What Buffer Can Teach Us About Customer Service
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In this fast-paced, hyper-connected society where customers are quick to voice their opinions on social media and drop brand loyalty without a second thought, providing great customer service is more important than ever.
Few brands know this more than Buffer.
The social media management app has shaped their business around providing exceptional customer service because they believe it is the basis of everything else that matters to their business -- from marketing and product development to customer acquisition and retention.
This focus on customer experience has lead Buffer to an extremely loyal customer base of more than 1 million users. If you want to replicate some of Buffer's success, here are a few ways you can mirror their strategies for creating an exceptional customer service experiences.
1. Stop hiring customer service reps.
Buffer has excellent customer service, but they don't have customer service reps.
Instead, they have Happiness Heroes and Weekend Warriors. Buffer relinquished the standard titles for their customer service positions and replaced them with something fresh and new.
Customer service jobs carry a heavy negative connotation which can create hurdles for companies looking to hire effective, pleasant and reliable customer service reps. Buffer job titles distance the position from the negativity associated with classic customer rep jobs and create a fresh perspective on the position.
Job titles can also impact the psyche of employees. An article in the Academy of Management Journal found that when employees feel a connection to their job title, it can have a direct impact on their psyche and ability to perform the duties of their job. To motivate their team to do their best work, Buffer created job titles that form a more positive connection to their employees.
2. Put a high value on customer service roles.
Customer service jobs are usually unprivileged and undervalued positions, but Buffer doesn't treat them that way.
While US News reports that the median salary for a customer service rep is just over $30,000 a year, Buffer offer salaries for a similar position starting at $65,000 a year. And that's just the beginning of the benefits.
Employees are offered remote working environments, a MacBook Air, Kindle books, loose vacation policy and company stock offerings. Where many companies undervalue the position that is the gatekeeper to their customers, Buffer puts a high value on the roles and rewards their staff accordingly.
Take a tip from Buffer, and stop hiring and treating your customer service team as second-class employees. Offer them the benefits that acknowledge them as the vital employees they are.
3. Look at customer complaints as free consultations.
Buffer knows that customer questions shouldn't discourage, they should direct. Instead of relying on forums that provide extensive customer support, Buffer chooses to answer customer questions through email. Chief Happiness Officer Carolyn Kopprasch explained why. "Simply, we don’t learn anything if customers find the answers themselves on a forum or knowledge base."
Customer service at Buffer isn't about providing short-cuts for answering questions and complaints. It's about preventing questions and complaints in the future. They welcome personal customer feedback and through a five-stage process, use it as an opportunity to improve and shape the future of their product.
While it takes more time and effort to individually answer each customer issue, Buffer sees the value in using customer feedback as consultations, not as useless complaints and cries of confusion.
4. Put How to Win Friends and Influence People on the staff required reading list.
The values of a company flow through its employees down to its customers. If you want to create a positive and meaningful customer experience, you have to hire a staff that has the drive and ability to spread that exceptional experience.
That starts by implementing and supporting a strong company culture focused on your unique values. Buffer is among the best when it comes to creating and sticking to unified company values.
The "8 Buffer Values" are presented to potential employees before the hiring process, and all current employees are expected to commit to the company's foundation which is shaped by Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Originally published in 1937, the Carnegie classic is split into four parts, all of which explain how to better express ideas, assume leadership and arouse enthusiasm -- pillars in Buffer's culture. The first section of the book, "Fundamental Techniques in Handling People," is responsible for the way that Buffer employees engage with their customers. The three values of the book include:
- Don't criticize, condemn, or complain.
- Give honest and sincere appreciation.
- Arouse in the other person an eager and want.
Your company culture is ultimately what directs the values of your business. Take some advice from Buffer, and implement required reading that will better equip your team to deliver the exceptional results you expect.
5. Remember customer experience isn't what you say; it's how you say it.
Buffer knows that tone is everything when it comes to interacting with customers, so they have a detailed tone guide that includes best practices for communicating through social media and email. The guide opens with the "North Star" summary statement.
"We are grateful for our customers. We have great respect for them. We listen. We are open for the next communication. We are here for them. In all customer communications, they're doing us the favor. (Not the other way around.) To the customer, our language and tone say: I am grateful for you. I have great respect for you. I am listening. I am open. I am here."
The guide goes on to list tips for providing instructions, taking blame and offering apologies. It also explains how to infuse personality into responses and even describes how to sit in a posture that will naturally prompt you to write a more empathetic response. Buffer's tone guide directs their friendly, helpful and often humble communication with their customers.
At a time when customers are quick to write a scathing review and quit a service at a moment's notice, customer support has become more important than ever. Providing exceptional support is an essential tool for making and keeping happy customers. Buffer provides a good example on how to value this important touch point to satisfy customers and grow and sustain a loyal user-base.