By Enid Burns, Contributing WriterAs the old saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. This is especially true in the world of customer service, where that first impression can be a make-or-break moment.

Customer service is a component of virtually everyone’s job. To carry it off it takes understanding, compassion and occasionally some sacrifice.

“It’s your job to delight the customer,” said Bill Santos, president and COO of Cerberus Sentinel.  “Whether you’re the front desk attendant, a sales leader, or a support person, every individual should understand that they own every customer interaction and should feel empowered to do what is necessary to make that customer – or potential customer – happy. It may mean leaving for lunch late, sending flowers to a customer heading out on their honeymoon, or staying on the line when while you transfer to support, but the smallest effort is rarely overlooked by a customer looking to be served.”

The importance of great customer service

Every interaction is part of the customer service experience, and dealing with complaints is a crucial time to work with customers. You must train your employees to address every point of customer service properly. Moreover, these practices must be demonstrated at every level of the company.

“A culture of hospitality must flow from top to bottom, where the leaders of the company practice the same tenets they want practiced on the guests,” said Denver Severt, associate professor service at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

If a customer or client isn’t happy with a product or service, a business is lucky to get the opportunity to make things right. This may be in the form of a refund, replacement, repair, upgrade or complimentary product. Most importantly, it’s a time for apology. The interaction is key: A positive customer service experience can turn a dissatisfied customer into a repeat customer and possibly even an unofficial brand ambassador.

Customer service has increased in importance over the past few years, actually evolving as a concept.

“‘Customer service’ in the last five to 10 years has ultimately evolved into a client success business model,” said Leah Adams, director of client success at Point3 Security. “Many business leaders have heard of client success but might rarely understand what it means to operate your business from a client success standpoint, that it can be a business realignment.”

Good service is also crucial to customer retention. If a customer is not happy with a purchase or a service contract, they will not return. Worse yet, the customer might badmouth your brand. A happy customer is far more likely to return with more business and recommend your products or services to friends, family and colleagues.

How to handle customer complaints

You can’t win ’em all. Every business will experience a dissatisfied customer at one time or another, so you need a plan in place to address issues promptly and remedy the situation. Employees need to react swiftly and be ready to escalate complaints to managers as the situation calls for it.

“Excellent companies must have standardized service recovery strategies that they execute when there is a service failure,” Severt told “This places a nice toolbox solution kit with the front-line staff if they are empowered to be able to solve the issue.”

A planned response is crucial in any situation. A business can turn things around for a customer by acting quickly and with compassion.

“I think this relates to how you respond,” said Allison Weidhaas, associate professor and director for the online Master of Business Communications program at Rider University. “You always want to respond with your long-term brand in mind.”

The service recovery paradox

One strategy that works well, according to Severt, is “react, respond, plus one.”

In other words, act in a way that solves the issue, respond by apologizing that something went wrong, and lastly (plus one), sweeten the deal, making the guest happier than they’d be if nothing had gone wrong in the first place. This is the service recovery paradox.

Successful use of the service recovery paradox instills trust, satisfaction, loyalty and inspiration when a service failure occurs.

“Each company must have a list of their dirty dozen service failures that they are acting on at any moment,” Severt said. “It may be five things; it may be three. Those are the things that are recurring. Once they perform a root cause analysis on the repetitive failures, it is likely to diminish the chances of those happens. Yet failures will occur, and the right solution can make a guest happier than if a failure did not occur.”

Even the best customer service programs can backfire, however.

“The wrong solution, termed ‘double deviation from expectations,’ can be double failure and can drive guests away from the business,” Severt said.

As one example of a response plan done well, Severt cited practices at luxury hotel chain The Ritz-Carlton, where each employee can spend $2,000 to satisfy a guest. This could entail an extra night at the hotel, spa services or a night on the town. Employees have the freedom to determine what it will take and the budget to make it happen.

In other scenarios, the solution may cost the company dollars but retain a customer relationship that should be considered priceless.

My Press Needs discovered a very expensive machine was damaged in shipping,” Weidhaas told “While the company could have said, ‘It’s not our problem,’ they actually replaced the machine, at a cost of over $390,000 to the company.”

While My Press Needs might be able to recover some of the costs by filing a claim with the shipping company or its insurance provider, it still took that responsibility and didn’t leave it to the customer to endure. The quick response to the issue should help strengthen customer loyalty, and keep the relationship going with future equipment orders and service contracts as well as other transactions.

Customer service as a comprehensive process

Customer service has traditionally happened at retail locations, over the phone and on sales calls. In today’s world, there are many more ways for customers to get support and for companies to practice good customer service. Companies need to work across channels, be present on social media platforms, and utilize other online outlets, such as chat windows on websites.

“You’re responding to the customer in the form that best meets the customer’s needs,” Weidhaas said. “We need to remember that not all customers respond to the same form of communication.”

In addition to maintaining a website, it is necessary to be on additional platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so you can be where the customer will respond. Prioritize the platforms that make sense for your customers. For instance, B2B companies may need to look at different platforms than B2C businesses.

While complaints used to spread by word of mouth, they rarely made it much further than a small circle of colleagues or friends. Today, thanks to social media, a problem can go viral and race around the world in minutes.

As many customers now air their complaints on Twitter or other social platforms when they don’t know where to turn, what was once just one person venting can take on a life of its own. Because of this trend, many companies have people who monitor social media to respond quickly – and publicly – and take action.

“Companies must work across channels to standardize the best practices for each modality,” Severt said. “After the standards are solidified, then they need to acknowledge that nothing ‘fails’ like standards, because there will be situations where the standards that exceed the expectations of the majority will be lower than the expectations of certain guests.”

It is important to be consistent across all your customer service channels. If a representative responds with a tweet that the company will take action, yet the company does not promptly follow through (whether offline or through another online channel, such as email), that goodwill is lost, potentially creating a bigger storm on social media.

Training staff for good customer service

Customer service training (CST) is essential to every business. An employee won’t automatically know how to respond appropriately to a customer complaint if there is no plan in place. A new employee at The Ritz-Carlton wouldn’t automatically know she has access to $2,000 to make a guest happy, or when and how to offer the benefit to a guest.

“CST is creating that standardized and customized and personal experience for the employees and the guests,” Severt said. “In this way, we must train for the culture of service and hospitality so that it is clearly practiced from the top management to the very important front-line service providers. That is, everyone knows they have internal and external guests to inspire. They are taught the standards.”

While there are standards in customer service, you should also teach your employees that each situation is unique, and the same resolution will not work for every customer.

“[Employees] are taught ways to personalize and customize an experience beyond the standards,” Severt said. “They are taught service recovery strategies and empowered to solve any issues on the spot. Training can be done day by day, using real scenarios that occur on a daily basis in the business.”

CST is not completed in a day or one training course; it continues each day in one form or another.

“The service training must be continual in order to be a business that provides exemplary service,” Severt said. “Finally, the reward system must be aligned with the behaviors and standards of service that are desired. For example, if attitude and skill and professionalism are three pillars of service for your organization, then employees must be evaluated on those three attributes and rewarded for delivering on those, and shown how to do even better if they are not delivering on those standards.”

13 customer service tips you should know

Good customer service is a benefit to any business. While each company should tailor its service practices to its product and customers, there are some standards and best practices that resonate across the board.

1. Communicate proactively.

Communication is the first line of action in resolving any issue with a customer. A customer who is ignored or addressed in a manner inappropriate to the situation will become that much more difficult to please. At that point, the bar for satisfaction is raised and might be unattainable for the company.

2. Err on the side of overcommunication.

Communication is so essential to customer service that it is worth extra. Listen to the customer, follow through with a resolution, and keep the lines of communication open. Tell the customer the time you expect it will take to get a replacement product, or for the credit to appear on their card statement. If there is no follow-up communication, a customer will think the resolution was forgotten and will not be granted.

“Continuous communication … is the key to successful customer service,” Weidhaas said. “Of course, communication goes hand in hand with listening, because this allows you to engage in authentic communication.”

3. Offer resolutions.

Exceed the customer’s expectations with your resolution. Sometimes replacing a broken product with a new one or offering a refund is not enough. If a customer has had a terrible experience, it may be necessary to sweeten the pot with something extra. A gift card, for example, goes a long way in mending a relationship. A complimentary service or even a freebie, such as a company T-shirt, goes above a simple exchange. It demonstrates the company’s efforts to make things right.

“Exceed the spoken and unspoken requests of your guests or customers in a way that inspires them, all using the utmost hospitality,” Severt said. He suggested employees keep up an attitude of warm reception and graciousness throughout the interaction.  

4. Be relatable.

Relate to the customer in order to understand their issue. If you consider how a customer felt when they had to wait to get into their hotel room or when they received a defective product, for example, you can start to think about what it will take to make things better. If an employee is able to go through that process, the customer will likely see the understanding and appreciate the consideration.

“Empathy, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and the tangibles are all attributes of great service that must be practiced,” Severt said. “Empathy is being able to place oneself in the situation of the guest.”

5. Be flexible.

Allow for individual solutions. Each customer is unique, and the same solution may not work for everyone. The Ritz-Carlton gives employees a generous budget to make things right. If it simply offered a free spa service to every unhappy guest, it would only make a small portion of the guests happy.

Customer service interactions “must be standardized yet allow for flexibility in getting the correct thing for a guest,” Severt said.

6. Reinforce your reliability.

Make your company appear as a reliable provider. Show consistency in your products and services as well as customer service responses. A business can remedy a situation, but it is important to instill confidence that this was an isolated instance, and the experience won’t be repeated when a customer returns. Severt recommends a focus on “performing the service over and over, accurately and dependably, based on the goal of surpassing the expectations of the guest.”

7. Act quickly.

Respond accordingly in a timely manner. Most customers have reached their threshold of frustration by the time they contact a company. Recognize that the issue is important to the customer and that they need an appropriate response at the time of complaint.

“Responsiveness is having a sense of urgency when serving the guest,” Severt said.

8. Be memorable.

The resolution should not only outweigh the negative experience, but also offer some positive memories that overshadow the bad experience. If you give a customer a free T-shirt with the company name on it, you want him to have a positive association when he wears it, not throw it into the rag pile.

“Negative cues must be eliminated,” Severt said. “Memories must be mixed in so that the guest has a special way of remembering the experience. When possible, the skills we practice with our guests should create a transformative experience for our guests. They leave the experience changed in a positive way.”

9. Be accountable at all levels.

Customer service should be systemic throughout the company. The CEO or president needs to follow the same practices they expect of the support team. The trickle-down effect has a big impact when customers see the attitudes of good customer service at every level of interaction.

It should also be said that sometimes employees could use customer service themselves.

“Walk the walk of what you want to play out in the company top management,” Severt said. “When you treat your employees as you want them to treat the guests and measure and award in turn for that, [they] will exceed your expectations each time.”

10. Encourage repeat business.

Cultivate your business by providing the best products, services and experiences possible. A good experience will create a loyal customer who will be back again and again.

“You build relationships with customers using a structure that includes immediate and efficient support, and trust,” Adams said. “… I love the saying ‘farm, don’t hunt.’ The longevity of a business relies on keeping the current customers happy; otherwise, eventually there will always be a steady decline. In order to be successful, you have to cultivate the mindset of your business and perhaps company by shifting away from the ‘hunt’ mentality and into a ‘farming’ mentality. It’s the key to customer service and customer success.”

11. Personalize your response.

Focus on the customer as an individual. Ultimately, you’re in business to have satisfied and returning customers. Achieve this by paying attention to each customer’s needs and concerns.

“Be customer-obsessed,” Santos said. “We talk about this all the time, but living it is essential. Our top priority is always to delight the customer, regardless of contract or situation. Thirty years has shown me that this is essential to customer satisfaction and growth.”

12. Track customer satisfaction.

Use metrics to keep track of your customer satisfaction levels. Tools such as customer relationship management (CRM) software can help your whole team keep track of all your business’s customer interactions. You might want to request customers’ direct input to rate those interactions as well.

“I’ve long been a fan of Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a simple means of gauging customer satisfaction,” Santos said. “It’s easy and it gives you a quick indication of customer satisfaction, as well as changes within a specific account that could indicate a potential issue.”

13. Praise effective customer service.

Share good customer service experiences within the company. Employees will respond to hearing how their team members helped customers, and they may learn from hearing how an issue was resolved. Next time an employee has to deal with an unhappy customer, they may remember a previous resolution and use that to work out the best solution to a new customer issue.

“Create amazing stories and share them inside the company,” Severt said. “When an amazing service encounter unfolds, share it all over the business, and reward [employees] for those. Creating these life-changing stories in your culture inside and outside the company will provide a large return over time for companies when they are able to continually exceed and anticipate the expectations of the guests.”

Over time, Severt said, this will help you create a company culture of hospitality. “Such a welcoming and transparent culture will create a wondrous company.”

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To help its service technicians more efficiently repair and maintain its models, Mercedes-Benz USA is outfitting all of its authorized American dealerships with HoloLens 2 headsets. The devices are equipped with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, a mixed reality app that that lets users collaborate during hands-free video calls from their own computers.

Organizations have long known the importance of business resiliency, but becoming resilient requires time and preparation, and the pandemic has forced many organizations to evolve at a pace few could have imagined.  To recover and thrive within this new context presents new challenges. That is why we are partnering with customers to support faster adoption of digital capabilities. We see firsthand the incredible strides they are making to be agile, efficient, and responsible in their operations to deliver long-term value and mitigate the effects of future disruptions.  At Microsoft Ignite, our CEO Satya Nadella spoke about how digital tech intensity is the key to business resilience and transformation.  I also spoke with several customers about their incredible digital transformation efforts, including Shell, Land O’Lakes, BNY Mellon, Unilever, and NHS Digital.

A mountain stream

Microsoft is one of nine companies that established a new initiative in July to accelerate the transition to a net zero global economy — Transform to Net Zero — aimed at developing and delivering research, guidance and implementable roadmaps to enable all businesses to achieve net zero emissions.

Through new initiatives and strategic partnerships, we are working with our customers to significantly shape the future using digital innovation and efforts aimed at promoting the world’s energy transition. Recently, for example, we launched Transform to Net Zero, a new initiative alongside industry leaders that delivers guidance and business plans to help the private sector transition to a net zero global economy. We are also helping organizations meet their carbon reduction goals while addressing pressing customer expectations around sustainability. Our recent news with bp aims to help the company develop new technology innovations and digital solutions built on our cloud to reduce energy use and carbon emissions, and our work with Shell aims to create and deliver new solutions to help customers, suppliers and other businesses lower emissions.

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Standard Chartered Bank is accelerating its digital transformation through a cloud-first strategy to make its vision for virtual banking, next-generation payments, open banking and banking-as-a-service a reality.

In financial services, our customers are focused on enhancing customer experiences by building friction-less, always on, agile digital solutions leveraging our cloud.  Our collaboration with Mastercard will accelerate the development of emerging technologies aimed at helping its partners build and securely scale new solutions to drive financial security and sustainable growth.  Morgan Stanley Capital International is delivering new capabilities to help investors quickly and efficiently manage data to gain intelligent insights on risk and performance drivers leveraging Azure Data Services. In the U.K., Finastra is bringing even more mission-critical solutions to the cloud for its customers and Refinitiv is helping financial firms collaborate and unlock the power of their data and insights.  National Australia Bank is accelerating its cloud innovation to create compelling customer experiences, and in Singapore, Standard Chartered Bank is taking a cloud-first approach to make banking more accessible across its network. In addition, we are partnering with Germany-based Munich RE to store and leverage insured population data for risk management and product development using Azure Cosmos DB in a way that meets regulatory and compliance requirements.

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Telstra is focused on accelerating the development and release of innovative and sustainable cloud-based solutions across multiple industries, driving efficiency, amplifying decision-making capability and enhancing customer experiences.

In telecommunications, data-driven solutions are advancing innovation, amplifying decision-making capability, and enhancing customer experiences.  AT&T recently unveiled a fast and highly secure Internet of Things (IoT) solution built on AT&T’s global cellular network and Azure Sphere to help businesses connect machines and equipment to the cloud, bypassing the need for public internet.  Following our expanded partnership with Australia-based Telstra, citizen developers have automated manual processes with Power Apps in Microsoft Teams, helping improve customer service and the company’s financial performance. In addition, we launched the “SKT 5GX Cloud Game” powered by Xbox Game Pass Ultimate with SK Telecom — making Korea the first Asian market to offer Xbox’s cloud gaming service. To help small businesses thrive, T-Mobile is launching new rate plans with Microsoft 365 productivity tools included at no additional charge so they can help customers navigate the new realities of a remote world. We are also working with Lumen (formerly CenturyLink), which quickly adopted Azure Active Directory amid the pandemic, to enable secure remote access for its global workforce. At our Azure for Operators event, we announced our close collaboration with the telecommunications industry to help operators quickly leverage the potential of 5G for greater resiliency and cost efficiency while driving new services and business models.  We also joined the 5G Innovation Lab to provide engineering and technology resources to help entrepreneurs develop, test and bring to market new innovation.

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New Jersey Courts makes the case for virtual proceedings with Microsoft Teams and provides vital legal services during COVID-19.

The pandemic has also encouraged many public sector organizations to digitally transform at speed. The Georgia Office of the State Treasurer kept critical state services operating through highly secure remote work solutions using Microsoft 365, Windows Virtual Desktop and Surface devices. Following a statewide stay-at-home-order, the New Jersey Courts shifted its entire workforce across 15 jurisdictions to remote work while serving more than 300,000 members of the public in over 36,000 virtual legal proceedings using Surface and Teams.  Academic institutions are also choosing Microsoft as their trusted cloud partner to become more agile in delivering remote learning and research capabilities.  In the U.K., the University of Nottingham found a scalable, long-term solution for researchers and engineering students to continue learning with Microsoft 365, Teams and Windows Virtual Desktop; Durham University found a simple yet secure way for staff and students to access on-premises applications using Azure Active Directory; and the Saudi Ministry of Education has rolled out distance education in record time using a national platform linked to Microsoft 365 and fully hosted on Azure.  Hospitals are using mixed reality and artificial intelligence (AI) to treat patients safely, including Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, the first in Quebec designated to treat COVID-19 patients.  When doctors needed to minimize contact with patients and preserve limited personal protective equipment, they turned to Microsoft’s HoloLens for a setup that includes Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Microsoft Teams, allowing a single doctor to visit a patient while the full healthcare team participated from a separate room.

We continue to see inspiring stories that solve for very real problems outside of the pandemic itself.  The European Parliament is bringing the democratic process closer to citizens by ensuring debates are accessible to everyone, leveraging AI for real-time captioning and translation across the European Union’s 24 official languages.  In Brazil, PBSF has developed a system using data from a central hub to monitor brain activity in newborns at high risk of neurological injury, allowing for rapid intervention to save lives and prevent permanent damage.

Front of a Woolworths store

Woolworths is making work simpler for its teams, streamlining supply chains and improving customer experiences across its vast network of stores and online channels by harnessing the cloud.

In retail and consumer products goods, we are partnering with customers to accelerate their data estate modernization to increase security, drive innovation and unlock intelligent insights.  PepsiCo is migrating its global data estate and SAP workloads to gain insights that will fuel product innovation and customer relationships while connecting its entire workforce through Microsoft 365.  In Australia, Woolworths is moving its mission-critical applications onto our cloud to streamline its supply chain and improve customer experiences across stores and channels. Marks & Spencer has adopted Azure Synapse Analytics after replacing its on-premises data warehouse, a move that now allows the British retail chain to scale and democratize its data in line with increasing consumer demand. Switzerland-based Nestlé is using a custom solution to prevent cybersecurity threats for its 300,000 employees worldwide. Beiersdorf AG, the German multinational personal-care products manufacturer and retailer, is keeping its more than 20,000 employees working securely with access to all of its applications and data.  In addition, Office Depot has created a citizen developer program to help employees turn productivity-boosting ideas into reality with Power Apps and Teams, and Australian retailer JB Hi-Fi Group is using a Dynamics 365-enabled intelligent solution to increase transparency and maintain strong customer satisfaction across its two brands regardless of whether a product is bought in-store or online.

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Land O’Lakes’ digital strategy is focused on enhancing digital capabilities, revitalizing rural communities, and transforming the Ag industry to build tighter connections between consumer and farmers through innovative cloud technologies.

Customers across industries are building innovative digital tools to help their communities and businesses thrive and deliver critical services and goods to people who need them most while encouraging safety, efficiency and inclusivity.  For example, we are working closely with Land O’Lakes to pioneer new innovations in agriculture to enhance the supply chain, expand sustainability practices and close the rural broadband gap across America.  Likewise, Farmlands, New Zealand’s largest rural supplies cooperative, is accelerating its cloud-based, e-commerce system to provide undisrupted access to vital farming supplies to its more than 70,000 shareholders across the country during the pandemic.  Mixed reality technologies are helping food and beverage manufacturers like Ecolab  ensure food safety and high-quality products, and Mercedes Benz USA is helping technicians across its dealerships repair and maintain vehicles more efficiently.  Construction company Suffolk is promoting safer jobsites with thermal imaging cameras to check the temperature of everyone entering a worksite, and in France, Sodexo is delivering digital tools and assistive technologies to help develop employment opportunities and build digital skills for first-line workers with disabilities.  Africa’s Talking is helping software developers grow and create more job and economic opportunity even in regions with limited local cloud access using Azure Arc.  We are also partnering closely with Citrix on go-to-market solutions that enable companies to reimagine the workplace of the future and adapt to changing market conditions with cloud-based tools and services.

I am deeply impressed by our customers’ commitment to innovating for today’s reality and tomorrow’s promise — especially at such an accelerated pace. Their efforts now help limit operational and environmental risk in the future while still strengthening their ability to respond to shifting market demands.  I am also humbled they have selected Microsoft as their digital transformation partner and am eager to help accelerate their transformation through recovery and beyond.

The post A time of resiliency, change and innovation: How cloud-focused business strategies are driving transformation across industries appeared first on The Official Microsoft Blog.

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