How To Fix Bad Customer Service: Seven Steps To Take Immediately


Micah Solomon

February 23, 2017

Look, nobody likes to think that their own company is giving lousy customer service.  And, maybe, your customer service isn’t actually all that bad; in my own experience, most of the companies that read my articles or call on me (as a customer service consultant and speaker) are already giving reasonablyokay customer service, and just need help turning it into what I would call exceptional customer service: the kind of “wow” customer service that can create earth-shattering, loyalty building, word-of-mouth generating, and, internally, morale-lifting results. If so, we can work on this together, and get you to where you want to be.

But, maybe, the reality is much worse than this: Maybe your company is guilty of giving terrible customer service and offending customers left and right.  If this is your current, desperate situation, here are seven measures aimed at helping you stop the bleeding and heal your company’s ailing customer service:

1. Set standards. The way to make the most out of whomever you currently have manning the phones and answering the emails is to set company-wide standards. Here are three examples:

• Phones should be answered after no more than four rings.

• A telephone greeting includes a greeting, your name, and an offer to help. (“Welcome to Four Aces, this is Micah, how may I help?”)

• Email messages are answered within an hour. Even if the only response you can come up with within an hour is “I need to look into this further,” you need to respond this quickly, if only to let the customer know that you’re there for them. [Note: Does this sound unfairly stringent to you? Your customers won’t think so. When I see companies that have lengthy internal commitments to answer emails, such as “no more than 48 hours,” I think they’re out of touch. 48 hours feels like 48 years in internet time.]

Obviously these three suggested standards are just the start. A great organization can have as many as 3,000 standards, company-wide. Email me if you’d like a few more suggestions for standards.

2. Start using the right language. Maybe you have a bunch of enthusiastic, well-meaning employees, but they’re blowing it with customers simply because they’re using the wrong language. Engage in what I call “language engineering”: write down specific phrases you encourage and discourage for use in customer service phone calls, chats, messaging, and email.

For example:

Discouraged: ‘‘You owe . . .’’
Better: ‘‘Our records show a balance of . . .’’

Discouraged: ‘‘You need to . . .’’ (This makes some customers think: ‘‘I don’t
need to do anything, buddy—I’m your customer!’’)
Better: ‘‘We find it usually works best when . . .’’

Discouraged: ‘‘Please hold.’’
Better: ‘‘May I briefly place you on hold?’’ (and then actually listen
to the caller’s answer)

3. Expose your employees to what extraordinary customer service looks like. Sometimes, well-meaning employees simply have no idea how good customer service can be because they’ve never experienced it themselves, or because they weren’t paying attention when they did. So take a field trip to a Nordstrom, a Marriott, an Apple Store, a Starbucks, and pay attention to how it’s done.

4. Don’t imagine you can do something with nothing. You can’t give tolerable customer service if you don’t have enough employees. If your hold times are ridiculously long, if your phones aren’t getting answered, or if people are waiting a long time to be helped in person, you’re going to need to hire more folks. (If so, hire the right employees. Here’s an article of mine on how to ­­­­revamp your hiring methods, so that you’re working with a full deck of employees who are naturally-attuned to customer service.)

5. One of the most frustrating kinds of customer service is customer service that isn’t available during the hours your customers need it. Look for ways to offer after-hours coverage without breaking the bank. For example, if you can’t currently afford full-fledged 24/7 customer support, maybe you can afford an emergency on-call number, and you can beef up your self-service options.

6. Speaking of which: Make sure you’re not frustrating customers by requiring them to contact you for what I call Stupid Stuff™. Keep your FAQs and other self-service sources of information up to date so that they actually include all your frequently asked questions. Provide your mailing address and hours of operation on your website so customers aren’t wasting their (or your employees’) time by having to call.

7. Search out and eliminate the places where you’re dropping the ball. The most common place people drop the ball is on the handoffs: when one employee or department cedes ownership of a customer inquiry to another. But sometimes it’s even more simple, and just as disastrous: You’re not noticing when customer queries (or even orders!) come in, or if you do, you fail to get those queries into the queue. So, do whatever you can to systematically address these gaps, and do it now. A customer complaint that you fail to notice, and therefore fail to respond to, can be catastrophic, and even a straightforward customer inquiry that you don’t respond to can quickly turn into a public complaint.


Work on these seven points and you’ll be well on the road to reliably deliver at least “pretty good service.” And while there’s a lot more involved in creating stellar customer service, this should get you (and your customers) out of the swamp of horrors. We can work together from there!


This article was written by Micah Solomon from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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