What Does It Mean to be Customer Service Oriented?

Being “customer service oriented” boils down to one idea: helping people. As simplistic as it sounds, this ethos is the key to making it work as an organization.

Yes, there are a lot of skills you need to help customers effectively, but there’s a deeper outlook that informs the day-to-day actions of customer service all-stars.

The core characteristics that make a company customer service oriented add up to the ability to fulfill the ultimate purpose of helping people, regardless of challenges along the way.

1. A customer-first approach

Practice saying this phrase out loud: It’s not about the product. Organizations that excel in customer service see their job as helping customers, not selling or servicing a product. Instead, the product is the vehicle for making the biggest impact on people in a specific industry.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of the beloved e-commerce site Zappos, embodies this belief. He says, “Zappos is a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.”

Zappos’ tagline has nothing to do with shoes — it’s “Powered by Service.” This perspective infuses an organization with a unifying message: We’re here to help customers any and every way we can.

When customer service teams understand that their actions are central to the purpose of a company, they’re much more likely to find meaning in their work and go above and beyond every day.

2. Universal buy-in

Say you believe customers can (and should) come first. This business model is only going to work if there’s universal buy-in across your company. And that’s a lot more challenging than it sounds.

As Help Scout’s Emily Triplett Lentz reported, some organizations tend to prioritize the needs of individual silos within a company over the needs of its customers. This can lead to a disjointed, ineffective customer service (even if the support staff is amazing).

Here’s a typical example: Imagine you’re on the support team for a SaaS product. The salespeople push upsells to clients who wouldn’t benefit from them, and outdated company policies keep you from giving refunds.

You have to deal with the fallout, and no matter how helpful you are, no one feels good about the outcome. Without universal company buy-in around a customer service orientation, issues like these become the norm.

On the other hand, if each employee — from company leaders and salespeople to developers and designers — all focus on helping customers, they all buy into a shared purpose. That sense of unity creates the ideal environment for customer service champions to do their jobs well.

3. High levels of empathy

Knowing how to help customers depends on your ability to empathize with their challenges. If you can know how they feel, you can help them to feel better, which is the most important part of a customer service job.

Even when there’s not a quick fix, a dose of care, concern and understanding can go a long way.

Gareth Goh at InsightSquared notes, “Customer service can’t always deliver solutions, but it can always deliver empathy.”

Being empathic means cushioning a “no” or an “I can’t help you here” with more thoughtful dialogue. For example, if you’re on the phone with a disgruntled customer and you need to transfer her, imagine how she would feel, and speak to that.

Unempathetic response:“I’m going to put you on hold and then transfer you, OK?”

Empathetic response: “That must be really frustrating for you. I’m going to connect you with a specialist who is the best person to fix this issue. Her name is Susan, and she knows you’re on the line.”

When employees practice empathy for customers in every aspect of their work (whether directly related to customer service or not), they are a part of an organization built on meaningful relationships that stand the test of time.

4. Exceptional follow-through and follow-up

The worst thing a company can do is drop the ball, failing to follow through or follow up on their customer service promises. This enrages customers, taking them from dissatisfied to fuming.

Although following through and then following up with the customer isn’t necessarily a skill set, it’s a trait successful companies master. Just as people value that characteristic in a friend or a colleague, they value it in a customer service teams, too.

In an industry where one negative customer experience can have a never-ceasing echo through social media, resolving an issue (and making sure it stays resolved) is more important than ever. In short, follow-through shows that a company gives a hoot about the people they serve.

Likewise, when organizations use automated solutions to follow through or follow up, they should feel personalized. Customers need to feel like they’re communicating with a company of humans — not robots.

5. The willingness to make it easy

Would you prefer that someone walk you through a customer service solution or just painlessly fix the issue for you?

Hubspot cited a Customer Contact Council survey based on 75,000 customers. It showed that most people want the job done for them. In fact, reducing the work it takes for a customer to solve a problem has the greatest impact on customer loyalty.

The best customer service oriented teams default to taking on the onus of a problem or challenge rather than passing it back to the customer. If your customer needs a problem fixed, just do it for them, and reduce the effort your customer has to expend.

Although it’s not revolutionary, this idea can have a revolutionary effect on your relationships with customers. Your customers are likely to feel relief rather than stress while asking for help. A willingness to make it easy (and efficient) is key to becoming a customer service oriented team.

Create a customer service oriented team

Any organization with a focus on customer service relies on all of these unique ingredients to succeed. But above all, it depends on team members who love what they do.

If you want a company that rocks at customer service, recognize the #HumansOfSupport who live and breathe these characteristics every day.

Elizabeth Wellington
Elizabeth Wellington

Liz writes about business, creativity and making meaningful work. Say hello on Twitter or through her website.

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