Michael Podolsky
Michael Podolsky
CEO and Co-Founder of PissedConsumer.com

Creating amazing customer service is the primary goal of any business. Yet, business owners and consumers may have different perspectives on the quality of customer service. How can you know customer expectations when they contact a support department?

...day in and day out, just be consistently and predictably the tiniest bit better than average and meet those customers' expectations.

Shep Hyken, a Customer Service & CX Expert, spoke with PissedConsumer about creating amazing customer service and what it means for consumers and companies. Learn how asking an extra question can help you better understand your customers.

Here are the main points discussed with our customer support expert.

How to Achieve Amazing Customer Service?

Shep: My name is Shep HykenI am a customer service and experience expert. I help my clients create amazing experiences for their customers and clients, guests, residents, and whatever they want to call them. I travel around the world doing speeches. I've written eight books, published over 3000 articles, and probably hundreds of publications. So I've been around for a while. 

Michael: Thank you, Shep! How do companies achieve amazing customer service? What's in your point of view is amazing customer service? How would you advise companies to do that?

Shep: The word ‘amazing’ is kind of misleading at times because most people think amazing is about being over the top and blowing people away with the best experience they've ever had. But the truth of it is ‘amazing’ is just doing what's expected. 

And if you wanted to do more than it's expected, you don't have to do much more. It's like 5% or 10% better than average, but when you do it consistently and predictably, which is the key, your clients and customers are going to say, "I love doing business with them. They're always so quick to respond, they're always knowledgeable, they're always helpful."

That word ‘always’ followed by a positive word like ‘helpful’ and ‘knowledgeable.’ "And even when there's a problem, I know I can always count on them." That word ‘always’ is in the mind of the customer, that consistency. And when that happens, they say, "They're amazing to do business with."

That's not about going over the top. But when there are opportunities to do so, and when something falls in your lap, like a great problem to resolve or you overhear something that you can take advantage of, and really deliver an even better-than-expected experience, that's a time to grasp and take advantage of.

Otherwise, day in and day out, just be consistently and predictably the tiniest bit better than average and meet those customers' expectations.

Have Consumers Changed Their Expectations?

Michael: Have consumers changed in the past 10 years in their expectations of customer service?

Shep: The big change. It happens every year, and it's my number one prediction I make at the end of every year getting ready for the next year. I just did it this week (note: video interview was recorded in December 2022), and it is that the customer's expectations continue to become more demanding. Year over year customers expect companies to deliver better service. 

Here's why this is happening. There are great brands out there, like Amazon and Apple, and hotel chains like The Ritz-Carlton and the Four Seasons and other amazing brands that really set the bar for what good service looks like. The majority of people would agree that these companies are amazing at what they do. 

And guess what happens? All other companies get compared to those companies because we're all consumers. We've all had consumer experiences and regardless of whether we're a B2B, B2C business, or any type of business in the industry, we are comparing our experiences to others.

What we're really looking for is for people to do the basics. I've already mentioned what those basics are...

...we need to be knowledgeable, and helpful and make it easy for customers to do business with us. That's what amazement is.

So these rockstar companies set the bar high. A lot of companies that aren't getting the ratings they want, they are still working at it, they are just not keeping up with what the customer's expectations are. If that happens long term, you're going to see competitors usurp you in your efforts to own and gain customer share.

How to React to Negative Feedback Online?

Michael:Those unlucky companies are 99% of those that get negative reviews online. When you speak to companies, how do you advise them to react to negative feedback that shows up online?

Shep: I see negative feedback as two opportunities. Negative online feedback means feedback that is there for the world to see. 

Number one, it's the opportunity to resolve the customer's problem. If the customer took the time to complain, and if they made that complaint based on trying to reach out, making a phone call and an email didn't get a response, and this is their fourth or fifth attempt at being recognized, that's a bigger problem unto itself. 

Let's assume that the customer decides to go out there and leave some negative feedback or mention a complaint. First and foremost, customers are taken care of. The nice thing is you can go online and respond directly to that customer, ask them to move offline to a direct message format, and then come back on and say, "Thanks for letting us take care of your problem."

Number two is to recognize that this is an opportunity for a good PR experience. Customer complaints and the rest of the world get to see that you resolve the complaint, hopefully to the customer’s satisfaction. In a perfect world, if you come back and say, "Hey, thanks for letting us take care of you", that customer is going to come back and say, "Hey, I'm so glad that I reached out to you", on whatever social channel or whatever review site it is.

The third opportunity is that complaints are really an opportunity to find out what's wrong with your process. It's not just about solving a customer's complaint. If you start hearing the same problems and complaints popping up over and over again, you need to do something to mitigate, if not eliminate it altogether. 

We need to look at the root cause of those complaints. Every complaint that comes to you is an opportunity to not just resolve the situation but to make the customer happy and restore their confidence in doing business with you. It's an opportunity to also improve your process. 

If it's online and it's public, it's also that opportunity for the world to see you.

How to Handle Customer Complaints?

Michael: PissedConsumer comes from the world of online complaints. The majority of the reviews that show up on our platform are negative. It's much easier to get negative feedback from consumers. 

We've done customer development on our website and I just want to share my experience with you, about why consumers come to the third-party platforms and not go to the company directly. 

There are two problems mixed into one. First, today's consumer does not trust the brand to keep negative feedback on the platform. But why consumers are still going online and publishing it? Because consumers want to do a favor to the company, for the company to learn from its mistakes, improve its processes, so future customers don't suffer. That's what customers are telling us when we speak to them.

Shep: Some of that is accurate. Because customers have gone to a third-party review site, it's probably because they didn't get the response they wanted elsewhere. I jokingly say they're seeking revenge on the company because they want the world to see, "Hey, these guys didn't respond the way I want them to. Now let's see what happens."

Michael: A typical customer sees interaction with customer service. Most of the complaints on the sites are speaking about experiences with customer service. In reality, it's behavior and communication from the entire company. Customer service is just the easiest person for consumers to reach at the company to talk to. This is how the consumers see it. 

If the salesman sold me the wrong product, I'll be angry at customer service, not the salesman. The problem in the organization is actually within the sales team, not necessarily customer service. What can you say about that?

Shep: I would think that the customer is angry at the company and they're taking it out on someone in customer service if they are in fact angry. Or they may be angry, but if they try to resolve it in a way that doesn't appear to be angry it's still about the company. It's not about the individual. 

One of the things we train to and emphasize over and over again, and this is old news, is that if you are a customer service rep, realize that if the customer comes into the call and they're angry and upset, it's not you. It's something that happened. It is your opportunity to diffuse the anger, fix the problem, and do it in such a way that ideally restores confidence for that customer to want to come back and do business again. 

This is why I hate that so many times… 

…companies look at that customer service department as a cost center and the reality is they are a customer retention and potential revenue generation center by holding onto and ideally creating that confidence with the customer.

One of the things we're going to teach our customers to do, is we want them to complain. When we teach them to complain the right way, that means they're going to call us next time and say, "Hey, you guys always take such good care of me. I've got another problem, let's start over." Then they get this and what happens? I go back to that word I used at the beginning of our interview, the word ‘always’ pops up. 

Even when there's a problem I know I can always count on them. So we train our customers to become demanding customers. We want them to reach out to us when there's a problem. We want to give them such a great experience that they would never want to go anywhere else. And if they did, they would demand the same level of service that they'd been getting and that other company would say, "You know what, you're too demanding. Go back to where you came from."

What Is the Future of Self-Service Solutions for Customer Service?

Michael: We rely on voice communication a lot, but the world is changing. If you want to have a voice communication with Facebook or Google, forget about it. It's nonexistent. Large organizations are moving towards the service where customer service doesn't exist in the voice format. How do you feel about it?

Shep: There are large companies where you can't reach a human being, which is a shame. I think they're substituting technology for human-to-human connection. Companies like Google and Facebook are saying, "You know what, so few customers really need to talk to us. We're not going to provide that." I think that at some level that could be a mistake. 

If you're having trouble with a Google search and you call and say, "I can't find what I'm looking for", that's probably not a good reason to have a customer support call. But if I'm using one of the Google products and granted some of them are complimentary and it's not working, I should be able to find my answers. That's the key. Create self-service solutions. We do a survey every year. 

71% of customers we surveyed are willing to use self-service solutions provided they're easy to use. 

That's very important. They're intuitive, they're easy to find. A lot of the time we teach our clients in the customer support world to teach customers how to use these self-service solutions so they don't have to call and be put on hold and then be authenticated. 

It's easy for them to just go online, log into their account and look for a video tutorial or a frequently asked questions knowledge base where they can get some answers really quickly. If we got a robust search engine of our knowledge base where a customer just types in their question and it comes up, what's easier than that? 

When we teach our customers to do that, they're going to want to get the support that way versus the traditional human-to-humanist work.

Now that said, to your point, what's frustrating is that the majority of customers, coincidentally 71% of customers prefer the phone over any other communication channel. Email is number two, and then it goes down from there.

By the way, at the bottom of the list is social media, and oftentimes it is not the first place they go. It's about a second, third or fourth attempt, and finally, they decide to go social on you and share it with the rest of the world. I hope this is an answer that's helping you get an idea of what we're looking for here.

What Is the ‘Extra Question’ Method?

Michael: You're absolutely right. Consumer first tries to address the issue directly to the company by whatever means email, phone, or chat. If the company is unsuccessful in addressing the issue, it is the consumer's choice where they go to post the feedback online; on social, on special websites, or whatever that might be. 

Should the company monitor all of the social reviews that exist in the world; TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so forth? Should the company take it upon itself to monitor all the possible channels of communication that consumers could think of to leave feedback about?

Shep: The short answer to that is one word, yes. I think you've got to be where your customers are. It's very inexpensive and there's technology out there that will allow you to track every time your name is mentioned in any of these social channels and review sites. So it's very easy to track and monitor all of those posts.

Michael:You often tell in your presentation about asking an extra question. Can you tell about it for our consumers, so they understand what kind of religion you are spreading out there?

Shep: Wow, thank you. That's one of the favorite points that I make in some of the presentations, and that is we don't want to have a communication breakdown. It's one thing if I'm upset because I received the wrong bill. If I'm a cable TV company and the power or the internet goes out in a particular area as a customer, I might be upset with that, but it's going to get fixed. 

If I call in the way you handle it makes me happy, that's great. But in the process, you can fix a lot of operational issues. But something that's really hard to fix is a communication issue because customers walk away and say, "You know what, they don't understand me." As a result, there's little trust and that's a barrier to moving forward in the relationship. So I talk about this idea called the extra question, which is to get a better understanding of what the customer's expectations are.

If the customer says, "Hey, I need this quickly", don't just say ‘yes’ because even if you can do it quickly, wouldn't it be nice to know what the customer's version of quickly is? So you might ask, "Well, how quickly do you need it?" "Is there any way I can get this within the next hour?" "Oh yeah, piece of cake, I'll probably get back to you within the next five to 10 minutes."

Well, you've just made that customer really happy by asking the extra question. However, if they say, I need it in the next five minutes and you know, can't get it done until two or three hours from now, you need to realign that expectation. 

You're using that extra question to understand expectations, realign them, and make sure you can deliver on the expectation once you finally decide what it is.

By the way, it might not just be one question, it might be two or three questions. I remember when I was younger and I was involved in sales, they always talked about asking those extra questions to make sure you understand the customer. I take that idea to the customer service world in the customer experience world. 

In sales, if I was trying to sell a car and somebody said, "Do you have this car in green?" You might ask, "Why do you like it in green?" And they may go, "Oh, I'm so glad you asked. No, I actually hate the color green. And if I ever saw this color on that car, I would never even buy it for myself."

Isn't that nice to know that information rather than just say, "Oh yeah, we have it in green. Let me go show it to you." Because that's the exact wrong answer. You ask that extra question, you understand the expectation. The same thing happens when you're servicing your clients and your customers.

Michael: Shep, thank you for the recommendations. How should the company contact you if they are interested in your advice on customer service? What are your preferred channels of communication?

Shep: Thank you for asking. Just go to my website, www.hyken.com. Plenty of information is there. My contact information is on every page. Hint to all companies out there, if you have a website, put contact info on every page. Make it easy for the customer to find you. Anyway, I'll be there for you. You call me. We're quick to respond, I promise. 

Michael: Thank you!

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