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  • Writer's pictureZsofia NAGY

Customer Service - your deal breaker and face of your supply chain efforts

So you better be doing more than what companies think they should be doing now!



customer service is the face of your supply chain


Whatever your stance is on customer service, it is the face of your business and your supply chain efforts.


Some say it is part of the supply chain, some argue it is part of sales.


It doesn't matter.


What matters is doing it well and having great cross-functional communication between SCM and CS if they aren't integrated.


I myself, as a supply chain expert, regularly encounter serious customer service issues that also make me leave the brand / company that I was loyal to so far (the latest and greatest happened just a day ago).


What is the pinnacle of customer service?


THE CUSTOMER and THEIR PROBLEM


How can you reach your customers as a business via customer services?


Treat them as people, as human beings and be a human being yourself.


Please do not approach them as transactions, even if you run a transactional business (it is a different question why you are running your business like that).


I know this article has already been written a gazillion times, yet many companies, including very large ones, went on a path that killed their customer service completely.


Why?


Because people only call (write to/WhatsApp/online chat/etc.) your customer service, when they have a problem.


These are never about order processes that went well.


These are almost always about processes where you already royally failed your customers as a business and they are either still benevolent or already pissed off (depending on how badly you messed up).


If your customer is willing to give you feedback instead of instantly going to a competitor, it is already great news as they aren't completely lost (yet) and they are willing to tell you where your processes have gone wrong.


🤓 What's not to love about it?


🤓 Why not handle these as gifts instead of necessary evil?


I'm always gutted by how badly companies downsized and tried to badly automate one of their most important problem solving entities.


Many times companies downsize CS people so much and outsource/offshore badly to a degree that those in remaining shops have literally nothing in their hands they could offer to remediate problems. The remaining staff is so remote from the daily business that they have no idea what can go wrong and how to remediate these either.


Here, I have to stop and make a statement:

I am one of those, who knows that customers aren't always right.


BUT, they are always right to turn to you with a perceived problem of theirs that's concerning your business and processes they were subjected to by ordering from you (and bringing their money to you).


So what is the only correct procedure from here?


  1. Acknowledging the problem and your customer. If they texted you, never just say "hi or hello"...ask for their names and share yours in return (or if you asked for an order number etc for verification, make sure you get their names from your system and address them accordingly).

  2. Reviewing the problem as swift as possible and letting the customer know at the same time what they can expect (how long will it probably take and what you are checking, potentially why).

  3. Finding the root cause of the problem asap and options to remediate it to the customer.

  4. Offering these options to the customer, offering a sincere apology and additional perks if you really messed up. Never only try to execute the failed order as original at this point. Always offer options based on what you hear from your customer (even from a tone of voice, you can sense what they would like, if you are good).

  5. Based on the customer's choice, execute the option chosen and inform your customer again about timelines of execution (what will they get, how, etc.), if they need to do anything further, tell them proactively what they have to do to make the whole experience even smoother.

  6. Thanking your customer for bringing the issue to your attention and informing them that you are working on corrective & preventive actions to ensure they don't reoccur.

  7. Saying a cordial goodbye and hoping to see them back!


That's it.


It all comes down to communication and treating people as human beings.


What would you like to hear if you were on the other end of the line/text/WhatsApp/online chat etc.?


What did you notice in my list above?


  1. There was no automated "we are so sorry about your unpleasant experience" type of robotic stupidity in the communication - that will piss off all your customers, even if they started out at a mild annoyance level. They already know very well they had an unpleasant experience, don't reiterate it!

  2. There was no time delay or uncertainty in the process that would make your customer think that you won't solve their problem (e.g. Never say "just a moment" when you know exactly that it will take you 30-60 minutes to dig out what happened…offer them a call back or be true to what you can do for them, even if it is texting and not a callback!)

  3. There is a solution offered - never ever end a customer call with deferring the issue, unless you genuinely cannot solve it. In this case, offer the customer the contact directly, who will solve their problem (don't just tell them someone will call them at some point in time). Make sure you follow up with the internal contact you named and make sure they actually execute on that promise as they should. If you picked up the call/text, it is your responsibility to see it through.

  4. There was no arrogance and talking back to the customer (e.g. If you are texting and you already sent a message to the customer asking for any further questions, wait for them to answer. Never ever send another message that sounds like you want to close the discussion before they could even get back to you - that's the most surefire way to piss them off and sound like an arrogant ass, let alone writing back to them arrogantly again when they call you out on your arrogance that you already asked them…that's just unprofessional at a level that will make your customer leave you as a business for good).

  5. There was no lack of information from CS to customers. If you need to inform your customer that they still have to do something (e.g. to get their money back…which should not be the case in the first place, but if your processes are that bad), then make sure you have your ducks in a row and they aren't the ones who need to extract every detail from you to get by.



Did you notice anything else that's critical in the process?


I give you a few:

  1. Hire people in customer service with humility, good business knowledge and a good stance. Arrogance will always lose customers. Lack of capabilities will also lose customers. If your CS employee even remotely implies to a customer that they are a nuisance, the customer WILL know it instantly. If you are the CS leader, always be there for your team and have their backs with customers while also teaching them each time a lesson when things go terribly wrong. They should not be the final line of "defense" in case a customer attacks (most of them don't, unless you piss them off properly, but if you got there, be prepared at least to step in and don't leave your team in despair).

  2. Make sure you enable your CS employees to do a good job, no matter where they are (if they are off-shored/outsourced, doesn't matter, it is your job to enable them!). Review your processes regularly, especially if you start automating. Make sure they get enough practice and training. Give them options and make them part of the solution. Ensure they get insights from your supply chain team regularly to make them see what went wrong & most importantly what can be done!

  3. Make sure you map out all the points where the automated processes can go wrong and genuinely try to simulate them and solve them. You will be surprised how many things can go wrong that you haven't anticipated. Ask your team about their experience regularly as well, when you start the automated processes.

  4. Be flexible in solutions when things go terribly wrong. Don't tie your employees in multi-level approval processes to get to a viable solution they could offer to your customers. That will also lose customers. Map these out and set them up. Learn on the go and improve these every day.

  5. If you really want to automate everything to the bone, make sure you build in flexibility in the form of already offering options through the order process. Again, don't ever forget that your customer is already doing part of the work your company used to do before online shops came about! I.E. they are doing you a favour by saving you those costs already!


Last, but not least:

  • Always remember that your customers bring their money to you and not the other way around, especially if you run a premium price business.

  • Don't ever become so arrogant that you think one can always be lost and there will be another one. Good CS is relationship-based. If good, then good. If bad, then really bad.

  • Make the CS process as smooth and easy to your customers as possible.


If you choose to run a business based on robots and fully automated processes, then at least have some sense and strategically calculate the loss / customer churn into your business plans every year as you will 100% surely lose a good portion of them with bad customer service. That's also a choice. If good or bad, you will see in a few years' time.


But my humble advice to you would be to not automate everything and sprinkle some humanity back into your customer service processes. It will pay off multi-fold.


For those working in customer services:

  • If you don't like or even hate your job, or you think it is below you, just do something else, as customers will always know it and they won't like you either (self-perpetuating thing).

  • If you cannot do something else, try at least looking at the people who reach out to you as those who need your help, imagine if you were an ambulance first responder and be proud of your achievements, the help you provide.

  • If a customer is really that bad and an entitled "Karen", ask for help from your supervisor. If you don't have any at your company, you are either the CS leader already (congrats, but then you have responsibilities!), or you need to look for another company where you get the relevant support.

  • If you got close to a point of burnout (that's also a responsibility of your superior), then ask for help please - if you don't get any, it is time to move on too.

  • Never settle for a crap CS job! Good thing is that there are enough to come by. Move on if the company is treating you badly!


Customer Services and working there can be fun. How much fun, greatly depends on you and your company. Make it fun, instead of a nuisance!


For my supply chain peers:

CS is like contracts at this point in time (due to automation etc.). You ideally don't need it as you got all right the first time, but if you do, you better have it ready and well prepared to not lose out. That's the magic!


These notes come from someone, who already won the hearts of her customers in CS earlier in her career (both B2B and B2C). In fact, I received a Xmas cake from my customers so huge, that didn't fit the office table, that's how happy they were at year end (I didn't only provide exceptional support but also made sure they made their business targets. Win-win!). Those were times when accepting a cake wasn't against company policies and the whole office ate well that day! 🥳

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