A three step process for making your business customer-friendly and build the relationships critical for customer loyalty.
No matter what role we hold in the working world, we all know if we respond to customers’ requests quickly and efficiently, chances are they will stay with us and buy more from us. So why is it so difficult for us to deliver on this need? After all, it sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But how do we actually go about getting everyone in our organization to respond simply, efficiently and effectively to our customers’ needs?
First, create a straightforward, simple way for employees to connect what they do every day to customer service improvement.
This is called ‘line of sight’. Second, make sure you and your management team are demonstrating, daily, the appropriate customer service behavior. In other words, ‘practice what you preach’. Third, measure and showcase performance. This connects the ‘line of sight’ daily action taken by employees to the customer service improvement results achieved.
Customers want to be heard.
With all the options available to customers today to connect with us and our products and services, nothing beats the personal touch. This does not have to be a face to face interaction. Unless the customer has launched a complaint when we may want to call them or visit them directly, it is appropriate to respond to their requests in the same fashion as they made the request. Providing the personal touch means responding quickly to their email, text, or social media site request. It’s all about listening to them, no matter how they choose to talk to you. Customers want to be heard and have their requests addressed promptly. And it could be as simple as picking up that ringing phone.
As National Training and Development Leader for a large insurance company, I was part of a senior team implementing a vision devoted to customer care. Our team was focused on making it much easier for our customers to do business with us by providing an error free experience with virtually no wait times. This we saw as the key to turning our business around and creating a customer service culture that would drive up revenue and profits. One of our simple goals was to “answer every telephone call within three rings.” We just wanted someone to pick up the phone. Sounds simple enough, but the company culture did not encourage employees to do that.
We were working for a company with a history of poor service. As a result, there were many, many customer complaints and most of these complaints came in by way of the telephone. So knowing that, it seemed easier to let the call go to voice mail. We used voice mail to screen callers – the primary means to avoid dealing with customers. With email, it was easier to deal with customer complaints because we could ignore the email complaints until we were ready to deal with them – in our own time. Although our marketing department received the social media customer requests, they handed them off to someone else to handle. All these tactics merely served to create more customer complaints – a vicious cycle. So customers could connect with us in a number of ways, we just didn’t really want them to reach us. We were not listening to our customers.
Customers want an answer to their question, a response to their request, a solution to their problem.
Ease of doing business is not about us, it’s about what the customer needs. It’s about picking up that phone before it goes to voice mail, responding to emails and social media requests within the same business day and responding to their request efficiently and effectively. So what did we do to turn this poor service situation around? We implemented a three step plan which made it easier for our customers to do business with us—even if they were lodging a complaint.
1. We created ‘line of sight’ actions for our employees.
We provided ‘line of sight’ to each employee. ‘Line of sight’ refers to the daily actions each employee takes that will help them to meet the company goals. Every employee needs to know which of their actions drive to the desired result, meeting the customers’ needs. In our company, the desired result was improved customer service measured through the number of errors and the amount of time required to complete a customer request. Answering the telephone within three rings was the very basic requirement, the basic daily task every employee could perform that would gradually reduce response time. This was based on a simple premise, each customer wants to be acknowledged and heard. And the easiest way to do this is to provide them with a human voice, one that is quick to respond to their call to action.
2. We did what we asked our employees to do.
We began to take actions, ourselves, to focus on the goal of improving customer service. We focused on answering our own phones within three rings, responding to email and social media requests the same business day. We realized, as supervisors, that our direct employees took their cue from us, from what we did. It’s about incorporating this behavior into your working day, your work life style, demonstrating a passion for customer service.
The President incorporated customer service into his daily life – both inside and outside of work. He practiced what he preached. Many times I saw him pick up a ringing phone when he was walking by an employee’s desk. He would answer using their name and then take the message. A simple enough task but it sent a message to the rest of us that he believed answering the phone within three rings was important enough to him to do, no matter which phone was ringing. Every ringing phone was a customer needing a response.
His wife told me he did this everywhere he went. Once when they were out to dinner at a very high end restaurant, the phone on the hostess desk started ringing. He let it go for four rings then got up and answered the phone. The person on the other end of the phone asked to make a reservation and he took the message and promised to have the restaurant call them back. The hostess returned to her reception desk as he was hanging up the phone. She chastised him for answering her phone but he took it in stride and handed her the message advising her that this was a potential customer whom he promised she would call back. He always practiced what he preached so her response to his action did not bother him. He had focused on making it easy for the customer to do business with them. His passion for customer service played out in all areas of his life.
3. We measured results and showcased our performance.
‘What gets measured gets done’ may be true but even more important is what gets measured and showcased drives up commitment – commitment to the customer. We all want engaged employees – those who take the actions they need to take to get the result we want. However, engaged and committed employees believe in the actions they are taking because they know these actions will produce the desired results, those desired by loyal customers.
There are many ways to showcase performance but the one we used then, and the one I continue to use, is the whiteboard or large poster board, mounted on a common wall, with the results posted daily and weekly and summarized monthly. These poster boards are placed where all the employees of a specific department can easily view them as they go through their daily work.
It may seem a rather manual action when there are so many automated options available (reader boards, computer boards and emails generated by a CRM – Customer Relationship Management system) but I find poster boards much more visual. They are excellent visual tools capturing group performance and can be easily used for weekly staff reviews of performance. Employees want to know how they are doing and what their supervisor thinks of their performance. By showcasing results, employees are able to connect their ‘line of sight’ actions to the results.
For customers, ease of doing business means their needs have been met.
This three step process is all about creating a link between what employees do in their daily work and customer retention. Providing employees with actions they can perform daily to grow customer relationships, seeing their supervisors demonstrate the appropriate behavior and, showcasing the results to improve performance connects the employee to the customer. This is the way to make it easy for customers to do business with you and build the relationships critical for customer loyalty.
About the Author
Donna Stevenson is the owner of Boomer Match to Business (BM2B). She is an expert in leadership development and employee engagement, working effectively with all three generations of employees, Boomers, Generation X and Y.