Does your company consider customer service, with all that it entails, a cost center?

If your call center or customer service team is costing you money, you’re doing it wrong!

If you’re doing it right, then your call centre or customer service employees should be earning you a profit. A couple of weeks ago, I told you about KLM Airlines and how their social media customer service team earns the company $25 million annually. If you love profitable revenue, like I do, then this should grab your attention.

Defensive Customer Service

Most people equate customer service to the “please” and “thank yous” of a business, as in,

“If you’re nice to your customers, then they will return.”

I didn’t make customer experience management my career because I’m friendly. I made it my career and passion because, if done right, it will grow businesses massively. THAT is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

So, how do you play defense in customer service? It’s actually quite easy: you limit the amount of talking you actually do.

After your customer service agent greets a customer, an offensive tactic, you ask them to step back and actively listen to the customer. Now, listening is easy; it’s what they retain that is important. After saying hello to your customer, your employee should understand a few things about them:

  • The customer’s personality type. Which one of the three are they? Watch a short video here to learn more about these personality types.
  • Why is the customer here today? This will help employees understand their needs or desires.
  • What needs to be done today to make the customer satisfied?
  • When does the customer need this need fulfilled?

To be able to successfully accomplish the 3Ws, you must train your agents on active listening. What I have suggested here isn’t ground breaking, and you may even be doing it today. Here’s the challenge: how do you get your customer service agents to go from digesting theoretical knowledge to effectively putting that knowledge into practice?

There are a few things you can do. One example is to run a mystery shopping program, or develop quality assurance programs. While these things work well, they do cost money, and if you’ve ever worked with me before you know that I like to find cost-effective ways to do things before choosing to spend money.

To be able to play defense successfully, your employees must understand why they must follow these steps to make the customer interaction successful. Learning about your customers pain points or desires before you try to sell, or whatever action will proceed the initial greeting, is vitally important to delivering a successful customer experience.

Allow me to use a real life example.

Before my fiancée, Kate, and I went on our first date together, five years ago, we spent countless hours talking on the phone, on Skype, and exchanging Whatsapp messages. During these conversations, I actively listened to what she had to say and remembered every single subtle detail. What did she like to eat? What did she want in life? What made her laugh? What made her angry? Knowing this information helped us have an engaging conversation on our first date. Fast forward, five years later, and we are happily engaged with two dogs and a nice home.

The interactions you have with your best friend, spouse, or customer are no different. At the end of the day, we are dealing with human behaviour. We are all human.

How well are your customer service agents playing defense?

Offensive Customer Service

Sales can be a dirty word. We try to avoid it at all costs but, at the end of the day, I need it, you need it, and we all need it.

If you’ve played defense well, then you will have put yourself in a better offensive position to sell to your customers, based off of their needs and not the company’s desires. After you have identified the customer’s personality type, and understood the 3Ws, you are now on offense. You have the opportunity to take the customer by the hand (not literally) and find them a solution. Most people think this time is reserved for selling, but your first duty is always to establish a connection with the customer and get them to like you.

To build trust with the customer, you must play to their personality type. For example, if a Donald Trump-like customer, with a Director style personality, approached me as a retail employee, I would immediately limit the chit-chat and say,

“I know exactly what you are looking for. Follow me…” Getting down to business matters to this customer, possibly more than anything. This is an example of being on offense, where you take charge of the situation and lead the interaction.

On the flip side, let’s say an Ellen Degeneres-like customer was my next customer. After pinpointing her personality type, and understanding the 3Ws, I would take a different approach. I would relax my shoulders and recognize this conversation is going to be different, in that I have more time to build rapport with them. I’m going to look for something to have an off-topic conversation about and build that rapport. Perhaps she is wearing a watch or necklace that your Mother also has. Pay a subtle compliment to it, while mentioning that your family member has the same one. That’s your offense move; watch it build an instant connection. From there, you will have the customer on your side and develop customer trust. Throughout the conversation with your customers, regardless of personality type, you will need to switch from offense to defense regularly, like you would in a tennis match.

I just gave you two examples that you can use to train your retail customer service team members. Many of the same examples can also be used within your contact centre. Remember, I know this stuff because I used to be there, having worked within a call centre for a couple of years.

The most successful companies are able to reap the benefits of having an offense customer service strategy. One of which is Aritzia, a very popular North American women’s retail boutique that operates a profitable call centre. Rather than try to piece it together for you, why not bring someone into the conversation that achieved this success with Aritzia? For this post, I reached out to my friend, Greg Harrison, who is a Contact Centre Manager with Aritzia. He said:

“At Aritzia Customer Care, we focus on sales through service. Our goal has been to bring the amazing experience our clients have in our stores and implement it into our phone calls, chats and emails to create ongoing relationships with our clients. This is why all our Customer Care Associates are hired directly from our retail stores.

While most customers reach out to Aritzia Customer Care initially due to an issue that they had with either our product or experience, we have found that the relationship shouldn’t end once we solve their initial issue and that it is mutually beneficial to stay in contact with our clientele. We get to know the customer and ask for permission to let us reach out to them in the future if we come across items that would work with their current wardrobe/past purchases.

Our associates’ key performance indicators (KPIs) still include traditional service-based call centre metrics, such as handling time, abandon rate, etc. However, these service KPIs make up only 30% of their overall performance score. The remainder of the score is mixed with 50% sales performance and 20% Customer Satisfaction and Inquiry Quality, which gives us a 50/50 blend of sales versus service goals. This way, a sale never trumps service when speaking to customers and pushes us to only sell through giving quality service.

By focusing on Sales through Service, we have grown the Aritzia Contact Centre from a cost centre into a profit centre within 3 years of our inception.”

It might be your organization’s beliefs, or past experiences, that are causing you to think that customer service costs a lot of money. In reality, if done right, it should provide a large return for your company. I’m very happy to see companies and business leaders beginning to see the connection between customer experience and profitability. After understanding this, the next challenge is answering the question,

“What do we do next?”