Using Customer Service to Expand and Promote Brand Influence



Ideally, every company wants its customer service associates to deliver a positive customer experience, service that is reflective of and an extension of the brand. But too often associates feel disconnected from the brand and cannot achieve that goal. Why the disconnect? There are many reasons: associates feel siloed and uninformed, receive minimum wage salaries, or have low self-esteem, poor training, and no vehicle for transparent communications. Being a customer service representative should be a rewarding job. After all, customer service associates help more customers in one day than most associates in other departments do in a lifetime.

A key ingredient to delivering superior customer service is understanding and embracing the brand, especially when a company wants its associates to think like the company thinks. This concept, combined with low turnover within the customer service center, ensures the associates remain connected to the brand. So many companies have long-term, well-established, and exciting histories. Customer service associates must be well-treated, trained, recognized, and compensated appropriately to become a stable force to help companies use the customer service department as a powerful competitive differentiator.

It's important to get feedback from customer service associates at least once a year to ensure they have the proper tools to provide the ultimate customer service experiences. When associates are asked for their opinions, they feel appreciated and valued. It is also critical that feedback results are shared with each associate. In many cases, changes can be implemented almost immediately; in other cases, the associates should be provided an estimated timeline for implementation or the reasons why it might not be possible to modify certain guidelines or policies.

Some of the areas that should be addressed periodically during a feedback process might include the level of communication the associates feel to the company and how important they think the company views their job. Additionally, how associates contribute to the success of the company, including insights into the company's internal and external communications, and whether they are getting the appropriate tools to do their job effectively.

I thought it would be helpful to recap some of the suggestions we have uncovered during our research studies. These can help increase the connection to the company and improve training and communication, including outlining some of the statements and policies that make customer service associates uncomfortable.

Increase Brand Connection:

  • Provide samples to associates so they can experience what the consumer does;
  • Share factoids about the brands to help them better serve customers;
  • Communicate on a more timely basis regarding product changes;
  • Have a product room or product showcase for associates to look at packaging (for example) if needed;
  • Hold focus groups for associates to share trends they hear from customers; and
  • Provide training on how customers are using products.

Improve Training:

  • Provide one-on-one and group coaching;
  • Coaching should always include positive feedback in addition to opportunities for improvement;
  • Conduct periodic refresher training;
  • Extend the training for new hires over longer periods of time;
  • Create more accountability between trainers and associates; and
  • Calibrate calls and emails with fellow associates, not just management.

Improve Communication:

  • Make answers and information more consistent and forthcoming;
  • Provide more timely updates of changes or hot issues;
  • Give more access to team leads with an open-door policy; and
  • Allow time for more team meetings and less one-on-one interactions to facilitate more dialog.

Statements Customer Service Associaes Say That Make Them Uncomfortable:

  • Your feedback will be shared with management;
  • This is the first time I'm hearing about this issue;
  • We don’t have any information on that; and
  • I'm not authorized to disclose that kind of data.

Companies that understand the integral role that customer service associates can play in extending the brand's influence in the marketplace will succeed. Those that don't will be missing a tremendous opportunity. We live in a new world where competition has never been greater, customers have never been more fickle, buying options have never been more prevalent, and service and marketing channels have never been more prolific. Customer service associates touch more customers than other departments. Each customer call should be considered a precious commodity.

With the enormous information that is available on the Internet, self-serve options, and the onset of artificial intelligence, when customers call, they need to be handled with care by associates who are well-trained, rewarded, and appreciated. Companies hope that customer service associates will extend their brands' missions. Customer service associates hope that companies will make them feel part of a family. Collecting associates' feedback on a regular basis and acting on it is a winning combination for both.


Richard Shapiro is founder and president of The Center for Client Retention.