Maybe the best way to begin to describe excellent customer service is to talk about what it isn’t. It certainly isn’t a department or a job title. It’s the opposite of this title, “The Lousy Customer Service We Receive Every Day.”
Excellent customer service is seriously lacking most places we spend our money. Think about it, can you recall a recent experience where the customer service was really bad? Sure you can. Think of other places you have spent your hard-earned paycheck: grocery store, bank, restaurant, a fast food chain, a department store, a gas station, a hotel, an airline, an online merchant and the list could go on. How many of these had poor to average service? Probably most of them. How many really stood out and had outstanding service? That’s part of the problem today, not many people or companies deliver excellent customer service. Most don’t seem to care about it, even though they say they do.
Why is customer service that poor? One reason is that the customers have become accustomed to poor service. Few companies stand out, mediocre service is rampant. Customers don’t necessarily demand more; they are numb to poor service. Walmart is a key example. They are consistently rated poor in all categories but have one of the biggest companies in the world. Second, many companies treat employees as commodities, especially during challenging economic times. Companies have little loyalty to employees and employees have little loyalty to them and their customers. A third consideration is that many companies and people don’t really value delivering better service. They do just enough to get by. They don’t get very good service as customers so why give it to others?
How bad is it? The American Customer Satisfaction Institute at the Ross Business School at the University of Michigan rates some 240 companies across 34 industries on a monthly basis. These ratings are more about the customer service provided by employees than it is the quality of the product. The average rating is 76.5. If you were a professor grading papers that would be at best a C grade. The airline industry has a 67 average which is awful. Retail is rated 78 or a C average. Most companies are poor to average. That’s the state of the art in customer service. As far back as 1982 Tom Peters and Bob Waterman published a book called In Search of Excellence which talked about the importance of high quality service. Companies have spent billions to try to improve. Most of it made little impact.
What does poor service look like? Since you are a customer, too, you know the specifics. Here are the top ten for your review:
- Lack of manners
- Rude discourteous behavior
- Long waits on the phone
- Long waits in line
- Lack of knowledge of the product or policy
- Lack of follow-through
- Not resolving a complaint
- Unresponsive technology or not knowing how to use it
- Can’t get a hold of a real person
- Unfulfilled promises, lies and other deceptions
You could probably add a few items to the list. When you think about it, all of the above are inexcusable. If you delivered the above service to yourself as a customer, how would you feel? Now this is a crazy possibility. Wouldn’t you be disappointed, frustrated, confused, angry, upset, inconvenience, irritated or even outraged? Wouldn’t you complain? Wouldn’t you demand better treatment? Sure you would. As a customer service person, do you want to do that to a customer? Of course not! However, if you don’t care, you should change jobs and not work with the public. And, stop reading this article. It won’t really help you.
Not caring is a disease that has yet to be cured. Non-caring attitudes and approaches sicken everyone: customers and fellow co-workers alike. You can beat the top ten examples of poor service, and learn how to deliver excellent customer service. How? It begins with caring for your customers and doing the right thing for them. Then, you keep learning.
About the Author
Rick Conlow is CEO & Senior Partner of WCW Partners, a performance improvement company. Based in Minneapolis/ST. Paul, Minnesota, WCW work with clients in a variety of industries worldwide to help them excel in sales, service and leadership, facilitating business growth and vitality. Rick is author of Excellence in Management, Excellence in Supervision and Returning to Learning.