It doesn’t matter if your products or services are the best things since sliced bread—if your customer service experience is roughly as pleasant as a trip to the dentist, folks simply won’t want anything to do with your business.
Unfortunately, you can’t click your fingers and make high-quality customer service happen. It takes time, effort and a whole lot of work from your support team. This is where developing a customer service philosophy comes in.
In this guide we’ll show how a shared philosophy can help you maintain standards across your business and empower team members to provide the kind of experience that keeps customers coming back for more.
Let's get started.
A customer service philosophy refers to the guiding principles and values that drive the way your employees approach customer interactions. Think of it as the ‘playbook’ for your support team.
They’re generally split into two parts:
The vision and values you set define the type of customer service your company will provide and processes employees can follow to uphold it in their day-to-day work.
Whatever you may think about Apple, one thing is undeniable: they’re the master of customer service and support. While techies come for the flashy MacBooks, they stick around because of the excellent customer experience.
What’s particularly impressive is how Apple manage to scale this experience both in-store and online across multiple markets. Of course, there are a bunch of things that make this possible (the right customer service hires for one), but the main way they do this is through a coherent philosophy.
Take their vision statement for example. This isn’t expressed as a standalone message, it’s actually included in the overall Apple Retail credo—showing how a customer-centric outlook is integrated throughout the entire business.
See how this broad company vision summarises Apple’s philosophy? It says they’re a company that wants to bring value to the community and the broader world.
In addition to the credo, they have values that influence every interaction that retail employees have with a customer. They even fit into a neat acrostic format.
Apple aren't the only company out there delivering great a customer service experience. If you're after more real-world examples, Zappos customer service philosophy is another you can learn from.
Wondering why it’s not enough just to tell your employees to “be nice” and be done with it? While that technically is an option, this kind of ad hoc approach leads to an inconsistent customer experience, which is the last thing you want.
It takes just one poor customer service experience to lose a customer. Not only do a third of consumers churn after a single bad encounter, but the stats say they usually share these experiences with friends and family, leading to further damage to your brand perception.
With a strong customer service philosophy you have a support structure for your team to lean on and go to for guidance. Yes, you get great customer service, but you also get a bunch of other benefits as a trickle-on effect.
Great customer service improves retention (your ability to hold on to your customers) and helps promote brand loyalty. By doing so you create repeat customers, which are one of the most valuable assets any business can have.
Repeat customers give you:
Steady income: With a stable customer base, you can rely on consistent revenue without having to worry so much about customer churn.
More profit: Research conducted by Bain & Company found increasing customer retention rates by just 5% increases profitability by more than 25%.
Easier sales: Customers who are trusting and confident in your brand take less work to sell to. They also tend to spend more on each purchase.
Word-of-mouth referrals: Happy customers spread the word about your business with friends, family and colleagues.
Cut acquisition costs: Acquiring a customer is between five and 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.
Is it as simple to say good customer service → increased brand loyalty → repeat customers? Pretty much.
Brand loyalty is generated mostly through perceived value. By building long-term connections with customers, you’ll also be able to learn about their pain points and understand how you can better meet their needs.
Developing a customer service philosophy allows you to gain complete control over your customer service initiatives. In contrast, taking a reactive approach means you are never fully prepared for the problems your customers come to you with.
The bottom line: a strong philosophy equips your customer service representatives with structure and core values they can take into every interaction. You won’t need to micromanage every little moment.
That doesn’t mean your philosophy is about providing answers to every possible customer complaint that might pop up—that’s not possible. It’s about giving your support team a system that influences their entire approach to customer service.
From there you can ensure that your tools and resources are always being used in the most economic and suitable way for each situation.
If your team is reactive and haphazard in its approach to customer service, there’s little room for innovation. They’ll just be too busy scrambling between different support issues to think about anything beyond the next customer.
On the other hand, teams that are driven by a philosophy are always looking for better ways to solve customer issues and excellent customer service.
They go beyond the surface level issues to:
On top of this the best support teams are always reassessing their customer service strategy—what’s working? What could improve? How can we make things easier for new customers?
Chick-fil-A. Trader Joe’s. Zappos. What do these wildly different brands share? The ability (and desire) to deliver top-notch customer service at all times.
Of course each company offers great products—it's not all down to customer service— but their dedication to their customers that separates them from the pack. Making delicious chicken burgers like Chick-fil-A, or awesome apparel like Zappos, can only take you so far.
Zappos is a perfect example of how customer service that "WOWS" can not just help your brand, it can become your brand.
By intentionally focusing on and investing in developing your customer service philosophy, your customer service efforts can end up being the thing that allows your brand to stand out in your industry.
If you can back up your killer products with guaranteed service and support, you’ll give yourself a competitive advantage over businesses within your niche that they can’t easily replicate.
So we’ve spent some time looking at the benefits a good customer service philosophy can have for your business. Now let’s look at some of the key elements to consider when coming up with one of your own.
According to Stackla, 86% of today’s consumers say their willingness to support a brand comes down to the brand’s authenticity. We can break down this idea of authenticity into two key parts: honesty and humility.
By honesty we mean that your customer support team needs to do more than pay lip service to your customers. They need to act; to be set truthful, achievable expectations and do everything within their power to achieve these outcomes.
This includes when you have to tell them no. Customers understate there are limits to what can be achieved—if you explain this to them, on most occasions this will have a positive outcome.
"It can be tempting to want to say 'yes' to every customer, but sometimes it just isn't feesable. Customers generally understand if you can't resolve their problem at that very moment. However, it's integral to set the right expectations and let them know a timeframe of when you will get back to them."
The other side of the“authenticity” coin is humility. It’s important to critically reflect on your team performance and highlight any shortcomings. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and think of ways you could offer a better experience.
Let’s be honest. You can’t completely satisfy your customers 100% of the time. It’s impossible. But customers will be much more forgiving of a single poor experience if they know it’s just an anomaly.
This goes hand in hand with the entry above, but transparency is about being open with your customers during specific customer support encounters.
For the most part this means:
"Good communication skills might seem like an obvious necessity, but I really can't stress just how important they are for any customer service role. It also ties in with the ability to clearly and confidently set expectations with customers, whether that's letting them know when to expect a reply, an update on the status of their request, or a resolution."
It’s particularly important when you’re dealing with customer complaints, or any kind of business where product faults/repairs are part of your support offering. Transparency can provide comfort and actually promote customer loyalty in the process.
Customer support is a tough gig, and sometimes it can be difficult to remember that customers aren’t just numbers or faceless support tickets—they’re humans too.
Which is why you need to approach each customer with compassion and empathy. Sure, it may be the thousandth time you’ve dealt with the same issue, but every customer interaction has to be approached with a clean slate.
"Patience really is a virtue for great customer support. We have to explain ideas in easy to understand ways, and often deal with similar questions day in day out. It helps to remember that each customer is a person, not a number on the screen, and try and appreciate their unique wants and needs. Every single interaction matters.
“Every single interaction matters” is a handy phrase to keep in mind to help you be consistent with all your customers. Try to keep this in mind and sustain the same level of personalized, friendly and engaging service with all of your customers.
Speed is integral to great customer service. It’s kind of like fast food in that way—it doesn’t matter how delicious your Big Mac is, if it takes twenty minutes to arrive at your table you’re not going to be happy. Customer service is the same.
Whether you’re working a call center or using a web bot, you need to respond ASAP. Have a plan (or pre-recorded message in place) that engages with the customers and assures them you’re working on a solution—or will be soon.
Also do your best to deliver a timeline. This means developing internal timelines for resolving issues. These can then be used as a baseline to focus on as you assess and strive to improve your customer service over time.
This doesn’t mean handing out free swag or doing an Oprah impression and treating your customers to free cars. It's about something money can’t buy: appreciation.
The best customer service comes when companies truly care about their customers and want to help them out. Apple’s customer support is so memorable because both the business and their employees care about the products and the people buying them.
When developing a customer service philosophy, focus on delivering value above all else. If you can do this customers will pay you back in spades—and you’ll both reap the benefits.
Finally, your philosophy should define the way you show gratitude to your customers as you serve them. This doesn’t mean grovelling or being overly nice—it means being appreciative of the fact they’ve chosen your business over thousands of others out there.
After all, without your customers your business can’t operate. Try to inject respect and gratitude for your customers through your entire customer service experience.
That means thanking your customers: for their business, for their patience as you solve their issue, and for their sustained support after you've helped them achieve their goals.
Baking gratitude into every aspect of your customer service communicates your dedication to your audience and helps position your organisation as a top provider in your industry.
Developing a great customer service philosophy doesn’t happen overnight. So let’s take a look at how you can start building one of your own.
Before you can create a philosophy specific to customer service, you need to have a broader understanding of the values you want to uphold and the goals you want to achieve.
The idea for this step is to define what you hope to accomplish by strengthening your customer service efforts. Do you want to retain customers? Provide a better service? Impress your board members? All the above?
With a clearer picture of where you’re headed—and why you’re headed there—it’ll be much easier to put the pieces together to make it happen.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the kind of core ideas you need to outline:
Once you’ve defined what great customer service looks like, it’s time to consider what it looks like to your audience.
Think about what their ideal customer experience looks like. If you're an eCommerce business, this might entail making sure your website and online payment system are both fast and efficient, as well as ensuring you have a good returns policy in place.
There are a few areas to consider:
The minimum level necessary: Figure out the level of customer service your customers need. Do you need dedicated troubleshooting service agents? Or will general employees do the trick? When you’ve found out what your customers will expect, you can then decide how you’ll exceed those expectations.
Focus areas: From product education and use through to purchasing and returns, the customer experience is a multifaceted process. Identify the crucial areas where support is necessary, and brainstorm how your team can help.
Timing: Determine how quickly your team will need to respond to the various issues they may encounter, as well as how long it should typically take to resolve these issues.
Channels used: It’s vital to understand which channels your customers expect your support team to be available on. Whether it’s Twitter, phone support, email or a chatbot on your website, make sure it’s the form of communication your customers are going to actually use.
Style and tone: Finally, consider the tone and language your team will use when engaging with customers. Keep in mind that while you have an overall tone, your team needs to be able to adapt depending on the situation.
Your customer support team needs support too. How do you do that? By providing them with the right tools and training. Without these two things, your team won’t have what it needs to actually bring your customer service philosophy to life.
We can split tools into five main categories:
A quick tip for internal knowledge base docs: encourage your team to update these themselves. This ensures that as your team evolves and better refines processes, this will be reflected within your internal documents for future hires.
All the best customer service software means nothing if your team doesn’t have sufficient training. This doesn’t just stop with onboarding either—you’ll want to conduct regular strategic sessions revolving around:
Invest in the right tools and training to ensure your team can serve your customers to the best of their ability.
At all times your customer service team should have a clear idea of how to approach a given scenario—and what to do should things not go according to plan (which tends to happen a lot.)
The key to systematising your customer service processes is to develop standard operating procedures (SOP) for your team to follow at all times. Your operating procedures should include standard workflows across a variety of instances, including:
Intake: What do you do when a customer is in need of assistance? How do you screen them to begin effectively delivering the service they need?
Provision of Service: Based on their needs and engagement history, what’s the best course of action to help them solve their issue? What channels will you use to communicate? What other resources may be needed?
Escalation: If necessary, how will you escalate the issue? How will you determine who to pass the customer along to within your service team? How will you determine when/if escalation is necessary in the first place?
Follow-Up: As you resolve a given issue, how will you follow up with the customer to ensure they’re good to go? How might you be able to supercharge their experience moving forward?
Review: As each issue comes to a close, how will you process it internally? How will you document changes within the individual customer’s profile? How will you document what your team has learned from the experience?
By nailing down the step-by-step processes for each stage of the customer service experience, you can optimize each stage accordingly for your customers and your team.
That way, you’ll be able to deliver the best possible value to customers, while also strengthening your philosophy as time goes on.
Immanuel Kant didn’t just come up with the categorical imperative and wash his hands of the philosophy business. He kept working and trying to refine his ideas over time.
The same goes for your customer service philosophy. Nothing is ever set in stone and for the sake of your company and customers, you should always be looking for ways to evolve.
Every customer engagement—from a tweet on social media to responding to a negative review on Amazon—can lead to opportunities for growth in some way. This sort of mindset is a vital cog in your support machine, because it turns every moment is a learning experience.
Looking at the big picture, your team will want to assess performance on a regular basis. Here, you’ll want to consult a variety of important metrics and trends. This includes:
By continuing to evolve your overall customer service philosophy, you’ll ensure your team will be able to provide the help your customers need to succeed. All that's left is to get started.
✍️ Josh Brown is a Digital Marketing Consultant for Helpjuice, a knowledge base solution provider. When Josh isn't building & analyzing marketing campaigns, he spends his time writing on topics that are hopefully helpful to businesses, particularly when it comes to improving customer experiences.
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