Twenty-twelve was the year I ran like Forrest Gump. In April, I began my quest by training for a 10k. Two weeks later, I tackled a half-marathon. Eight months later, I found myself geared up at the starting line yet again, only this time to run double the distance for my first ever marathon. After six and a half hours (yes, it took me that long), I had finally finished my journey. All the relentless training and labor pains proved a sweet triumph. I proudly seized my membership into the small, elite group of marathon finishers.
Recently, I’ve been reading customer service articles and I realized that most of them--while providing keen, insightful principles--are almost always geared toward retail customers. In the retail world, the interaction between the customer and the representative is normally temporary and characterized as a sprint. Conversely, in the enterprise world, you are working with customers for a much longer stretch. You are building a relationship with them--you are running a marathon.
Upon pondering these things, I discovered 5 tips on how to apply my knowledge of crossing the marathon finish line to excelling in enterprise customer service.
1. A good start is essential
I learned this painful lesson during my first 10k. Overeager and naïve, I started out way too fast and my energy began to drain quickly. When you’re going a long distance, you want to start out slowly and gradually build up to your pace. You cannot worry about the speed of those around you, but rather know and cling to the pace you’ve practiced.
Likewise, a strong first impression with your client is essential. Cementing this positive impact will set the tone for the entire business relationship. Finding out facts like how these individuals work and their preferred communication helps set predictable expectations for your interactions--much like establishing a training plan. Start thinking like a coach and teach clients how to correctly utilize the services you offer.
2. Finding your stride with the customer will create a rhythm
Like most people I know, I do not enjoy the initial minutes of running. The first half an hour of any run is always absolutely miserable. But if I start off slow and gradually increase my pace, I begin to develop a steady rhythm and my body conforms to my activity. After about three miles, my running becomes natural and my feet are free and unhindered.
Similarly, after a good first meeting with a customer, you need to begin developing a unique stride. First, learn how to best communicate with them by understanding the customer’s personality and how they function. Do they prefer to be on the phone? Do they want daily email updates? Are they going to reach out to you when they have a problem or should you be checking in regularly with them? These are all critical questions that need to be answered so that you can serve them better.
Secondly, you must build trust. Solidifying trust may seem daunting, but it is quite simple. Keep your word and follow through quickly, and the clients will realize that they can depend on you. While you may not be able to answer your client’s questions every time, you should have the resources within your company to find an answer, and learn to navigate those systems. Once you understand the nuances of your client and gain their trust, you will be able to go far and perform well without being burdened by exhaustion and stress.
3. Training is the only way to get across the finish line
There are countless numbers of marathon training schedules available. When I decided to commit to a marathon, the first thing I did was look for a training program. It was important to find one that would harmonize with my schedule and physical ability. I stuck to my chosen training schedule because I knew that if I did, I would not need to worry come race day.
It is essential to identify the skills that you will need to succeed in the beginning. Customer service within a tech field will require much more than solely being able to relate well with your customer; it will also require a degree of technical understanding. You will need to figure out the necessary skills and make sure you undergo as much training as possible to develop those skills. Strong preparation will provide you with the tools needed to face any unforeseen obstacle that might cross your path.
4. Find yourself a good cheering squad
There is a reason why people prefer to run in larger marathons over races that are less populated--it's the crowd. Hearing the cheers and applause is an unexplainable force that gives runners the extra energy they need when they feel on the brink of giving up.
No matter how strong your relationship is with your client, there will be times when environments go down and everything goes wrong. You may be pulling countless hours of overtime just to restore stability because many unpredictable roadblocks will emerge during a crisis. For instance, when a problem erupts, company executives will emerge who you have never encountered before. These are the times when your cheering squad is indispensable.
Just as a weary runner needs extra encouragement to finish that last mile, so we also desperately need cheerleaders who will reassure us after difficult calls. They are the ones who will grab you food and water when you’re on an 8-hour call. They are your peers who will pick up the extra work when your strength is gone. They are your supervisors who will stay late to make sure you have the resources for success. These are the people that you want to have around you. The key to gaining this resource of inspirational people is to first model and lavish it upon your colleagues.
5. When you cross the finish line, you should celebrate
As I came up on mile 25, my friends were getting worried because most of the other runners had already finished. They decided to send a singular search party with one of our group's best runners. He found me about a mile from the finish line and ran with me the rest of the way. I remember him saying, “Once you finish this thing you can eat whatever the heck you want!” What a delectable and sustaining hope that was!
When you have a win with a client, you must give yourself permission to celebrate. After exhaustively delivering a customer from a strenuous issue, you must go out and revel in the win. Share about your experience with your team and management. Since they were your cheering squad, they will be overjoyed at your success as you figuratively plant your foot across the finish line. Crossing the finish line and great rejoicing go hand in hand!
Remember that in this marathon you are not alone. You and your partners (clients) are interdependent, and I promise that there is no greater feeling than that moment that you cross that finish line together and realize what you have accomplished.