How to Master Excellent Customer Service

Shoppers are willing to spend 17% more to do business with companies that offer great service.

What is the definition of customer service excellence? originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

In this era, businesses need a new understanding of what excellent customer service means: navigating the customer to a final destination. The definition of customer service excellence is making that navigation smooth, personal, and respectful. Anything that stands in the way is customer service failure.

Half the shoppers surveyed by Consumer Reports said they’ve walked out of a store without buying anything, and 57% said they’ve hung up the phone on a business, due to bad service. The biggest complaints range from salespeople being “too pushy,” to a condescending representative, to the inability to speak with someone live.

The bottom line effects are far more extensive than many people realize. Shoppers are willing to spend 17% more to do business with companies that offer great service, American Express found. But 33% of consumers say they’ll consider switching companies after just a single instance of poor service.

Guide customers with information and honesty

To do customer service the right way, businesses should train representatives to act like tour guides. The best guides help visitors feel like they’re discovering something. That they’re being led to an exciting place they wouldn’t have found otherwise.

An excellent customer service representative focuses on getting to know the shopper, asking questions, and listening. As the representative learns more, he or she guides the customer to the next step on the journey. The guide should help the customer feel in control of the process, rather than being goaded into a specific decision. This can work beautifully in person, on the phone, or online.

People often have a feeling of relief when they finally arrive at a destination they like. In this case of sales, that means a place in which their problem can be solved.

Be positive and proactive

Part of making this journey work is to handle everything with as much positivity as possible. Sometimes, this requires nuance.

For example, what if a customer asks for something that is out of stock? A representative could say, “We don’t have that right now.” But here’s a better option: “We’ll have that available next week. What is the best way to contact you once it arrives?”

The first is dismissive. It sends the message that your business isn’t interested in helping this consumer. The second is proactive and shows a commitment to helping the customer.

Speed can speak volumes as well, demonstrating that the company values the customer. For example, see how a customer named Dayna tweeted a question to a software company called Groove. They responded within just a few minutes, and she followed up with a “Thank you!”

All these steps can help a business win positive reviews online and avoid dreaded negative ones. (As the New York Times notes, “Marketing data indicates that negative reviews in particular dramatically influence our buying behaviors.”) For example, see the software company Wistia praised because “you can actually phone them if or when you have an idea, a problem, or a need for further help.” A customer gave another software company, Outreach, five stars because “The support is absolutely amazing!”

Develop thick skin

Of course, there are shoppers who will never praise your company no matter how hard you try. Some are downright rude, and will waste a representative’s time without giving it a thought.

This is why customer service excellence also requires thick skin. Representatives should know how to remain calm in aggravating situations. They can learn to see it as a challenge: finding a way to turn an adversarial relationship into one that benefits both parties.

Sometimes, a customer is going through personal crisis or just having an awful day. In these situations, compassion and patience can help win them over, and turn them into satisfied customers.

Empower your personnel

Finally, businesses can’t have excellent customer service if they don’t allow their representatives to actually solve problems.

In many organizations, customer service personnel become frustrated when corporate restrictions and policies prevent them from offering buyers constructive help. This red tape leads to decreased productivity, high turnover rates, and increased training costs as new hires are brought in -- all of which reduces revenue.

Excellent customer service gives personnel more autonomy. It allows them to offer discounts and credits, order replacement items or fix problems in other ways without making the customer go through any more steps.

Ultimately, it’s about being human. The more committed, authentic, empathetic, and empowered a customer service representative is in every interaction, the more the customer feels appreciated. That makes the whole experience feel much more like an enjoyable, guided ride to the destination. That’s how today’s businesses can achieve customer service excellence.

This question originally appeared on Quora. More questions on Quora:

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