Excelling at Customer Service

Customer services

Customer services (Photo credit: gordon2208)

“Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.”

Ralph Marston (1907 –  ) Professional Football Player in 1929

“If you want to give a great customer experience you have to align your culture and the way you reward staff. None of our customer facing staff has sales targets or sales bonuses — their rewards and bonuses are based purely on their customer satisfaction scores.”

Anthony Thomson, Chairman, Metro Bank

Quote courtesy of Institute of customer service

Life has a way of taking everything in its stride and I am often compelled to go through the related emotions. Sometimes, I marvel at the way life turns corners and obviously as human beings, we all have this uncanny ability to learn from mistakes and move on by not repeating those same mistakes. We learn, change and adapt.

Organisations are very similar to us (in theory) and are supposed to learn from their mistakes, change processes to reflect that and become ‘the ideal organisation.’ So, I have to ask myself then, ‘Why in today’s day and age, are we still dealing with organisations’ that are failing its customers, in terms of customer service?’

Obviously, during my life, I have had many good experiences of customer services and some pretty dire ones. The reason for writing this blog is that recently, I dealt with three organisations that should have excelled at customer service but in reality, they failed in their promise to provide even the basic levels of customer service. I have debated whether to play the ‘name and shame’ game but that just wouldn’t be me. So, instead, I have decided to write about how to provide excellent customer service.

According to a survey conducted in the U.S. and eleven other countries in 2010, by American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, Americans Will Spend 9% More with Companies That Provide Excellent Service

Although only a little more than a third of Americans (37%) believe that companies have increased their focus on providing quality service:

  • 27% feel businesses have not changed their attitude toward customer service.
  • 28% say that companies are now paying less attention to good service.

So, where do I start?

Let’s start with:

  1. Culture

According to Catherine Lovering, “Make the goal of providing excellent customer service a company-wide commitment. Put a customer-service policy in writing, and post it in a prominent place. Translate customer-service objectives into specific actions for employees to follow, such as: deliver prompt service, offer a polite demeanour, and make product information readily available.”

Inc.com says, “Start by hanging on the wall a set of core values, 10 or fewer principles that include customer service ideals, suggests Susan McCartney, Maggiotto’s colleague at the Buffalo SBDC. “Share them during the training, have employees sign them, and evaluate employees based on the values,” she says. “But don’t call them rules.”

Employee training on customer service precepts should be intensive: written materials, verbal instruction, mentors, and on-the-job demonstrations all ought to be part of the coursework, says McCartney.”

This theme continues in 10 Examples of Shockingly-Excellent Customer Service and  12 ways to dazzle your customers.

  1. Staff morale and motivation

Catherine Lovering says, “Treat your employees well, so they in turn will treat customers well. Employees will bring enthusiasm and a positive attitude to their job when they know they’re appreciated and respected. Recognize employees who continually provide good customer service and praise the entire staff for their efforts. Customer-service work can be emotionally draining unless the company involved is supportive and gains the loyalty of its employees.”

Inc.com says, “Companies renowned for their customer service — the online shoe retailer Zappos, for example — treat employees as they would have their employees treat their customers. “Employees take on more responsibility because they know they are appreciated and an important part of the team,” says the University of Missouri’s Proffer. “People who don’t feel like they’re part of the bigger picture, who feel like a small cog in a big machine, are not willing to go the extra mile.”

Not every business can afford to shower staff with generous pay and benefits, but not every business has to. Small companies, says McCartney, can show “intense interest” in employees, in their welfare, their families, and their future — what McCartney calls the family model. It’s also important to recognize an employee — publicly — for a job well done. Some companies also offer incentives for exceptional customer service, but if you can’t spare the cash, you might throw an office party or offer another token of appreciation. When he was a manager at cable provider Tele-Communications Inc., for instance, Proffer personally washed the cars of notable employees.”

  1. Knowledgeable staff

Staff need to know their products and services and that can only be achieved by a comprehensive induction and training programme for staff that not only includes products and services but also includes an initiation with an organisation’s processes and knowledge of the internal and external network of people who can help resolve issues and problems. A ‘can do attitude’ needs to be instilled in staff right at the outset while empowering customer service staff to engage in activities that resolve the problem while highlighting to management any processes that hinder resolution. That way employees are highlighting processes that hinder the delivery of excellent customer service while improving customer service delivery at the same time.

Inc.com says, “The best salespeople spend 80 percent of their time listening, not talking,” says Marc Willson, a retail and restaurant consultant for the Virginia SBDC network. Ask open-ended questions to elicit a customer’s needs and wants. “

Further in the article, Proffer offers the The Five A’s. method, “It’s helpful to think of resolving a dispute as a five-step process called the Five A’s: Acknowledge the problem. Apologize, even if you think you’re right. Accept responsibility. Adjust the situation with a negotiation to fix the problem. Assure the customer that you will follow through.”

  1. Well trained staff

Training is paramount and well trained staff needs to help customers resolve their problems regardless of how much time they have spent resolving it (within reason). Many organisations tend to operate their measuring metrics for customer services advisors’ on calls closed rather than calls resolved. Well trained staff will have the ability to resolve calls and close them better than ill trained staff. Staff training should be reviewed periodically and refresher courses offered based around lessons learnt, processes improved and latest innovations in delivering better customer service.

Catherine Lovering in her article on customer service said, “Teach the staff stress-reduction methods and techniques in conflict resolution. Train staff to use language that promotes good customer service. Phrases such as “How can I help,” “I don’t know, but I will find out,” and “I will keep you updated” let customers know that their needs will be met. It also will demonstrate a willingness to find a solution to any problem and a commitment to communicate with the customer. This dedication will go a long way toward defusing dissatisfaction among clientele.”

She further adds, “Train staff to accept responsibility for errors and to apologize to upset customers. Good customer-service representatives must refrain from arguing with an upset customer and instead ask the customer what they can do to solve the problem. Advise employees to speak calmly to customers and to assure them that they’ll do what they can to help. Follow up with a clear resolution to the complaint.”

  1. Empowered staff

Catherine Lovering says, “Empower these staff members to not only deal well with upset customers on an emotional level but also to provide tangible benefits. For example, “Entrepreneur” magazine recommends giving employees the authority to give any dissatisfied customer a 10-percent discount.”

The emphasis should be on, “What can we do that will make the situation better for you? Add the wow factor -For example, one winner of The WOW! Awards is a restaurant in Leeds called Gueller’s. They keep a range of prescription spectacles, just in case customers forget their own and are having difficulty reading the menu.”

Give them something that will make them feel valuable. That could be a freebie, the ability to resolve their problem, following up the matter on their behalf and make them feel that their concerns have been heard and addressed (or will be addressed)

  1. Customer service, IT systems and process review – Capture, monitor and report

IT systems need to be setup according to effective measurement metrics. For example, it is not good enough to measure “How many calls did an agent take/close today?” An effective metric would be, “How many calls did an agent close today that was satisfactorily resolved for the customer?” Each call should also be followed up by the completion of customer satisfaction surveys and that opportunity utilised for creating other effective metrics and for highlighting process improvements.

Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is used extensively within the IT industry and it can be modified to deliver excellent customer service. Karen Francis of Macanta consulting says, “My opinion is that we shouldn’t be too precious about what we use as long as it works for us. If an organisation is already using ITIL for the IT department and finds that it can be adapted for the non-IT departments, then why not do it.

ITIL may not cover things such as sales and marketing and HR, but if you already have effective and efficient processes for managing faults, problems, changes, inventory, capacity, business continuity, service levels and so on, why not use them for non-IT if they translate well?”

As a fan of Deming, I would like to add Danielle J Baker’s thoughts, “ITIL’s iterative approach and focus on continuous improvement is the basis of IT Service Management as defined by the ITIL set of best practices.

The following needs to be done prior to the installation of any IT system for customer service.

  1. Do we know what processes we have captured in existing systems?
  2. How do we go about capturing processes that are not captured by our existing systems?
  3. What processes can we improve, prior to using IT?

Use new innovative tools for interacting with customers, such as Desk.com (Or similar tool). According to Desk.com website, “Connect to your customers on Facebook and Twitter as easily as on traditional support channels like email, phone and web. Desk.com organizes all of your support in one place so you can respond efficiently wherever your customers reach out.”

One of their client’s, Bonobos said, “I was excited by the look and feel of Desk.com when I saw it. By lunchtime the next day we had switched over entirely.”

  1. Benchmark

As a big fan of benchmarking, I highly recommend benchmarking and covered this in my blog post, IT benchmarking

Catherine Lovering said, “Create customer service benchmarks for employees to meet, and reward the workers who meet and exceed them.”

  1. Customer service and relationship management

Catherine Lovering said, “Communicate with customers so you know what they want. Distribute surveys, request feedback, and make it easy for customers to let you know how they feel about their shopping experience. Add a personal touch to customer communication by answering comment letters with a note of thanks. Keep an eye on the competition to see how they implement customer-service policies, especially if it appears that those services are well-received by customers.”

Inc.com says, “The cost of acquiring a new customer is five times that of retaining an existing one.”

Contact with the organisation should be easy and should include an element of ‘self service’ via social media and an organisation’s own website. That could include, for example, a knowledge base or frequently asked questions (FAQ). This could be done by keeping track of the most common type of service desk requests and enabling access to them via these methods.

In her excellent article, 4 Steps to Overcome Being a Pain in the Ass Call Center that I would recommend reading (All 3 parts), Dr. Jodie Monger says, “According to W. Edwards Deming, the father of the quality evolution, “workforces are only responsible for 15% of mistakes, where the system desired by management is responsible for 85% of the unintended consequences. [1]”  In other words, 85% of a worker’s effectiveness is entirely out of his or her control!   It’s rather unfortunate that it is the 15% that is under workers’ control that call centers tend to focus on through quality monitoring efforts, Voice of the Customer programs, mystery shopping and the like.

A well-designed, well-executed quality program will provide a holistic view of your organization’s strengths and opportunities by answering ALL four of the vital questions:

  1. How are we—as an organization—doing at representing our company to its customers?
  2. What can we—as an organization—do to improve?
  3. How are you—as an individual agent—doing at representing our company to its customers?
  4. What can we—as a management team—do to help you improve?

Note that in accordance with Deming’s philosophy of systems and process management, only one of the four vital questions focuses on the activities of the worker.

What would your answers be?”

On that thought provoking question by Dr Judie Monger, I would like to end this blog and hope that this blog post contributes to even better customer service!

References and further Information:

10 Examples of Shockingly-Excellent Customer Service

12 ways to dazzle your customers

Why is Customer Service Still So Lousy?

Customer service frustration leads to lawsuit

Americans Will Spend 9% More With Companies That Provide Excellent Service

The high price of bad customer service

American Express – A story of customer service gone bad

Create a culture of excellent customer service

Institute of customer service

7 Secrets to Providing Excellent Customer Service

Providing Excellent Customer Service

Tips for excellent customer service

How to provide excellent customer service

How to deliver great customer service

How to provide excellent customer service

Salesforce.com Revolutionizes Customer Service for a Social and Mobile World with Desk.com

desk.com

Using ITIL for Non-IT Purposes

How ITIL Help Desk can help SMBs?

ITIL and Deming

Are you a Pain in the Ass Call Centre?

The Deming Centre for Quality, Productivity, and Competitiveness at Columbia Business School

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