What does excellent customer service mean to you?

Kenji Hayward,

Head of Customer Support at Front

17 April 20200 min read

Every team has their own definition of excellent customer service. Knowing what great service means to your team can help you make better decisions.

When you’re leading a customer support team, it’s critical to know what good customer service actually means to you and your business. That might sound obvious, but the way you define customer service has a big impact on a variety of business decisions: how you structure your customer support organization, what team goals you set, and how individual reps talk to customers on a daily basis.

In my experience, I’ve learned there are generally two ways to define customer service: business-centric and customer-centric.

  • Business-centric customer service means, not surprisingly, that your customer support function is focused on serving your company's goals.

  • Customer-centric customer service, on the other hand, means your customer support function is focused entirely around creating a great customer experience with your products or services.

If the two options are on either end of a spectrum, most teams fall somewhere in the middle. Want to find out where your team lands? Ask yourself this when you’re making any sort of customer support decision:

“Ultimately, who is this decision benefitting? The business? Or our customers?”

Teams shouldn’t have to choose one type of customer service or the other for every decision. In fact, the best case scenario is usually a healthy balance. But knowing what customer service means to you — what your business prioritizes first — is key for giving your customer support employees clarity and focus in their jobs. It’s also a critical factor in choosing a customer support solution for your team.

What does excellent customer service mean to you?

Here at Front, we have a customer-centric support team. Almost every decision we make revolves around the customer — but this doesn’t mean we throw all business goals to the wind. You’re probably not shocked to hear that we use Front as our customer support tool. It helps us keep our ideal healthy balance: keeping business goals top-of-mind, while remaining customer-centric. Here are a few ways Front enables us to do that:

1. Give personal replies and stay organized with internal-only conversation IDs

Customer support teams deal with higher incoming message volume than any other team in your business. To help bring order to potential madness, traditional customer support tools like Zendesk, for instance, use conversation identifiers to organize requests. To do this, they assign every message a ticket number to organize and prioritize them internally.

The problem with ticketing? It turns your customers into numbers. The “human” behind every message turns into “Number 290459687" which is not so charming for your clients.

To keep the benefits of ticketing without losing authenticity, you simply need to keep those ticketing numbers internal — for the eyes of your team only, not your customers.

Front allows you to do this with Conversation IDs. Rather than stamping a ticket number across a message for your customer to see, they just get a regular, human-to-human email reply. But when your team needs to discuss or reference a particular request behind the scenes, your customer service team can reference the Conversation ID. Assigned automatically to every message in Front, Conversation IDs are easy to grab and make sure your team knows exactly what’s being referenced.

2. Ensure every customer gets a reply and eliminate confusion for your team with built-in accountability

Who’s working on that request right now? What questions have been answered? When your team is answering support questions from multiple channels, or you’re using a group alias like support@acmecorp.com, it’s often a struggle for individual support reps to tell who’s accountable for what.Front is designed to bring accountability to support teams, so it’s always clear who’s working on what. Here are a few ways Front does that:

  • Automated rules get messages into the right hands instantly.

    Want everyone to work on an equal number of messages? Make a round-robin rule in Front to evenly distribute requests amongst your team.

  • Assignments allow you to give a clear owner to every message.

    Not sure who’s following up with the customer? Simply click a teammate’s name in the drop-down menu to assign it to yourself or a teammate. That way everyone knows who’s responsible for it.

  • Collision detection prevents duplicate replies.

    Working together as a team to resolve support requests from a single queue? As soon as you start replying to a request, Front assigns the message to you. Everyone can see you’re working on a reply, so they can move on to the next request.

  • Out of office mode keeps conversations going, no matter what.

    Got a bunch of unresolved support requests in your inbox, but going on vacation tomorrow? Teammates can go “out of office” mode in Front. Any message that would be assigned to them, or any conversations they’re in the midst of, go back in the shared queue for someone else to answer.

It’s a win-win: Your customers won’t get duplicate replies from your team, and your team won’t waste time with two people working on the same request.

Read more: How to talk to your customers in 7 easy steps

3. Gain visibility into requests and stay close to customers with flexible triage

As a support leader, I’ve found that a great exercise for support team leaders is to take time to manually go through your support queue. It’s the best way to figure out what your customers need, and get insight into your team’s performance.Using Front enables me to do this on a daily basis, because it’s designed for full visibility of our support queue. Here are a few ways Front does this:

  • Shared inboxes give everyone insight into every request. Front has shared inboxes for teams. This allows everyone on the team to see customers’ questions and responses. As a leader, I can click into our support inboxes and see what’s being asked, and how my team is answering.

  • Automated routing is flexible, so my team can work the way we need. Front’s routing and automation are easy-to-use and easy-to-adjust. On any given day, I can turn off our routing rules, manually triage and assign messages to my team for an hour, then flip a switch to turn the rule back on. This allows me to get insight into the questions customers are asking, and also to experiment with different workflows for my team.

  • Tags help track message volume: When there's a feature or special topic I'd like to track support volume for, I can easily make a folder for that tag. That way I can browse related messages, and it's easy for me to see how many questions we're getting around that topic.

The interview question: What does great customer service mean to you?

Knowing your company's stance on this question is critical for giving a great customer experience on the whole, but this is also an important philosophical question for you to ask while interviewing for customer service positions. You're hiring and you want to find an employee who will give exceptional customer service and really understand customers' needs. So both you as a business leader and the interviewee as a potential employee need to have alignment here.

For the interviewer: How to gauge answers to this question

As a hiring manager for a customer service manager, you want someone who's guaranteed to give great service, according to your definition of great service, which you can decide on for yourself from the above considerations. Look for someone with strong customer service skills to put on your staff.

  1. Ask what issues the interviewee might foresee as the biggest issues your customers have with your product or service. This helps to dig into their research and how thoroughly they've thought about the role.

  2. Take a real situation that actually pops up often and ask them to walk through exactly how they'd respond.

  3. When they're walking through an example in real time, have them do so while thinking about the channel they'd give the answer through. Have them adjust their response based on that: is it an email? Is it over a phone call? Live chat? Social media accounts?

  4. Look for the key skills for excellent customer service (we analyzed 100 job postings to get this list of skills).

  5. Have the potential support agent share from their own experience the last time they had a bad customer service and what went wrong. Then have them explain a moment of the best customer service they've ever had.

  6. Assess their basic customer service skills. Do they have a positive attitude? You can assess this by having them tell a story about a time in life when something went wrong. It's a good indication of a positive attitude if they showcase what went wrong but also highlight positive learnings or outcomes that resulted.

If you want more ideas, you can read more in our practical guide to hiring the best customer service representatives or get ready to onboard customer service employees.

For the interviewee: How to answer the question

Good news! If you want to get hired as a customer service representative, you're almost guaranteed to leave a good impression if you can really nail the answer to this question and prove that you're willing to do what it takes to give quality customer service.

  1. Practice your own definition of customer service. Instead of grabbing an example off the internet, make it personal to you with a real experience that you had with others.

  2. Don't be afraid to show your emotions. Be real. You want to showcase that you can empathize with a customer's needs, give a great experience even when your customer is angry because you, too, have felt what it's like to be angry or frustrated too.

  3. Know the basics. Scour the company website. Think about the real customers' expectations. Go over the elements of good customer service.

  4. Tell them about a time when you connected with a happy customer. Tell them how your communication created a customer service experience that made someone smile. As cheesy as it sounds, being able to make someone smile is a big part of good customer service.

  5. Ask for feedback! After you've shared an example of your work, ask the hiring manager if they have feedback to share on it. This shows that you're open to improvement and aren't afraid to receive customer feedback, too.

So, what does quality customer service mean to you?

Leading a customer support team means keeping a constant, conscious balance: What are the places we can go the extra mile to give customers the best possible experience? What choices do we need to make in order to keep a healthy, growing business? Whether you’re business-centric, customer-centric, or anywhere in the middle, find out what excellent customer service means to you and your team. If you’re looking to achieve a healthy balance, Front could be the perfect support tool for you.

Written by Kenji Hayward

Originally Published: 17 April 2020

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