How do I get my employees to provide world class customer service?

by admin on November 17, 2009

In the 1980’s American businesses were being outdistanced by those from other nations—particularly Japan—and customer service was recognized as at least one of the routes back to success. One organization that came to the fore to help address our economic woes was the International Customer Service Association. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to its members on three different occasions. When I first got wind of their mission, it struck me that this renewed focus on customer centricity would in a matter of years pervade the cultures of the places where we shop and the companies we do business with.

The outstanding work of ICSA continues to this day, but the hoped for improvement in customer service isn’t yet across the board. We all experience pockets of incredible excellence, like when I take my Saturn Vue in for service or stop at Chick Fil-A for a milkshake, but there are far more examples in my existence of less attentiveness and even downright customer abuse. There is still work to do.

Here’s the most recent version of one of my talks at ICSA, just in case your employees—or you—need to get customer more service religion (please be sure to click through to read the entire list.)

Ten Commandments of Exceptional Customer Service

1. Build personal relationships. You want customers to feel so good about you that three things happen: (1) they keep coming back without having to re-sell them, (2) when you do have to resell them you have a distinct edge over the competition, and (3) when you screw up they’ll cut you colossal slack. One way to bond with clients is to listen to them with such sincerity that they’re willing to tell you important stuff about themselves and thereby build intimacy into the relationship. Another way to improve how they feel about you is to thank them and to give them credit for the things they do to make it easier for you to serve them.

2. Reveal your value proposition. Tell your customers (and by extension, your employees) exactly what they can expect your service to look like and more importantly what outcomes they can expect to derive from that service. What they really want and need to know is how what you do for them will either add pleasure to their lives or take pain away from them. Here’s a value proposition one of my clients put together:

We pledge to our customers that we will…

  • Exceed your expectations of us
  • Ensure your success through the distribution of our products and services
  • Work with you to meet your challenges and accomplish mutual goals
  • Serve you with unquestionable integrity
  • Treat your employees with the utmost respect

3. Say what you need from them. Expectations never go in only one direction. Have you told your customers what you need from them in order for you to give what you’ve pledged to them? Once you’ve built a great relationship with customers, and once you’ve promised just short of the world to them, they’ll be willing to learn the role they can play in making it happen.

4. Serve them! Customers shouldn’t have to ask more than once for what they want. Actually, you should understand them and anticipate their needs so well that you provide for them even before they ask. Nor should they have to lift a finger to get quality service. You should make the call, fill out the form, “walk” them to where they need to be, smooth over their mistakes, and go the extra mile. They are not in business to make your job easier; it’s the other way around.

5. Affirm them. All customers should leave your presence feeling that they are important to you and to your company. They’ll believe this, or not, depending on the tone of voice you have used in your conversation with them. Is it warm, understanding, and supportive? Your words are equally important. Do you say “hello” rather than “hi”; “May I help you?” rather than “Can…?” and “My pleasure” rather than “No problem”? Your body language counts as well. Do you look at your customers with smiling eyes?

6. Provide solutions, not service. You’ve not done your job once you’ve done your job. An oxymoron? No! As an executive coach, it’s tempting for me to think I’ve met the terms of my contract with a leader once we’ve analyzed and acted on all the assessments we’ve agreed to and once we’ve had all the coaching sessions on the docket. But the bottom line is that I haven’t served the executive until he or she has become a more effective leader. In the same way, your employees need to know that “I did what you told me to do” is not a substitute for “The customer is thrilled by what I did.”

7. Head off betrayal. During his administration President Ronald Reagan commissioned a study on the state of customer service in America. One of the outcomes of that study was astounding! It revealed that for every 27 dissatisfactions a company might cause its customers only one of those was likely to return to the company as a voiced complaint. Furthermore, each of those disgruntled clients is likely to badmouth you to another ten people who will relay that displeasure to another five. And ultimately 90% of those mute malcontents who stop doing business with you will be influenced in their decision by the unstated grievance. What can we take away from this finding? We don’t hear enough complaints! So how do we get them? Learn to ask your customers “one-finger” questions. Stop asking, “How are we doing?” which almost always elicits a dutiful “fine.” Instead, put the word “one” somewhere in your request for customer feedback. My personal favorite is, “What’s the one thing we could do to lose your business?” Are you willing to hear the answer?

8. Make it right quickly, happily, remorsefully, generously, and thankfully. General George S. Patton once said, “I don’t measure a man by how high he can climb, but by what he does after he falls down.” In that vein, I’m not looking for service providers in my life who always get it right the first time. That’s not possible. But I am looking for a vow to get it right the second time. I no longer use National Rental Car because of a twenty year old disappointment. It occurred when they failed to offer any comfort or compensation after my family spent hours one scorching vacation summer day on the side of a road and in a repair shop waiting for their van to be repaired. By contrast Dianne and I didn’t mind waiting in a 40-minute line to check in at a Chicago Marriot where Notre Dame’s prom was being held that evening—at least not when a server presented everyone in the queue with a complimentary glass of champagne.

Where are the other two commandments?

It’s your turn. Tell me what important customer service gem you would add to this list to help round it out to ten. When the next ASK appears on December 2, I’ll pick what I believe are the two best ideas for Commandments 9 and 10. The two contributors of those ideas will each win a free coaching session where we’ll put our heads together to solve one of your most challenging leadership dilemmas or anything else you’d like to mull over. I’ll call out-of-towners for the session they earn. I’ll treat at Starbucks for winners from the ‘Burgh.

Coming Soon

Your employees will need more help with #8. In two weeks we’ll give them a ten-step process for handling an angry customer—and I promise to give them all ten steps.

Aphorism: “There are no bad customers; only those who are harder to please than others.”

~Said by someone who’s never waited on a customer in her life


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