Customer questions are inevitable in a technical industry. Unfortunately, running into poor customer service seems increasingly inevitable as well. If the customer is king, then customer service should prepare to serve. Here are five simple, essential elements of high-quality customer service.

1. Respond Promptly

I can’t think of a single person who likes automated response systems when calling customer service. I understand they are used for efficiency’s sake, but I still don’t like pressing “1” to be disconnected, “2” to be put on terminal hold and “3” to enter a continuous loop. Thank God for sites like that help you get to a real person when dealing with banks, insurance companies, utility companies or (the worst) telecommunications companies. Fortunately, customers calling our shop for technical support are greeted by an actual human, and quite often, as is the case with many small businesses, the very person they need to speak to.

2. Listen with Your Understanding

The first step to successful customer support is to listen to the customer. Not just listen with your ears, but with your understanding. They have a problem, and the sooner you can solve it for them, the sooner they can return to their own work. Often customers will call us and describe a part as “that thing,” or some other not-too-helpful term. It’s important to take a deep breath and ask them to describe the part, feature or instruction. I’ve done this many times, and the end result is often arriving at the correct solution. The time it requires is well worth it.

3. “I Don’t Know, But…”

One of the most frustrating things about customer service is getting a technician who is unfamiliar with the product. They may know generalities of the product, but lack expertise of its specific features, especially those features likely to cause the customer problems.

The scariest thing for a technician answering a service call is to tell the customer, “I don’t know.” We all like to appear smart and technically savvy before our customers, but sometimes it just isn’t possible. This is where the second part of the phrase should be, “…but let me find out and I’ll get right back to you.” Maybe you can call a mentor, teacher or that old guy who used to work here. Perhaps you will need to do some testing to recreate the problem and develop a solution. Whatever it is, not knowing all the answers is not the enemy; not admitting you don’t know all the answers is. This is how we learn and grow, as individuals and as customer service providers.

4. Keep Your Word

Okay, you told them you would find an answer if you don’t have an immediate solution. The statement is left powerless without action behind it. Tell your customer what you did find out. Was it a fault with the equipment? Was it a fault with a procedure? Was it operator error? Whatever it was, let the customer know. If the problem was caused by the customer, explain it to them clearly without snide comments or ridicule. If the problem is the equipment or the instructions, then the burden lies with you to make the appropriate correction.

5. Follow Up

Once you have corrected the problem, check back with your customer to make sure everything is working well. The lack of follow-up is a missed opportunity to serve your customer and to potentially procure new business. Did they receive the correct replacement parts? Is the procedure now clear? Is the customer back to completing their project and generating revenue? Technical problems take employees and vendors away from their work; the sooner they’re efficiently and professionally cared for, the happier everyone is.

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