How to create a customer service guide for your business

By: Matt Bird

Date: 29 February 2012

Customer service - Woman on phone{{}}Company manuals and guidelines are not on the agenda when you’re starting a business – because usually it’s just you who works for the business.

However, once you start employing people it’s wise to set some “ground rules”. For example, a customer service guide will help with training new staff, providing them with a reference point for any issues they encounter in their early days on the job.

Here are a few simple tips on creating an effective customer service guide. I have focused on an online business, but it’s similar for an offline operation.

Introduce your business

Though it’s your business and you know the standards and quality you expect, new employees may not. It won’t be long until your customer service team is the main contact point for your customers and they need to know how your business operates and what it promises. Otherwise they can’t adequately answer people’s queries.

The key points to cover are:

  • Shipping costs and delivery times.
  • Returns policy – any shop or online company needs to make clear both the law and their own attitude to unhappy customers.
  • Key details about your product/service (eg if you sell printer ink cartridges, the differences between original manufacturers’ items and compatibles from a third party are important for staff to know).
  • Employee “power” – how far a customer service person can go to appease a situation and when management must be consulted.

It often helps to create a short list of, say, five key points, ideas or practices that you feel are essential to your team. This could include things such as politeness and tone of voice. At my company, we have crucial targets, such as responding to all email enquires within 24 hours.

Tailor it to the role – don’t over-inform

Starting a new job is overwhelming, so make sure you clearly explain the tasks relevant to the role you want that employee to perform.

If you have a sales team, as well as product knowledge, you’ll need details such as how to handle different payments, any limitations of the system (eg can’t accept American Express) or how account and new customers are dealt with.

For roles with more of a focus on service and support, product familiarity is also vital but in-depth knowledge of the sales process may not be necessary (though the ability to do a basic job can help cover staff absences or busy periods). Focus more on relevant factors such as knowledge of your suppliers or product training and troubleshooting.

Proper use of equipment

For any piece of hardware and software, it’s essential that anyone working for your business understands its purpose and how to use it properly from both safety and efficiency viewpoints.

This doesn’t mean you need to copy out every user manual available, but some bullet points with tips can make the employee feel more comfortable and get them up to speed quickly.

Taking screenshots can often save time and effort when trying to describe a series of on-screen tasks. They are great, not only to complement instructions, but also to serve as verification that the correct stages have been followed.

Who ya gonna call?

It’s inevitable, your new customer service employee will need to be able to turn to someone with more experience or authority for help. This makes a quick-fire contact list of all employees (and their jobs) essential, and helps get problems resolved faster by streamlining issues that arise. Plus, you’d be amazed by the added confidence an employee can get from just knowing there is someone to turn to.

This area could also cover where to refer customers who’re looking for services you don’t provide. Draw up a shortlist of companies that don’t impinge on your market but are in a related niche. This can not only encourage customers to see you as being helpful, but also build relationships with those businesses. If you’re sending business to them they’ll be much more likely to send it back to you.

Produce a cheat sheet

If you can distil some of the more essential information onto a single page that your team can pin up for quick reference, you’ll save time.

This can be anything from a flow chart for taking a payment by cheque to how to handle ‘difficult to scan’ barcodes (I’m looking at you and your eggs, Mr Cadbury). In non-retail situations this can be how to document an issue properly, or the correct series of questions to ask when troubleshooting a problem.

Updating your guide

If it’s good, employees will refer to your manual and follow it, which is great, as long as the guidance is correct. It’s definitely worth re-evaluating this document periodically, as well as updating sections when new business practices, equipment or services become available.

I hope these tips help you streamline your processes and your new recruits are still smiling after settling-in! Have you got any tips that you’ve found really helped you to integrate a new team member?

Matt Bird of printer cartridge supplier, StinkyInk

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