Customer service in the tech industry has become a bit of a lost art. So many of our systems and procedures — from marketing to onboarding to client communications to retention efforts — are now automated.
My agency builds websites and apps that make people’s lives easier — but one thing I have learned is that even the most streamlined, efficient website or mobile app cannot replace quality customer service. At the end of the day, the customer experience dictates the success of your business, from your reputation to your bottom line.
Before becoming an entrepreneur and entering the website development world, I worked in retail management as an assistant manager for Walgreens. Today, I apply much of what I learned there to my work within the tech and startup industries. The context may be different, but the same tried-and-true concepts apply.
Here are my top customer service mantras for approaching even the most challenging of client interactions.
Empathy is a superpower.
I have been in management for more than six years and have put out more fires than I can count. Some of my most successful client interactions were the result of putting my own feelings aside for the moment and truly empathizing with the customer experience.
If your client is coming to you with a concern or a complaint, you have to be able to really listen. Don’t just wait to get your own point across, but listen to understand. Why is this situation inconvenient or upsetting for your client? What could it be like to be in their shoes? As Alan Alda said, “Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you.”
My agency recently took on a project with a company undergoing a management transition. The new management team requested changes to the scope of the project, which resulted in a higher estimate that the client did not want to accept. By sitting down with the client, understanding their world and empathizing with the situation, we were able to reach a mutual understanding and a reasonable solution.
If you don’t care about the problem, you won’t care about the solution.
Rise above right and wrong.
The first thing many of us do when faced with a complaint or criticism is defend our actions or blame the other person.
Exceptional customer service starts with the mentality that you are on the same team as your client. A misunderstanding or disagreement is not a fight between people on opposite sides of the table. Even if you do not agree with the concept the client is bringing, rise above an argument about who is right and who is wrong by validating the client’s experience.
The customer is not necessarily always right, but the customer always has a point. I have found that when clients feel understood and believe you are in their corner, they are much more willing to hear your perspective, compromise and be open to a wider range of solutions.
Provide more than expected.
Recently we had issues with our books. We use Quickbooks for all of our bookkeeping. Our new bookkeeper, Lula, was cleaning up the mess but had run into some problems along the way that she couldn’t figure out. She called Quickbooks and they walked her through every detail, answered every questions asked and helped us resolve all problems we were having. It even went to the extent that we were on the phone or screensharing with them for at least 10 hours that week.
I viewed this as customer service at its finest. While Quickbooks is a SaaS accounting software and its business model is based online, they’ve grasped the concept of understanding human interaction. Yes, they have an entire library of forums that answer many questions we had or videos that could have helped, but automation and the internet have their limits. As people, there’s a deeper connection and gratefulness of service when working together.
It is nearly impossible to communicate too much with a client.
This is especially true in regards to first-time clients, who tend to approach a project with either very little idea of what to expect or an idealized fantasy of how things will progress. Setting realistic expectations and clear boundaries will help ensure clients are not setting their sights too low or too high.
I recommend in-person meetings whenever possible so that tone and energy can be accurately expressed and so it is easier to appreciate shared humanity. When communicating through email, convenient software or messaging apps, it can be easy to forget you are dealing with an actual human being with their own struggles, insecurities, fears and hopes.
Times may have changed, but the formula for high-quality customer service remains the same. When I take the time to empathize with a client, validate their experience and consistently communicate about expectations, I always get positive results.
On occasion, that result might be that I do not move forward with the client, but in the long run it is more efficient to discover incompatibilities early on and part on amicable terms. At the bare minimum — even if you decide to end a professional relationship — the client can walk away feeling understood. The result is an improvement to your reputation, your product and, ultimately, your bottom line.