust. Make sure a real person thanks your customers for their participation, and take the time to follow up on feedback. If you can, show that any issues raised are being addressed. This shows customers that your business is reliable.
Ideally, companies should spend at least an hour a week talking to real live customers about their feedback. “I try to schedule a call with every new Baremetrics customer as well as check in once or twice a year… You get a level of honesty that gets distilled away with short email exchanges,” says Josh Pigford, co-founder of Baremetrics. It may sound extreme, but person-to-person exchanges can be more insightful than electronic surveys.
Without having a near-death accident that enables us to read our customers’ minds, we now know what customers value when it comes to customer service.
Truly great customer service that people genuinely want is a mixture of getting the basics right: make it absurdly easy for customers to complete transactions and make the most of your products. Then, when the inevitable issues arise, offer profoundly human service that leaves your customers with a smile on their face. For that, there is no formula – you must work to build deeply satisfying relationships.
Finally, companies should constantly evolve by taking in customer feedback and acting on it, then communicating with your customers when you do. Work tirelessly to obtain a thoroughly deep understanding of the problems customers may encounter with your products, and take the appropriate steps to make sure they never encounter them again.