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8 Critical Steps to Establish a Customer Service Culture
“Every company’s greatest asset is its customers,
Because there is no company without customers,”
During our recent weak economy, many businesses have seen declining revenues and reduced budgets. Shrinking budgets often reduce staffing levels and reduce services. To me, it doesn’t make sense. I believe this is during down times, when service should be at the forefront and retention of loyal customers should be even more of a focus.
When price wars fail to drive revenue, businesses often look to service to give them a competitive advantage. Many great business marketers are reverting to a “service selling” mentality, however, many sell great customer service and deliver few. The problem is that few marketers actually serve the customer.
Over the years in my business, I have had the opportunity to interact and develop a customer service philosophy. It’s inherent that when you’re in a service-based business, there will be times when your customers are forced to offer you their feedback. What you do with this feedback will shape the future and their impression of your business.
On reflection, all of my interactions with disgruntled customers were not the result of a poor product, but rather a disappointing customer experience. Why is that? Because, product is not personal, customer service is. In short, I’d like to share with you eight critical steps to establishing a customer service culture.
1. Customers are the reason for the work, not the obstacle to the work
It sounds really obvious, right? How many times have you walked into a business while someone was on the telephone or engaged in a “non-service” task? Employees often lose sight of the importance of the customer and become less consumed with day-to-day tasks. Of course, there are tasks that need to be completed, but you can’t afford to sacrifice service to get them. Good customer service should be a priority for you and your team. Without your customers, you have no company!
2. Train, train, and continue to train.
o Cross train all your employees regardless of their department to be able to support the customer. When a customer is upset they don’t want to be shuffled between staff who aren’t able to solve their problem or who aren’t able to help them.
o Offer continuous customer service training for your employees and once they have provided good service, train them.
o Use role-playing situations to help your employees identify and experience easy and difficult service opportunities. If an employee has a comfort level with a difficult situation, they will be able to handle it better.
3. Empower your employees to serve
o Establish a system of resources for your staff to serve the customer. Allow Latitude to take necessary action to provide them with exceptional service and resolve any issues if the customer is dissatisfied. Create a structured system to allow your employees to serve customers.
o Establish a discretionary budget that staff can access to recover before losing a client. I recently learned that a major hotel chain has monetary funding available per year and per employee that enables them to go above and beyond to ensure exceptional service. It enables employees to correct mistakes or create an “unforgettable” customer experience. I’m not advocating huge amounts of money, but when it comes to customer service, a small gesture can go a long way.
o Ask your employees what tools enable them to provide better service. You wouldn’t send a fireman into a burning building without the proper equipment. When you fail to empower and enable your employees with the tools they need to serve your customers, you have few options other than poor service.
4. Personalize the service
o Greet repeat customers by name, if possible.
o Offer to shake hands and introduce yourself. Creating personalized service not only keeps customers, but helps diffuse difficult situations should they arise.
o Thank your customers for their patronage. It really makes a difference.
5. It’s okay to say “yes” even when you have to say “no.”
o Support your employees in making customer service decisions. In my business, it is my policy that an employee can act without concern for feedback, as long as they are meeting the customer’s needs. I have found that this increases the desire to serve the customer.
o Often you can say “no” to a customer, however, a “no” can have a huge impact on your business. Ask yourself, “Am I willing to lose 10 customers as a result of this interaction?”
6. Propose a solution
o Shift from problem to process to solution.
o Offer a choice between several options.
o Put yourself in their place.
o Involve the customer in determining the solution.
o Clearly explain any limitations that exist.
7. Recognize your staff members for excellent service
o Implement a customer service awards program that recognizes employees for exceptional customer service. Maybe you’ve tried these without success and don’t believe they work. I would have agreed if the show was anything like most of what I’ve seen. Try something different; Break the mold. One of my most successful clients offers spa treatments for their female employees if a customer goes out of their way to recognize them for excellent service. Another client offers its employees a “holiday with pay” incentive for every five unsolicited, positive customer comments. These are just a few examples that are “outside the box”. Be creative and instill a little enthusiasm in your staff for customer service.
o Take time to acknowledge employees at staff meetings. People want to leave their mark and feel like they matter. Taking the time to get to know them in front of their peers can make a real difference.
8. Ask your customers what they think of your service
The best way to find out if your customers are satisfied is to ask them. Formal efforts may include customer surveys, questionnaires, interviews or comment/suggestion cards. Informally, get out and talk to your customers and employees. Ask them how they feel about the service you are providing. Ideally, use a combination of both methods.
You may be thinking, “Why would I go asking for trouble? Who knows what I might hear when I ask?” That’s the point. As you will see in the statistics below, most customers do not express their frustration with your service level. They just leave and never come back. If you don’t ask about the quality of your service, you may misjudge and realize that you can reduce service levels because you receive fewer complaints and take your organization into the realm of turning off your customers or causing problems you never wanted.
On the other hand, asking your customers about their satisfaction sends them a message that you care about your business and about them. While you can hear some criticism, you can also learn what you are doing and see what you need to modify.
In addition to information, you will benefit from interaction. Every interaction is a customer service opportunity. Make the most of each and every one.
Most of us continue to do business with people and businesses who provide good service. We can’t say anything, but we reward good service providers by continuing to do business with them. If the service is great, we’ll probably tell our friends and colleagues about it. Likewise, when we receive poor service, most of us vote not with our voices, but with our feet – we just leave.
In the 1980s the White House Office of Consumer Affairs commissioned a report called the TARP Study. The report revealed the following facts about unhappy customers:
96% of dissatisfied customers do not complain directly.
90% don’t come back.
One unhappy customer will tell nine others.
13% would tell at least 20 people
Superior customer service is one of the most difficult deliverables facing today’s business world. Selling the service is the easy part, delivering on that promise presents a huge challenge. So I ask you, what can you do to improve the service you provide? Apply these eight steps and start delivering a great customer culture today!
©Anthony Mullins – Elite Coaching Alliance 2005
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