Since we have strong opinions on the importance of customer service, we decided have Loop Founding Partner/CEO Brian Tolleson share his feelings on the subject. If you’ve got a new startup, or struggle with customer service in your existing business, Brian’s customer service tips might help.
When you started Loop, was there a plan on how you’d handle customer service?
There wasn’t really a plan. Customer service is something that James and I are passionate about. We never let anything go when a customer has a problem; we work diligently to figure out what the issue is. That’s something we carried over from past jobs and past experiences.
With that mindset, you almost don’t have to plan for a customer service structure when starting out – especially when you’re small. That’s sort of your lifeblood. You’ve GOT to do it.
Why do some small companies struggle with customer service?
It’s a combination of factors. Often it’s personality type. If you’re more of a technological person, sometimes you don’t have the necessary people skills.
Also, some one-man shops just don’t have the time. In that situation, time management skills are put to the test – you essentially have to do everything.
That was one of the great things about James and I starting off as a partnership. We could offload certain things to each other, and then share the customer service. That was one thing we never let drop.
How did the idea of customer service structure change as Loop got bigger?
That came out of necessity as we started hiring people. James had worked at a managed services provider in the past, so he was familiar with ticketing systems and help desks.
We originally started with an open source help desk ticketing system, and migrated to Zendesk as we got larger and started hiring more people. That gave us the flexibility to train people better.
We learned early on as a small business that you need to focus on what you do well, and outsource what you don’t. Managing our own help desk software wasn’t helping us differentiate. There are so many companies who do that really well, and relying on Zendesk been great for us. We let them manage the help desk platform, and are able to train our people to use it effectively.
How do you approach training new team members on customer service?
The process starts in hiring. One of the most crucial elements of customer service is getting the right personality fit. The person obviously needs to communicate well, both verbally and in written form.
The key attribute is the ability to show empathy. When talking with a customer, the issue needs to be seen from that person’s perspective. By showing empathy, the customer is more willing to share what’s going on and be patient for a resolution.
Once we find the right person, we run through a series of tests. We simulate a customer’s experience based on tickets we’ve seen in the past – both simple and complicated examples. We send those in as if they’re real, but they’re only working on test customers. That helps us get comfortable with the new team member’s ability to handle things and allows them to get comfortable with our systems and processes.
Does Loop model itself after any other companies with regard to customer service?
Not particularly. It has mainly been learning on our own. One of the challenges that James and I saw early is how we were going to scale beyond just us. We were great at servicing customers digging into technical details, and explaining things in ways that customers could understand. But how would we scale that without duplicating ourselves?
Much of that has come via technology with Zendesk, accompanied by knowledge-based articles. It’s also been about hiring the right people who are willing to ask questions and learn.
We try to empower our employees to solve problems first. We don’t want them to be robots – we want them to use their brains to figure out solutions. But, we’re always there to help them when needed.
We encourage team members to talk to their peers as well. We’re on Slack all the time with Zendesk integrated, so we can always see what others are working on. You can ask a question when you need help, and others can jump in.
Do you admire any particular company’s customer service efforts?
You always hear about Zappos being a great customer service company. But generally, you always feel better about a customer service experience when you can talk directly to somebody, and they actually show that they understand and care about your problem.
So much customer service has gone toward chat support and overseas call centers. Companies are figuring out ways to pay less for customer service. I think that’s been a mistake, and it’s certainly something we see in telecom.
The telecom industry certainly isn’t known for its great customer service, but we don’t just want to be a great customer service company compared to other telecoms – we want to be an amazing customer service company, period.
How does Loop handle negative feedback?
By following up, and not being afraid. The best response is to be up front and honest. If we make a mistake, we own it. We did it, we’re sorry it happened, we’re going to do our best to resolve it and make sure it doesn’t happen again. If you try to hide or ignore the issue, you’re going to exacerbate the problem.
Any advice on this for others?
Make sure you have a way of tracking customer requests. For us, it was Zendesk’s ticketing system. Nothing frustrates a customer more than asking a question and never hearing a response. People in your organization need to know what the pending requests are.
Whatever your core competency is, you should own it. In the beginning, we leveraged an outside vendor for our phone setup and phone system management. If there was an issue, we often needed to wait on a response, and couldn’t perform the level of customer service that we needed to. We ended up building our own platform because of that.
Finally, as I said earlier, show empathy. Be up front and honest. Make sure that you and people on your team have enough time to dedicate to customer service. It can’t get pushed to the backburner.
Aside from Zendesk, are there any tools that you’d recommend?
Definitely an internal communications tool – we use Slack. Team communication is critical to a strong customer support environment.
We also solicit feedback from our customers. We do that via Zendesk, TrustSpot and G2 Crowd. Getting honest feedback helps us improve.