I walked into a grocery store recently to buy some flowers, nothing else. The flowers were at the front of the store near the entrance. I picked out a nice orchid for my sweetheart and went to pay and couldn’t find a cash register open. There was this big line of them, and I was told to go to one with a light on, but there were no lights on. Although there appeared to be one far in the distance on the other side of the store.
It was no surprise as this has happened before, but it was odd for it to happen with a company that is noted for its customer service (at least it was at one time). But what has likely happened in this instance is happening in company after company. That is, the employees are implementing procedures that are suited to the company and the available resources and not to the customers and their needs. Further, employee’s resources are diminishing as management looks to save money by cutting staff. So, they may not realize that their efforts to get more done with less is costing them the customers they need to justify being there in the first place.
We work with a software company that promotes the use of its software to “delight the customer”. Odd then that they have instituted policies and procedures that limit the authority of the company’s customer-facing representatives to act on behalf of customers; thus, the result being that they aren’t “delighting” their own customers at all. How odd?
There are a number of factors to blame. My own opinion is that businesses, of all sorts and sizes, see themselves in the money-making business, and not the service delivery business. No matter that it is the service delivery that generates the money. This thinking manifests itself when employees are not given authority to solve customer issues and correct mistakes in order to preserve goodwill with the customer. Nor are promises made by salespeople communicated to delivery personnel which then, to the surprise of no one, upsets result. The problem with upsets is that once they occur, recovering from them is not easy. When a customer feels disrespected or unappreciated, they almost always have other options. After all, customers are always free to choose where to spend their money.
There is an adage: It is harder to get new customers than it is to keep the ones you have.
Some research suggests it costs as much as 5 times more. When Neos begins a new engagement with a client, we engage in an exploratory conversation to better understand their business, their objectives and what they see as the hurdles to clear. As part of this “strategic conversation”, we ask about how they are treating their existing customers. We hope to gain a better understanding of their business processes, how they view their customers, and how they see the opportunity of a relationship with them. Relationship is not used accidentally here, because we see the connection between a B2B service provider and their customers as a real relationship ― in all its forms.
The word relationship is most easily understood when we are talking about our loved ones, but we seldom use it when we’re talking about our customers. But in fact, we have as profound a connection with our customers as we have with our families ― that is, if we choose to.
The basis for any successful relationship is trust, open and honest communication, listening and a desire to please ― in general, Respect. We can, with slight modification, use these same rules for dealing with customers.
Showing respect is not so much a thing to do but a place to come from in one’s approach to customers. Rather than seeing them as containers of money to empty, view them as a potential acquaintance or friend that you want to build a relationship with. After all, if you want repeat business, a relationship of respect is the best approach to maximize the economic exchange. Conversely, treating them as a stranger who you have no interest in knowing, maximizes the likelihood of a one-time exchange.
The question then is, how to show respect. First, start with the environment. If a customer comes to your place of business, is it setup to welcome them and have them be comfortable while they are there? Second, are your staff trained to deal with a variety of issues and do they have the authority and flexibility to respond to the customer’s issues in a way that improves the relationship rather than diminishes it. This is not easy but must go beyond just giving employees rules to follow and instructions to say, “that is just our policy”.
Respect goes even further, particularly in the after-sale phase. So often we see salespeople focus on the sale and getting the engagement across the finish line that they don’t think through what will be necessary, day in and day out, to please the customer. It starts with listening. Too many salespeople think they must talk the prospect into the close, when in fact, listening is far more effective. But they must do more than just take notes on what the potential customer is saying, they must demonstrate that the customer was heard. They do this by taking action that is consistent with what they heard.
It is not enough to have a few “stars” in the organization who understand and consistently deliver good customer service. The entire organization must embrace it and work to consistently deliver it.
I meet regularly with a group of friends at a local breakfast place. There was one employee there who recognized we were regulars and went out of her way to make our visit pleasant. She reserved our favorite table (without us asking) and she often comped our coffee. Little things for sure, but they really alerted us to the fact that she appreciated our business. Unfortunately, the rest of the organization didn’t feel quite the same way and came to resent the attention we were given. Ultimately our favorite waitress was fired on a pretext. This sent us a very strong message and we took our business elsewhere. This seems like such a waste. This waitress enjoyed making customers feel welcome and we saw her greet other customers with no less enthusiasm than she did us. The problem was the whole organization had not bought in to her approach and resented that we asked for her when we came in.
Imagine an alternative universe where the organization saw what was happening and embraced the approach and asked our waitress to share her thinking and perhaps train her coworkers, not just in the store we visited, but in all their locations. What might have been the result? If the entire Culture had been transformed so that not only current employees behaved differently but the way the organization looked for and trained their staff was different, what would have been possible?
Steps to take
If your organization wants to be known for its customer service, there are several steps we recommend you take:
- Think strategically about how you want to be perceived by your customers and establish as part of your mission a focus on customer service.
- Asses your organization’s current performance. Conduct a customer satisfaction survey of a sample of your customers, if need be.
- Create a plan of action appropriate for your company and your team. Every situation is different and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
- Communicate to your organization about your plan and solicit their engagement and ownership of the new mission.
- Measure your progress. Encourage your customers to give you feedback. Listen and incorporate it into your plan.
- Regularly report back to your team on how you are doing and the progress they are making. Focus on improvements being made.
- Lastly, conduct an annual customer satisfaction survey of all your customers and report these findings to your team. Solicit their input on how to improve and go beyond the progress they have already made.
We would appreciate your thoughts and feedback on this piece. What challenges do you have in delivering good customer service? What would you like us to talk more about?