How to Provide Excellent Customer Service
In this section you will learn about:
- Why excellent customer service is your only option
- The 10 pillars of excellent customer service
- How to implement a customer service culture
- Tips to implement a customer service culture that fosters excellence
- Measuring the quality of your customer service
Why excellent customer service is your only option
Do you remember the last time you had an unpleasant experience with a service or product?
Maybe the service or product failed to live up to the sales pitch; perhaps the company concerned failed to answer your emails or phone-calls.
Maybe they failed to do what they said they would; or they gave you the good old ‘run-around’ when you called to ask a question or report a problem?
Any or all of these issues revolve around one thing and one thing only – terrible customer service! And when there’s a lack of customer service it’s usually caused by a lack of customer focus.
According to eMarketer, customer service is one of the key aspects that will affect a sale, and it’s especially true for smaller businesses.
So why so many of these business have lost sight of who they’re in business to serve. Strangely, the old saying ‘The customer is always right’ has gone out the window and many businesses seem to be either bored or bothered by their customers.
It’s a difficult situation to come to grips with, because it just doesn’t make any sense. Why don’t they realize that without these customers they don’t have a business! They’ll eventually make no money, they’re doors will close, and they’ll be bankrupt. And it’s all so easy to prevent.
Perhaps it’s just arrogance; a feeling of superiority over the customer. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t work.
Your customers are the reason you’re still in business, and your job is to serve your customers to the best of your ability.
If you have an unhappy or upset customer it’s your job to find out why they feel this way and use that information to improve on your service, or your product.
Yes, we all know there are difficult customers out there and sometimes there’s just no pleasing them, but the fact remains that without these customers you have no business. (if you need to learn how to deal with difficult customer, click here)
Many times client complaints uncover problems or issues that can be improved upon, so always be available to listen to your customers.
Make the decision today to treat all your customers well, because we know that great customer service is the cheapest and best marketing tool available. Of course really great customer service delivers over and above expectations, and that’s when your business will be rewarded.
Happy, satisfied clients are those people who will be happy to refer you; however the opposite is also true. Disappoint or let a customer down; fail to deliver on your promises; or ignore a customer or their complaint and you can be sure that they will be telling all their family and friends about you and your business.
It’s true that disgruntled customers are more likely to spread the word than happy customers are, so when you give bad customer service you do so at your own peril.
Providing great customer service is so easy to do: just be aware, and make it your priority.
The next section will give you an easy to follow framework to improve your customer service.
The 10 Pillars of Excellent Customer Service
Excellent customer service is the intangible that sets you and your company apart from others. It doesn’t matter how low your prices are; if your customer service is poor you’ll lose out on repeat customers.
The opposite is also true: when you have outstanding customer service you’ll be able to edge your prices a few points above your competition. It’s all about learning how to deliver exceptional customer service.
We trust that the following points on the best ways to deliver top-quality customer service will assist you in defining your own workable strategy for servicing your customers.
1. Be Accessible
Your customers must be able to contact you, or someone in your company who represents you, should they require service or have a question to ask. Offer many different ways for your customers to contact you: like phone, email, and social media. Make sure all these communication channels are easy to manage; otherwise your level of customer service could take a dive. If you provide many contact points, but you don’t increase your resources and staff, you’ll be spreading yourself too thin. The result will be a decline in your customer service.
2. Always Respond in a Timely Manner
Make it business policy that all emails and phone calls must be returned with 24-hours. If this is not something you can commit to, then you must determine what timeframe would be manageable and be very clear with your customers that this is the timeframe you work within. Customers are usually very accepting providing you’ve been clear with them from the onset, and you follow through.
3. Listen to What Your Customers Have To Say
Customers are just ordinary people, and they want to be heard: sometimes all that’s required is that you listen to what they have to say. Don’t jump in and start defending yourself, your company, or your product – just listen. Who knows, they could have a valid point!
4. Treat Your Customers With Respect
If you are trying to deal with an irate, rude, complaining or demanding customer, never lower yourself to their level of behaviour. Continue treating your customers with respect, and in turn they will respect you. They might just be having a bad day and could well regret their bad behaviour. Obviously it’s not ‘right’ that people disrespect you, but at the end of the day you’ll be pleased that you didn’t lower your standards and that you remained respectful.
5. Never Argue With Your Customers
You’ll never win an argument with a customer: what this means is that, if you do win, you will have alienated the customer and lost their business forever. We all understand only too well that a customer is often wrong, but it’s not a good idea to start defending yourself: focus on what’s occurred and see how you can best resolve the situation.
6. Honor Your Commitments
Do what you say you will do. If you offer a guarantee, then you must honor it: it you say you’ll respond to emails, respond to them. It’s irritating to anyone to be promised something and then not get it: it’s a surefire way to ruin a relationship.
7. Do What You Say
If you’ve promised to call a customer on Monday, call them on Monday. It’s really very simple. If you want to earn the trust and respect of your customers you must follow through and do what you said you would. From a customer’s point of view we all know how annoying and time-wasting it is to be waiting for a phone-call, email, or visit from someone who (turns out) had no intention of following through.
8. Focus on Customer Relationships – Not Sales!
For your business to enjoy long-term success you must cultivate long-term relationships. Sacrificing long-term relationships to make short-term sales dooms your business to failure.
9. Admit When You’ve Made a Mistake
We’re all human, and we all make mistakes. One very valuable lesson on customer service is, when you do make a mistake, don’t deny it or try to cover it up. Admit your mistake, apologize, and do whatever it takes to make the situation right. Your customers will appreciate it, and no-one loses customers this way.
10: Train Your Staff
When staff members are properly trained to provide excellent customer service, they feel empowered to make on-the-spot decisions when dealing with customers. Make it very clear what their authority levels are, and ensure they understand completely the customer service principles that apply to your business. If you’re not sure they’re capable of doing the right thing, then you’ve hired the wrong people.
So, reading the above ten steps, how do you rate your customer service? If you’re lacking in any of the above you need to ramp up your customer service.
Put these 10 steps into practice: actually get to know your customers, and make them the focus of your business.
It doesn’t cost a lot, and it’s the main key to marketing success.
Implement a Customer Service Culture
Of course it depends on the type of business you’re working in, but generally there will be many different people in different areas of your business interacting with your customers.
Some of these might include:
- Order Processing
- Technical Support
- Customer Service.
That’s a lot of people who may have contact with your customers, and with all these possibilities, there’s enormous scope for confusion
Who Is Supposed to Care For Customers?
The issue of ‘who is supposed to be caring for the customer’ can sometimes be a bit confusing.
Customers may have to deal with many different sections of a company and, because of this, they can get lost in the shuffle.
Where the customer gets lost, or forgotten about, is when those different sections of the company are not communicating very well between themselves.
Customer Service Should Be Everyone’s Job
Customer service should be part of a coordinated system; a process integrating a wide collection of tasks.
Every one should be involved when it comes to helping customers. When this happens, and it’s a truly collaborative effort between all departments of a company, then no-one needs to worry about ‘who should be caring for the customer’ because the answer is that everyone should be.
We assume your employees have their own individual job descriptions, because that’s how staff members know what’s expected of them.
However, a job description shouldn’t just describe tasks and duties, because that’s not a complete job description.
It should go much further than that by clearly advising employees that the most important part of their job is providing customers with excellent customer service; and even more than that, their job is to create satisfied and happy customers who want to return and do business with you.
Here is an example:
‘Your position (job description) exists to assist our company’ serve our customers better’.The most important outcome of your job is (describe). This assists our company to grow by delighting and satisfying those amazing people who make your position possible – our loyal customers – by (describe)’.
Customer service should be added to all staff members’ job description.
Match Your Company’s Culture With Great Customer Service
Getting your employees to understand that each and every one of them are responsible for giving your customers great service doesn’t mean that you just send out a memo to that effect.
Excellent customer service must become a natural part of the company’s personality.
This personality is derived from the unique history of your company, the people employed by the company, the customers you serve, and the company’s traditions and values. A management guru would call all of this ‘corporate culture’.
Even if your business makes and sells exactly the same products as other companies, no two companies will be the same in the way thy produce and market a product, even though they may use physical processes that are very similar.
Here are some important facts you should be aware of:
- Each and every company has its own unique culture;
- Providing excellent customer service must become a very important aspect of your company’s corporate culture;
- Creating a corporate culture where service is highly regarded is a never-ending job, and it requires the involvement and commitment of top management right down through the ranks.
It’s not possible to provide great customer service if it’s not supported by your corporate culture.
5 Tips to Implement a customer service culture that fosters excellence
#1: Make Customer Service Part of Compensation
If you really care about your customers you need to make service commitment a big part of each and every employee’s performance evaluation and, more importantly, their compensation. Performance pay scheme is even recommend by the UK Local Government During your periodic performance review, ask how their work impacted customers during the last quarter. The answer you get should tie in with the compensation offered, particularly if you’ve observed the employee taking action to back up their answer.
#2: Management Modeling for Great Customer Service
There’s no real way of knowing how corporate culture works in a company, because it’s usually not something that’s written down. The most powerful way of communicating your company’s culture comes from the behavior of company managers. This is the only true way employees understand what values the organization holds to – by observing the way their managers behave.
#3. Word and Deed Are the True Teachers of Excellent Customer Service
Like everything else, most of us learn by example: your employees are no different. Maybe they did receive a memo saying ‘Your customers must be treated with respect’, however this is not the way they see management behaving. We can guess what they believe the true culture of your company to be! Perhaps the company newsletter states ‘We must establish good relationships with our customers and get to know them as individuals’, but your staff certainly don’t see top management interacting with customers: they will quickly conclude that this is not the true culture of your company.
Visualize a manager talking to his staff and telling them to be friendly, warm, and inviting to all customers. The problem is that this same manager doesn’t even know her employees names, and hardly ever speak to them. Employees instinctively know that there’s something very different about the actual culture of this company.
It’s called ‘modeling’ in education: in management consulting its known as ‘monkey see, monkey do’. It doesn’t matter what you call it, you grow your corporate culture by staff members mirroring the actions and behavior of their managers. Managers must become aware of this: how you behave tells your employees what your actual values are.
#4: Be the Perfect Example
As a manager, it’s up to you to create a service culture, and to show (by your behavior) what it means to serve. Act as if your employees are your customers; then treat them that way. They will learn from your example; so whether you set a good or bad example, this is what your staff members will mirror. You are communicating to your employees what you value, and what you expect.
#5: Build a Culture of Cooperation
Imagine what a company could achieve if everyone was on board and delivering great customer service! When employees work collaboratively with other employees from other departments, they’re providing service to please their customers. It depends on your corporate culture, but ideally your employees will be more than happy to move across functional boundaries and be prepared to work with their counterparts in other departments.
Measuring the Quality of Your Customer Service
Any successful business today understands that great customer service is a vital component to their success, but how can you know for sure that you’re really providing the best service possible?
An important aspect of ensuring that you are providing quality and consistency in all your dealings with customers is to measure the service you are offering.
Below we’ve listed just some of the ways you can accurately determine the quality of your customer service:
1. Study the Supply and Demand
Possibly the easiest metric for determining the quality of your customer service is to measure your sales. If your customers are happy, they’re probably purchasing more products. Thus, if sales have increased there’s a fair chance that it is partly due to the service you are offering. Obviously this will not be a completely accurate assessment because this increase in sales could be attributed to other factors, such as the economic climate, the season, or price mark-downs. It’s more effective to use this gauge when combined with other measurement tools.
2. Just Ask Your Customers!
Probably the most effective (and certainly the easiest) way of knowing whether your customers are satisfied with the service you offer is simply to ask them. This could be done on an informal basis when they shop in your establishment; you could use email to ask for feedback on your service, or make phone calls to your clients. Perhaps you might create a survey that asks your customers about different aspects of your company and the service they received.
3. How Many Customer Complaints Do You Receive?
We know that some companies determine their quality of service by the number of complaints received. They assume that when the complaints reduce, their quality of service has improved. This may be true in some cases, however not all disgruntled customers lodge a complaint – they simply walk away and take their business elsewhere.
4. Identify Weaknesses in Your Business
By effectively measuring the effect of your customer service you should be able to identify specific weaknesses in your operation. As an example: maybe customers are dissatisfied with how long they must wait for assistance, or perhaps they’re annoyed because a specific product is never ‘in stock’.
Regardless of what tool, or tools, you use to evaluate your level of service, it’s the perfect way to identify those specific areas where there’s room for improvement.
5. Check Out the Competition
If you want to know how you fare when it comes to customer service, check out your competitors. Ask your employee to enter their place of business and act as a customer would. See how they’re treated. Speak with customers who have dealt with both businesses and ask their opinion on which company provided the best customer service.
By measuring your customer service against others, you’ll gain an understanding of whether your service level is on par, and whether it needs improvement.
Your aim should be to raise the bar when it comes to providing excellent customer service.
This post is part of a series on Customer service: