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 factorFor 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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About mubbisherahmed
I am passionate about IT and its ability to deliver cost effective, value for money solutions that can enhance performance and in many cases provide competitive advantage by using a range of solutions and approaches in innovative ways.

4 Responses to Excelling at Customer Service

  1. mubbisherahmed says:

    John Belo said the following on a social media site: Understanding that the customer is what the business exists for is fundamental to the practice of ‘best in class’ customer service. That includes not only what the customer needs but what the company offers in addressing those needs. The customer is literally everyone outside the company who in one form or the other are impacted by the company.

    I replied: John, you make it sound so simple and in reality I agree with you. Unfortunately, many companies fail to realise the importance and necessity of your eloquent summation of customer service….

  2. mubbisherahmed says:

    Reggie Thorpe said the following on a social media site: From an IT prospective, too many times the IT department meets with the customers and tells its customers whats important. This leaves the customer feeling like IT is not concerned about their needs. This kind of attitude is causing customers to seek user-side solutions and bypass the IT department when possible. IT as a whole needs to understand the business problem from the user’s prospective and stop flexing it’s techno muscle.

    I replied: Reggie, I agree and that is why it is so important that everybody understands the role of IT within an organisation and the reason IT is a functional department, just like finance, HR etc. Organisation’s sometimes are quite ambiguous about the role of IT and often do not disseminate clear policies and procedures. For example, in your scenario above, I have seen orgs that allow business users to purchase their own IT. The problem though is that if every function within the business starts to do that, you end up in a mess!

    It is so easy to lose control and before you know it, you have thousands of stand alone apps on desktops, tablets and smartphones that are uncontrollable, cost the organisation millions, and lack ROI.

    For example, HR are setup on an ERP system for recruitment but HR go off and buy in an external service for their recruitment campaigns, as it is easy to setup and doesn’t cost the same as if the project was done by IT. Great idea! The problem is that in that scenario, the ERP system is dislocated to the recruitment campaign so the cost of an employee, for instance, from when he was recruited to the time he left the organisation is lost as the recruitment cost is held within the external system and the employees details etc would have to be entered twice!

    With the arrival of smartphones, tablets and cloud applications both the business (and it’s users) and the IT department need to understand and utilise appropriate IT systems that benefit the business.

    I think, it’s a two way street, sometime the business users do not understand why IT is not allowing them usage of certain IT systems (that they want to introduce with clear benefits, in their perception) while IT have a complete overview of the organisation and sometimes cannot allow that to happen as that would reduce or eliminate ROI or have cost repercussions and may even mean that the organisation ends up with even more disparate systems.

    The solution for both parties is to understand each other’s needs, set clear policies and procedures for the business on how IT will be setup and utilised and for the IT department to market itself effectively and perhaps explain to the business the reason why IT doesn’t believe that the proposed solution is in the best interests of the business. I do agree that IT need to be compassionate to its users and not leave them feeling that IT does not care about their needs. The message should be that IT does care about their needs and to look at ways that need can be met through setting up or modifying existing systems that are in the best interests of that business function and the entire org as well.

    One of the ways to do that is to have an assigned person from IT who works closely with that function and gets to understand the difficulties that they face and the opportunities that present themselves. Overtime, that IT person, becomes a trusted aid as he effectively fights their corner and makes IT realise and understand the reasons that need needs to be satisfied.

    A regular meeting of the entire IT department where each function is invited to participate also works well. IT news/updates to business functions can also help.

    • mubbisherahmed says:

      Stuart Hunter added: The key is communication. IT needs to remember that it is providing a service to its customers and, as in the rest of life, if you are not meeting the customers needs they will look elsewhere. To my mind, one of the most significant roles IT has to play is in ensuring the customer understands the implications of the choices they make – security implications, impact of technology choices, ROI etc. Its about relationships with the customers and communication. It doesn’t mean always saying “yes” but it does mean listening to the customers needs, really understanding the implications and then responding in a manner that is most appropriate for the business, of which IT is just one element. A key part is having the mechanisms and environment for these valuable discussions to take place……to build the relationships that develop the partnership that get IT to the decision-making table as valued contributor.

  3. KPI’s and good analytics is key. Quite often training is not helping much. If you can slice and dice customer service data realtime, you just can elliminate underperforming employees.

    Key is – you need good IT systems, realtime POS systems to succeed. Information is sitting in locations without any good management level analytics on top of it.

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