“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”
1 Peter 4:10
Effective customer service is essential in all aspects of life. In a professional arena, whether you are in sales, accounting, or a senior-level executive, every person has a responsibility to the customers they serve.
Customers come in all shapes and sizes. They can be internal (management, coworkers, employees) or external (direct customers, shareholders, creditors). In our personal lives, we have “customers” as well that we are called to serve. These customers include family, friends, and the most vulnerable segments of society like the sick, the poor, and those in need.
The Bible stresses the importance of service in leading a Christian life. A genuine commitment to others is ultimately a commitment to Christ. As Peter wrote in the opening quote, each Christian is called to use their God-given gifts to serve others. Jesus Christ was the ultimate servant. He gave His life so that we could be free from eternal sin. Approaching customers in our life with a Christ-like attitude of grace and compassion will lead to success in any service endeavor.
What is customer service in a professional setting? Customer service is providing timely, attentive, upbeat service to a customer, and making sure their needs are met in a manner that reflects positively on the company or business. Customers are the backbone of any organization. Organizations that are effective at serving all of their customers are successful. The emphasis is on ALL customers. Organizations have failed by neglecting just one of their many customer bases. That is why it is essential that every professional understands their customer and master the key elements of customer service. In my experience, key elements of successful customer service include effective communication, collaboration, and execution. In this blog post, I will review these three elements and provide key attributes of each.
Communication in customer service can take many different forms. Whether it is through email, telephone, or in person, effective communication is essential to ensure customers are well informed. Attributes of effective communication are as follows: set the table for the communication; provide timely responses to inquiries and unsolicited updates, and always close the loop. To set the table, make sure the receiver can answer the 5 Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. The art form is condensing the 5 Ws into a short paragraph or short conversation to provide busy customers with a speedy service. Providing timely responses to inquiries and unsolicited updates also builds trust with customers and shows that you care about helping them. It goes a long way for relationship building. In addition, it tends to keep the frustration out of the customer service experience. Closing the loop helps ensure finality in the customer service experience. Never assume that a customer’s needs have been met unless specifically stated in an email or phone conversation.
In addition to the attributes, having an effective communication strategy is equally important. Ensure that your communications are action-oriented and include deliverables with deadlines. Mix up your communication channels. Do not just utilize emails, phone calls, or face-to-face communication. A good rule of thumb is: email and text for facts, phone calls for issues, and face-to-face or video calls for large challenges. If customers are not responsive to emails, switch to phone calls, or vice versa. Do not let unresponsiveness cause you to fail in customer service! When one medium becomes ineffective, be sure to switch mediums. If email threads become too long, create a new string with a short summary of the old thread to keep the customer in the loop. If a customer has to scroll too far down to get the point of a conversation then, they are less likely to read or comprehend the message.
Collaboration is when two or more individuals or organizations come together and contribute their expertise for the benefit of a shared objective, project, or goal. In the sphere of customer service, our shared objective is excellent service. Collaboration includes either working hand-in-hand directly with the customer or with a supporting organization in pursuit of assisting your customer. Attributes of effective collaboration include active listening and building relationships. Active listening is the ability to focus completely on a speaker, understand their message, comprehend the information, and respond thoughtfully. Active listening requires asking follow-up questions to ensure that you have a full understanding of the issue. A good technique is to repeat the problem in your own words to the customer so that both parties fully understand. Relationship building includes getting to know a customer personally and professionally. Understanding their business goals and challenges will build trust with the customer and ensure that your customer service strategy aligns with their expectations.
Execution is doing what you say you will do. This sounds simple enough, but as we all know, things don’t always go according to plan. Successful execution requires the grit to work through adversity to achieve a shared objective. Attributes of effective execution include accountability and high expertise. An accountable person identifies key priorities, sets milestones to meet deadlines, takes ownership of decisions and responsibilities, and pays close attention to details. An accountable customer service agent shares the burden of the issue or problem and is driven by that burden to secure a positive outcome for the customer. They take part in the problem-solving process and bring solutions to the table for discussion. Developing a high expertise level sounds intimidating, but it is something that you should strive for in every aspect of your life. When you reach a level of expertise, problem-solving becomes effortless and natural. To achieve expertise level requires you to never stop learning about your role, your organization, or the group of customers that you serve. Stay up to date on the news and build on lessons learned from your experiences serving customers.
In closing, we discussed the importance of customer service and the tenants of becoming an effective servant. Becoming an effective servant to others is the backbone of the Christian faith. As Matthew wrote in his Gospel, “The greatest among you will be your servant.” I am challenging those reading this to dedicate your life to service and be GREAT. Take the challenge and dedicate time to mastering the art of serving others. You will not regret the journey.
Author: Jeff Renton
Jeff Renton is the Strategic Sourcing Manager at Kinder Morgan. He has over 15 years of professional and 8 years of management experience. He has a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications from Louisiana State University and a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Alabama Birmingham.