Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "Basement to Boardroom" April 30, 2012
Here's an idea: Call your own company's phone line to see how it's answered. Have a live online chat with your competition and your own company during the workday. Send an email requesting more information and see what you get back. Fill out a form on your website to see what happens afterward.
I'm sure at least once you'll be surprised by your customer service "audit."
I recently did all of these at my email marketing company, VerticalResponse, and found major flaws in how we were handling inbound inquiries. It's not a knock on anyone in my company; it's just that over time, you get different people adding/taking away from a process and no one is probably looking at the entire communication string from end to end.
Pay special attention to these four things:
How do your employees answer the phone? Is it the way you want them to? Have they ever been instructed on how to do this? If not, you may want to formalize (or not!) how they should be picking up the phone. As for demeanor, I like our employees to be less robotic and to have personality on the phone; your business might not allow for that. We also strive to not keep a customer on hold for longer than a minute and/or get back to them right away. It doesn't always happen for various reasons, but it's something to be aware of.
If you have a phone tree, you need to give it a closer look. If there are too many "push 2349 followed by the pound sign for customer service" and "push 456 followed by the pound sign for sales," you might be making it more difficult than it needs to be for your customers to reach you.
I even listened to our hold music, which ended up being a different volume than when someone chimed in to talk. It just sounded unprofessional. The details matter.
Your e-mail should come "from" your company name. I can't tell you how many times I get an e-mail that I really need from "support" and sometimes I take it for spam or my filters do. Also try not to make your emails sound robotic if you can. I know, sometimes "canned responses" are easy and the best way to answer a particular type of question, but sometimes hand-holding is needed as well.
If you're using live chat or instant message, make sure that you don't keep your chatter waiting too long; it is "live," after all. Since people are reaching out to you in this manner they expect a pretty instantaneous answer, so if you're not going to pay it off, don't do it.
If you're going to offer support via an online form, answer it in a timely fashion. The bar has been set so low with forms these days that I'm surprised when I get someone to answer one! I just recently asked for more information by filling out a form on a website. I was so happy to receive an answer back that I asked if they'd really read my request!
When it comes to customer service, it's easy to assume that if there aren't any complaints and everything seems to work okay, there's no need to improve it. But you can't afford to have second-rate or flawed service. We all need to take a step back once in awhile to make sure all the pieces still fit and are as streamlined as possible.
What other communication channels should be included when you're auditing your customer service?