The Perfect Guide: How to Build a Strong Customer Service Culture
Friday, February 3, 2023
When it comes down to it, there is a single reason that some businesses offer outstanding customer service and other companies fall short. It’s all about culture. What happens inside the business or organization impacts the kind of customer service that flows away from the brand. The culture of your brand impacts the overall customer service experience.
Sure, part of offering great customer service is down to having exceptional training and hiring only the best people. However, these things don’t ensure fantastic customer service directed toward those who walk in, call, or email the company. Strong customer service skills play a part in things, too. But in the end, it’s all about setting an example.
Those who are at the top of the company should be setting the tone that employees go on to follow. It’s essential for management and leadership to be role models. They need to practice what they preach. Employees should be treated the way customers wish to be treated – or even beyond. One example might be offering corporate gifts for great metrics or corporate logo gifts for the employee of the month.
This is the start of creating an excellent customer service culture in any business, no matter how small or large. The rest of this guide will expand upon this with customer service culture examples, tips for creating a positive culture, and much more. But first, let’s dig into customer service and what it actually is.
Understanding the Definition of Customer Service
You might think you already know what customer service is and don’t need a definition. However, it’s also important to make sure we’re on the same page to help you create outstanding customer service. Salesforce’s customer service definition is a good start for this topic.
“Customer service is the support you offer your customers – both before and after they buy and use your products and services – that helps them have an easy, enjoyable experience with your brand.”
This is the basic definition of customer service; however, we also want to look at a good customer service definition. This can give you insight into any changes you might need to make to ensure that your customers are getting the very best from every person on your team.
Zendesk notes that: “Good customer service means consistently meeting customers’ expectations. Great customer service is quick, easy, personalized, and empathetic. Companies that deliver excellent customer service take the time needed to understand the needs of their unique customer base.”
Striving to offer good customer service should be the lowest bar for your brand. Good customer service is better than bad, but unless all of your competitors are clueless, going further is needed to stand out. It’s also important to note that expectations regarding customer service are always rising.
Think about it this way. As a leader in a company, you want to motivate your employees and treat them the way customers want to be treated. Instead of offering generic gifts to those who go above and beyond, they will appreciate it more if you offer unique corporate gifts.
What we’re here to do is make sure you have the information you need to move forward and offer excellent customer service. Not just good, but absolutely outstanding customer service that makes customers feel heard so they walk away appreciating how their needs were satisfied.
Strong Customer Service Skills to Cultivate in Employees
You want to create amazing customer service. You’re happy to let employees shine with great rewards like corporate business gifts for doing their best. One of the top methods for building a customer service culture is ensuring employees have strong skills in the things that matter.
Some of these skills are obvious, while others may not be. Below we’ll share several skills that can be cultivated in workers to create better customer service experiences.
If you focus on a single customer service skill, it should be patience. This trait can improve any customer service strategy. Sometimes, customers will be upset. Others may have challenging problems to solve. Even the most pleasant customers can have frustrating issues that get to an employee after a long day.
When employees respond in kind and seem annoyed or frustrated, the conversation is going to be negative. This applies even if the issue is cleared up for the customer in the end. Being capable of keeping a cool head in stressful situations is a huge priority. Without this, there’s no way to provide outstanding customer service.
Sometimes, there is no way to immediately solve a customer problem. Even then, a customer will feel better if they know you are actively listening to them. Active listening is all about showing attention to the customer and proving you care what they are saying.
For instance, in an in-person conversation, nodding, eye contact, and body language can help. Using phrases like “I understand” or “uh-huh” can also be effective. Make sure customers repeat what the customer says back to them. This can make someone feel better even if they come into the space frustrated.
This is an essential skill, but there is one positive. It’s something that can be mastered by anyone who wants to offer exceptional customer service.
There are a lot of customer service skills that are important to have, but one thing to keep in mind is that every customer is going to be different. One approach might work well for one customer but not the next. This is why employees should be able to adjust their tactics based on an individual customer’s needs.
Something that can help with this is understanding the general types of people who make up the customer base. Employees responsible for customer service should be able to serve all of these people.
When speaking with other people, it is extremely important to be clear. Representatives should be clearly enunciating each word, so there is a far lower chance of a misunderstanding. For written interactions, clarity should also be used to avoid ambiguity.
If employees can be more specific, it’s generally better for them to do so. As an example, you might say “a replacement will arrive on June 13th or 14th,” instead of giving a vague timeline like “four to six weeks.”
For questions that someone does not know how to answer, don’t avoid the question. Instead, let the customer know that you’re reaching out to someone to get the answer they need.
While there may be some questions and issues that are easy to handle, this isn’t the case in every interaction. Let’s say a customer calls in and is irate that their order came late. You offer them a refund, but they say they don’t want that either. What is the next step?
What if an order is shipped but will still be late and you have no way to make the order make it on time? Your customer service team needs to be able to think on the fly. Creative problem solvers can create a much better experience.
Those who have this trait can easily think of unique solutions to any dilemma. It also means employees will have to think quickly, sometimes while in the middle of a conversation. It can be challenging, but it will be appreciated by customers.
More than ever before, timing matters. The customers of today want a nearly immediate response, even if the solution isn’t readily available.
If a customer sends an email, having a response rate of less than an hour is recommended. At the very least, no email should sit without a response for an entire day. For those on a call or in person, at least provide expectations about when you will respond. Then make sure you meet those expectations.
The more consistent and quicker you are, the better things will be. Look into average response times to make sure you’re doing your absolute best.
When a customer service interaction starts, the initial tone can determine how the conversation goes. If a representative is approachable or friendly, things tend to go better than they would for someone who is less so.
A warm greeting is an excellent way to start a conversation. Use congenial, pleasant language. If the conversation is in-person, make sure open body language is used.
Customer service reps need to have good time management skills.
All customers need to feel welcome, regardless of how they get in touch with your brand.
Being friendly is one of the top customer service traits a person can have. It just makes things easier, no matter what the interaction is about.
This is especially essential when working during busy days when hundreds of messages and calls could be coming in at the same time.
Representatives who have good time management know how to avoid distractions, maximize productivity, and abandon or delegate tasks as needed.
Positiveness is a skill and it’s important in any type of customer interaction. It can also reduce stress among workers. As the day goes on, positivity becomes more essential. This isn’t a simple matter of whether someone is a pessimist or an optimist. It’s about being able to commit to positive thinking.
When a rep can see the silver lining in anything, it’s easier to get through the day. They will also be more likely to use statements of gratitude and compliments to further boost positivity.
Being able to negotiate is another invaluable skill for customer service agents. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need to, but unfortunately, it’s still a needed skill. In some cases, you need to compensate for issues or complaints and ensure the customer is pleased in the end.
In other cases, customers might make demands that you simply cannot meet. For instance, maybe a customer wants a replacement item as well as a full refund, which agents aren’t allowed to provide. Thinking like a salesperson and using negotiation tactics will help.
Emotional intelligence remains an underrated skill in the business world. It should be integrated into all departments, even sales. In customer service situations, it can improve an agent’s technique.
You might be wondering “what is emotional intelligence?” It refers to being able to determine and understand the emotions of the people around you. If a customer starts to get impatient, someone with excellent emotional intelligence will notice that and handle things before the situation gets worse.
Emotional intelligence also refers to being observant and in control in terms of your own emotions. This gives you insight into how another person might feel you are coming across in a conversation. It’s one of the top customer service skills available.
In most situations, doing something is better than doing nothing. This makes decisiveness better for customer service than being indecisive. Waiting to respond to a phone call or email can work against you. It might make customers feel like the brand does not care.
Saying phrases like “I need to ask a manager” repeatedly can also make people frustrated. Acting quickly ensures your messages are engaging as long as you make a promise to take some kind of action for the customer.
Some people in customer service genuinely love the job. However, even these people can get overwhelmed in some situations. Huge numbers of calls and emails from upset customers are enough to stress anyone out.
This is why coping skills and the ability to manage stress are important for anyone on your customer service team. There are many techniques here and everyone will find some work better for them than others.
For example, one agent might need short breaks from time to time. Others might look for additional physical exercise or more vacations to get away from it all for a while.
Agents who work in customer service should be persistent and willing to go the distance for their customers. If a customer is unhappy, these agents will keep working to make sure things turn out right. For instance, if a solution takes several days to be put in place, this individual will follow up afterward to make sure everything went the right way.
Of course, there is a limit to how persistent people should be. However, customer service reps who have this trait are often better at creating results.
Being concise can be useful as a customer service worker, which might seem like the opposite of being thorough. However, when we talk about thoroughness in customer service, it means that the agent is covering all the needs of the customers they help.
Things like adding links to resources about a problem or taking time to end an email by asking if all the customer’s questions are answered show the customer that you are interested and want to be sure their needs are met. It also makes it less likely that something goes missing in the conversation.
Effective communication includes two things we’ve already talked about: thoroughness and clarity. The third element is conciseness. The idea behind this is to use as few words as possible when assisting a customer.
Going long may make someone feel as if you are wasting their time, failing to address the main issue, or confusing them. It’s essential to be concise in both writing and speaking.
What to Know About Cultural Differences in Customer Service
With the proliferation of globalization, most companies sell services or products to people in the immediate area, as well as to people who might be around the globe. Even small companies that sell locally need to be aware of the culture of those who moved there from another location.
When it comes to cultural diversity in customer service, the heritage of the customer impacts how they relate to you. Being aware of possible cultural differences is essential to providing the best customer support. This awareness helps teams move beyond their cultural biases and untangle misunderstandings.
Intercultural awareness can also help fight burnout on the job. When you’re aware of how different individuals approach customer service, it’s easier to move away from an interaction without taking anything too personally. Below we’ll provide some cultural differences in customer service examples to help your team succeed.
Communication Style and Language
People from other cultural backgrounds may have unique language barriers and misaligned expectations when speaking with an agent from a totally different culture. For instance, some agents might go on a call where a language barrier is present and proceed to be less helpful. Customers notice when this occurs.
Adapting your appearance, presentation style, and communication style, as well as offering personalized sales offers (such as corporate thank-you gifts) leads to higher customer commitment and satisfaction.
This boils down to learning some languages that customers speak and then adjusting to their cultural practices and norms. This is an exceptional way to create customer loyalty.
Think About Power
In the Middle East, Malaysia, France, and Belgium, the customer is king. In these cultures, there is a huge power distance. This refers to the amount of inequality that people in a population consider normal. When there is a large power distance, hierarchies are on display. In contrast, a country with a small power distance involves sharing power in a more equal manner.
If you happen to be from a big power distance culture, you likely treat customers with extra respect since it is what you are used to. Those from smaller power distance countries may have more conflicts with customers from higher power distance ones. The way you act isn’t in line with what they feel they deserve.
These expectations can also impact the job titles used for those in customer service. For instance, customers in the Middle East will want to speak to someone with authority. This leads to job titles like “Customer Care Manager” or “Customer Support Executive.”
When you build a diverse team, you can balance your approach depending on the specific customer.
Differences in Speed
We’ve talked about how being fast is a good practice in customer service. However, the amount of speed needed can depend on culture. For example, customers in India, the United Kingdom, and the United States have higher expectations about response times. They also tend to hang up if they’re on hold for very long or need to wait before their problem is acknowledged.
However, after being greeted, these customers will be fine with going on hold while you investigate and solve their issues.
In most of Europe, customers expect you to answer their questions right from the go. In contrast, Japanese callers are okay with waiting for their call to be picked up but do not want to be placed on hold.
Handling Needed Pauses
In many businesses, customer service reps are told to avoid pauses or silences in chat or on the phone. However, this is more complicated than expected because different customers will have unique views on what a long pause is.
If someone calls from New York, they’re more likely to find a pause awkward than those outside of the state. Another example would be that people from Finland expect a longer time to pass while those from Sweden feel someone should be talking much sooner.
Improving Customer Service with Knowledge of Cultural Preferences
Improving customer service is often a gradual thing. Some people will get an amazing experience, while others may feel the experience wasn’t great. It all depends on what the budget and time allow. This creates a mixed service experience. For example, fast and free shipping could be provided but with only a single payment method.
As you work to create a better customer service culture, focus on improving service by looking at the cultural preferences of your main markets.
Chinese customers, for example, are more positive about mixed service than those in America or Europe. As such, the best customer service is needed when dealing with customers in North America.
Saying No Without Using the Word
When speaking with British customers, they expect customer service agents to be task-oriented, efficient, and prompt, with a focus on common sense, pragmatic solutions, as well as responsiveness, authenticity, and reliability. However, they want their privacy to be protected and prefer to avoid personal details in small talk.
In addition, they don’t like to hear the word “no” directly, and getting into verbal spats is unacceptable. It’s a better option to listen and show you care about the customer’s opinion before suggesting an alternative.
Maybe someone calls in wanting to make a change to an order placed through their spouse’s account. While that isn’t possible without the account owner’s permission, agents should still hear what the customer has to say.
Summarize what was said and explain that you understand why the customer is asking for a certain resolution. Then choose an alternative to recommend, such as having the spouse call or using online tools to change the order.
Complaints from Customers
Even if someone speaks a foreign language well, they are more likely to complain using their native language. If the native language lets them be polite while simultaneously being assertive, this may make it less challenging to tell an agent that they are disappointed with a service or product.
Knowing about this also lets you see how it can skew data related to complaints. Customers in some locations may seem as if they are happier than those in other places.
All About Written Communication
Even when speaking the same language, different cultures have unique loudness, rhythm, pitch, and pitch variation when speaking aloud. However, when written, emojis and punctuation are often the best way to convey emotions and attitudes. This can create emotionally loaded situations to understand what someone wants to say.
For instance, someone speaking Indian English will differ from a person speaking British English in terms of loudness. Many speakers of British English find loud speech to indicate anger, while Indian English users may use loudness just to bring emphasis to something.
This is only one example using the same language; however, the phenomenon is very widespread. These situations can occur between German speakers in Austria vs. Germany, English speakers in the UK vs. the US, and more.
Passion or Logic
If you speak with customers from Austria or Germany, they expect efficiency and objectivity. This might mean a focus on tech issues and a dislike for conflict. However, they may get passionate in a bid to prove they are right, which people from other cultures may find aggressive.
This might make you think of reliability, efficiency, and punctuality, and it should. Many of these customers frown on delays and want full transparency. For instance, over 80% of German customers read the terms and conditions before making a purchase. They also often pay by invoice after the service or product has been received.
While there are trends to consider, keep in mind that every person is different. Don’t rely on stereotypes when each person an agent speaks to is an individual with their own likes and dislikes.
9 Tips to Creating a Top-Notch Customer Service Culture
Now that we’ve provided information about cultural differences in customer service, the top skills for agents, and what customer service is all about, we want to offer some helpful tips. There are tons of methods to create an excellent customer service culture, but first, let’s look at why it matters. Company culture can do the following things:
• Increase productivity
• Decrease turnover
• Increase morale
• Increase creativity and sales
• Increase employee engagement
Building the right customer service culture doesn’t have to be expensive. No matter the industry, company size, or financial situation, building an excellent customer service culture can be done. All you need to do is invest interest and time in the well-being and happiness of employees.
Below are several ways you can work on a positive customer service culture without spending a ton of money.
1) Consider Employee Wellness
When employees are not healthy, it is going to be an uphill challenge to create a great culture. You should focus on ensuring employees are at their best emotionally, mentally, and physically. Customer service agents are the core of a brand and without them, success would never be possible.
As the leader of a company, you should offer on-site opportunities, tools, and resources for your team so they can stay healthy and well, whether at the office or somewhere else. Whenever you can avoid negativity and lower employee stress, go for it. It often increases productivity.
2) Start With What You Have
Every company has some kind of culture. Nobody is starting from zero with a customer service culture. Instead, what you need to do is enhance the culture that already exists. After all, you can’t expect agents to make a full 180-degree change.
So how can you get started with this? Ask the workers what things about the culture they enjoy and what they do not. You can also inquire about what suggestions they have to foster and build a fantastic culture that everyone will appreciate.
3) Hire the Best People
The individuals you choose to hire will have an impact on customer service culture and the business as a whole. Hiring based on need or skill is common, but you should also be sure the person will fit into the environment. If you have a customer service culture where teamwork is a priority but the new hire doesn’t like to work with others, it can damage office flow.
As such, make sure the hiring process compliments the culture in the following ways:
• Appreciation of values and culture – It’s easier for a team to work together to meet a goal if all workers are aligned with the company's values and culture. Behavioral questions can be used in interviews to see if someone is a good fit.
• Optimization of interviews – Even the best interviewer can’t get every piece of information in an hour. It’s ideal to have several interviewers who focus on different areas, like culture fit, experience, and skills. With diverse interviewers, unique and deeper conversations help you learn more about a candidate.
• Attitude matters – You want someone who has skills and is available to start in a certain position without a lot of training. While this person has an immediate impact, they may not grow with the company which increases the turnover rate. Hiring someone who is a good fit for the culture and who doesn’t have the skills means they will be happy to grow and learn. They often stay longer and move into new roles.
• Don’t hire carbon copies – When you hire someone to fit the culture, that doesn’t mean they should be exactly like everyone else at the company. What you want is a person who can diversify and enhance the existing culture. Your customer service culture should be diverse and balanced.
Having a hiring process that shows your culture will attract candidates who will be a good fit for everyone else on the team. It also makes it easier to determine who is the right hire and who might not be even if they have the skills.
4) Provide Purpose and Meaning
While employees want to be paid, that isn’t the sole reason to choose a company to work for. Many workers want purpose and meaning in their work, or they find themselves growing uninterested in the role. Plus, when employees have purpose and meaning, job satisfaction will rise.
If there is currently no meaning behind work in your customer service culture, you’re failing before you even do anything else. This is why it’s essential to have core values and a missing statement that employees are aware of. Give agents examples of how their work can positively impact customers, the company, and the community.
5) Create Relationships in the Workplace
One of the top steps toward a better culture is helping to build workplace relationships. If employees have limited interaction and don’t know each other well, there’s no way for the culture to grow.
As such, find opportunities for people to be social in the workplace as part of the customer service culture. Consider team-building games, happy hour, company outings, or team meals. This could also be a good time to offer rewards like personalized corporate gifts.
6) Point Toward the Positive
Creating a positive work environment is crucial for a great customer service culture. Every day, leaders should smile regularly, offer recognition when it’s due, express gratitude, and remain optimistic even in times of crisis.
A simple way to do this is by having a casual dress code. This gives everyone a positive and fun atmosphere and environment while working. When positive behavior is entrenched in the workplace, it makes employees engage more.
7) Make Sure to Listen
One of the easiest ways to improve company culture is by spending more time listening and less talking. Based on a survey from CultureIQ, 86% of workers in a strong culture environment felt management listened to them, while those without a culture only expressed feeling this way 70% of the time. This goes to show that listening to agents is important. They want to feel heard.
Whenever there’s a chance to ask for feedback, take advantage of that. It could be about how to improve customer service, what goals the company should have, or whether the kitchen needs a new coffee maker. However, be sure that after you listen, you act based on what people have said.
There’s no reason to wait for an annual review to ask these types of questions. Seek out worker suggestions and feedback regularly. Make it part of the customer service culture.
8) Reinforce Company Values
Initiatives and programs should be in place to reinforce the core values that correspond to culture. It’s a great way to ensure the business continues to thrive. One method to do that is by peer awards. Have monthly and yearly awards given to the person who best shows the core values of the company. You don’t need to make this something fancy. Buy something fun from corporate gifting companies.
When workers live up to the values of a company, it can also have a positive impact on customers. For instance, sending corporate gift boxes to customers for an important day can go a long way. Or preparing meals for families dealing with a hard time is another example. These are examples of exemplifying different values that a company may hold.
9) Use Branded Corporate Gifts
We’ve mentioned corporate gifting a few times throughout this article, but it bears having its own section in terms of how it can help improve customer service culture. Let’s be honest. Most people feel a sense of true joy when they receive a gift at an unexpected moment.
There’s a touch of surprise when it happens, which manifests into excitement while opening it. After that, delight is followed when seeing what is inside the gift. Plus, after all that, workers come to realize that someone spent time and money to give them a thoughtful gift.
The reason corporate gifts are such a powerful thing is that they create an emotional connection with the people giving and receiving the gift. Corporate gifts often go overlooked but can be a great way to better connect with employees and clients.
Most of the interactions people have nowadays happen through a device of some sort. A gift box is a tangible method of creating a connection and making a long-lasting impression.
It’s even more likely to be appreciated when the gift reflects the core values of the brand and embodies the customer service culture. It’s important to choose a company that offers on-brand, thoughtful gifts made of excellent products that create the message a company wants to convey.
The customer service culture at a business is key to employees. A staff that has values and needs that match the company’s will result in a team that enjoys their job and the company above them. When employees can work somewhere with a great customer service culture and continue building it as time goes on, they’ll be more dedicated, more productive, and apt to develop better relationships.