Employee Engagement

Customer service can have a nightmare reputation, but there’s plenty you can do to avoid the horror of an angry client on the phone. Here Darrell Huntley, Head of Customer Service at, the UK’s number one discount site on Review Centre, gives his top five tips to improve your customer relations.

Once upon a time a customer bought a double bed. It was damaged in transit and there were five failed collections, with each attempt meaning the customer had to take time off work to receive the delivery. Eventually, a replacement was delivered and it was a single bed… then finally the next replacement happened without incident.

The customer was not a screamer but also was not the Dalai Lama either. A nominal amount of financial goodwill was provided but what secured this customer (one of our current best customers) is the ownership the agent took to see this through to conclusion. It was emotional for everyone involved. Expectations were set and broken, but communication and honesty were always there.

At the end of the day, this is just one of many customer horror stories, but it’s important to remember that good customer service is about being able to give a customer bad news and having them say thank you at the end of the ordeal. Here are my five key components of a successful customer service operation, which will hopefully help you resolve any customer nightmares too…

  1. Set clear parameters

If you are not open on Tuesdays, or your returns have conditions, make them clear.  Managing expectations is the biggest pitfall for bad customer service, so it’s important clearly document how you operate. You should also make sure you direct your customer to any important information early on. If you deflect people away to help accommodate your process do try to make these rules available up front, otherwise you stand the chance of aggravating the customer.

  1. Make it easy   

Do everything you can to make your self-help section comprehensive, current, and easy to navigate. Customers are becoming increasingly comfortable searching for answers themselves, as it’s often the quickest way to resolve a problem. Information in this part of your site can also be posted quite brutally and still be consumed palatably by your customer. For example, “We do not accept returns outside of 12 months” isn’t a line that you could email to a customer, as it is simply too pointed. In an FAQ section however, it becomes a documented fact. Of course the customer can dispute it if they like but you have something black and white to fall back on, which predates the customers query.

  1. Be available and personal

Do not hide contact details. Make them unmissable. Reply with lively, polite responses signed off with a name, not just a department or company. Telephone numbers in the conclusion paragraph or signatures help build trust too. Customers can sense if agents want to get rid of them. They can tell when they are being fobbed off and they absolutely know when someone is being disingenuous. Trying to close off a query too quickly exacerbates all of this, leaving the customer with a bad taste in their mouth and inviting them to make more contact to escalate a complaint.

I heard a joke once about how to keep the seat next to you clear on a train. So, if you do something obnoxious like putting bags on it a frosty traveler will likely confront you and challenge you for the seat. If, however you see someone approaching, make eye contact and softly pat the chair they are heading for, they might choose not to take that seat. Analysis of this as an IRL event is obviously ridiculous but the psychology of the ‘punchline’ has some relevance.

  1. Keep honest 

Sound obvious but don’t lie. You will get caught out. The truth is far easier to remember. Which leads on to…

  1. Be transparent

So often customer service agents are unsure what details they can reveal to the customer around what has actually gone wrong. Mostly this is fueled by a fear internal information is confidential and might be abused by the customer. The reality is so long as your company is operating ethically from the off there is very little which cannot be shared (this is a cultural change which must be driven by the management team). The customer generally appreciates it when you show that you trust them and of course treat them like an adult until you reach a resolution.

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