Three of the best ways to make your business more appealing than those of your competitors (and so win more customers) are to provide a better quality service, increase the value for money that you offer and improve your customer service.

Why is customer service important in business?

Well, countless studies and statistics show that improving customer service is particularly valuable because the vast majority of consumers feel customer service is equally as important as product/service quality and make purchases as a result of good customer service. And you won’t get much warning if your customer service is causing people to seek out your competitors because most consumers who experience poor customer service will stop doing business with a brand without ever making a complaint!

The question is of course, how can you improve the service you offer your customers? It’s often tough to know, so we’ve put together the top six things you can do to provide great customer service.

1. Understand the role of customer service

What is the main role of customer service? Well, from your perspective as a business owner, the role of customers service is to ensure that as many customers as possible are happy to have done business with you. This means your customers will be more likely to:

  • Pay their bill (so you actually get paid)
  • Pay on time or early (which is good for your cashflow)
  • Buy from you again (which increases your revenue for no extra cost to you)
  • Recommend you (which is free advertising)

So, providing good customer service isn’t about providing a good solution to your customer’s problem (that’s what a good service/product does), it’s about ensuring your customer is happy with your solution and how you delivered it to them. If you provide a good solution but make your customers uncomfortable about getting the solution from you, they’ll look for that solution elsewhere next time. And if the solution you offer doesn’t turn out to be a good fit for your customer’s needs but you were helpful and pleasant to deal with, they’ll likely still recommend you when someone they know needs the solution you sell.

Businesses that don’t understand the difference between selling a great service and providing great customer service tend to have to spend more on advertising to attract new customers, so this seemingly simple step really is vital to delivering good customer service.

2. Understand what good customer service looks like for your customers

What is good customer service? Well, it does differ depending on your target market, so providing the very best customer service requires you to do some research into what your specific ideal customer wants. But generally speaking, good customer service includes:

  • Responding promptly. When a prospective or existing customer reaches out, they don’t want to be kept waiting. If your phone rings, make sure someone can pick it up within three rings. If someone sends you an email or fills in your form, have a process set up so they get a response by the next business day at the latest.
  • Listening to your customers. No one likes repeating themselves, and most of us dislike being misunderstood. But most of all, we all want to be recognised as an individual not treated like a cog or a dollar figure. Listen to what your customers and prospects say and respond with empathy. Repeat back what they say to you in your own words so you can be sure you’ve understood their problem and they can be reassured you understand their problem and so will therefore be able to deliver a solution. After all, if you can’t understand their problem, they’re not going to believe you have the expertise to fix it.
  • Delivering on your promises. Do what you say you will, when you say you’ll do it. If you say you’ll send a quote within 24h, make sure you do. If you say you’ll send someone out to fix a leaking pipe within a couple of hours, make sure you do. It might seem like a little thing to send a quote later than you promised, but if can’t send a simple quote when you said you will, how can prospects trust you to solve their important problems?
  • Treating customers respectfully. Being polite will go a long way. In particular, keep curse words out of the conversation unless you’re sure your customer is ok with them.
  • Owning your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. When you acknowledge your mistakes and take steps to fix them, customers will be far more likely to walk away still respecting you. They may even think more highly of you.
  • Going the extra mile. Even little things can make a world of difference. Taking the time to use your customer’s preferred name and checking their work order history before you interact with them can make the world of difference when it comes to ensuring your customers feel valued. (A good CRM — customer relationship management tool — can make this really easy.) Letting them know when you’re on the way to their job is another thing field services customers really appreciate. It helps them feel a little more in control, especially when you’re heading out to solve an emergency. (A good dispatching tool can help with this.)

3. Implement the pillars of customer service

What are the pillars of customer service? Well, it depends on who you ask, but we like these seven:

  1. Prevent — Do what you can to solve problems before they occur. Do your customers destroy their pipes with caustic cleaning chemicals? Do their HVAC systems fail due to lack of maintenance? Educate your customers about how they can prevent problems and they’ll trust that you have their best interests at heart. (Invest in content you can give to customers to make this easier.) And if you get repeated complaints, do something to eliminate the source of the problem.
  2. Be proactive — Start solving customer problems before they know they have them. For example, if you’re installing a roof and you arrive to find a neighbor’s deciduous tree extends over the fence, you could offer to install a gutter shield so they don’t have to clean fall leaves out each year.
  3. Be convenient — Make it easy for customers to get in touch with you. Maybe you could set up a contact form that sends back an automated estimate within minutes. Maybe you could implement a live chat widget on your website.
  4. Be quick — I’ve already mentioned responding to enquiries quickly, but think of other ways you can be speedy too. Can you automate job scheduling so you can book customers in faster? With the right tool, you could even optimize technician schedules so you can fit more customer jobs in each day and therefore reduce the time your customers have to wait to get their problem solved.
  5. Personalize — As I said above, listen to your customers, use their preferred name, refer to their past jobs, and personalize any templates you’re using for communications.
  6. Respect — Even if a customer is angry, acting entitled or just being plain difficult, always interact with them respectfully. If you don’t, your attitude will become additional fuel for negative advertising.
  7. Deliver — If you promise something, make it happen. That means you need to set realistic expectations from the very beginning. Use a tool to ensure your quotes are accurate and scheduling is realistic. And if you ever fail to deliver, make it right, even if you incur a cost. It’ll cost you more in lost customers in the long run if you don’t.

4. Learn to handle difficult customers

Now that I’ve mentioned respect as one of the seven pillars of good customer service, I’m sure you’re wondering, how do you handle difficult customers? How do you handle entitled customers? What do you say to a rude customer? How do you handle angry customers?

Well, it’s not easy, but these strategies can help:

  • Stay calm — This can be hard to do, but pausing before you respond can be very helpful. When the customer stops talking, remind them that you’re there to help and are their best chance of getting a resolution for their problem as that can often diffuse a tense situation.
  • Listen — Sorry to sound like a broken record, but listening is key in all communications but especially those with difficult customers. Let the customer talk, even if you know what they’re going to say or that they’ve made a mistake. Interrupting will make them angrier or more difficult.
  • Practice empathy — Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Try to understand what they’re feeling and why and echo that understanding back to them. This will help calm them. And remember that we’re all human and we all have bad days. Maybe they’ve been up all night with a sick kid or had a fight with their partner. Maybe they’ve just been fired or gotten a parking ticket. Other factors can make a small issue seem so much worse, so even if you think a customer’s reaction is out of proportion, still try to empathize and be pleasant (it may just improve their day a little).
  • Lower your voice — If a customer is yelling or has raised their voice, counter that by using a low, slow tone. This can help dissipate their anger (or at least not add fuel to the fire).
  • Don’t make things personal — No matter what happens, keep the discussion to the issue at hand and how you intend to resolve it.
  • Focus on the next steps — Make sure your customer understands exactly what you’re going to do to try to fix the issue and what they should expect. If you promise a callback, call back, even if you don’t have an update to give (otherwise they’ll think you’re dodging the issue or have forgotten them).
  • Know when to give up — If you’re not going to be able to satisfy a customer and your time would be better spent serving others, you might choose to lose money on that particular job in order to resolve the issue.

5. Automate manual customer service processes

You can prevent of the issues that result in difficult or angry customers by eliminating the chance of human error — through automation. For example, with the right tools, you can all but eliminate bill shock. With a good scheduling tool, you can efficiently schedule work orders, so customers don’t have to wait tool long for a solution to their problem (or you can immediately advise them if you’re unable to solve their problem in a reasonable timeframe so they can seek a solution elsewhere if needed — a neutral experience up front is far better than a negative experience later on!). If there’s a delay, a good dispatching tool can allow you to automatically alert customers so you don’t have to deal with angry calls from customers wondering where their technician is.

Automation isn’t just helpful for reactive customer service, however, it’s also very useful for proactive customer service.

Having a good CRM means you’ll always be able to easily and in some cases, automatically, personalize your interactions with customers and prospects. The right tools set up correctly will enable you to automatically and instantly produce accurate work estimates so you can respond quickly to prospect enquiries. A good scheduling tool connected to your estimation tool and CRM can then automatically schedule the work outlined in approved estimates so no task is ever overlooked and no staff member is ever double-booked, and a connected dispatching tool can enable you to automatically keep your customers up to date on the services they’ve requested and ensure your technicians attend each job site promptly.

And that’s just the start!

How to automate field services management to improve customer service

You’re probably now wondering where you can get these kinds of automation tools. There are lots of options for each individual capability, but if you run a field services business and need all or most of the tools I’ve mentioned, your best bet is a software solution that integrates all the bits and pieces and which is specifically designed for managing field services businesses.

In my next article, I’ll go into more detail about the other benefits of field services management software, especially how the right tool can help you increase your profits. If you want to know when that article is published, drop me a line on social media and I’ll send it to you :)