by Mateusz Kuczera
Published February 6, 2023
On Tuesday morning, Billy receives a call from a client and, as is his habit, responds with a very informal “Hello?”
“Uhm, good morning, Billy,” echoes a soft feminine voice through the smartphone’s speaker. “This is Melina from Milkyway properties.”
“Yep?” responds Billy while clicking away at his computer.
“Well, we have a problem. Turns out the pipe Jake fixed yesterday still leaks. Not as much, thank God, but enough to keep us awake at night.”
“Wanna have it fixed?”
“Well, yeah… That’s a bit the reason for my call,” says Melina with an audible smile.
“Alright, I send you Jake,” says Billy.
“Billy, I’d rather have someone else,” replies Melina with increasing impatience. “I’d appreciate if you can send another plumber.”
“Alright. I send you Milo tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” says Melina, her voice suddenly becoming dry. “Billy, this needs to get fixed fast. Please find someone today.”
“I don’t have no one but Jake today.”
“Ugh,” sighs Melina before pausing a few seconds. “Okay, fine. But please make sure he does the job right this time…”
“Yep,” concludes Billy. “Bye.”
Once again fictitious, the situation above has roots in reality. And as is pretty obvious, communication is extremely important at all times when there are client interactions. While some level of familiarity is usually acceptable when relations are well developed, it is recommended to never be fully informal. It is also paramount to manage client perception and expectations.
Communication during customer support needs to focus on several key points. First, the person in touch with the customer needs to practice active listening. This means undivided attention to what the clients is saying with of course very limited multi-tasking. This also means ensuring that the customer service representative heard is really what the client meant. This implies sometimes reformulating what the client said and asking if it was well understood. Communication is not only limited to listening but as it is a complex topic, it will be discussed in more details in an upcoming insight.
It is extremely important for anyone directly in touch with customers to understand what they are going through. This requires some level of empathy, active listening of course, being able to see a situation through their senses, and having a sense of urgency when treating client calls. Achieving this will enable an easier interaction and will give the client the perception that the customer representatives actually care; because they do.
Approaching situations with a touch of optimism and positivity also helps. But it is necessary to ensure the positivity is not fake, or it will feel completely out of place. For instance, a representative cheering joyfully when a client’s entire basement is flooded will not be received very well. Saying however that “we are ready to support and do whatever we can to resolve the situation” will provide relief to the client.
But things will not always go well. Technicians may sometimes make mistakes or forget things, as is human. When these issues occur, the customer service representative must work to maintain the credibility of the company in the eyes of the customer. In other words, defend whoever did the work while also conceding to the client that the technician made a mistake. This is not an easy task and requires carefully considered balance between defense and concession to be effective and successful.
Knowing the limits of what the company can offer is another very important aspects of customer service. If the representative does not have this knowledge, there is always a risk of overcommitting and subsequently not delivering on commitments without even knowing it. Knowing the limits involves knowing the technical capabilities of the workers, the type of materials readily available, and which ones need to be ordered.
It is also very useful to have basic troubleshooting knowledge to be able to rapidly assess what may be causing the issue. This will in turn increase the likelihood that the right technician will be sent on site and will be able to quickly identify and resolve the problem.
It goes without saying that overcommitting and underdelivering is a big mistake. Do not commit to clients unless there is almost complete certainty that the work can be done within what was committed. This of course means to not say Yes to everything without careful consideration and internal communication. The checklist in part 2 is a good guideline of things to consider before committing. However, additional aspects to the pre-job checklist need to be considered.
Once a commitment has been made, everything possible must be done to honor it. Too often have people said things and not done them. Having an honorable word in this day and age is an invaluable asset and ultimately competitive advantage. Delivering on commitments consistently brings a level of credibility to a company that others will be envious of.
But even when all of this has been considered, there are always unknown unknowns. It is therefore recommended to commit with a touch of uncertainty saying that things can always change last minute, and if they do, contact the client to explain the change in priorities and reschedule the work as needed. If needed, some concessions can be made to maintain a positive customer mood.
When the company is very small and only one person manages clients and does jobs, a tracking system is recommended but not necessary. However, when multiple people receive calls from the same client or person, a tracking system becomes mandatory. And whenever a client call requiring a follow-up action is received, it is recommended to log it in that system.
Issues, tickets or other tracking tasks can be raised for multiple reasons. Whether it is a recurring issue, an invoice with mistakes, a simple client question, all of them need to be actioned. When the issue is perceived as resolved, it is very important to contact the client to ensure that this perception is shared. In other words, ask the client if they feel the problem has been taken care of. Then, and only then, can the customer task be closed. And when addressing customer tasks, treat them with a heightened sense of urgency. This will in turn give the client a perception of importance, because importance will be given to the client.
The tips above are not exhaustive but will ultimately help manage the client’s perception of the company. And with a positive perception, clients are more understanding, patient, and indulgent. This in turn reinforces the relationship positively and makes for a satisfied customer even when things don’t go perfectly.
This part completes the operations cog, which consisted of Day-to-Day Operations, Inventory Management and Customer Service. The next several parts will focus on managing finances within a small service business starting with pricing.