Customer Service Standards: Above and Beyond

shutterstock_105376130The customer service industry can be a bit cutthroat. Customers want you to do one thing, the business may have other ideas. Uniform customer service standards make a crossroads like this easier to overcome. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant, retail, a call center or a sales department (plus many more) know all too well what customer service is. Customers are always right, be courteous, stay professional, try to up-sell without them knowing it – you know the deal. If you’re unfamiliar with customer service, learn more in the course Customer Service Training. The policies of each company will vary depending on their organizational culture. Some companies are very customer service centric and some are more employee centric. The standards enforced will also depend heavily on the kind of good or service being offered. Regardless of the kind of business, there should always be standards set forth that are clearly displayed for the customers and used as a central philosophy for employees.

Designing Standards

The customer service standards of a company consist of three basic categories, internal, external and general regulations. When you start a new job often times you’re given an employee handbook. In this handbook the policy makers of the company will review things like attire, pay schedules and company rules and regulations. This is usually your first introduction to how the company treats customer service and the guidelines show how you are expected to respond to all customers. It will also explain what the general company regulations are and how you should deal with different scenarios should they arise. As a new employee you will be trained on all of the customer service standards central to the company. Management should clearly write out all company standards and have each employee sign to adhere to these policies. Need help designing effective customer service standards? Learn how in the course Customer Service Blueprints.

Types of Customers

In a company there are actually two types of customers: internal and external. Internal customers are co-workers or others within the organization who depend on someone else within the company for a service. External customers are those that purchase the goods or services the company is selling. Customer service entails providing exceptional and timely service to both types of customers at all times. When people use the term customer service they are usually referring to external customers who are consumers of a business. Standards set for external customers includes customer service before, during and after a purchase is made. It’s important to enforce quality service throughout the entire sale.

An internal customer is essentially a co-worker in a different department. For example, you are working in the sales department and use a customer relationship management system like Maximizer to do your daily sales calls. If the program stops working or you begin having computer problems you are likely to contact the internal tech team to help you get things working correctly again. The tech team has a set of standards employed by the company that they must follow, maybe including a response time of under an hour or an email to you so you know the ticket has been received.

So, what are the standards for treating external and internal customers? It really depends on the company culture but there are some pretty universal guidelines that most companies follow world-wide.

Standards: External Customers

Let’s say you make a call to your credit card company to process a payment over the phone. When you call and speak with a representative they will usually greet you, ask how you are, respond to your request and then end the call by asking you if they have answered all of your questions. It’s common that customer service employees are trained to follow a script that ensures all customers are treated well and consistently so. Most companies also display their external customer service policies in the open for existing and potential customers to see. This lets customers know what they can expect from the company. Some general standards include:

  • Greet customers in a professional and welcoming manner.
  • Respond to their needs and questions to the best of your ability.
  • Thank them for doing business with the company.
  • Provide detailed information about the status of any orders being processed.
  • Provide professional and courteous service to the customers throughout the entire sale process.
  • We encourage customer feedback and will do everything we can to meet any concerns. (In the course Understand Your Customers, learn how to use customer insight to your advantage.)

These are just a few general customer service standards that customers have come to expect from most companies world-wide. More specific examples may include:

  • At a pizza shop, the company standard may be that customers ordering delivery should receive their order within 45 minutes. If they do not, the pizza is free. This sets an expectation for the customer and if this expectation is met, they will likely become a repeat customer. Learn more about how to obtain loyal customers in this online course.
  • In an office environment, employees may be required to set up an automatic email response if they are out of the office for more than three days at a time. This lets customers know that their inquiries are not being ignored and that they will be contacted soon.
  • In a call center environment, the company customer service standards state that all call representatives must ask the caller if they can place them on hold before doing so. Putting a customer on hold without saying anything is called a quick hold and is generally unacceptable.

Customer service regulations are usually not law binding. This is important because some customers may take a failure-to-follow through to the next level. A customer can claim they didn’t receive proper care and believe they deserve compensation for their struggle.

A situation like this happened in 1994 when a women sued McDonald’s because she received hot coffee and then preceded to spill it on herself. She sued McDonald’s for not letting her know the coffee was hot. While this seems like a silly thing to happen (I mean, coffee is usually hot, right?) – she settled the suit with McDonalds out of court for around $500,000. One of McDonald’s standards is to serve hot coffee to customers. However, their hot coffee was “too” hot and therefore the customer took advantage of the situation and filed an excessive lawsuit. Don’t end up in this situation. Clearly state that the customer service standards written out for the public is a set of policies the company follows, but should they fail to follow any of them they are not legally responsible for any consequences. Obviously, however, it’s in the best interest of the company to enforce all standards for the sake of their reputation.

Standards: Internal Customers

Responding to, and dealing with internal customers consists of the same basic principles. Be professional, be timely, provide service to the best of your ability and be courteous. The company should institute a basic set of rules that employee-to-employee business interactions should follow. Just because a co-worker works for the same company as you doesn’t mean they deserve less professional treatment than an external customer. Communicating and providing excellent customer service is important with internal customers because you are all working towards a mutual goal: the success of the company. Ensuring that all service standards are met benefits everyone. Some basic internal customer standards are:

  • In the event an employee cannot answer a customer’s questions, the call will be immediately directed to a person in management better able to do so.
  • We will respond to all emails within 24 hours.
  • Maintain a professional demeanor and courteous attitude.
  • Act proactively to ensure all service standards are as to not delay any work needing to get done.
  • Answer the phone within three rings.

Telephone Etiquette

More often than not, telephone etiquette will have its own set of standards. Responding to incoming calls from customers is one of the most important customer service responsibilities. Doing so effectively is of equal importance. Depending on the company or department these standards will vary. As mentioned before, many departments will provide scripts to employees to ensure that all of the standards are being met consistently. Read 7 easy tips to improve customer service for your company. Some examples of telephone etiquette include:

  • Greet the customer and identify yourself on every phone call.
  • Explain the customer of the services being offered and the standard practice of the company.
  • Answer all questions and ask if they have any unanswered questions.
  • Show respect to the customer regardless of the situation.
  • Address all concerns either by resolving them or directing them to someone who can.
  • Answer the phone within 3 rings.
  • Offer to take a message if the party they wish to speak to is unavailable.
  • Ask the customer before placing them on hold.

General Standards

Like all of the customer service standards discussed above, general company standards are catered to the type of business. These general standards usually are expected across the board, between internal and external clients alike. Some general standards include:

  • Our goal is to exceed the expectations of all clients.
  • We will take responsibility and hold all employees accountable for our commitment to service.
  • We aim to anticipate the needs of all customers by working proactively to meet all needs.
  • We will maintain a professional and upbeat environment that encourages growth and the establishment of long-term relationships.
  • We provide guaranteed satisfaction to all of our customers.

Measurable Standards

Not only is it important for a company to have customer service standards in place – it’s important for them to design ways to measure the success of these standards. A policy may state all customer service representatives must answer incoming calls within 3 rings. This is measurable because management can monitor each representative and see if they are following the company policies. If the company policy is to “answer the phone in a timely manner” then customer service reps will determine what a “timely manner” is. This could mean 3 rings for some and 6 for others. It’s important to be specific as to what you expect from employees as they deal with the public. The policy-makers of a company should also ensure that their policies are realistic. Answering the phone within 1 ring would be a rather unrealistic expectation of the employees. Taking time to analyze all of the standards set in place will ensure that the company is constantly providing the best customer service it is able to. Are you a manager? Learn how to design measurable customer service standards in this course.

I worked as sales representative at an educational travel company and they had customer service down to a “T”. We were all trained on what to say when a customer called in, how to respond to pretty much every objection and how to turn a no into a hard yes. We were told to always talk with a smile as the intonation of your voice will change if you smile and the customer can sense the friendliness in your tone. It was engrained in us so much that we were required to have mirrors in our cubicles so that while we were chatting on the phone we could catch a glimpse of ourselves – which was supposed to remind us to smile. This was a measurable tactic because each week our managers would pull random calls from the week and assess our conversations and our tone of voice. They, too, could tell if we were smiling – or not.

Another example of measurable standards comes in the form of mystery shoppers. When you work in retail you deal with customers all day long. It’s always better to get to the cash register with a cart full of things and be welcomed by the cashier than to endure an awkward and long silence. Cashiers are usually required to ask you if you found everything okay, if you’d like to sign up for the store card and then thank you on your way out. Mystery shoppers are anonymous customers paid by the company to shop at the establishment and then report back about the service they received. The mystery shoppers are usually given a survey to fill out that follows the customer service standards the cashier is supposed to follow. This helps the company understand if the policies they have implemented are actually being carried out.

Every company should create a set of standards that the employee signs upon hiring. This ensures that the employees understand entirely what is expected of them and knows that their performance reviews will be dependent on their ability to follow these standards. This is a basic management practice that should be upheld at every business. Learn more about cutomer service fundamentals in this course.