In Challenging Times, Customer Service Quality Matters Most!

As the wind of economic cycles blows hard, some businesses try to contain costs by cutting corners on customer service quality. This is exactly the wrong thing to do, because customer service quality matters now more than ever. Here’s why:

A. When people buy during an economic downturn they are extremely conscious of the hard-earned money that they spend. Customers want more attention, more appreciation and more recognition when making their purchases with you, not less. Customer service quality is simply essential.

B. Customers want to be sure they get maximum value for the money they spend. They want assistance, education, training, installation, modifications and support. The basic product may remain the same, but they want more service and higher customer service quality.

C. Customers want firmer guarantees that their purchase was the right thing to do. In good times, a single bad purchase can be quickly overlooked or forgotten, but in tough times, every expenditure is scrutinized. Provide the assurance your customers seek with generous service guarantees, regular follow-up and speedy follow-through on all queries and complaints. Customer service quality matters more than you think.

D. In difficult economic times, people spend less time traveling and “wining and dining,” and more time carefully shopping for each and every purchase. Giving great service enhances the customer’s shopping experience and boosts your own company’s image.
When times are good, people move fast and sometimes don’t notice your efforts. In tougher times, people move more cautiously and notice every extra effort you make. Customer service quality is vital because people will pay attention and remember.

E. When money is tight, many people experience a sense of lower self-esteem. When they get good service from your business, it boosts their self-image. And when they feel good about themselves, they feel good about you. And when they feel good about you and your customer service quality, they buy.

F. In tough times, people talk more with each other about saving money and getting good value. Positive word-of-mouth is a powerful force at any time. In difficult times, even more ears will be listening. Be sure the words spoken about your business are good ones by making your customer service quality exceptional!

The Secrets of Superior Service

Giving high customer service quality in tough times makes good business sense. But how do you actually achieve it? Here are eight proven principles you can use to raise customer service quality. I call them The Secrets of Superior Service.

1. Understand how your customers’ expectations are rising and changing over time. What was good enough last year may not be good enough now. Use customer surveys, interviews and focus groups to understand what your customers really want, what they value and what they believe they are getting (or not getting) from your business.

2. Use customer service quality to differentiate your business from your competition. Your products may be reliable and up-to-date – but your competitors’ goods are, too. Your delivery systems may be fast and user-friendly, but so are your competitors’!
You can make a more lasting difference by providing personalized, responsive and extra-mile customer service quality that stands out in a unique way your customers will appreciate – and remember.

3. Set and achieve high standards for customer service quality. You can go beyond basic and expected levels of service to provide your customers with desired and even surprising service interactions.
Determine the standard customer service quality in your industry, and then find a way to go beyond it. Give more choice than “the usual,” be more flexible than “normal,” be faster than “the average’,” and extend a better warranty than all the others.
Your customers will notice your higher standards. But eventually those standards will be copied by your competitors, too. So don’t slow down. Keep stepping up customer service quality!

4. Learn to manage your customers’ expectations. You can’t always give customers everything their hearts desire. Sometimes you need to bring their expectations into line with what you know you can deliver in regard to customer service quality.

The best way to do this is by first building a reputation for making and keeping clear promises. Once you have established a base of trust and good reputation, you only need to ask your customers for their patience in the rare instances when you cannot meet their first requests. Nine times out of ten they will extend the understanding and the leeway that you need.

The second way to manage customers’ expectations is to “under promise, then over deliver.”. Here’s an example: you know your customer wants something done fast. You know it will take an hour to complete. Don’t tell your customer it will take an hour. Instead, let them know you will rush on their behalf, but promise a 90-minute timeframe.

Then, when you finish in just one hour (as you knew you would all along), your customer will be delighted to find that you finished the job “so quickly.” That’s “under promise, then over deliver.” This can help you gain a reputation for customer service quality.

5. Bounce back with effective service recovery. Sometimes things do go wrong. When it happens to your customers, do everything you can to set things right and demonstrate customer service quality. Fix the problem and show sincere concern for any discomfort, frustration or inconvenience. Then do a little bit more by giving your customer something positive to remember – a token of goodwill, a gift of appreciation,

a discount on future orders, an upgrade to a higher class of product.
This is not the time to assign blame for what went wrong or to calculate the costs of repair. Restoring customer goodwill is worth the price in positive word-of-mouth and new business.

6. Appreciate your complaining customers. Customers with complaints can be your best allies in building and improving your business. They point out where your system is faulty or your procedures are weak and problematic. They show where your products or services are below expectations. They point out areas where your competitors are getting ahead or where your staff is falling behind. These are the same insights and conclusions companies pay consultants to provide. But a complainer gives them to you free and can help you raise customer service quality!

And remember, for every person who complains, there are many more who don’t bother to tell you. The others just take their business elsewhere…and speak badly about you. At least the complainer gives you a chance to reply and set things right.

7. Take personal responsibility. In many organizations, people are quick to blame others for problems or difficulties at work: managers blame staff, staff blame managers, Engineering blames Sales, Sales blames Marketing and everyone blames Finance. This does not help. In fact, all the finger-pointing make things much worse.

Blaming yourself doesn’t work, either. No matter how many mistakes you may have made, tomorrow is another chance to do better. You need high self-esteem to deliver customer service quality. Feeling ashamed doesn’t help.

It doesn’t make sense to make excuses and blame the computers, the system or the budget, either. This kind of justification only prolongs the pain before the necessary changes can take place.
The most reliable way to bring about constructive change in your organization is to take personal responsibility and help make good things happen. When you see something that needs to be done, do it to raise customer service quality. If you see something that needs to be done in another department, recommend it. Be the person who makes suggestions, proposes new ideas and volunteers to help on problem solving teams, projects and solutions.

8. See the world from each customer’s point of view. We often get so caught up in our own world that we lose sight of what our customers actually experience.
Make time to stand on the other side of the counter or listen on the other end of the phone. Be a “mystery shopper” at your own place of business. Or become a customer of your best competition. What you notice when you look from the “other side” is what your customers experience every day.

Finally, always remember that customer service quality is the currency that keeps our economy moving. I serve you in one business, you serve me in another. When either of us improves customer service quality, the economy gets a little better. When both of us improve, people are sure to take notice. When everyone improves, the whole world grows stronger and closer together.

Why Do Businesses Need to Take Customer Service Seriously?

Most of us believe that our businesses exist for profit. Indeed, we do. But keeping this as a sole mindset may be detrimental to our enterprises in the long run.

We must understand that for our businesses to be able to sustainably exist for the long haul, we must endeavor to add value to the lives of our customers. We have to remember that consumers purchase our goods and services to solve their pressing needs. They don’t do it because they justwant us to earn profit.

Gearing for the long haul means building dynamic and productive relationships with the markets we serve. This means listening to customer insights, understanding their needs, and even thinking ahead of them to be able to provide unique and relevant solutions.

We see, the operative words in building a long lasting business enterprise are relationship andsolutions.

These two words exhibit the core ingredients in providing exemplary customer service: the kind of service that is relevant, useful, and important to the market that we do business with.

What is customer service?

For businesses, customer service really is putting on the customers’ shoes. It is a practice that ensures customers experience unique and personalized connection with the brand from beginning till the end of every transaction. Customer service is about how we help develop the consumers’ personal relationship with the goods and services that we provide.

It is how we design our products or conduct our services in a manner that may ease their problems and concerns. It is providing value and offering solutions.

Simply put, customer service is how we design the consumers’ journey from information gathering, purchase, and post purchase, to be as easy as possible, as pleasant and productive as possible.

In a nutshell, customer service is about the consumers’ total experience with our brands and services.

Why invest in customer service?

Having the biggest and the latest product is no longer an edge in today’s hyper competitive market. The trap of having the better mouse trap can be lethal to businesses. This is why, we need to uniquely define our brands and services to stand out – or at least survive in the arena.

Some businesses believe that adopting the latest technology may be the answer. Some think that having a deep pocket to splurge on marketing would save the day. These myopic senses, however, may lead them down the lion’s pit.

A cost efficient and relevant business differentiator may lie on plain and simple good ol’ customer service.

We have listed below five of the many reasons why businesses should invest in good customer service:

The age of human to human business

We’ve also been customers at some point in our lives. We know that it is not cool to talk to a robot on the other line, telling us that our calls are important… but we have to wait… and wait… and wait… until the robot talks to us again. Or after a long automated spiel and garble-y canned ads, we’re told, to speak to an operator, press zero.

We’ve also experienced how to be excited to use a new product only to be welcomed by a thick book of users’ manual (or log-on to this complicated site to start enjoying our services!).

Those scenarios are often frustrating, we wished we never purchased these goods or services at all!

Albeit the advancement of digital and telecommunications technology, as humans, we still prefer to talk to another warm blooded human. Similarly, a human voice, any human interaction for that matter, is priceless to our customers.

Humanizing our services creates a strong brand affinity among our customers. They can put a face to a brand or service, they know that they are being listened to. And they know that someone will understand them – beyond algorithms and codes.

After the digital explosion in the past years, customers have become exhausted by cold automation. They need to interact with humans. And this need, once wisely addressed, will provide businesses with opportunities to make a difference.

Approach clutter with personalized service

While most brands aimlessly busy themselves trumpeting how good they are, it is about the right time to step back and look at how our business should really make sense to the customers. Let us take time to understand them and their needs and find ways to make sense to them.

As we know in marketing, anything that is not relevant to the consumers does not add value to the product or service. Touting them will just add to the noise and clutter.

Capturing the right market means linking with them and building a mutually beneficial relationship. We are called to approach the market with personalized service.

Mass producing may have been the pill to progress in the past century but this may no longer be the case today. Customers need to feel special and unique, thus we also have to design our goods, services, and processes to be such.

By personalizing our approach to business, customers will return our efforts by being loyal to our brands. Customer loyalty means better business for us.

Attract more customers with focus and attention

Given the unique requirements of our customers, we need to ensure that we provide them with specialized goods and services.

To attract more patrons, we need to focus and put extra attention to their distinctive needs and wants.

As mentioned above, we need to be relevant to the customers’ lives to be able to do business with them. This is where good customer service comes in.

What are our ways to hear them out? Are we providing them total solutions? Are our products and services easy to use and the answer to their needs? Are we making their lives easier? Are we providing them value?

Are the services we provide fast and convenient? Are the queues fast moving? Are our websites user friendly? Are our call center agents knowledgeable, do they listen actively?

Most customers, when hunting for new products and services look for these factors. For all we know, they may have been disgruntled clients of our competitors who look to be paid attention to.

Paying attention to the market and providing them exemplary service may be beneficial in gaining more customers.

Love thy own

Good customer service may also be about retaining profitable customers. We know that this client base may provide us with repeat purchases and may even influence their circles to do business with us.

Some studies have shown that by keeping our customers happy, we can keep doing business with them sustainably. In fact, a study suggests that by increasing our loyal customer base, we may be able to increase steady revenue as well.

Happy customers tend to purchase more, and may, in fact, provide us important insights on how we may improve our business relationship with them. Talk about free insights on product usage, logistics, etc.

Loving our own by providing good customer service will keep us from chasing flighty birds in the bush.

Of course, it can also be about cost

Investing in good customer service may also be about cost. Doing this may save us from spending too much in marketing and new customer acquisition – which may ring up to four times the price.

By integrating good customer experience in our products and services at the onset, we may avoid costly returns and repairs. We may also lessen frustration which can usually cause longer term damage to our brands.

We’ve heard of several horror stories where brands needed to spend millions and millions just to appease angry customers. This may have been avoided if a customer-centric mindset prevailed.

If we wish to establish a good customer service system, the investment need not to be complicated and expensive. We can turn to our frontline employees, gather their experience, and farm ideas from them on how to better serve our clients.

For businesses to thrive and be competitive in today’s environment, customer service must be taken seriously. We must ensure that our customers experience unique and personalized connection with us. We must provide our customers the right environment to develop close affinity to brands.

Customer Service or the Lack There Of

Who among us hasn’t had an unpleasant dining experience thanks to a rude waiter, lousy food and bad service? From the telephone to the table, customer service is defined by anticipating the demands of customers, and these days, customers are demanding more; specifically in the way of service, and service starts as soon as the guest walks through the door. The old adage, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression” still holds true today, especially in the hospitality industry, and equally important is the guest’s lasting impression.

“Customer service is all about the guest and anticipating and filling their needs”, said Shelly Dodson, Assistant General Manager of Mon Ami Gabi; a Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant. “Managers must convey to their staff that we are here to create a positive experience for our guest. When people dine out, it’s an event. They want a fun, exciting and pleasant experience and it’s our job to make sure that happens”.

Providing exemplary service is not complicated but it is a priority and every opportunity should be taken to ensure that the guest has been satisfied if the business expects to survive in a challenging, complex and competitive food service industry. It is the responsibility of both management and staff to understand the difference between good service and exceptional service. Most everyone can offer good service, but only the best can deliver exceptional service. Exceptional service is anticipating and exceeding the expectations of the guest. Creating a unique and exceptional level of unparalleled customer service will provide an advantage over the competition. Competition is good, as long as the business can stay one step ahead of their competitors.

“If we don’t take care of our customers, our competition will,” said Annie Kang-Drachen, Director of Sales and Marketing at the Department of Food & Beverage Management, UNLV William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. “There is good and bad customer service and bad customer service stems from lack of care, ignorance and inaptitude which ultimately will result in loss of business and profits. I believe that exceptional customer service starts from the top; key personnel leading through example and instilling pride in each employee who comes in contact with customers. Exceptional customer service is what we all strive for because that is the foundation of good business, and our customers expect it which is evident by the fact that you don’t often hear comments about positive customer service experiences but you most definitely hear about the bad ones”.

While some companies concentrate on increasing sales by adding new menu items, redecorating the venue, outfitting the staff in trendy uniforms and offering daily specials often times, the little things that keep customers returning, gets ignored. Attention to detail is crucial. Customer service is the basis of a successful business and the wait staff is the lifeblood of that business. If service is sacrificed for the sale; that is a recipe for disaster. It doesn’t matter how delicious the food is or how inviting the atmosphere, if the service suffers, so will the business.

“People spend money when and where they feel good”, said Walt Disney and this holds true for any market segment.

“The customer service we provide is unsurpassed”, said Reina Herschdofer, Executive Director of Sales and Pavilion Operations at Rio and Harrah’s Las Vegas. “We get to know the customer and truly learn what is most important to them. Each and every customer has different needs and different priorities. If you know what the key to their success is, you can exceed their expectations”.

“You’re never fully dressed without a smile!”

Since the service staff is an integral part of the operation, they should dress for success and that begins with a smile. Service with a smile is one of the most important tools of the trade. Never underestimate the power of a smile. There is nothing more welcoming or contagious; it costs nothing and takes little effort. It doesn’t matter the nationality or the language of the guest, everyone understands a smile. “I never tired of saying a smile is worth a thousand words”, said Dodson.

As part of their training, it is imperative that the service staff be knowledgeable about the menu, not only in terms of the offerings but more importantly, in preparation, especially in today’s health-conscious society. Furthermore, building a rapport with the guest, making eye contact, adding a personal touch by having the servers introduce themselves and displaying the proper body language might seem inconsequential, but they are important qualities of service and contribute to a positive dining experience. The staff should treat their customers in the same way they would want their families or themselves to be treated. They are both the voice and the face of the business. Their attitude and appearance is a reflection of that restaurant’s culture and its success and growth depends on a well-trained, enthusiastic and accommodating staff with a strong work ethic; committed to taking care of the customer with decorum and good product knowledge. Strong leadership also plays a key role. Staff and management working toward a common goal will result in a positive dining experience for the guests and those guests will reward the staff with a higher gratuity and the restaurant will reap the benefits. It’s a win-win situation.

Employee empowerment is a highly effective ingredient in customer service training.

“The customer is always right” is a popular slogan of the service industry; even if the customer is wrong. With the diversity of diners, their high expectations and ever-changing demands, it is impossible to please everyone, especially in today’s fast-paced world where immediate-gratification is expected. We in the business have all experienced those cranky customers who seem to enjoy complaining about every aspect of their meal. Managers should encourage their employees to be proactive in treating a customer issue or complaint without the need for their constant approval. Before the problem becomes compounded, employees must act with a conviction that they are genuinely committed to working on an immediate resolution. Employee empowerment is a highly effective ingredient in customer service training, not only for the guest, but the staff will feel good knowing that the management has faith and trust in their decision-making abilities. If owners and managers recognize and reward their staff for good service, the staff will take good care of their customers. This level of service will ultimately generate repeat business and that guest’s satisfaction will guarantee future customers.

“It costs five times as much to attract a new customer as it does to keep an existing one,” notes Norman Scarborough, assistant professor of economics and business administration at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC”.

While it is always profitable to gain new customers, even more lucrative is the repeat customer. Most often, it is easier to please a repeat customer because you have already met their expectations by establishing a level of loyalty and trust and delivering consistency in product and service. “A repeat customer is a sense of accomplishment,” said Sandy Acenas, Assistant General Manager of the Harley-Davidson Café. “They are a testament to a job well done and your best form of publicity”. In this customer-driven industry, word-of-mouth recommendations from a satisfied customer are the least expensive yet the most effective type of advertising. A repeat customer appreciates being recognized; it makes them feel important and addressing them by their name, knowing what they want to eat and drink before they order and anticipating their questions before they ask will enhance the guest’s dining experience and establish customer loyalty.

“Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends”. Walt Disney
I asked Cory Harwell, Director of Restaurants at New York New York Hotel in Las Vegas, to define his idea of customer service. “My idea of customer service? Well, I suppose I could be predictable and say it is exceeding guest expectations or being proactive or any of those very normal responses. My actual answer is simple though. This is our house. The people that work here are our family. The people that visit us are our friends. We will show them a great time and they will always remember us. My belief is exceptional customer service is treating people the way you would if they were coming over to your house. We act a certain way when we have guests at our homes. We are clean; everything is in their proper place. We greet them at the door. We hang up their coats and offer them a drink. We are always conscious of them having a good time. When we are able to translate this to our professional environments, we excel. It may sound simple, because it actually is. It comes naturally. We do it all the time at home. It is at work where we complicate things.”

A customer is an investment. The more that investment is nurtured and tended to, the higher the return on that investment. Here’s a big “tip,” customer’s need to know that you appreciate them and that they add value to your business. If you listen to them, you will learn from them. There is no room for complacency in this people-pleasing industry. Complacency is the difference between success and failure. Customers are a restaurant’s “bread and butter” and exceptional customer service is the key to any successful business.

Eight Secrets to “Jumpstarting” Your Customer Service During Challenging Times!

Outstanding customer service is the key to creating a successful organization during any economic time… but especially during challenging economic times. It’s amazing how most organizations will invest millions, if not billions, of dollars on new computer systems, new displays, new phone systems, and new marketing campaigns to try to acquire new customers. The moment of truth comes, however, when the new customer has first contact with these organizations. If the customer is ignored, disrespected, and disappointed with the customer service experience, that customer may never come back. When this occurs, these organizations apparently haven’t heard the old saying, “You only get one chance to make a great first impression.”

What about the present customer base? Many times these customers are treated with indifference and, in many cases, quietly go away to do business with a competitor.

Why not jumpstart your organization’s success with outstanding customer service? It doesn’t matter if you are involved in retail, restaurant management, consumer products, or even the government, customer service is being recognized as the key to increasing productivity, decreasing employee turnover, and increasing an organization’s bottom line. Especially during challenging economic times, the quality of your customer care determines if you remain in business to serve customers or cease to exist.

The following are eight secrets to giving outstanding customer service so that your organization will be successful:

1. Hire Right

Organizations that give outstanding service invest in hiring right each and every time. They realize that they want the best employees interacting with their customers. Who is the best customer service employee to hire? Hire for attitude, not for aptitude. Hire the employee that has a great customer service attitude and has a great personality, takes initiative, has great communication skills, can show empathy, and has an eye for detail. If a prospective customer care employee has a great attitude, you can always train that employee to learn the skills. Also, the employee should be a solution creator, not a problem maker.

2. Make Outstanding Customer Service Your Mission

What is your organization’s mission statement? What does the mission statement say about how you should treat your customer? Are you communicating this to all your employees, no matter what position they have in the organization? Take the time during meetings, e-mails, phone calls, and other communication opportunities to express the mission statement and how it relates to giving outstanding customer service. Ask during your meeting, “What did we do this week to live our mission statement and its customer service values?”

3. Create Standards

What is the minimum you will accept when giving outstanding customer service? Once you and your organization agree on your customer care standards, work to exceed your standards. Do not, especially during challenging times in your organization, sacrifice the quality of your customer service. Once you go below your standards, you customers will immediate know and take their business elsewhere. Take time to exceed your standards and be successful.

4. Train, Coach, and Mentor

Invest in continuous customer service training, coaching, and mentoring so that your customer service representatives “get it right” with each and every service situation. This is even more important during challenging economic times when organizations have the temptation to cut back on their customer service budgets. If your customer service budget is cut back, find creative ways to provide the training for your employees. Provide your employees with “lunch n’ learn” programs instead of full day programs, allow your more experienced employees to coach and mentor less experienced employees, provide online training, and look for “learning moments” within your customer service team meetings.

5. Take Care of Your Internal Customers

The best service oriented organizations understand that if you make your internal customers (employees, support departments, vendors, etc.) happy, this will translate to happy external customers. Invest in communicating your customer service goals with other departments and ask for their help. Also, create happy internal customers by delivering what you promised; whether it’s information you promised, a key task you promised to perform to help them help you, or giving them enough notice ahead of time so that their schedules and needs are met. This will translate to happier customers and a more successful organization.

6. Deliver More Than What Is Promised

Have you ever heard of the expression, “Promise them the moon and give them the universe”? Well, this applies to customer service. An important component of outstanding customer service is managing your customer’s expectations for service. If you promise a certain level of service and exceed that level of customer expectation, you have a happy customer who will come back again and again and tell others about your organization.

7. Ask for Feedback

Take time to acquire feedback from your customers. Embrace your customer’s feedback as opportunities to improve your service and create additional opportunities for you and your organization. If you ask for feedback, you must be willing to listen to the feedback and take positive action. For example, I am impressed when I go shopping in one particular supermarket. When I check out, the cashiers will always ask, “Did you find everything today?” Then they will actually wait for your answer before moving forward with the transaction. When was the last time you received that treatment?

8. Thank the Customer

The two most important words in customer service are “thank you.” Invest in the time to train your customer care representatives to thank the customer. Be sincere in your thanks by smiling, looking the person in the eye, or even if you are talking on the phone, smile and clearly say “thank you.” Thank customers for their time, for choosing your organization, for their patience, etc., but thank them. Thank your customers by starting a customer appreciation program. There are too many competitors, especially in a challenging economic environment, just waiting to take your customers. Create loyal customers who feel appreciated and will come back to your organization again and again.

Invest your time and efforts to applying the above customer service secrets, and you and your organization will be far ahead of the competition and excel in any economic time.

Customer Service Improves Sales

Henry Ford said ‘The only foundation of real business is service’. In many companies, the customer service function sits outside of the sales channel as it is seen in some way inferior to sales. Yet customer service is integral to sales success. Without good customer service there will be no repeat sales, and repeat sales are the most profitable revenue any company can generate.

The selling process is not complete merely because the customer has stated that he or she will buy your products or services. Throughout the entire selling process, the maintenance of goodwill is important, but even more so after the purchase. Regardless of your customer’s previous feeling towards your company, the experience they have after they have bought will have a significant impact on future sales. Customer service doesn’t complete the sale; it reignites the sales cycle. A worthwhile maxim to adopt is: ‘a customer cannot be regarded as satisfied until we get their next order.’

Whilst customer service represents the last element in many standard sales processes it could also be argued that it is the first element in a recurring sales process. Ask yourself:

Did I ensure that the agreements reached with the customer actually happened?
Did I attempt to up-sell?
Did I ask for a referral?
What records are kept and maintained?
What feedback did I get about how the customer benefited from my product/ service?
How could customer service be improved?

Why Is Customer Service Important?

There are a number of empirical studies on the value of customer service and the effect of repeat business on the bottom line. Frederick Reicheld and Earl Sasser said that ‘if companies knew how much it really costs to lose a customer, they would be able to make accurate evaluations of investments designed to retain customers’. They found that customers become more profitable over time as increased sales; reduced costs of distribution; referrals; and the opportunity to up-sell all add to the bottom line.

Heskett, Sasser, and Scheslinger collaborated on a training programme to assist managers in understanding the lifetime value of customers and in addition advised on the importance of developing a culture whereby employees are engaged to contribute to the value chain. They postulated that employee satisfaction leads to service value which produces customer satisfaction and which in turn results in profits and growth. It is hardly surprising that happen employees produce happy customers.

What is Customer Service?

Is it just about smiling and being nice to customers? It’s a good place to start but it can’t just be about that.

It is generally accepted that it is very difficult to deliver high standards of customer service. Some say we have not been educated for it – it is not our tradition. This observation is often justified by stating that since late Victorian and early Edwardian times fewer and fewer people have worked in ‘service’. What was a major employment sector in those days has now dwindled to almost nothing.

While this has happened, employment has increased in manufacturing, sales, administration, information technology, and social sciences. Through the years ‘working in service’ came to be regarded as a dead end job that nobody wanted and would only take as a last resort. As a result, the label ‘service’ has almost fallen into disrepute, and many people see giving service as something beneath them that lesser mortals do.

However, the truth is that everybody likes and appreciates good service.

Difference between Good & Poor Service
An often quoted but unattributed statistic is that where people have been asked the question – ‘what would you say was the main difference between somewhere where you received good service and somewhere you received poor service’ – in 70 percent of cases the response has been – ‘the attitude and behaviour of the person delivering the service’. Whether true or not, it seems probable that if we receive poor service from somewhere we are unlikely to buy from that source again.

It is therefore reasonable to assume that good customer service does not involve the quality of the product (unless you have advertised a product as being something it is not) but the quality of the people delivering the product or service, and the experience the customer has of buying your product or service.

It is also reasonable to assume that you yourself know the difference between good and poor service and can put yourself in the customer’s shoes when buying your product or service.

It should be relatively easy to establish a list of thing you have purchased in the last couple of months and determine whether the experience you had of buying was good, bad or indifferent. Obviously a lot of buying and selling these days happens without the interaction of people (e.g. buying on the web) and for the purposes of this exercise perhaps you should record those activities separately. Although it might appear simple, an appraisal of your own experience, coupled with putting yourself in the customer’s shoes should provide you with a wealth of information regarding the difference between good and poor service.

Analysing Good Customer Service

Ask the customer

A simple yet highly effective way of establishing the quality of your customer service is to ask the customer. Attached is an example of a customer service questionnaire used in a car distributor showroom (customer service questionnaire).

Standards

You might check out the set of customer service standards as determined by the Institute of Customer Service. In 2007 they conducted some research into what they believe customers wanted. The top ten responses were as follows:

Overall quality of the products/ service
Friendliness of staff
Handling of problems and complaints
Speed of service
Helpfulness of staff
Handling enquiries
Being treated as a valued customer
Competence of staff
Ease of doing business
Being kept informed

Management

In 2004 the Institute of Leadership published the results of a survey with staff regarding the reasons for poor customer service. The top four reasons given were:

60% of staff believe that the main contributing factor contributing to poor customer service was bad line management
45% claim that their relationship with their line manager impacted significantly on the service they provide to the customer
60% felt they were not praised enough for good customer service, and
10% said they never receive any praise for a job well done

Definition

I have defined customer service as being:

A set of business behaviours which seek to provide superior service to existing and prospective customers; build customer loyalty and repeat business; and influence the acquisition of new customers.

The Follow-up of a Sale

A major life insurance company revealed that in nearly 60% of all life insurance lapses, the policy terminated after the second premium payment. The same company pointed out that after a policyholder makes four premium payments, lapses are negligible. The significance of these statistics is that customers must remain convinced that their buying decisions were correct or repeat purchases are likely to stop. You, through the final step in the selling process – the follow up – can influence the satisfaction your customers derive from their purchases.

Consider one of your customers whose purchases have been poor during the past year and are not likely to increase significantly in the future. Also assume that you have one highly profitable account whose purchases amount to nearly 25% of the total volume of your business. What sort of follow-up and service should you provide to each? Naturally the larger, more profitable account would probably receive greater attention on your part.

For all customers, you should analyse how extensive your follow-up should be. For most accounts, an occasional email, letter or telephone call should suffice. For more active customers you might need to make in-person calls every week or so. Customers who have made or are likely to make large purchases at some time in the future certainly deserve the best personal service you can provide.

Many salespeople are fond of quoting the Pareto Principle in regard to sales, saying that around 80% of their customers provide them with only about 20% of the total sales volume in their territories. Conversely, about 80% of total sales volume comes from only 20% of their customers.

Your principal responsibility as a salesperson is to sell products or services profitably. This should be your rule of thumb when servicing accounts. Your time is limited, but time spent with customers is often an investment in greater sales and future profits. Even accounts that are semi-active or lacking in potential might become high volume purchasers if service and follow-up activities can improve their attitudes toward you and your company.

Follow-up activities vary substantially by industry and product. At one extreme, it is unlikely that a Scout selling raffle tickets house to house during his annual fundraising will make any follow-up calls during the year. On the other hand, a retail merchant buying household products for re-sale may require regular assistance from their supplier such as inventory maintenance, merchandise displays, and co-operative advertising programmes that can be part of the follow-up. Even the Scout group will need to deliver the prizes and should publish a list of winners.

Ideas for Follow-up

Thank you communication

You are far more likely to get repeat orders if you develop an amicable relationship with your customers. Any activity that helps to cement this relationship, from a simple ‘thank you’ to hand delivering a substantial order, can benefit both you and your customer. A simple goodwill builder, but one far too frequently overlooked, is sending a thank you letter, card, or email soon after a sales call has been made.

You can develop a few formats and then modify to suit each specific customer and specific occasions such as moving to new premises, or even more personal such as birthdays or recovering from accident/illness. The cost and the time expended are minimal compared to the goodwill that a ‘thank you’ can create.

After-Sales Service & Assistance

Even if the product is not delivered in person, a telephone call or an in-person visit may enable you to help your customer with the proper use of your products. Customers who do not know how to use a purchase may blame you or the product for their frustrations and problems. Besides instructing your customers on the proper use of your products, you may also be able to point out additional uses for the items. Sometimes there may be minor repairs or adjustments resulting from faulty installation that you can correct or arrange service for. In some cases, you may create goodwill just by checking with customers to make certain that their orders were fulfilled and delivered as directed on purchase orders. You might find some of these suggestions regarding follow-up activities useful:

Make a follow-up ‘goodwill building’ visit to your customers within a week after delivery of the product to make certain that the order was fulfilled properly.
Make certain that the product is satisfactory and is being used properly.
Offer suggestions to the customer on ways to make more effective or additional use of the product.
Use the follow-up visit as an opportunity to obtain new prospects i.e. ask for referrals.
Handle any complaints or misunderstandings as soon as possible and with a positive and courteous attitude.

When you make in-person follow up visits, be sure they are not ‘waste-of-time calls’. Before making the call, ask yourself ‘How is my customer likely to benefit from this call? What do I want to achieve?’

Personal delivery

In some instances, you might be able to develop more satisfied customers by delivering your product in person. For example, life insurance agents frequently deliver policies in-person as soon as the contract is prepared and returned from head office. Five major reasons for this type of in-person delivery are:

To review the features of the policy
To reassure the client that a wise purchase was made
To remind the client when the next premium is due in order to make the sale stay solid
To promote the sale of additional life insurance in the future
To solicit referred leads.

There is a double reason for after-sale selling. Firstly, the existing buyer is, and always has been, a great referral source. Secondly, some sort of professional friendship is developed which can be a future useful testimonial to a new prospective customer.

Goodwill

Goodwill is a factor related to customer attitudes and sentiments toward you and your company. The loss of goodwill is, in effect, the loss of sales. Goodwill building is not automatic. It requires a deliberate, conscientious, and sincere concern about customer interests and needs over extended periods of time. Virtually every step in the selling process has an influence on goodwill.

Goodwill is not concrete – you cannot put your finger on it or measure it accurately in currency. Nevertheless, goodwill is of significant value since it helps the salesperson in making initial and repeat sales. Furthermore, customers with favourable attitudes towards your company and its products are also excellent sources of referral business.

Keeping Customers Satisfied and Staying Competitive

Getting a prospect to place an order and become a customer is long and arduous. Although the search for prospects to turn into new customers never stops, you should also never stop building good relationships with your present customers. They deserve your follow-up so that they will receive the products or services ordered. A commitment to service is required to keep your present customers buying from you. It is service that builds goodwill. In competitive markets it is not products that are different; it is the after sales service provided that makes the difference.

The Importance of Developing Enthusiastic Customers

Enthusiastic customers are one of your best sources of prospects because they are excited about what they buy and want to share that excitement with others. Because of our natural reserve, that is not something we do lightly, so we always take notice if a colleague or friend speaks highly of a company.

If you deliver what customers want at a fair price, without any problems, they are should be satisfied. Although that is better than being dissatisfied, you need more than this to ensure keeping the customer and increasing sales. You have to develop customer enthusiasm about your products and services. You must deliver more than the customer expects. This breeds enthusiasm, which produces a climate that ensures loyalty and increased sales and recommendations to others. Here are some suggestions for producing and maintaining enthusiastic customers:

Keep in touch: check after delivery to see that things are going well. Check again later and ask for leads on new prospects.
Handle any complaints promptly: problems are inevitable. Do not ignore them. They grow with neglect. Do more than the customer expects in satisfying the complaint.
Be a friend: think of the customer as a friend and do things for them accordingly. Send birthday cards or postcards while you are on holidays. Congratulate him or her on awards or advancement.
Give praise when it is due: look for things for which you can give legitimate praise: something the firm has done awards, increased earnings, and a big order. Congratulate the customer personally for awards, election to an office, and honours. Customers appreciate attention too.
Send prospects to your customers: if your customers are in business, send leads or refer prospects to them. It is human nature to respond in kind to anyone who does us a favour.

The Competition

Learn as much as you can about the competition’s products and services. Study how they bring their products to market, their policies, their pricing levels or strategies, the markets they serve, and their customers. Use this information to carry out a SWOT Analysis described elsewhere in this book.

List the strong selling points of your competitors and next to each list a similar or better customer benefit from your own product or service. Don’t assume that every prospect or customer of yours knows your competitors’ strong points. Emphasise your own customer benefits during the sales call. Don’t mention, or sell, your competitors.

Analyse why prospects or customers are buying from competitors and prepare a detailed plan to convince them that they should be buying from you.

Continually review and reinforce the reasons why your customers are doing business with you.

Continually strive to build a close relationship with your customers so they can be more dependent on you.

Earn the right to ask for more orders based on your commitment to service. Remember: your best customers are probably your competitors’ best prospects. Keep working to keep them satisfied and buying from you.

A competitor’s customers are loyal and satisfied because the products or services they receive fit their organisation and requirements now. These conditions can and do change so customer satisfaction is relative.

Becoming a Preferred Supplier

When competing against established suppliers, you may first have to get on the list of acceptable suppliers. To do so this you must create awareness and then an interest and desire for your products or services.

Consider sending copies of advertisements, newspaper articles, or trade journal reports in which you and/ or your company appears, to your customer. Use testimonial letters and recommendations. This will alert your customer to your acceptance by other companies in the same or similar activities.

Invite members of the customer’s firm to visit your plant, your headquarters, your offices, customer installations, or trade shows.

Suggest that their present suppliers are quoting a fair price; however, with new products and services continually being introduced, inflation, improved efficiency, higher productivity, maybe you can do better.

Ask for a copy of their bid specifications and requirements so you can prepare a proposal and quotation for their review and evaluation.

Suggest that they can determine whether or not what you have proposed will give them more value for money. Offer them:

trial orders
sample equipment
thirty day service evaluation period
money back guarantees

These are all part of what it may take for you to become an acceptable supplier. Your creativity as a sales professional will be really challenged by thinking of ways and means to become an acceptable supplier to prospects that are apparently satisfied by their present suppliers.

Complaints

‘We don’t have problems, we have opportunities.’ A cliché, but very true in the case of complaints. It has been estimated that only one in twenty customers complain when they get bad service. The vast majority just go elsewhere! Worse still, the average person tells nine people about the bad service they received. They tell everyone but you. A complaint is an opportunity in identifying ways of improving your services and hence the goodwill of your customers.

Most of us do not like criticism. Therefore, when people complain to us, whether it is face to face or not we try to defend ourselves. Even if the complaint is directed personally towards us, which it rarely is. In doing so we sometimes resort to attack, only making the situation worse.

The best way to deal with complaints is to: –

Acknowledge the complaint
Listen carefully for information
Do not defend or excuse
Empathise with the caller
Promise to put investigate it
Promise to call back is necessary and do so

All the customer wants to know is: –

That you fully understand their problem
What you are going to do about it

If you deal with people in this way, there is no reason why every communication of this kind should not result in both parties being satisfied.

This positive result is not necessarily dependent upon the issue being fully resolved it is dependent upon responsive and responsible communication.

Remember, when a customer complains, they are giving you a second chance to put it right

When the complaint is received over the telephone:

Note down the facts.
Summarise your understanding of the facts back to the customer to ensure clarity.
Phone the customer back when you said you would.
If you have not solved the problem by this time, give a progress report.

Agree a common method for handling complaints in your organisation. Include procedures for complaints that are face to face, by ‘phone and by letter/email. Draw up a complaints form. It should include:

Date and time received.
Who received it?
Department.
The details of the customer: name address, telephone number. Make sure that it meets data protection standards on keeping the information (every organisation should have this as a written procedure and ensure that everyone is aware of this).
Complaint details.
The nature of the complaint.
Action to be taken and deadline.
Sign off when dealt with, and where appropriate signature of line manager.
Build into the process a method for building customer relationships by getting in touch with the customer two weeks after the complaint has been dealt with to confirm that the complaint was dealt with satisfactorily.

Staff need to ensure that they:

Don’t take complaints personally or be defensive; this isn’t an attack on their competence.
Take responsibility and ownership on behalf of the organisation and explain to the customer that they will do their best to sort it out.
understand that bad news spreads
don’t get drawn into an argument
remain calm and professional

The rule for complaints
A complaint is a customer communicating their dissatisfaction at the service or product that we have provided, it is an important message that tells us where we are going wrong and gives us vital information about our customer’s wants, needs and expectations. You can’t buy this information!

Regaining Lost Customers

All organisations lose customers, some for very genuine reasons such as relocation or closure. Sometimes though, they go either because we do something wrong or a competitor makes a better offer. After losing a customer to a competitor ask yourself:

‘What can I do to get this customer back’?
‘What has to be done to assure myself I do not lose more customers for similar reasons’?

Prepare a list of all the things that could have gone wrong with the account. Next, set up a convenient meeting with your former customer for a frank discussion so you can clarify the position. Consider key areas such as price, delivery, proper handling of warranties or guarantees, and service calls