How to Create Realistic Customer Service Guidelines

Written by Ian Landsman · 08.24.2021

Customer service representatives are the frontline of your brand. They are the face of your business, and the people taking the abuse while still delivering service with a smile. The way they interact with customers will decide whether those customers become lifelong fans of your company or if they’ll be turned off and never do business with you again.

Have you armed your team with the customer service guidelines they need to be successful, or have you left them flying without a net?

It’s easy to tell your team to “do your best” or that “the customer is always right” (everyone’s favorite customer service platitude), but what does that mean to them day-to-day? What they really need are consistent, uniform guidelines that underscore the importance of customer service, while empowering them to deliver delightful interactions at every customer touch point.

In today’s post, we look at how to create realistic customer service guidelines that provide procedure and support for your team.

Adopt a Common Language

We’re told simply replacing the words “have to” with “get to” can change our attitude about a task. It can make working out seem less arduous and going to the grocery store feel like less of a chore. There’s power in language. Language sets the tone for a conversation.

You can use language to show, internally and externally, how customers are treated within your organization. It may be the difference between answering the phone with a friendly (scripted) greeting that kicks off a positive interaction vs. answering the phone with a grunt to make customers feel like an inconvenience.

As the majority of service complaints are fairly standard (X didn’t work, I can’t find Y, how do I do Z?) it becomes possible for service teams to create common language to guide responses.

These may be customer service phrases like:

  • “We’re glad you reached out”
  • “We absolutely understand and want to help”
  • “I want to give you the best solution – please give me a moment and let me see what I can do”
  • “Is there anything else we can do for you today?”

By developing a common language, you help your team anticipate problems while putting the right answer on the tip of their tongue. This isn’t to say service responses should be completely scripted, but providing 5-7 common phrases for your team to pull from will build consistency and establish the correct way to speak with customers.

Set Boundaries for Promises

Whether it’s Batman or Wonder Woman, we all want to be the hero. We want to be able to say, “No problem, we’ll refund the whole order!” or “We’ll have that replacement in your hands in 24 hours!” Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. Delivering great customer service means going as far as you can for the customer, while being upfront about what you can’t do.

The customer service guidelines you create should help your team understand their boundaries – what can they promise and, just as important, what can they not promise? Help them to realize that failing to make good on a customer service promise creates more frustration and more bad feelings than being honest about what you can do from the start. Define the promises they can make on their own, the promises they can make with higher approval, and the promises they aren’t able to make at all (ever).

Establish & Document Your Internal Process

It’s Saturday night and a customer begins engaging with your Twitter account about questions they have regarding new product features. How quickly do you expect your staff to respond to customer inquiries?

An angry customer calls your support line and demands to speak to a manager, now. What is your process for escalation?

A long-time customer asks if you could ‘bend the rules’ just this one time. Are all customers treated equally, or is preference given to customers with status or standing?

Once each situation is addressed, what is the process for logging the response, scheduling a follow-up or sharing it with the greater team?

Guidelines are nothing without an official process for the guidelines to fall into. Provide your team with clear documentation regarding how to handle common customer service complaints, what language to use and to avoid, how to document service issues, guidelines for escalation, the lengths employees can go for customers, and where to go with any questions or problems. The more process and procedure you can put into place, the easier it will be for your team to understand how to act in a given situation.

Allow For Scale

Process, process, process – but also flexibility. As you bring on new customers and as new employees join your team, your process will need to grow and evolve with it. The standards you set in place today as a company of five may not be appropriate once you’ve tripled in size. You may not be able to make the same accommodations for customers, or you may not be able to use the same type of language you’re using today. Allow room for growth within your process, and annually revisit your guidelines to consider whether they’re still applicable and where evolutions need to happen.

…And Curveballs

While it’s possible to anticipate many customer service issues, there are also situations you’ll never see coming. Enter the curveball!

Realistic customer service guidelines have a contingency for the unpredictable – what to do when you have no idea what to do. Who should employees go to when they encounter something they’ve never seen before? To what degree should they spitball the answer and attempt to ride the wave on their own, and when they should seek help from someone higher up? Acknowledging that not all situations and complaints fit into a tightly-defined mold will make your team feel more comfortable when tricky situations do arise and will inform them on where to go when this situation happens.

Understand Your Mileage May Vary

Internal customer service guidelines and procedures are essential to the success of your customer service team. However, everyone should remember they’re just guidelines. The process you create should never be a replacement for initiative, good judgement and problem solving skills. Empower team members to find creative solutions for customer problems in a way that not only resolves the situation, but also creates a “wow!” response the customer will long remember.

In business, you are the customer service you provide. Make it count by arming your customer service team with the procedures, policies and support they need to be successful.

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Ian Landsman
Ian founded HelpSpot in 2005 with the goal of making every interaction with your customers simple and efficient.
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