To be successful in today’s competitive business climate requires a commitment to excellence in customer service.
If excellence is the goal, anything less is not acceptable.
Many companies talk about the importance of providing excellent customer service and yet do little to initiate its offering. Unfortunately, the main reason that more businesses just talk about the importance of customer service and do not actually provide it, is because they do not know how to get started. Today, it’s not really a question of whether you want to provide customer service to your customers – IT’S MANDATORY!
Customer Service Defined
Shockingly, the average customer-service provider doesn’t know what customer service is. Here’s my definition:
“Customer service is anything we do for the customer that enhances the buying experience.”
It represents the customers overall feeling of contentment with his/her interaction with us. It recognizes the difference between customer expectations and customer perceptions. Satisfaction may develop quickly or may be cultivated over a period. Customers have varying ideas as to what they expect from interaction with us. No matter how accurately we see our definition of customer service, we still have to live up to what our customer thinks that customer service is. The customer’s total satisfaction is the goal.
Marketing studies have shown that companies that offer high-quality customer service keep customers 50 percent longer; have 30 percent lower sales and marketing costs; and have about 12 percent higher profits. Business success today demands that you adequately prepare to interact with your customers. Preparation does not magically appear. It is a result of a commitment to increase understanding of the customer, knowledge of current trends, the ability to interpret those trends and the development of the fundamental skills necessary to achieve excellence.
A New Generation
A new generation of customer service provider is emerging. This new generation is excited about what they can offer their customers and how they can help their organizations to accomplish goals. These providers are well educated, open to new ideas, adaptable, motivated, possess superior communications skills and have an enlightened understanding of the multicultural marketplace.
A More Sophisticated Consumer
Today, customers are much more sophisticated than they were even five years ago. They are informed about product quality and performance and know that if they are dissatisfied with the service they receive, there is probably someone else who also sells it who will provide greater service. They also may expect that if they express their unhappiness with a situation, a positive outcome will occur.
Excellent customer service is rare because it requires two activities to which the average person and organization are unwilling to commit: spending money and taking action. It is much more than having a great attitude or being a people person. We must hone-in our customer service skills. In addition to developing skills, we must access what our current level of customer service is and determine whether it meets the customers’ needs. Customers change all the time. In addition to the people, the circumstances in which customers and organizations operate also are changing. If customer policies were established several years ago, or if the customer base has changed, current procedures for operation may no longer be effective. Companies must develop strategies that meet today’s customer needs.
Here are a few examples of good customer service:
- Free car wash with fill-up
- Easy return policy
- Follow-up call from a doctor to see how you are feeling after a visit
- Excellent follow-up after a purchase
- Empathy in handling customer complaints and questions
- Well-explained instructions or directions
- Suggestions of a less expensive option
- On-time delivery
Why don’t companies deliver better customer service? Some barriers or obstacles to excellent customer service are beyond our control – management philosophy, unreliable equipment, restrictive company policies and out-of-date procedures. Most barriers to excellent customer service, however, are within our control. These represent challenges that can be overcome through diligent efforts so that the customer service provider can become the best that he or she can be.
Here are some of the most common, but controllable, barriers to excellent customer service:
- Poor communication skills
- Poor time management
- Lack of adequate training
- Inability to handle stress
- Insufficient authority
A couple of concepts should be mentioned. Any time that we interact with others, we must be aware of their perceptions of situations, experiences and people. Here is how I would define perception:
“The way that we see something based on our experience.”
Everyone’s perception of a situation will be, at least, slightly different. The question persists:
“Is the glass half full or is it half empty.”
Two people can share the same experience but describe it quite differently. Customers may not remember every detail of an experience, but they will retain an overall feeling about it. It is that “feeling,” in combination with other experiences, that creates their perception of you and your company.
All of us walk into a known or unknown situation with a set of expectations as to what will transpire. Here is how I would define expectations:
“Our personal vision of the result that will come from our experience.”
Expectations may be positive or negative. How many times have you practiced your response to an anticipated objection only to find out that you didn’t have to use it? Expectations are usually based, at least partially, on our expectations. If your last experience with a company was negative, you may approach a new situation with the expectation that you again will be dissatisfied. Because of this, you approach the interaction “armed and ready” for battle.
To begin the process of attempting to exceed your customers’ expectations, try:
- Become familiar with your customers. Get to know who they are and why they do business with you. Find out their likes and dislikes.
- Ask your customers about their expectations. Find out what they see as the benefit of doing business with you. What would they like for you to do that you aren’t already doing?
- Tell your customers what they can expect. Communicate your commitment to them.
- Live up to their expectations. Follow through by accomplishing what you have said that you would do.
- Maintain consistency. Don’t promise what you cannot deliver, but always deliver a consistent service. Customers like to know that they will have the same positive experience every time that they interact with you.
Measuring Your Efforts
You should measure whether or not efforts to improve your customer service are successful. By measuring your customers’ satisfaction, you deepen your relationship with them. In measuring your customer’s satisfaction you consider their perceptions and their expectations.
When we ask our customers questions, we are creating an environment that encourages the sharing of ideas and concerns. The message that is conveyed to customers is that your company is interested in what they think, and your company is willing to strive actively to satisfy them. The seeking of feedback from your customers can ,in itself, result in positive feedback. Here are few ways of obtaining information about customer satisfaction:
- Informal surveys. This can be accomplished by just talking with your customers. The results may not be statistically measurable, but they can help you better know your customers.
- Formal written or phone surveys. These can provide detailed, statistically accurate information to assist you in developing customer service strategies.
- Focus groups. Random groups of customers, or prospective customers, who are brought together to discuss their current level of satisfaction and to suggest improvements in service.
- Comment cards. (Seen often in restaurants) They provide “instant” feedback on their level of satisfaction with your service.
- Discussions with your internal customers (your employees). They frequently have information about what customers like, don’t like and their interests.
The challenge of seeking and achieving excellence in customer service is not easily overcome. Equipped with the knowledge necessary to create an environment that encourages excellent customer service and the skills to compete successfully in your industry, the next step is to embark on the path of achieving individual and organizational excellence in customer service.