You probably know and appreciate how important taking care of your customers, or great customer service, is to the success of your business.
To kick off our new Q&A series, I interviewed OnDeck’s Director of Customer Service, Eric Lichtenwalter. He leads a team whose sole purpose is to ensure OnDeck customers have the best experience possible with our products, services, and brand.
Two things come to mind:
1: You need to make sure that the customer understands how any outcome is determined – Most customer service issues are not as easy as “yes” and “no”. Fortunately, most of the time we can work out a good solution for our customers—at least that’s our goal and likely how you try to work with your customers. But there will be times when the customer may not be satisfied with the outcome. You need to be as transparent as possible about how you came to your decision so your customer doesn’t feel like you’re ignoring them.
2: Respect your customers’ time. You have to be available and ready when your customers need to speak to you. At OnDeck, we offer Phone, Email, and Chat support. Customers will use whatever contact channel is convenient to them at that time. Make yourself available to your customers and be flexible in how you ask them to respond. In other words, forcing everyone to submit customer service requests via the telephone might be inconvenient for someone who would rather send an email. Particularly, if they need to reach you after your normal business hours. If your customers understand you will make an effort to be available, they will respond positively
1: Someone who can tell a story and keep a conversation going. When I interview potential job candidates, I want to see if the candidate can keep me interested during the interview, then I’m confident they’ll be able to explain complex issues to customers clearly.
2: Organization and follow through. Many customer service issues require follow up, so you need team members who will keep on top of every situation.
3: Passion for the product. It’s not an easy job, and it’s even harder if you don’t believe in, know or care about the company, product or industry you’re representing.
Whether you’re a landscaper, a mechanic, or provide small business loans, your team needs to know about the industry and be passionate about it.
Most importantly it is the team we hire. Team and company culture starts at the top, but it can’t stop there; it needs to come from the entire team. Your employees that deal with customer challenges need to be dedicated, hardworking, and know how to support each other. Not every day is going to be fun, so take advantage of the days where fun things happen organically.
At OnDeck, we will have individual incentives, competitions against other teams, and OnDeck also has company outings throughout the year—that could be something that will work for your company too. But, on a day-to-day basis, the motivation can come from everyone on the team—working for the same goals.
First, never lie or try to make up an answer. Lying will only make the situation worse. It’s appropriate for an agent to say that they need to get back to the customer. It’s better to seek the correct information and follow up with the right answer than giving wrong, or misleading information.
Every business experiences this from time to time. There will be times when you’ve explained everything you can about the situation and even why the decision is “no” and your customer isn’t satisfied. There are some situations where there isn’t a “next step” or “another person to talk to”.
Regardless of whether you’re dealing with an external complaint (like negative BBB or Social Media reviews), if you handle those in a polite, professional, and transparent way, most people will understand why your answer is no.
A lot of small business owners are scared to say no to avoid bad reviews, but if you are transparent and do everything you can to satisfy all your customers, in the long run people understand.
When I worked in the travel industry, we had a customer who had booked six rooms for the Super Bowl and when they showed up the hotel didn’t have their rooms available. That was a tough one, but we worked it out.
The most difficult issues are usually not typical scenarios, and you have to look outside of standard policies and processes to find a solution that will work for your customers. This is especially important if the reason for the scenario is due to an error on your company’s part. In the end, we worked hard as a team and solved the situation.
You should assess the situation based on the amount of time you have to solve the problem. If you have a time window that allows, you should take the time to explore different options and choose the scenario that works the best. If the issue is time sensitive, you have to find the most immediate resolution and jump on it.
1: Give the customer time to explain the situation and tell their story because that’s how you’ll understand their circumstances and learn how you can make the best decision without negatively impacting their feelings toward your company. It also lets them know that you care about their situation and really want to help.
2: On the most difficult situations, clearly outline the next steps you will take to research and resolve their situation. Don’t say ‘here’s how I will fix it’ – you should say ‘here’s how I’m going try to get you the right answer.’ This step allows you to put some time between the issue and the resolution. You may need this time to find the appropriate solution – make sure to be clear about when you will follow up.
1: At OnDeck, it’s our collaboration with all the different teams to help resolve customer questions so we get a lot of visibility into how the company works.
2: I love to hear the success stories from our customers. When someone tells us how OnDeck helped their company grow, it’s a nice feeling.
What’s the final piece or advice you have for small business owners building a customer service team?
Make sure you have a system that keeps track of past and historical communication and interactions with your customers. It’s important to know why and when they’ve reached out in the past.