Improving customer service is often something managers imagine they’ll get around to – in time. Sadly, that time rarely comes. The day-to-day running of an organization takes over, and customer service is relegated to the back of the queue.
We all know, deep down, that customer relationships should never be left to chance. So now is the time to seize that moment! Here are ten simple improvements that you can get started on today.
1. Check Your Customer’s Pulse – No, not to see if they are still breathing, but to check their happiness level. Every time you interact with a customer, in person or over the phone, initiate a quick discussion to gauge how they are feeling. And as you begin to build a relationship with a customer, (and get a feel for their perception of your business), consider doing a quick survey or comment card. This will easily demonstrate to customers, employees and competitors alike, that you intend to continually improve on your service.
2. Check Your Employee’s Pulse – Your employees are an untapped source of customer information. They know how your customers really feel. And, given the chance, they’d love to share it with you. Take the time to listen and understand. It can be a real eye-opener. They see the obstacles your customers have to overcome in order to use your products and services. They might even see business opportunities. Years ago, when working for a large telecommunications company, I discovered customers using our products and services in ways the product development people and marketing folks had never dreamed of. Your staff are the ones closest to your customers. Use their wisdom.
3. Define Your Customer Service Belief System – Ask any number of your staff for the definition of customer service and see what you get. You might be surprised. Most organizations assume that everyone is on the same page, that somehow everyone knows the significance of customer service and what it means to customers and the organization. It is rarely the case. Everybody has their own “take” on standards of service. You need to agree to a definitive version right away.
4. Understand Your Customer’s Obstacles – Many managers forget (or don’t know) what it is like to be a customer of their own business. Observation is the keyword here. Watch your customers’ movements and behavior when they are in your organization. Are they visibly annoyed? Do they stand in line, looking at their watch? Can you tell by their body language that they would rather be somewhere else? Do your frontline staff seem attentive to their needs? Gather this information as you go about your daily tasks.
5. Data Drive Your Business – If you don’t currently collect valuable customer data, then now is the time to begin. It doesn’t have to be in any great detail. Just the basics – name, address, phone number, e-mail address – if your customer doesn’t mind. Utilizing this information is paramount to keeping customers connected to your organization. The idea here is not to inundate the customer with promotional material – there is a time for marketing. It is more to do with adding value to their relationship with you. After all, this is a relationship based on trust. They have already shared their “private” information with you; now you have the opportunity to give something back. How? Send them a periodic e-mail that gives tips and hints on how to change their lives for the better. Sometimes your product or service will have a place in this information, sometimes it won’t.
6. Change Your Employment Policy – I often see ads for frontline customer service staff saying: “5 years’ experience required.” It is understandable that businesses would want new people to hit the ground running. But this may not be the best approach when it comes to customer service. We have all heard the saying, familiarity breeds contempt. This is often the case with veteran customer-facing staff. They can be battle-worn, preferring to concentrate on acquired technical skills instead of focusing on the customer. Unless high levels of technical skill are required for the post, it might be better to hire largely for a positive, upbeat and enthusiastic outlook and train for the rest. It won’t suit every situation of course, but hiring cheerful, and training for skill, has its strengths.
7. Lay Down The Law Of Customer Service – Unless you are blessed with the gift of telepathy, sooner or later you are going to have to create a customer service “law” for your business. It simply needs to assign the customer as THE number one priority, in a clear and understandable way, and it needs to be obeyed. Make sure that everyone who interacts with a customer, lives and breathes the “law” of your customer service on every occasion.
8. Turn Customer Service Into A Sales Driver – What better time to introduce a customer to the greater benefits of your product or service than at the point of sale. Educate your customer service people to fully understand the many benefits you are offering, and train them to explain these benefits to the customer in a comfortable, conversational way. Many employees freeze at the mention of “sales”. But a helpful conversation with a customer is not the same as a sales discussion. Encourage your customer service folks to talk to customers like an adviser, not a salesperson.
9. Establish Visible Measures Of Success – Every business is different. But the one thing they all have in common is the need to keep customers happy and to keep them coming back. Determine core customer service measures of success. For instance, if you want your regular customers to return or increase the amount they buy, then measure that as a goal of your customer service team. If you have an established survey method, use the results to drive understanding of where you can and must improve. A note of caution – avoid measuring something just because you have the tools. Your measurements must be meaningful. They must improve your customer service.
10. Communicate – Even if managers do find the time to launch a customer service improvement campaign, many struggle to maintain the effort and therefore never see lasting results. Often the problem is rooted in the management desire to do it once and done. Unfortunately, customer service isn’t like that. It has to be reinforced, learned and practiced continually, with regular management input. Try a simple management communication technique that you can start today. Hold daily 1-minute “huddles”! Gather frontline or backroom employees in a hallway or lobby, once a day, just for a minute, to confirm their customer service understanding. Many retail organizations do this. It allows you to chart the day’s goals and it reminds employees of the most important person in the organization. The customer.
Improving customer service will never be a quick fix. It is an endless journey, but a crucial and rewarding one. Make this your decisive moment and embark on the journey today.
About the Author
Neil Newcomb is a recognized authority on customer service, having spent 15 years managing customer service operations and call centers, and running his own customer service solutions company, Event Learning LLC.