The Five Steps to Great Customer Service

Customer service.  Every business talks about it, but not everyone has it.  So what makes for a good customer service program and why are some businesses successful and others aren’t?
Think about some of your own experiences, about when you’ve been unhappy and what made you angry.  Chances are it was a combination of things, but one of those was probably a feeling of lack of control over the situation.  The business had your money and you didn’t get what you were promised.  The second thing was probably the feeling that you weren’t being heard and that no one cared.
The third piece was the frustration that no one could help or had the ability to help you even if they wanted.  For example, have you heard the excuse that the problem could not be fixed because the computer was down or wouldn’t allow it?  It just creates aggravation when everyone agrees that there is a problem, but no one can do anything about it (or is it an insincere excuse…mmm?).

Fourth was most certainly a lack of apology when things went wrong.  Most people do not expect everything to go perfectly, but do expect an apology when mistakes happen.  I’ve heard of one study where 80% of people who filed a lawsuit did so because they never got an apology.  Imagine that – the costs to a business to defend itself in court, pay for attorneys, court costs and potentially damages and all could have been avoided for an apology.  Of course, the ironic thing is that the same attorneys defending you would warn you to never apologize for something (good advice or self-serving?).
For any company, your customers are the most important part of your business.  Think about the risks that poor customer service can create.  The greatest advertising campaign and marketing plan may bring in new customers.  But if you allow poor customer service then the best advertising will be for nothing.  You may bring in new customers, but you won’t get any repeat business.  It makes the most sense financially to develop loyal customers who come back again and again.  You’ve reached them with your marketing, drawn them in, and closed the deal.  Compared to starting over with a new group of potential customers, bringing back repeat business is more effective.

What is an organization to do?  The good news is that there are some basic guidelines that will keep your customer service program on track.  The 5 steps to create good customer service are:
1.      Expectations – Make it a clear expectation of employees.  If you employees understand that meeting your customers’ needs is their number one mission, then they will.
2.     Empowerment – Allow employees to make the decision to do what is best for the customer.  Let them override computers, but instead be able to take the steps to help customers.  Even when the customer is wrong.  If they walk away unhappy or disgruntled they won’t be back and neither will all the people they tell.  Being right can be the road to ruin in these cases.
3.     Hire the right employees – Employees should be empathetic.  Even in violence prevention programs, people are taught to reduce the risks of violence by listening and being empathetic to others.  Hire people that have demonstrated that ability or be sure that you can teach it.  Without it, employees may be sending the message that they don’t care about the customer – a quick way to get an ex-customer. 
4.     Human contact – Even in large organizations, such as the boiler plate customer service centers, make sure that you create an environment of accountability on the part of staff.  Nothing is more frustrating as a customer than making repeat calls to a customer service center for the same issue and each time having to start the explanation all over again.  And these same customer service agents often have long code numbers, worse than 007, and no extension or way to ever contact them again.  Where is the accountability or motivation to really help the customer in that environment?  So you ask for a supervisor and get the line, “He is in a meeting right now” after holding for several minutes.  Followed up with the line, “I’ll they will call you later today.”  Don’t hold your breath.
5.     Compromise – the final consideration is being flexible enough to compromise.  Even when the customer is wrong, you can still ‘negotiate’ a solution.  Courts do this all the time.  A traffic offense can be plea-bargained down to a non-moving violation or the fine reduced, for example.  Be willing to plea bargain with your customers.
Follow these steps and you will be well on your way to great customer service and to protecting your most critical asset – your customers!

Share your customer service stories in the comment section below or email them to eric@businesskarate.com. 

Have you wondered how to deal with an aggressive employee or phone threats against a staff member?  Do you have the security system you should?  Are you worried about how your business would handle an emergency situation?  There are lots of worries as a leader in your organization.  Security risks do not have to be one of them.  I am available for business coaching sessions with a focus on security and operational risk management.  The first session includes a money back guarantee if you are not completely satisfied.  For more information, send an email to eric@businesskarate.com. 

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