Customer Service, Myth or Reality
Tim Connor, CSP
The mission for many of today's organizations is, improved customer satisfaction and retention through better customer service.
There are many companies that have put real teeth and accountability into their employee training to insure they get the consistent results they say they desire. Unfortunately there are many more companies who have only given this customer driven philosophy or approach lip service.
I would like to share with you what I feel are some of the reasons that words do not often become deeds, in the area of customer service.
At the end of this article I will share what I believe are the Twelve Laws of Effective Customer Service. These concepts must be integrated into any customer service attitude, philosophy or program to insure integrity between policy and procedure and customer perceptions.
Let's begin with some of the reasons or causes that contribute to a lack of accountability in the employee customer service area. Before we begin, however, it is essential that we get a working definition of, Effective Customer Service.
Effective customer service is not a slogan, advertising program, button that everyone wears or a banner touting a, "We Care attitude". It is a consciousness or attitude that penetrates every nook and cranny of the organization. It is a philosophy that is understood and embraced by every employee, that's every employee, regardless of position, length of service or vocation. It is consistent regardless of the period in the week or month, market pressures, department or branch, current sales results, current cash flow, management philosophy of the day or market position. It is not a program that is funded for the short term, but a corporate lifestyle that is on-going regardless of the whims of management, the fickleness of customers or the dynamics of the marketplace. Long definition I know, but necessary.
What prevents an organizations from building this consciousness into the fabric of its management team and employees?
One. If the corporate culture has been traditionally profit and/or earnings driven, then it will be difficult to shift gears to a customer driven philosophy. Two. If communication is heavily weighted in a top down direction, you can bet that it will take lots of time and follow-through to re-focus to a bottom up style. Three. If the management style is closed, authoritative and or hierarchical, upper management will, unless they are totally and completely committed to changing the attitudes of the organization as a whole, generally sooner or later abandon this new and challenging change in philosophy. Four. If the attitude exists among middle management and employees is, "here we go again", few members of the organization will be able to fight the internal tide of apathy. Five. If employees have too much on there plate, because your business style is to run "lean and mean', it will be difficult to consistently enforce the policies and procedures necessary to maintain the integrity of actions consistent with your stated objective.
An effective customer service philosophy requires constant vigilance and dedication to see it through regardless of how it may hurt to maintain the integrity of your customer commitments.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Lets say that you have a no questions asked, money back guarantee. A customer, who has purchased a high ticket item from you, for whatever reason, changes his or her mind and returns the product. You tell them that you will take the product back but you have a restocking fee. Hmm. So you penalize the customer for their return. I purchase a product from you and write a check. The check clears and I decide to return the product. You tell me I will have to wait fourteen days for my refund because the refund has to come from corporate headquarters. Hmm. Customer driven or company convenience driven, you decide. And here is my favorite. I purchase a piece of equipment from you for several thousand dollars. It has a 30 day warranty, so you recommend I purchase a service contract for several hundred dollars a year, to insure that when the equipment breaks I will be able to get it serviced without additional cost. Hmm. Customer driven or organization driven? You decide.
These examples do not reflect a customer focused philosophy. And yet your corporate mission statement says, Our customers are number one. Hmm. I don't think so.
One way to determine the effectiveness of your customer service philosophy is to regularly solicit customer feedback in a variety of ways.
Have you ever had this experience. You are at a restaurant and the food is less than average but you don't have time to send your meal back. When paying your check. the cashier asks, how was your meal. You tell them you were dissatisfied and they say they are sorry. I am sorry to. I will never return to that establishment again and you can bet I will tell a number of my friends, clients and peers.
I could go on and on, but I am sure you have as many or more stories than I do.
Effective customer service requires consistent behavior from every employee I encounter in every situation when I do business with your firm. There are no excuses for: "I didn't know that was on sale, I am new, this is my last week in this joint, we close in ten minutes could you please hurry, I don't know when your order will ship, its been on back order for several weeks. etc. etc. etc."
I don't want to kill a fly with a hammer, so let's get to the Twelve Laws of effective customer service.
Law No One. The customer is not always right. However, the goal is not to discredit, embarrass, belittle or challenge them in a destructive way. What we need to do, is discover what is the source or cause of their incorrect perceptions, beliefs or attitudes. The next step is to determine if the organization has contributed significantly to these incorrect feelings or if their source is the competition, the marketplace or uncle Harry.
Law No Two. The customer is never always completely wrong. There is always some element of their perception that is a true reflection of reality as they see it. The customer can be a teacher for us if we will keep an open mind and receptive neutral demeanor. They can mirror back to us where our advertising, distribution methods, pricing strategies, administrative policies or marketing or sales methods need improvement, refinement or a major overhaul.
Law No Three. The customer deserves your best regardless of the time of day or day of the week or the month of the year. Working late last night because it was your monthly inventory or your annual sales blowout should not become my problem. The fact that you just returned from a week on the road working trade shows, although I have empathy for you, is not my problem.
Law No Four. The customer deserves your best regardless of your training, length of service, inventory philosophy or any other prevailing corporate attitude. So you are sixty days away from retirement, and just filling time, waiting to get behind the wheel of your RV. Or, you are a brand new sales rep whining that manufacturing just doesn't understand, or, you are on the first week of the job and still can't master this new piece of equipment, or you are overstocked on a particular item so you cut back on stocking the items that I use regularly and ask me if I will accept a substitute. These and thousands of illustrations like them, if they become my problem, will cause me to seek out your competitor.
Law No Five. Don't pass the buck. Whoever hears a problem owns the problem. How often have you been transferred several times before you finally get to the right person? Have you ever heard, "its not my job, problem or function". Don't get defensive or upset when I bring you a concern or complaint. Accept the fact that the problem exists and help me get it solved.
Law No Six. Don't be too busy for your customers and don't make it difficult for them to do business with you. How many times have you gotten the feeling that you are an interruption in an employees day or workload. Have you ever been made to feel like you shouldn't be having a problem with a product or service, that it is your fault that the item broke?
Law No Seven. Employee are customers too. Every employee that ever does anything within an organization ultimately is doing it indirectly for the customer. That makes every employee an ambassador, spokesperson or representative of the customer. When an employee fails to serve another employee in an effective or timely manner, sooner or later the customer will fell the repercussions.
Law No Eight. If you must use technology, make it user friendly. Within the past week I have had five voice mail systems hang up on me. When I called back to get a person I had to spend several minutes of my valuable time wading through endless recorder dribble. I finally called another supplier.
Law No Nine. Say what you will do and do what you say. Follow through, keep your promises, honor your commitments, keep me informed of your progress. Customers will tend to be more understanding, patient and tolerant if you communicate with them with integrity and in a timely manner.
Law No Ten. Be interested, care and act like you are glad I am doing business with you. People like doing business with people who appreciate their business. People are willing to give more of their business and money to businesses that are friendly, accommodating and interested. Some of the ways to show you care is, by having up to date product knowledge, knowing who does what in your organization so you don't have to keep me on hold for ten minutes trying to find someone to solve my problem, smiling, even if it hurts.
Law No Eleven. Keep private things private. I am not interested in your personal problems or corporate politics. I do not have the time nor am I interested in hearing about who did what to whom and why in your organization. I don't want to know that you are looking for another job. Sharing private, confidential or personal information whether you are the CEO or receptionist is in poor taste and unprofessional. It also makes me wonder how much of my business do you share with other customers or suppliers as well.
Law No Twelve. Think ahead of the customer with a problem solving attitude. To survive and prosper in the balance of this decade and century as well in the new century will require that organizations and their employees, all of them, think well ahead of their customers and their potential future desires, problems and needs. Waiting for the customer to bring their problems to you or to communicate there future desires or needs with you will be too late.