Customer service, at its core, is ensuring that your customers are happy with your products and company so they will continue doing business with you. Seems simple, right? Yet it’s becoming increasingly complex as the responsibilities of customer service change, the number of customer service channels expand and customer expectations increase. When you consider that 82% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company because of bad customer service, you begin to understand the scope of the issue. Poor customer service ultimately means lost customers and lost revenue. Even worse, given the information sharing tools available today, unhappy customers can impact the choices of prospective customers more than ever before.
The good news? Customer service still comes down to prompt, honest, empathetic communication with your customers, and even small companies can do it well. The question is – how? We are tackling this question on our Focus On: Customer Service series, where we’ll explore planning for, implementing and scaling customer service for your subscription business. The full series includes:
- Customer Service: The Basics
- Establishing a Customer Service Department
- Outsourcing Customer Service
- Handling Common Customer Service Questions
- Your First Customer Service Hire
- Scaling Your Customer Service Team
Handling Common Customer Service Questions
One of the best foundations for good customer service is preparing for the common questions that frequently come up. It’s imperative to identify inquiries that your customer service representatives may receive, prepare standard ways to respond to those inquiries and know when to escalate an inquiry to someone else. While there’s no right or wrong answer, the key ingredient is consistency across your organization once you have developed your customer service response process.
Use this customer service response blueprint and create a database with specific responses consisting of email copy, phone scripts and protocols for each issue identified in your response blue print and each communications channel that you use, including email, phone, chat, social media and others. The database could be simple or fancy in excel, word docs, draft emails, or in your CRM system, it just needs to be easily accessed by your team.
The Refund Request:
Since refund requests are a common issue for subscription customer service teams, here is an example of mapping out your responses in a sample customer service response blue print:
- Policy for Refund Requests:
What is the policy for your customer service team? Are there specific tools they need to use? Are there internal team members they need to notify after the refund is given? As a reminder, this is an example for a company using best practice notifications, renewal receipts for every monthly and annual renewal and with clear communications on their cancellation policy (no refunds, only forward cancels). It’s important that you make sure your customer service response policy is uniquely designed for your company’s products, services and customers.
- Monthly Subscription Example:
Customer Service reps are authorized to provide refunds if a request is received within seven days of a monthly renewal anniversary for the most recent term.
- Annual Subscription Example:
Customer service reps are authorized to provide refunds if a refund request is received within 30 days of an annual renewal anniversary.
It’s better to pleasantly provide a refund and maintain a cordial contact than to stick to your published refund policy and anger your now ex-subscriber. That kills the chance they’ll be back, but guarantees they’ll tell some of your prospects how unreasonable you are. So, also think about when there are exceptions to your rules. Perhaps you will give your customer service reps the authority to refund up to three months (for a monthly subscription) if the customer insists. If a customer calls late into an annual subscription, you may want to provide a full refund or a prorated refund. Make the decision on these policies ahead of time, reflecting what is best for your company.
- Communications Channel Response:
Here are sample responses by communications channel. Remember to review your responses on an annual basis, at minimum. The tone and approach to these communications should map to the overall personality and brand of your subscription business.
We are sorry to see you go!
I just want to confirm that we have processed your refund of $XXX.XX. You should expect to see that on your credit card statement shortly.
Please let me know if you have any questions. If you need anything else, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Customer Service Team
While this sounds like a lot of work, it is a lot less work than the time wasted by your customer service team writing individual responses each time an inquiry comes in, or even worse, communicating inconsistent or incorrect information.
While the following is an extreme example, after acquiring a competitor, a company encountered high chargeback rates. It turned out that the reps were telling subscribers that if they wanted to cancel, they needed to call their credit card company! Fortunately, the fix in this case involved doing exactly what is recommended above, creating a database based on the blue print of your customer service response plan with expected responses to expected answers. The reps had directions for how much leeway they have to deal with a question directly without escalating, and finally, knowing exactly when to escalate an inquiry to another person.
Are You Ready for These Three Types of Inquiries?
While most Customer Service reps will tell you that something new comes up every day, they’ll also each have a story about at least one of the issues below. While there’s no right or wrong answer, escalation process or policy for any of these situations, the following attempts to provide some insight into how others in the subscription industry handle them:
1. Outside-of-Standard-Policy Refund Request:
Good customer service preparation lays the foundation of subscriber trust with a clear policy on cancelation, directions on how to cancel and your terms and conditions for cancelations. Best practices dictate a clear outline of your cancelation terms during signup, in your FAQ’s, on your order form and in your purchase confirmation communications. However,, it’s inevitable that as a subscription business you will receive refund requests and even the occasional request for out-of-scope (or even completely unreasonable) refunds. Contrary to what you may want to believe, outrageous requests are not at all uncommon!
Every subscription business has received the dreaded Truly Unreasonable Refund Request, where a subscriber or member requests a refund far beyond the current term. Can you blame that subscriber? If they don’t ask, they don’t get . . . but this is an area to be assertive, as well as pleasant.
At the risk of sounding like something out of Fargo, consider this true story. Several years ago a call came into a digital content company from a subscriber who was angrily talking louder and louder. He was trying to convince (bully?) the customer service rep who took his call into giving him a 10-year refund! The customer service rep kept his cool and told the subscriber he needed to talk with his manager. The rep went to the CMO per the protocol of the company, with the subscriber’s very unusual request. The subscriber claimed that because of his brain tumor, the people managing his affairs had never cancelled the subscription and he deserved a full refund for the previous 10 years. As it happened, the subscriber had an unusual name and was from the same town that the CMO grew up in. A little investigation confirmed that the subscriber not only worked with her father, but had been healthy the entire time! The CMO took the customer service call herself and told the subscriber who she was (and her dad said “hello!”) and that she hadn’t heard anything about him being ill. Long, awkward story short – no refund was given!
What would you have done if you had received this request? You may not be so lucky as to know the subscriber making the crazy request, but you should know what your team will do and say when these situations come up.
Unfortunately these requests aren’t as rare as you’d expect. Many subscription organizations receive similar requests. But how should you respond?
Stay calm: Steer clear of the Mistakes to Avoid and leverage the 12 Basic Tips from earlier in this document.
Trust, but verify: Treat any assertion by the subscriber as true until proven otherwise. Remember, she knew the guy who asked for the 10-year refund, otherwise she would’ve asked for medical documentation, after first of course expressing sympathy for the misfortune.
Have a backup for extreme situations: Many companies will offer refunds up to the length of a chargeback if a request that’s both real and extreme comes in, matching the amount a customer would get back if they opened up a complaint with a credit card company.
2. Forgotten Passwords
A good rule of thumb is “never send a customer on the phone to an answer on the web.” If the customer wanted to search for online help, they would have done so. However, changing or verifying a password over the phone is a not advisable.
In this time of increased hacker sophistication, even the online protocols for protecting passwords are being reviewed and upgraded. No matter how much you’d like to, manually updating a password outside of the system should be a last-ditch-only option.
One of our own Subscription Insider subscribers shared this story, “I had a customer call recently who not only did know her password, she was pretty sure it had expired, and she’d signed up under and old work email that was no longer active. She also had no idea what the answers to her security questions were. . . I just gave her the password.”
The best answer here is a secure and robust closed system of online verification and resolution. While most of us aren’t selling state secrets or plans to the atomic bomb, you should keep password security out of the hands of Customer Service as is humanly possible. But how?
Technology: Leverage systems that allow email password resets.
Back-up Customer Contact Information: Require a backup email and contact information for all subscribers. If they forget the email they’re registered under (or it is inactivated), there’s still a way to validate that they are who they say they are.
Customer Service Policy: Create a logical policy and put it in writing. Access to a subscription is different from access to credit card information. Establish password-recovery systems and rules based on the relative level of security needed.
3. Chargeback Threats
Unlike refunds, chargebacks are requests from the credit card issuer as a result of a customer complaining about fraudulent use.
According to CardFellow, chargebacks occur for several reasons, including not recognizing the name of a vendor on their credit card bill, to suspected fraudulent card activity. Consider these tips when dealing with chargebacks:
Do not refund the customer yourself. If the chargeback process has already started, the bank will do that immediately upon the dispute being filed, so you don’t want to double the refund.
Comply with information requests promptly and thoroughly. Keep on top of the paperwork as chargebacks can take two to three months to resolve, even with your prompt and cooperative help.
Head it off at the pass. This is an excellent example of the best defense being a good offense. Set up a clear descriptor of your company name to appear on credit card bills. If your legal name is ABC Memberships, but your product is Wild Candy Monthly, be sure to use the Wild Candy name. When subscribers sign-up, make sure in your FAQ, the sign-up form and your post order communications there is language and cancelation terms that clearly states that they are, indeed, agreeing to a monthly fee that will be automatically billed to their credit card. Documentation such as this will help your case with the credit card companies.
Customer Service Success Metrics: A Checklist
The goal of measuring your customer service performance at the initial stages of a subscription business is primarily to learn how to hone your customer service activities and forecast your need for future resources. It’s the time to focus on resolving customer issues and finding out where the gaps are in your current processes and policies. As the company grows and you begin to automate aspects of customer service or use an outside call center, you’ll begin gathering performance metrics such as Hold Time and Time to Resolution, among others. The following is a checklist with metrics of success as well as “to-do” items to create as you build out customer service:
Diane Pierson has deep experience in product management and marketing, having delivered results to companies including Dun & Bradstreet, LexisNexis, American Lawyer Media and Copyright Clearance Center. She has built products & services that have delivered over $100 million in revenue and knows what works, and what doesn’t, when executing product plans and strategies. She is also a contributor to Subscription Insider. (Read Diane’s full Bio)