How to Win at Customer Service

3 Strategies for Converting Customers into Brand Devotees

By Emily Safrin

Emily Safrin-customer service

When Scarlett hung up the phone, she was close to tears. Even more unexpectedly, so was the customer service representative on the other end. How did a seemingly simple inquiry end in two people so frustrated they were on the verge of a breakdown?

Scarlett had called to resolve a mistaken charge on her phone bill, but what she thought was a straightforward question turned into a snafu with no solution in sight. Try as she might to explain the situation, she and the customer service representative couldn’t get on the same page. The two went in fruitless circles for half an hour before the agent finally announced starkly that she was applying a discount to Scarlett’s next three bills.

The problem is, Scarlett wasn’t looking for money; she was looking for an answer. Although the discount amounted to more than the erroneous charge she had called to dispute, she was not only dissatisfied, but hurt. Instead of feeling that her problem had been resolved, she felt that she had troubled the poor agent to the point that the agent felt forced to get rid of her.

It goes without saying that no customer should ever be made to feel this way. So how do you make sure they don’t?

1. Be human

Even in business contexts, we’re all human, and a human touch can go a long way to fostering a pleasant experience for all. That starts with empathy, or simply acknowledging the customer’s dilemma. The golden rule of “Listen first” works wonders to set the tone. Most customers just want to feel heard and validated.

Many companies use scripts to streamline processes and stay on brand. Yet, while scripts can be helpful training tools, research has shown that they often fall flat with customers, who perceive scripted interactions as disingenuous and even impolite.

That’s why many companies are instead hiring capable, empathetic, and trustworthy staff and empowering them to make decisions that leave customers feeling understood and tended to. Certainly, to attract this type of capable staff, the job has to be desirable. That means, for starters, offering competitive pay, attractive benefits, and a pleasant work environment.

Ultimately, a human representative with the right tact and training will be able to transform a difficult situation into a positive one by demonstrating a common humanity. Done properly, customer service can even turn a complaint into an opportunity to impress.

If done properly, customer service can even turn a complaint into an opportunity to impress. Click To Tweet

2. Take a cue from your own experiences as a customer

Theory and research have their place, but another powerful way to create or refine your business processes is to take heed of your own reaction when you’re the customer.

When you find yourself especially impressed by an interaction, whether in your personal or business life, make notes about what went well. There’s no better way to know what works than by seeing it in action. The same goes for situations that go awry: What went wrong? How could things have been handled differently?

Make time to review your notes and design a plan for how you can implement similar practices in your own business. What can you do to leave your customers glowing? This exercise may also reveal some fall-flat tactics in your customer service processes and help you replace them with more effective ones.

3. Speak their language

Language barriers are a serious source of customer frustration. As you might expect, consumers are unlikely to engage with a brand they can’t understand or communicate with. For that reason, it’s helpful to hire staff who speak your customers’ language(s).

Consider audiences you may be missing out on due to a language gap. For example, you could be meeting the needs of the “untapped” market of the more than 41 million US residents who speak Spanish at home. A 2014 study by Common Sense Advisory found that even among those who also spoke English, most consumers preferred to buy exclusively in their native language.

But how can you reach these non-English-speaking markets? Many US companies translate their websites and other marketing materials into Spanish and hire Spanish-speaking staff, for example, given the ubiquity of the language. If you follow suit (whatever the language), just be sure that you have an infrastructure in place to serve these customers when it comes to interacting with them beyond your website. The first step is to make sure staff are prepared to assist these clients, whether in person, over the phone, or online (email, chat, etc.).

If you don’t have a large enough non-English-speaking customer base to justify hiring multilingual staff, you might consider using translation (written language) and interpreting (spoken language) services to help you and your team to attract and interact with customers in their own language. Determine which channels these buyers are most likely to use to interact with your brand and start there. But be wary of free translation services: as with scripts, when it comes to customer service, a human touch is best.

Final thoughts

A different customer service representative from a major technology company recently told Scarlett over the phone, “I’ll solve that for you today.” Given the frustrating experience Scarlett had had with her phone service provider shortly before, she took it as an overzealous promise. But by the end of the call, she was left astounded. Despite significant hurdles, he solved her problem. What’s more, he treated her like a peer from start to finish. She was quickly reminded of why she’s been a loyal customer of this particular brand for decades.

Consistently stellar service begets customer loyalty. That feeling of security, trust, and plain old satisfaction is hard to beat. Treat your customers the way you want to be treated and speak to them in a language they can understand and they’ll become your most compelling, authentic, and effective form of advertising.

Emily Safrin is a certified Spanish-to-English translator and editor specializing in the medical and culinary sectors. She is also an active member of the American Translators Association (ATA), which represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 103 countries. For more information on ATA and to hire a translation or interpreting professional, please visit www.atanet.org.