As we have seen, time and time again, word of mouth can make or break a company’s reputation. With social media expanding the reach of a customer’s voice, it’s more important than ever to make sure your association is embracing a customer service culture. As with any relationship the one you have with your members takes work, but investing time in nurturing the partnership can pay off big time by leading to happier, more engaged customers.

Here are 10 keys to creating and growing a customer service culture at your organization.

1.) Mentality

A customer service culture means a culture of accountability, and for this philosophy to be pervasive throughout your organization, it must be embraced from the top, down. So, what does a culture of accountability look like?

  • Taking ownership: Even if it is not your expertise, ask as many questions as possible, so when you pass it to your colleague, you can give them all the details and information they need.
  • Seeing an issue through to resolution: Communicate any passing of ownership to the customer, while still making sure the issue gets resolved in the end.
  • Customer first mindset: With all communications, system updates, and process changes, think of how the customer will be affected.
  • Responsiveness: Set the right expectations, and acknowledge receipt of an issue, even if you don’t have the resolution yet.
  • Treating your internal “customers” as you do your external customers: Giving your colleagues the same respect and attentiveness as you do your customers ensures efficient issue resolution.
  • Recognition: If someone gets a customer compliment, share it with the team to promote the culture.

2.)  Training

Training both your internal staff and your members is a crucial element to spreading the culture.

  • Internal training
    • Require all new staff to sit in on calls.
    • Create living documentation that can be updated and is easily accessible.
    • Provide cheat sheets during system changes, widespread issues, and busy times of year.
    • Have the team train one another in ongoing sessions with case study examples and best practice tips.
  • External training
    • Provide video tutorials
    • Distribute tip sheets during times of change
    • Give them help options such as FAQs, an online user community, or knowledge base to allow customers to help themselves and one another.
    • Reward them for beta testing or trying new initiatives.

3.) Providing Options

Giving your customers different avenues to reach out can help to spread the load of support across multiple members of the team. Just make sure your team has the bandwidth to cover all the options provided.

  • Allow customers to reach out over phone, email, ticket, or chat.
  • Funnel questions to certain places using your answering machine.
  • Define your processes and plan your coverage. What is your standard turnaround time? Who is monitoring all the methods of contact and when?
  • Don’t ignore social media or online forums. Those need to be monitored too!

4.) Tracking

If you’re not tracking the issues you’re hearing about, now is the time to start. After all, if you aren’t keeping up with the feedback you’re receiving, how can you act on it? Here are some options for tracking:

  • Invest in a support platform
    • A support platform allows you to funnel all communication into one place.
    • Each customer has an account, so you can see previous interactions.
    • It assists in follow up and knowledge transfer, as tickets can be assigned to other team members.
    • Standardized answers can be created that representatives can plug in when appropriate.
    • It offers robust reporting to help you identify trends.
  • Use the systems you have
    • Add notes to a customer profile or order within your learning management system (LMS) or association management system (AMS).
    • If you host conferences or seminars or offer online education, check the program evaluations for valuable customer feedback.
  • Can’t afford a system?
    • Track calls in a shared spreadsheet, and require all team members to keep it up to date with who reached out, when, how, and a description of the issue.
    • Give your team issue categories to select from for easier reporting.

5.) Analyzing

Now that you’re tracking your data, do something with it! Hold regular support-centric meetings to review customer service items only.

  • What trends are arising and what can you do to help? Show your customers you’re listening to them.
  • Determine action items for any issues – big or small – and make the appropriate changes, such as:
    • Updating website language
    • Implementing process improvements
    • Adding FAQ information
    • Building out functionality
  • When thinking of solutions, ask yourself: What is the problem we’re trying to solve? The proposed solution from a customer may not always be the right one.

6.) Standardizing

The fewer systems your members have to interact with the better, as it is easier for them to engage and easier for you to troubleshoot. Examine your AMS and LMS solutions and make sure you’re providing the best end user experience you can. Consider these three steps:

  • Integrate
    • Implement a single sign-on for a seamless experience.
    • Centralize your shopping cart, allowing customers to purchase all offerings in one place.
    • Simplify the customer user flow with intuitive navigation.
  • Consolidate
  • Customize
    • Have a similar look and feel across all your systems, so customers can’t tell when they pass from one to another.
    • Review the language and messaging across all platforms to make sure the information and branding is consistent.

7.) Leaning

Don’t be afraid to lean on your vendors for assistance. If they have a support team, take advantage!

  • Promote the vendor’s contact information anywhere appropriate, and funnel questions their way.
  • Include their feedback and data in your support meetings.
  • Strategize with them before busy times of year or large events.
  • Establish protocols with the vendor about what issues should be passed to you.

8.) Preparing

Make sure you’re ready for busy times of year, whether membership fees are due or a continuing education deadline is approaching. Having a plan of attack allows you to be proactive instead of reactive.

  • Plan for extra coverage by hiring a part-time employee or training cross departments.
  • Establish an all hands on deck protocol.
  • Provide cheat sheets to all staff so everyone can answer inquiries and feel empowered to assist.
  • Give your members tips and tricks for surviving the busy time.

9.) Apologizing

Even if you do everything right, there are still going to be angry customers. Falling on your sword and apologizing can completely disarm them and help get on the path to resolution.

  • Listen, empathize, apologize, and tell them what you can do for them right there in that moment.
  • Empathy is crucial to de-escalation, and some support team members may need training.
  • Empower your team with all the knowledge and power you can to be able to resolve the issue.
  • Confirm with them what flexibility they have to offer a perk, discount, or freebie as an apology.
  • Establish a protocol for escalation in case the issue needs to be taken to a supervisor.

10.) Delighting

Little touches can go a long way, and your team’s goal should be to delight each member by the end of the customer support experience. Here are a few tips to do that:

  • Give a specialized greeting. (For example, “Hello, this is Jessica, and with whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?”)
  • Ask the customer’s name at the beginning, and use it throughout the call.
  • Ask permission before placing them on hold.
  • Keep holds brief, checking back in if necessary.
  • Thank them for their patience.
  • Only do warm transfers.
  • Ask if there is anything else you can do to assist when wrapping up.
  • Aim for a one call resolution.