People say there is a calm before the storm. Well Christmas, is anything but that.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, there is always a buildup of stress and tension. As a consumer, I am busily putting together my list of presents, organizing the schedule for when to get everything so that they make it in time for the parties and meetings. All the while, trying to manage with work and life in general.

There’s no doubt. It gets stressful.

So when life decides to pull one over and ruin my plans with a missed shipment, can you imagine the havoc I’d cause for the person on the company’s service line?

Well, not me personally. But I’m sure you too can understand the frustration someone going through that would feel.

Now imagine having to deal with a customer like that, or worse, multiple customers like that. You can almost sense the hell that is about to rain down.

It’s hard enough being a consumer at such a time. But it’s nearly unbearable doing customer support during such hectic times. On the one hand, you understand their anger and desperation, on the other hand, you yourself is also trying to find your zen in among all that stress while attempting not to burst a vein in the process.

We all know the importance of having good customer service. But doing it is one thing, and doing it well is another.

Learning from Maslow

In the 1940-50’s Abraham Maslow developed the hierarchy of needs theory. Originally a study on the workplace environment, he theorized a person’s pyramid of needs and how to best motivate productive behavior according to this pyramid.

Relevant till this day, Maslow identified the importance of addressing one’s basic needs (such as hygiene) before addressing higher goals.

Quite accurately, a job that promises to inspire you and help you reach greater things sounds great enough. But if that meant you had to work day in day out in a roach infested office with the rotting odor of dead rats, then all that talk about self actualization amounts to very little.

We feel that customers experience the same. Yes, it is great if you could deliver the WOW, but there are certain hurdles to cross before reaching that point. Below is our take on the hierarchy of needs in customer support.

  1. Visibility / Contactability
  2. Staying on top
  3. Keeping the smile goes both ways
  4. Delivering the WOW!

Visibility / Contactability

Following from Maslow’s theory, we find that it is crucial to first tackle the most basic of needs before proceeding forward. So, we broke down the experience of a customer encountering a problem to find out the main touch points.

Instinctively, when we have a problem our reaction is to find a solution. In many cases this would mean going to the root of the problem.

It has been found that 90% of customers go to the company’s website before calling or emailing the company when they encounter a problem (Source: Salesforce Desk). With this said, you would be doing your customer support team a great favor to have a dedicated support or FAQ page that would allow customers to find their own answers in a case of a problem.

On top of that, by providing your customer with a clear way of contact, you are reducing the chance of a frustration build up. Make it straight forward for your customer to find you by keeping the ways of contact visible. After all, you’d much rather have a chance at resolving their frustration to take the risk of having it played out over social media.

Staying On Top

Now that you’ve provided the customers with a channel of communication, it is important that it is actually functional. Similar to a doorbell, it is only as useful as the sound it makes in order for a response.

The whole point of customer service is that it relieves the customer’s frustration. Therefore listening is as important if not more important than responding. Yes, they want answers, but what good is an answer if it is not relevant.

With automated responses these days, it is tempting to rely entirely on them to ease the workload. But make sure you clearly understand the question before proceeding to give an answer.

Staying on top also refers to being on top of your game and responding over social media.

Did you know that 88% of customers said that they were less likely to buy from companies who leave their social media complaints unanswered?

(Source: Conversocial)

So before you decide to ignore a Facebook complaint because it didn’t seem relevant to your business, know that there may be another customer out there who is be judging that behavior.

Another element of staying on top is keeping your replies on time. Think of your responses as pizzas. They are best served fresh! Being quick and responsive is part of staying relevant.

There are be some exceptions depending on the type of business you run and the urgency of the matter, but in general it is a good practice to reply to your customer within 24hrs.

Keeping The Smile Goes Both Ways

At the end of the day we are emotional beings. And though you may think that your smile does not count because you are not dealing with the customers in person, I’d advise you to think again.

Ever heard of emotional leakage? Well even if you don’t know what the phrase means I’m sure you’ve witnessed it in some form or another and have most definitely displayed it yourself in the past. Emotional leakage is when your feelings on one matter overflows and affect your behavior when dealing with another (non-related) problem.

An example would be someone performing aggressively at a soccer match after suffering a recent break up. Our emotions are not contained in a logical manner. So even though you may not think your foul mood on another matter affects your responses to a customer, chances are the emotion were manifested in some say or form into your replies. The unique thing about humans is that we are detectives in detecting emotional cues.

Then what do we do when we are pressed by unfortunate emotions but have to answer to a customer? Take a minute or two to just collect yourself and acknowledge the current state you’re in. Then put on a smile (even a fake one) as you regain your professional composure.

If you want to know more on why even faking a smile helps, check out this article published by Forbes: Why Faking a Smile Is a Good Thing

Delivering The WOW!

If you’ve made a habit of all the things mentioned above, it means that you are now ready for going the extra mile. Yes, sometimes… a lot of the time when companies go the extra mile for their customers it may be with a calculated reward. But that should not be your main motivation.

Such acts of doing more than expected should be centered around a genuine understanding of committing to your customers. No, it’s not expected that you treat every case with that over the top attitude and service but let yourself be extra generous once in awhile!

You’ll know when the opportunity shows itself, be original but even more so be honest and genuine about your response.

Get inspired with this article by Help Scout on 10 phenomenal stories of customer support:

Train Your CS Muscle

Rather than concentrating on one time stunts that get media coverage, think of customer support as a muscle. Indeed, there are occasions when you are filled with the adrenaline rush and is able to perform above and beyond.

But if you do not have a habit of training up your CS muscle, you'll lose steam fast. Why set yourself up for failure by having an act that cannot be followed in the long run. Rather than a one hit wonder, it is more favorable for your business to have a well managed customer support.

Keep in mind that negative publicity has way more impact over your customers than positive. So make sure you do the ground work by keeping your regular customer support up to par before trying to reach for the stars.

Share with us your philosophy for customer support, or perhaps let us know about your experiences as a consumer. What were the things that made you turn your head (the good & bad!).

If you're looking to better prepare yourself for this Christmas then perhaps check out our article on making your eCommerce holiday ready: How To Make Your eCommerce Relevant For Christmas.