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People often assume that customer service performs a “support” function in a business, not a “sales” function. But every time customers are on the phone with your customer service people, this is an opportunity to either keep or lose a customer. Your customer service team is on the front lines of building relationships with customers—not just taking routine calls or fielding mundane questions.

Lots of companies miss out on opportunities to maximize the potential of their customer service team. With some additional training and a shift in focus, you can help your customer service team add more value for the company by enhancing customer relationships, improving customer retention, and building momentum for more sales. 

Here are a few simple strategies to improve your customer retention with your everyday customer service interactions: 

1. Ask good questions and go deeper

Instead of asking customers simple yes-no questions, train your customer service people to ask open-ended questions. Ask your customers things like:

  • “How can I help you today? What made you decide to give us a call?” 
  • “How do you feel about your experience with our company?” 
  • “What is the biggest problem we can help you with today?” 
  • “Have you tried our new product/service? How did it go?” 
  • “Have you heard from any of our competitors recently?” 

Be inquisitive. Be prepared for customers to say more than you expected. And, most important, listen! Talking with customers can be an excellent source of competitive intelligence. For example, you might learn from a routine customer service call that your biggest competitor is doing new product testing, or that a new competitor is entering your market, or that the competitor you barely beat for a big contract is going after one of your favorite accounts. 

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Hearing the same complaints and issues from multiple customers might give you the insight to identify high-priority opportunities for making changes in your company’s processes, or even get ideas for new products and services. Customer service is not just about solving mundane problems, it can be a vehicle for learning more about your customers’ attitudes, doing market research, conducting customer satisfaction surveys, and keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in your industry. 

2. Empower your customer service people to make things right or make accurate promises

A common cause of frustration for customers is calling customer service and feeling like there is no one who can actually help them resolve their issue. Sometimes people need a higher level of help. Not every frontline customer service rep needs to have authority to issue refunds or offer complex solutions, but they should at least know how to take down the customer’s name and number and promise them a call back by a manager by the end of the day.

If one of your customers calls for help and gets nowhere, that could very well be the last time you will hear from them. To prevent this from happening, invest in your customer service team by developing robust training programs, incentivizing great performance, and always stressing the importance of the work that gets done in your customer service department. Encourage your customer service team to think critically and find creative ways to go above and beyond.

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