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The Green SheetGreen Sheet

The Green Sheet Online Edition

April 26, 2010 • Issue 10:04:02

Healing the Achilles heel of business

By Nicholas Cucci
Network Merchants Inc.

Good customer service is essential to providing a positive image of the company to its customers. Unfortunately, poor customer service is rampant. And it is a difficult facet of a company to improve upon.

But training your support staff in proper customer service is crucial in retaining your customer base. You will need to develop and adopt new techniques to make your staff successful. Spending time and money to train your customer service staff will pay big dividends in the form of customer retention.

Hiring basics

When hiring your staff, choosing the right customer service employees is critical in retaining customers. Obviously, not everyone is suited to deal with customer complaints. Customer service representatives constantly interact with callers. Good communication skills are a necessity, as well as problem solving skills. Make sure you understand the ideal qualities your support representatives should have.

When interviewing, try to discern if they are a specialist or generalist personality. A generalist does not mind talking to the customer while fixing the issues at hand. A specialist is direct and to the point. A specialist does not care about small talk or making the customer feel comfortable.

Lean more toward the generalist. You should want your customers to feel like they are being taken care of on a personal level. Small talk never hurt anyone; it only helps. Generalists do not make customers think they are doing them a favor. You want customers to experience their interactions as a smooth, easy process that ends with their issues resolved.

Training basics

After knowing what skill sets to look for in employee candidates, the next most important step is to develop internal customer service guidelines and training resources. Create a curriculum for training classes or sessions. Creating lesson plans will enable you to make sure you are hitting the essential topics. Simply putting together a PowerPoint presentation will suffice.

Be sure to instill high standards and attitudes in your staff. I would concentrate on communication skills, assessing and responding to the customers needs, and dealing with high-problem situations.

Training depends on the particularities of the given industry and usually involves knowledge of the hiring company and the products it offers.

Training in the payments industry really never ends. Every year, or every month, new products come to market or new developments in technology appear. Your support staff must be able to adapt to industry trends and changes. This is the beginning of keeping your customers happy.

Take the time to train your customer support staff. Do not throw them into the fire too soon. Depending on the level of service they were hired to give, you need to give them a proportionate amount of training time. Usually every support staff has his or her own troubleshooter - the person to whom "escalated" situations are passed.

Customer service is an ongoing process and all the individuals involved will forever be learning something new. Once the staff you have hired and trained has completed the training be sure to test them one last time.

Throw situations at them and see their reactions and responses. This is sometimes referred to as the "War Room" mentality. Police departments use this mentality to test new hires. Once a trained and certified officer is ready for the streets, the higher authority figures will give them scenarios to see how they would react to situations on the spot.

Staff assessments

Assess your staff regularly. Even conducting follow-up meetings to see how things are going is a great idea. Ask your support team what are the most common questions they hear from callers.

Are the resources provided ample enough to help them convey information, answer callers' questions and solve problems? Is there anything more they need that will aid them in getting better responses from callers? Is the company represented in the manner you see fit?

The most successful support staffs will create databases of frequently asked questions (FAQs). This will come in handy while on the phone and especially when giving e-mail support, as FAQs will cut down response times exponentially. For the more complex resolutions, compiling documentation on what steps were taken to resolve the problems will also help in the future.

Smart selection

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 2.3 million people held customer service representative jobs in 2008. This is expected to rise to over 2.6 million by 2018. With the demand for this job growing so rapidly, all companies looking to hire new representatives will have a wide selection of people to hire from.

My advice to you is do not settle. Make sure the people you hire are a perfect fit for your company. Your support team can be the Achilles heel of the company, but it doesn't have to be. end of article

Nicholas Cucci is the Marketing Director for Network Merchants Inc. He is a graduate of Benedictine University. Prior to joining NMI, Mr. Cucci worked in the payment processing division for a Fortune 500 company and has advised several large retailers on credit card fraud protection, screening and risk assessment. Nicholas can be reached at ncucci@nmi.com or 800-617-4850.

The Green Sheet Inc. is now a proud affiliate of Bankcard Life, a premier community that provides industry-leading training and resources for payment professionals. Click here for more information.

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