A customer service strategy is a thorough plan to handle customer interactions. It lets you provide a consistent customer experience throughout the customer journey.
Improved customer experience results in a more loyal customer base. Loyal customers buy more often, spend more, and refer their friends and family to you. They leave positive customer reviews. So how can you make this happen?
In this guide, we break down eight steps to create (or update) your customer service strategy. After this, your customers will be excited to chat with you!
8 Steps to Develop an Effective Customer Service Strategy
- Make customer happiness the end goal across the company
- Identify all customer touchpoints
- Set goals for customer service
- Identify customer service KPIs to monitor
- Build a driven customer service team
- Build a powerful customer service toolkit
- Give your customer service representatives power
- Create a consistent feedback loop
Step #1: Make customer happiness the end goal across the company
A successful customer service strategy is a result of focusing on customer happiness.
At first thought, this makes sense for people working on the frontline. But what about those that never face a customer? Operations, engineers, and product designers are just a few examples.
Why would they focus on customers they never speak to instead of just doing their jobs?
The customer-first mindset across the board makes support teams better at their jobs. When everyone works with the end customer in mind, your customer service team doesn’t have to make solutions look better. They simply deliver them.
Another benefit of a customer-centric approach is that you'll remove organizational silos. Information can flow quickly between the customer support team and other teams. This makes customer care extra efficient and thorough.
Let’s say a customer is complaining about the way your product was packed and delivered to their door. It arrived broken.
When your company operates in silos, you’ll have more unhappy customers like this one. For example, your fulfillment team is packing the product the way they are because it makes them faster. As a result, some products get damaged during delivery.
But if you create a company-wide vision that puts the customer first, your fulfillment team will also take a cue.
Step #2: Identify all customer touchpoints
Analyze your customer interactions. To do so, answer the following questions:
- How soon after buying from you do your customers contact you?
- How often do your customers contact you?
- Which channels do they use to do so?
- What do your customers ask or request when they contact you?
- Do customers who eventually stop buying from you contact you more or less than those that don’t?
- How do you measure customer engagement?
You can map out and visualize these answers in a way that shows you a full customer journey. Based on these customer touchpoints, you may end up with something like this:
You’ll benefit from these insights because they allow you to:
- Gain a deeper understanding of the context of customer service inquiries
- Improve your product or service to prevent specific customer issues
- Predict customer needs so you can allocate your staff accordingly
- Reduce customer churn and increase their lifetime value
In other words, you can match and exceed customer expectations.
Let’s say your average customer journey resembles the one on the graphic above.
You’ve discovered that many questions in the first month are about billing. They come through phone calls. You can address this by proactively sharing more detailed billing information during onboarding.
You’ve also discovered there’s a risk of churn if your customers don’t contact you at all by week 16. You can tackle this by checking in with your customer sooner and addressing any issues then. Remember that 91% of customers who are unhappy with a brand will just leave. They won't complain. You’ll benefit from learning about their issues!
Step #3: Set goals for customer service
Here's what SMART goals look like for your service team:
- Define specific goals instead of vague aspirations: Make each goal focus on one area only
- Make goals challenging enough so you can keep growing, but attainable with work and targeted effort
- Ensure your customer service goals directly correlate with your business objectives
- Know how you’ll measure your goals and within which timeframe
Finally, the best customer service reps focus on customer contacts. They feel empowered and supported to do right by the customer. Make this approach the background of all customer service goals you set.
Good customer service goals might be to bump up:
- Customer retention
- Lifetime value
- Customer satisfaction
But these big-picture goals will result in action when you break them into specific areas. Define them with numbers and deadlines, for example:
- Reduce the average handling time (AHT) for resolving customer issues from [X minutes] to [Y minutes] by [date]
- Improve the Net Promoter Score (NPS) by 5% by [date]
- Surveyed customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) to be improved by 10% by [date]
Step #4: Identify customer service KPIs to monitor
With your goals in place, you must then define KPIs to track and improve. Without them, you can’t turn your goals into action plans.
KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, provide an instant look into how well your customer service is doing.
Here is a list of the customer service KPIs you’ll want to choose from:
- Customer satisfaction score (CSAT), for overall customer happiness
- Net promoter score (NPS), for the power of your referrals
- First response time, to measure the time your customers are on hold
- First contact resolution, to estimate how many customers have to talk to you more than once to get a solution
- Average resolution time
- Active issues
- Resolved issues
- Number of issues, to track the number and nature of issues over time
- Customer retention rate
For example, you've improved one KPI, such as NPS. But you noticed that revenue metrics are getting worse, such as customer lifetime value. You need to go back to the drawing board and establish the correlation between the two.
Another example is improving the average resolution time. Let’s say your team successfully reduces the time it takes to close an issue. As a result, however, they start handling issues poorly. This can reduce customer satisfaction and many other crucial metrics.
In other words, make sure you don’t look at your KPIs in a vacuum.
Step #5: Build a driven customer service team
Then, it’s time to identify the right people to work on these goals and KPIs.
Successful customer support teams have people who aren’t just driven by those goals — they’re also customer care champions.
In other words, they’re committed to the highest customer service standards. They talk about the importance of customer care to other teams. They consistently share their learnings and best practices.
Here are the traits you should look for when building your customer service team:
- Internal motivation: Are they driven to do great work beyond money and status?
- Self-awareness: Do they recognize their impulses, judgment, and moods? Their impact on others?
- Positive attitude: Do they display friendliness, enthusiasm around challenging tasks, focus on teamwork?
- Adaptability: Are they willing to learn new processes and technologies?
- Empathy and social skills: Do they genuinely care about other human beings? Can they read social cues to identify needs and concerns as they arise?
Identify the personalities that will enrich your team and match your company culture. List all the skills you want a person to have for each of your customer support roles. Mark all listed skills with must-have or good-to-have, and include both hard and soft skills.
All customer service reps should hold the above skills to succeed in their roles.
However, some may need a different set of soft skills than others.
For example, reps who are in direct contact with your customers should be great listeners, negotiators, and critical thinkers. They should adapt quickly and solve problems easily.
Customer support managers should be more proficient in mentoring, project management, conflict resolution, and supervision. They should also efficiently provide feedback and inspire their team regularly.
In other words, building in-depth profiles for all levels and types of roles on your customer service team will pay off in the long run.
Step #6: Build a powerful customer service toolkit
Your reps must think quickly, make decisions on their feet, and coordinate multiple channels and conversations at once.
Remember that 72% of consumers see having to explain their problem to multiple people as poor customer service. They want to feel heard, understood, and taken care of every time they speak with you. There’s little room for mistakes.
A Customer Service CRM is what can help you manage such a demanding omnichannel environment efficiently.
Channels usually include phone support, live chat, and social media.
When your customer data isn’t centralized, you’ll face issues every time one of your reps goes on vacation or leaves their role. It’s also a challenge to then onboard new customer service team members.
Customer information is only useful if it’s available to those that need it. Data buried in notebooks and spreadsheets aren't valuable for anybody.
When you have customer issues in a centralized CRM software, you can easily reassign them. No glitches and no delays from the customer’s perspective—no matter what happens with individual support agents.
Step #7: Give your customer service representatives power
If you stopped at the previous step, you’d end up with a good customer service strategy.
With this and the next step, though, you’ll have a strategy that exceeds customer expectations and sets you apart from your competitors.
One way to get there? Empower your customer service agents.
Empowering your customer service reps can lead to better responsiveness to customer issues. It also results in higher productivity. Why? Because it lets them make decisions on their own. They don't have to jump over approval hurdles just to assist a customer.
In this step, define the methods and benefits that customer service staff can use to solve an issue without getting approval, such as:
- Replacements and returns
- Bonus products or services
This will keep the customer from taking their business elsewhere before the issue escalates. It will also spark positive word of mouth, as well as save time for managers and other senior staff.
Ritz-Carlton hotels have one of the most outstanding employee empowerment policies.
In their famous policy, they allow their employees to spend up to $2,000 to solve any individual customer issue that comes up. They don’t need to ask for a manager or wait for a green light.
As a result, the customer gets an immediate solution every single time. There’s little room to be unsatisfied with a service like that.
Does $2,000 per incident sound extreme to you, especially if your revenue isn't that high? If so, remember that the Ritz-Carlton came up with this number based on their customer lifetime value of $250,000.
Step #8: Create a consistent feedback loop
After you launch or update your customer service strategy, you can take one of two actions.
The lousy route — take no action at all. That is, to never look at your strategy again and call it a day.
And the best action you can take? Create a reliable customer feedback loop so you can keep improving the way you serve your customers.
Your feedback collection strategy should focus on two equally important sources of information:
- Feedback from your customers to your customer service reps
- Input from your customer service reps to you
Listen to your customers through surveys, polls, on social media, in focus groups, and conversations with your reps. This way, you can improve your products, features, positioning, and all business conversations.
Listen to your reps about their experience servicing your customers. This way, you can identify opportunities for training programs and hiring.
Through regular customer surveys, you may discover that they feel they’re receiving sufficient support. However, they need a more thorough written recap of it after speaking with your reps on the phone.
You may also notice that they prefer to chat with you on Twitter or website chat rather than phone or email. You can use such insights to reorganize your staff by channels.
On the flip side, by listening to your support team, you can identify any customer service skills gaps or lack of resources in their day-to-day work.
So, how do I give the best customer service experience?
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to extraordinary customer service.
But there is a surefire way to create a customer service process that makes your customers feel like you have their back.
To achieve this, remember to:
- Instill the focus on customer service throughout your company and into all teams
- Map out the full customer journey so you can level up every possible touchpoint
- Set meaningful goals and KPIs for your customer service team
- Hire the right people and give them the tools and authority to serve your customers well
- Always collect feedback and implement changes based on it
And just like that, customer service is no longer a burden or an afterthought. Instead, it becomes the fuel behind your company’s long-term success!
Gaetano DiNardi is the Director of Demand Generation at Nextiva and has a track record of success working with brands like Major League Baseball, Pipedrive, Sales Hacker and Outreach.io. Outside of marketing, Gaetano is an accomplished music producer and songwriter - he’s worked with major artists like Fat Joe, Shaggy and loves making music to stay turbocharged. To get in touch, follow him on LinkedIn.