Your business would not exist without customers. And if you have
customers, you have to have customer service. Everybody talks about the
importance of good customer service, but few seem to follow through on
1: Why is customer service so important to a successful business?
Customers have more options than ever before-and feel less
loyalty. They want products and services fast, cheap, quick-from
whoever will provide them. That means that the competitive advantage is
now in your ability to KEEP customers and build repeat business. And the
email mindset makes it even easier for customers to spread out their
dissatisfaction. Make Customer Jones angry and chances are you've got a
nasty rumor going around to ten of his colleagues that you're a lousy
firm to do business with.
2: What's your definition of good customer service?
Good customer service is no longer enough. It has to
be superior, WOW, unexpected service. In a nutshell, it means doing what
you say you will, when you say you will, how you say you will, at the
price you promised-plus a little extra tossed in to say "I appreciate
3: How do you quantify it and measure it?
There are as many ways as there are businesses. You
can use several criteria as your scorecard-decrease in written customer
complaints, decrease in oral complaints, more referrals generated from
your current customers, increase in the repeat business of your current
customers, faster response time/turnaround time on orders, increased
productivity and less rework on customer projects. There are many, many
options. Part of our customer service consulting and training is to lead
clients to determine how they personally want to evaluate. Evaluation
costs time and money, but it's well worth it to see how you score.
4: Is good customer service different on the Internet?
The primary difference is that you have difficulty in
building rapport with customers because there are fewer occasions of
real-time interaction. A second difference is that customers seem to be
more fickle and hostile because they can chose to remain anonymous.
They're in; they're out; they move on without a second thought. First
impressions about how user-friendly your site is, for example, get
translated to how user-friendly your products and services are in
5: If good customer service is so important to a business' success, why do so few businesses have it?
Customer service is dependent on three things:
customer-friendly policies set by the organization's executives,
training offered to the staff, and the attitude of the staff about their
own organization as generated by the way their company treats them. Let
me elaborate on what happens if any of these are out of whack. If
executives don't actually know/see how their policies get executed on
the frontline, they're often shocked to discover the actual results of
how the policies get carried out/enforced. If people aren't trained on
specifics (not just smile and use people's names), they don't know how
to build customer loyalty even when they want to. For example, you may
tell a frontline staffer to acknowledge customers when they walk in the
door. But they have to know HOW to acknowledge them. Is it appropriate
to say, "Next" to the next person, thereby making them feel like a
number rather than person that's being "processed." And finally, let me
elaborate on how customer service becomes the result of poor employee
treatment. In a nutshell: employees can be spiteful. If they get pushed
around and treated unfairly, they "get even" by doing things to drive
your customers away (act sullen, air your dirty linen, forget to call
back or follow up).
6: I often feel the retail industry has the worst customer service. Is this supported by fact?
I don't know about any research that says retail
customer service is worse than that, say, offered in a stockbrokerage
firm. But the reason a retail environment pops into mind so often when
mentioning poor customer service is that their customer base is so broad
and poor service is so easy to spot. For example, you don't realize
that the stockbrokerage firm didn't send you the correct paperwork on
your new account until two weeks later-and they may or may not admit
fault. Behind-the-scenes foul-ups are difficult to trace to discover who
did or didn't do/communicate what was needed. But with retail, all the
foul-ups are readily and immediately apparent when you walk in the door:
The sales associate is on the phone to her mother. No one called/asked
my name. No one asked the right questions to discover my needs. No one
smiled. The clerk didn't know the merchandise. Nobody could make a
decision when I asked for an exception to policy. All those issues glare
at the customer immediately.
8: What are some examples, which you have encountered, of
really good customer service? Of really bad? What could the bad ones
have done differently?
We recently had a great example of
above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty service. One of our trainers was
staying in a hotel in Denver. When she went to her rental car the first
morning of our workshop, she discovered a dead-battery. The hotel desk
clerk heard her make a desperate call to the rental car agency and heard
them tell her it would be two hours before they could come out. They
offered no other option for her to get to the seminar. The hotel desk
clerk overheard the conversation and volunteered to lend our trainer her
personal car for the day, saying it would simply be parked in the lot
all day and she had no use for it. My bad example-the same situation.
The rental car agency. In effect, they've said, "You've got a problem.
Here's our policy. Like it or rent elsewhere next time. Instead, they
should have had in place a system for faster response time. In lieu of
that, they should have had approval and foresight to offer other options
such as suggesting the guest take a taxi to work and offering to
reimburse the fare.
9: If I, as a manager, have just taken over an operation
with a reputation for less than ideal customer service, what can I do
about it? What should I do first?
Fix it and then brag. Not the other way around. The
mistake most new managers make is to take over the job and announce to
their public/customers their intentions to improve customer service. But
they don't yet have new systems and policies and training in place, so
nothing really changes for the customer. Customers' high hopes are
dashed. Then they become even more hostile and disappointed in the
service. So, the first step is to fix the problem, train the staff to
deliver better service, and THEN announce the change to your customers
as you set about proving it to them.
10: If I have had responsibility for that operation for
some time, and this interview shows me I need to improve, is the plan
any different than in your previous answer?
Same. Just put your money, time, and commitment where
your mouth is. That's often the difficulty. Everybody believes in good
customer service--in theory. The real difference develops when people
actually commit to carry out their intentions.
Here is your opportunity to really make a difference in the
customer service your company provides. Make sure your people actually
commit to carrying out their intentions