Customer experience trainer Bryan Horn reflects on how customer service standards have fallen and offers some ways to take customer service from good to great.
Most consumers will get service that is, technically speaking, mediocre. They got what they paid for. Passengers on airplanes get what they pay for – they get from one place to another and hopefully get there safely. They get the beverage of their choice and a bag of pretzels. But that’s where it ends. They were made to feel that they were nothing more than a person occupying a seat. The service was mediocre. Maybe the airline took it up a notch and made it good. But it was not great.
Amazing how one airline in particular claims it has the best customer service in the industry. What allows them to make this claim? It isn’t because they are going above and beyond to help. Simply put, their services sucks just a little less than the others. So now, they can claim to have this outstanding level of service without actually really doing anything better than everyone else.
Being good is not good enough anymore. Being mediocre is even worse. Being great is what makes or breaks companies. Customers can get anything from anywhere. What will make them come to you specifically to get it? The experience a customer has while interacting with your brand is the oil that keeps the engine running.
How people are treated, from the moment they walk into your doors, on your website, or contacting your call center, determines how much money they will spend. Research by American Express found that 86% of customers are willing to pay more money for a better experience. Do it right, and they will spend thousands. Do it wrong, and they spend nothing.
Customers don’t really ask for much. They ask to be taken care of. Is that really an outlandish request? I recognize fully that some customers are more difficult than others, and many you will never please no matter how far you go to serve them. But for the vast majority, they just want to be treated well, honestly, and made to feel appreciated for their business. Many business models today are designed to make things easier for the company, not the customer. That right there is the first major problem.
Make a Difference
I went to a large retailer and picked out several items from the shelves. During my visit, not one greeted me or asked how they could assist me. The aisles were cluttered and disorganized. The floors were caked in dirt and mud. After picking out the few items I needed, I stood in upwards of fifteen minutes waiting for a single cashier to assist the people ahead of me. I found it amazing that this large retailer had thirty checkout lines, yet only one was manned with an actual employee.
When it was my turn, I placed the items on the moving belt. I greeted the cashier with a friendly hello. No response. The cashier never made eye-contact with me or apologized for my long wait. I watched as the items were rung up. The only words the cashier uttered were to tell me my final cost. I inserted my debit card and paid for the items. The receipt was placed in my bag, and the cashier moved onto the next person. I said, “Can I at least get a thank you?”. She looked at me as though I had just asked her to sacrifice her first-born child. She resumed ringing up the items for the next victim (customer) in line.
Like my experience, customers today expect the worst from companies. They depend on bad service and anti-consumer policies. Naturally, customers will be defensive and on-edge. Why should your business be any different than all those others? That is what the customer is thinking, so they come in with the gloves on and ready to fight. They are like Rocky Balboa facing off against Ivan Drago. They are the underdog: outmatched and outgunned. They know they probably don’t stand a chance. So, they will fight to the death. Their defenses are raised, and they are ready to rumble.
But you have a competitive advantage over all those other businesses who provide humdrum and bland experiences: you will exceed your customers’ expectations in every way and watch as the defenses come down and the money rolls in.
So how can we make a difference? I suggest the following practices to take your customer service from good to great:
Promote a Customer-Centric Mission Where the Answer Is Yes!
Every department must be committed to service excellence. Find opportunities to say yes exceeds customer expectations by doing what they asked you to do. It seems like a radical concept now. As consumers, we expect the answer and the experience to say no. Companies will hide behind policies that favor them. It’s what we expect and count on. That is why when a company goes above and beyond to say yes and make it happen, it is a memorable experience for the client.
Saying yes to reasonable requests is the action of doing something, not just saying the word. You don’t have to use the literal words yes and no. Rather, your actions say the same thing, and often will say it stronger and louder. Giving your customers the run-around is saying no to them. Making your customers feel bad for spending their money with you is a definite no. But creating memorable moments for them is a big yes.Honoring the lower price of a competitor is a big yes. Giving the customer an extra 10% off just for the sake of being nice is saying yes. Actions speak louder than words; remember that.
Raise the Bar
The bar for customer service has been set so low that consumers breathe a sigh of relief when they can be done dealing with your company. It has become a chore for them. No one looks forward to it. You don’t want to do it. But you have to do it.
As you read this, what comes to mind? The fast-food restaurant that gets your order wrong and rolls their eyes when you bring it to their attention? The car store that doesn’t want to help you with the answers to your questions, but only wants to sell you an extended warranty? What about the monster mega store that offers every product under the sun except a smile and friendly service? The cable/internet service that is always mysteriously raising your price, but lowering your channel selection?
Everyone has bad experiences with customer service. But what about those average experiences every day or the ones that were just ok? When a company offers you that, does that make you feel loyal to them, or do you tolerate them until you find something better?
Think Like Your Customers, and Anticipate Their Needs
What are your standards? How do you enforce them? What happens when those standards are not met? These are the important questions you need to ask yourself when you deal with customers. If you want your customers to return to your place of business, then you must examine your standards and reflect on how you would view them through the eyes of your customers.
If you would expect good service from the places you do business with, what makes you think your own customers don’t want the same thing? Part of the equation is anticipating customer needs before they interact with your brands. In this digital era, it is the same to assume that your customers want an easily navigable mobile/web experience; have you prepared for that?
Your customers are looking for a reason to be loyal to your brand; will you give them one? Anticipating customer needs is proving them a service they didn’t expect, but have added value to their experience.
Virgin Airways did this beautifully. They knew that most of their passengers are business executives, so they added complimentary wi-fi to all flights. They knew that the number one complaint of passengers was lack of in-flight entertainment options, so they put a personal tv screen into the back of every seat. They don’t have to ask; they are just part of the experience.
Study your customers and observe their actions. You will learn what they want before they even ask for it. Customer needs will vary from business to business. Customer needs in the banking industry will differ greatly from needs in the auto industry. You can refine those needs through customer surveys, customer feedback and social media posts. But there are needs that apply to every customer.
For example, offer your customers a hot cup of coffee or chocolate on a cold winter’s day. Offer to wipe the snow off of their customers cars as they depart from your place of business. For those who live in extreme heat climates, have cold bottles of water or ice-cold lemonade ready. Misters lightly spraying cool water upon entry and exit is always welcomed on a hot day. One auto dealership in Phoenix will take extra time to turn the air-conditioning on in a car and allow it to cool down before placing customers inside on a test drive.
Companies want customers to feel bad for doing business with them. They want to make it very clear that you are an inconvenience to them. They would much rather their employees clock in, do the least amount of real work possible, clock out and collect a paycheck. This is much easier than actually providing real service to the people who keep them in business. It’s pathetic and sad how far we have fallen. So lets do something about it! Treat your customers right, resolve their concerns, and give them a reason to come back. These simple methods will produce a great ROI and create loyal brand ambassadors for a lifetime.
About the Author
Bryan Horn is a customer experience trainer and corporate culture development expert. He has 16 years of experience as a financial services manager. He has been homeless, jobless, and everywhere in between. He brings real-world applications and stories that relate to every culture and industry.
He is the author of the internationally successful book The Customer Service Revolution: 8 Principles That Will Change the Way Companies Think About the Customer Experience and the Employees Who Work for Them.
Bryan is the founder of CS Solutions, a customer experience training consulting firm. He resides in Salt Lake City, UT.
For more information, please visit www.thecsrevolution.com.