Bad Customer Service does not happen overnight. The good news is that it can be corrected.
Bad Customer Service is a combination of several controllable and predictable circumstances involving policies, procedures, training, management and personnel.
Bad Customer Service is not from bad customers, poorly made product, high prices, poor location, voodoo or moon phases. (I have personally blamed angry customers on the phases of the moon, have you?)
Let’s take a moment and examine the items that influence Customer Service.
Policies have a major influence in how you are allowed to treat your organizations Customers. I have worked in and consulted with organizations that have written policies regarding everything from starting time to break time to quitting time and everything thing in between, including greeting techniques, phone manners, dress code, computer use and what time to turn the outdoor lights on. When complying with every policy, you must consider the Customer Factor. You might start by asking this question.
Does the policy in place allow the employee to perform a duty, act on behalf of, and act in the name of The Company for the Benefit of the Customer? (We are not addressing safety policies, or other policies that deal with Company ordering policies or employee benefits, etc…this is strictly in regards to Customer Service).
If the policy does not benefit the Customer, why do you have it in place? And if you are trying to meet Company policy and it obviously is affecting your ability to provide the best service experience to your Customers, write a letter! Document in detail what is wrong, why you would like it changed and offer a solution! If you are really concerned with how you perform your duties and treat your Customers you owe it to them to correct deficiencies in your organization, if you can.
At the very least, bring it to the attention of someone that can make a change. If you are the person in charge of policy change, and there is something brought to your attention, fix it!
If you need legal to look at it, let ‘em look. If you need the CEO to sign off, get ‘em to sign off. Whatever it takes to put a policy in place that works best for your Customers is what you need to focus on.
Procedures have normally been written to help guide a person through the act of helping a Customer, perform a task in relation to helping a Customer, or describe a course of action to take in response to a Customer request, action or behavior.
If you are employed at an organization that passes all the knowledge down from one “old guy” to the “new guy”, without it being in writing, please ask someone in the company to check the calendar and make sure that it reads “Information Age,” not “The Dark Ages.”
Maybe you feel you really don’t need a written procedure. Let me ask you this. If you go into a court of law and the judge asks you for your written procedure or policy, could you hand it over to them? In a document? Or would you tap the shoulder of the “old guy” and tell him to stand up and recite the procedure to the judge? If this is your company, stop reading and start writing your job description, duties, operational techniques, tips and anything else that pertains to what you do on a daily basis. And then present it to your direct manager for review. She/he will thank you. If they don’t, write a resume and start looking for a company that has moved into the 21st Century.
Written documents remove confusion and uncertainty from procedures and policies. (Well written documents I might add). And they provide a base from which to design training and select personnel.
Without proper training, how can you expect good results? And without ongoing training how can you predict those results?
One of the requirements for all manufacturers is the installment, maintenance and support of fully trained personnel especially if you are involved in the servicing of a product. Asking someone who is not properly trained to perform a task is like asking a two year old to bake a cake.
Oh sure, give them all the ingredients, and you might end up with a pan full of flour and eggs, but it is not really a cake, is it? And although giving a two year old free reign of your kitchen might be fun to watch, you are not going to want to clean up the mess that is left behind, are you?
When you put someone who is not trained in charge of your most valuable asset, you are going to end up without a cake to eat, a mess to clean up and a someone who now feels like a two year old baking a cake. No clue.
This is where management must be active in a role that encourages, supports, guides and observes. Without strong management, your organization can function, but it cannot proceed. The reason you have management is not to make sure that everyone shows up on time, clocks in when they are supposed to and wear the proper attire.
“Supervisors who think their job is to baby-sit will be eliminated sooner or later.” This is a quote from a wonderful book by Richard Moran called “Fear No Yellow Stickies” and one of my favorites.
If you are in management and are “baby-sitting”, you should look down at your shirt right now, as there is a bull’s- eye on it. Think I’m kidding. Look out your office door; you can see everyone in your department right now who knows you are just “phoning it in.” And don’t think that upper management does not know.
They have already received a complaint, a recommendation and a solicitation for your job.
You must be active in your position and your vision and not in your past. Yesterday is done and gone, today is here and now.
Hire Friendly, Hire Trainability and Hire Competence. The number one requirement for excellent Customer Service personnel has got to be a friendly, open personality. It is the basis for every action that employee will ever take. If they are friendly, they are going to treat your Customers in a friendly manner. Hey, you can’t make a silk purse from a sows ear, and you can’t make a friendly rep from a sour attitude.
In addition to being friendly, they must be trainable. You can look at their past and see what they have accomplished in their educational career and use that as a guide. However, I must say that many people including myself, have not the greatest pedigree when it comes to education. We make up for it by constantly reading, attending seminars, training and practicing self development to stay ahead of the curve. There is a lot to be said for the person who takes the time to become self educated and well read vs. someone who has a background but does not update it.
Competence is a demonstrated skill set. You can gauge that by role playing or scenario questions on a pre-hire exam. I prefer role play with a set script to see how a person reacts to different situations presented to them. If they can demonstrate a real sincere friendly attitude during role play, chances are they will carry that into the position. Once there, through ongoing training and support, they become even more competent. However, if they do not demonstrate even the barest minimum of competency, you will have to invest more time and energy into them and then you have to ask yourself, will this be worth it in the long run?
Let’s face it; some people are not cut out to be in Customer Service. I know that sounds shocking, but it is the Truth!
Nearly everyone can relate to a time when they were in a position they did not like and did not perform well in that position. You knew you were not doing well and everyone around you knew it as well. So, why would you allow someone like that to stay in a position that they were not suited for?
You cannot train away a bad attitude.
Bad Customer Service does not happen overnight. It can be identified and corrected by examining the policies, procedures, training, management and personnel you have in your company.
About the Author
Leonard Buchholz leads seminars in Customer Service, Attitude and Skills and Management. He also provides coaching and consulting in Customer Service.