How Can I Help You? … The Essentials of Customer Service

Mar 2013
Issue 32

David Reedby David Reed

With today’s technology, it is easier than ever for consumers to change who they buy from in almost every area of the market. It is also possible for other companies to copy popular products or develop similar services in a relatively short period of time. It’s fair to say that, in many aspects of our economy, we live in an era of commodities. So, when we look at the competitive environment, what is it that causes a customer to choose one company over another and to stay with that company over time?

Along with price and perceived quality, an important factor in buying decisions is how people are treated – the nature of the “buying experience” – which quickly translates into the quality of customer service. Thus, the long-term success of any organization is based in large part on the level of its customer service. Customer service quality will have a huge impact especially on repeat business, which is necessary to sustain long-term growth, as well as on the “buzz” that surrounds the company’s reputation.

Based on my extensive experience in this area, I’d like to suggest four key action areas that organizations should consider in order to improve the quality of customer service and the competitive standing within their industries. These four action areas are:

  1. Know your customer
  2. Develop feedback systems
  3. Create a culture of service
  4. Encourage responsiveness

Know your customer. This may seem obvious, but too many times we start the sales process or interaction with our customers by talking about ourselves, our company, or our products instead of focusing on the customer needs that our product or service will fulfill or the customer problems that we can help solve. In order to serve your customers well, you need to understand their needs and basic business practices. Even after the sale, it is important to interact with your customers regularly, on their work site if appropriate, to stay in tune with their changing business requirements.

Develop feedback systems. A large component of knowing your customer is obtaining regular feedback regarding your performance, and surveys are effective tools. If done well, they give you good data, but they also open up a communication channel with your customers, allowing them to express both positive and constructive feedback. Constructive feedback is often the most valuable, and it also gives you the opportunity to respond before customers take their business elsewhere.

In general, your customer feedback system should include the following four components:

  1. Transaction Feedback. This is often best obtained from a short survey that immediately follows a sales or service transaction.
  1. Annual Feedback. Higher level feedback can come from an annual survey of all past and current customers. The annual survey can be a little longer and should be designed to:
    • Assess your standing in the eyes of your customers
    • Provide input from customers for your continuous improvement or product development lifecycle
    • Get your company’s information and brand in front of those who may influence purchases
  1. Executive Feedback. If appropriate for your product or service, you may also want to get feedback from customers at the leadership level. To do this, identify your top tier of customers and have a senior member of your team reach out to the executives or decision makers in the customer companies. This will often start meaningful conversations and will almost always provide valuable input on the current “temperature” of your relationship.
  1. Informal Employee Feedback. This can be an important source of feedback and is often overlooked. Do you have a process in place that encourages members of your team to share information with others on how to improve your products or services?

Create a culture of service. Before any organization can be outstanding at providing customer service to the external, paying customers, they must learn to offer outstanding service to each other internally. It is challenging for many people to “flip a switch” and turn on great customer service when they treat their co-workers poorly the rest of the time. The solution is to treat everyone, internal or external, with the same level of respect and service.

Encourage Responsiveness. The number one “customer turnoff” in any industry is a long wait. In the U.S., we are an impatient society and getting more so every year. Whether it is waiting for the delivery of a product, or even a return phone call, customers want their interests met in a timely manner. This is especially true if there has been a breakdown in customer service and there is need to “recover” in the eyes of your customer. When this happens, picture a stop watch starting, with the goal of promptly resolving the issue (and communicating regularly along the way).

You know quality when you see it, and we all know companies that truly excel at customer service. But becoming a Disney, a Nordstroms, a Chick-fil-A, a QuikTrip, a Zappos, a Southwest Airlines … or any other company known as being the best in customer service in its industry … is hard work! It must be cultivated through the development of these practices (and others) that will keep your customers returning, time after time. But it’s worth it – experience has shown that the ROI on effective customer service may make this the best investment you’ve ever made.

St. Charles Consulting Group has a Customer Service Solutions practice. If you’d like a free diagnostic of your customer service culture, complete the survey available at St. Charles Customer Service Assessment.

Or if you have any questions or simply would like some more information, just drop me a line – David Reed. Now is a great time to secure the loyal support of your customers and to move from where you are today by leaping past your competitors.

Next month:

Elevator Speech 2.0 = The Elevator Dialogue

The world as we once knew it has changed. The pace of business has increased so dramatically, and we are interconnected more now than ever – with mobile phones, voicemail, email, texting, Skyping, Facebooking, and an ever-growing number of other social media outlets. But, with so many options, it seems that many of our connections are more fleeting than ever. This is especially significant in business development where there is often not enough time to deliver a conventional “elevator speech” to grab someone’s attention. Next month, we’ll talk about the next generation of the elevator speech – the Elevator Dialogue – and how it can be used to engage someone in a meaningful conversation.