Whether in a restaurant, a retail establishment, or the local
post office, we have all experienced a decline in customer
Rarely do smiling, happy employees interact with us anymore.
Instead, the person we are dealing with in face-to-face
relationships does not even attempt to feign a smile, but rather
greets us with a scowl, completely avoids eye contact with us,
and grudgingly mutters responses to our requests and questions.
When did customer service cease to exist? Why is it suddenly
so difficult for employees to show customers some common
courtesy along with a little friendliness? Have we ventured so
far from the service standards of yesteryear and become so
short-sighted that we refuse to treat others as we would want to
be treated ourselves?
Today, improving customer service is a top priority in
organizations worldwide. As a result, company leaders spend
hundreds of millions of dollars annually training their
employees how to provide exceptional customer service.
Unfortunately, the effort is not paying off. Even with such
vast resources being spent on this simple and obvious problem,
few companies achieve outstanding results. And as their customer
service levels plummet, dissatisfied customers take their
business elsewhere and company profits suffer. Is there any
improvement in sight?
The Importance of Customer Service
Purchasing virtually any goods or services is a process whereby
the customer moves from interest to desire to decision. During
that process, one of the primary determinants as to whether the
customer completes the purchase, as well as his or her level of
satisfaction in the sales process, is the attitude of the sales
Interestingly, the customer’s attitude frequently reflects
that of the salesperson. Thus, an employee attempting to close
the sale will generally find it much easier to do so if he or
she gives the customer a positive attitude and friendly
disposition to respond to.
Equally important is the post-sale service experience,
especially in today’s environment filled with technically
complex products and services. This trend is likely to continue
as technological complexity increases and as our population
continues to age.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by the year 2005 there
will be 85 million Americans over age 50, and they will have
cumulative purchasing power of $900 billion annually. The
combination of technical complexity and the aging population
will result in an increased proportion of sales transactions
requiring post-sale customer service on a periodic or continuing
Given the customer service problems we face today, coupled with
the growing demand for increased levels of pre- and post-sale
customer service, we need to begin thinking much more seriously
about how our organizations will rise to meet these growing
Adding to this problem will be the demographic reality of a
shrinking pool of available younger workers to fill these
customer service openings, which frequently are entry-level
positions. The following practical steps can help your company
stay ahead of this trend so you can meet tomorrow’s customer
service needs today.
1. Hire happy people. In our haste to find a “warm body” to fill
a vacant position, we frequently miss some of the most obvious
indicators of a person’s likely success or failure.
People who are open, approachable, and generally happy are
far more likely to respond in a positive manner to our
customers’ needs. Prospective employees who act guarded or
excessively shy, or who show evidence of having a “cold fish”
personality during the interview process, probably are not good
hires at the outset.
2. Train your people thoroughly. When employees thoroughly
understand the organization they represent, as well as its
policies, products, and services, they are far more likely to
interact positively with customers.
Realize, though, that training of this sort is not a
one-time-for-life event applicable only to new hires. Today’s
organizations, markets, products, and services are dynamic and
changing constantly. Keep your employees up-to-date with all the
latest trends by offering continual training opportunities.
3. Treat your people exceedingly well. Do you treat your
employees the way you want them to treat customers? Most company
leaders do not, yet they expect their personnel to excel when it
comes to friendly customer service.
The fact is that employees who are unhappy on the job are not
likely to display a positive, helpful attitude to their
customers. Instead, they will respond to customers with the same
attitude and outlook they receive from managers and supervisors.
To foster exceptional customer service skills, company
leaders need to ensure that they treat their employees in the
same manner they want their employees to treat customers.
4. Solicit customer feedback and act promptly upon it. The only
way to get a true reading of your company’s customer service is
to actively solicit feedback from every customer, not just the
ones who you know are satisfied. Equally important is to ask for
feedback in a way that prompts more than superficial responses.
Demonstrate your desire for honest opinions by asking proper
questions. Superficial questions return superficial responses,
while thoughtful, insightful questions result in honest,
valuable answers. Carefully formulate open-ended question so the
answers can reveal the true state of your company’s service
5. Ensure that your senior leadership is hearing unfiltered
feedback - from both your operating personnel and your first line
managers. In almost every organization, the people on the front
lines have a clear understanding of the true customer
The problem lies in how accurately this information moves up
the organizational hierarchy. Just as any military general in
the field strives to get an accurate report of what is occurring
on the battlefront, many executives yearn for a clear
understanding of the customer service that occurs at their
organization’s front lines.
If you want to know what is really happening in your
organization, get out and talk with your employees and your
customers. Then, establish clear and strong guidelines for
information to travel up the ranks. The more accurate
information you can obtain, the better understanding you’ll have
of what needs to change.
Regardless of your industry, if you want your customers to
regularly experience service with a warm, heartfelt smile rather
than a scowl, you must set the example and live by it. Show your
employees the vision to follow so you can instil customer
service practices that will positively impact your bottom line.
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