Because the business world is presently entrenched in a too-many-suppliers-chasing-too-few-spending-customers death spiral, there has been a renaissance in Business Media about Customer Service. This proves, in one fell swoop that every cloud does indeed have a silver lining. However, what is often overlooked (and what is certainly being overlooked at present) is that great customer service, like charity, begins at home.
The critical component in any Customer-centric strategy is your people, they are the point of delivery, where 'the rubber meets the road' as it were. So in order to make customers happy, we must first ensure our people are happy, demotivated employees make lousy brand ambassadors, highly motivated and enthused employees will provide a sustainable strategic edge (no mean feat in a world where differentials are eroded hourly). Consequently, leaders should make it their business to ensure that the troops are fed, watered and enthused.
So, assuming that we have good systems and processes in place for firing up our people, what about the customers themselves? Who are they, where are they? what do they like? what are they like? Do you have internal as well as external ones (we have written about the internal supply chain before, often hugely overlooked and a must-have component in any customer service strategy).
Much has been written about 'under-promise and over-deliver' and, whilst it has merits, it can be dangerous because it can lead companies to assume they know what the customer wants and assume the customer will be delighted when we exceed that expectation — this is not always the case. As a default, keep your promises, do what you said you would do, when you said you would do it and do it with the minimum of fuss and hassle to the customer — that will be enough.
So how to provide world-class customer service? Follow the 10 steps below and you will not be far off;
1. Take the customer seriously. He is always right, especially when he's wrong! He is right about how he feels and he is right in that he can leave your premises and tell the world and his wife that you and your company suck, so — take the customer very seriously!
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate. If things have gone wrong say so. Do not lie (this is insulting and sends a message you do not want to send). It insults your customer's intelligence. Customers understand that people make mistakes, they do not expect you to be perfect, they expect you to care when you screw up..
3. When things go wrong, do not despair, complaints are gifts. Customers are so used to flawless service now it is taken as standard. When things go wrong your responses may be the only chance you will get to show just how special you are. I will say again, A complaint is a gift — treat it as such.
4. Be available, if you cannot deal with someone immediately at least acknowledge them immediately. People do not mind waiting, what frustrates them is feeling ignored.
5. Respect – should be a given, often (in a depressingly large number of cases) isn't.
6. Listen don't talk. Do not assume you know what the customer wants and do not answer them from your own perspective. The solution that will work in the long-term is the solution the customer wants, not the one you do.
7. Know your stuff. It is not acceptable to be ignorant in front of a customer. All staff who are customer facing (and that includes those on telephones) must know their products and services and where and how to route a call and when (and this is so much better) to 'own' the problem themselves.
8. Quality and value — Both are very important, both are hugely subjective and both are determined in the customer's brain. Taking the time and trouble to know the customer and to listen to him really pays off here. The world is full of companies giving 'added-value-solutions', many of them are giving added-cost-non-solutions since their interventions cost them money and if they haven't taken the time to listen to the authentic voice of the customer, will almost always not be perceived as either quality or value because they do not address the specific problem the customer has in mind.
9. Treat as you would be treated. Courtesy, respect and appreciation are the bare minimum. Many customer service staff complain that customers do not respect them. Remember that respect, like love, has to be given away before it can be received. No customer will ever respect us until and unless we respect them first.
10. My word is my bond. Give staff the power and authority to deal with a customer's problem. The ownership belongs with the person taking the call, they should be allowed to provide a fix. If the staff member always says "I'll have to ask my boss" the customer will get frustrated and want to deal just with the boss. Have the faith and confidence in your staff and your products & services that you can trust them both and that you will stand behind them and back them. THEN you will have the basics for world-class customer-service and world class customers.
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Chief Engineer at MarketHive