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In a fast paced, dynamic environment like a customer facing group, there is potential for great wins and some losses as far as attracting, gaining and retaining customers go.
So who is responsible for customer service? Anyone who touches the customer, either directly or indirectly is providing a level of service. This includes the people in such varied roles as: product planners, IT staff, shippers, billing clerks, human resources and service team members. Bottom line: service is everybody’s responsibility. The service chain includes all people and functions that link up to final delivery to the customer. To find out who is in this chain begin at the end: who delivers the product to the customer? Then ask who provides a product or service to that person? Continue tracing it back to the originator. You now have your service chain.
It is critical that everyone in the service chain know the impact of their actions. Each person in the chain should focus on creating excellence in the following areas:
1. Create customer focused processes, not company focused processes. If what you are doing is done to make the internal processes work better and not better for the customer, how long will they be with you? Your customer wants to know that you put them above the inner workings of the company. Focus your efforts on your customers; then let the internal processes follow.
2. Respond to your customers inquiries quickly. Statistically the longer it takes to respond, the less likely your customer is to deal with you in the future. And remember, for every 1 customer that tells you they are dissatisfied there are 24 more out there that will never tell you something is wrong. But they will tell their colleagues and friends. And that hurts business, one way or the other.
3. Keep a positive service delivery attitude. It’s a moment by moment attitude choice: you can present yourself positively, or allow yourself to get caught in the stress of the day. Don’t be fooled: your customers hear what kind of day you are having.
4. Ask your customer how you are doing and Listen to the response. It’s important to stop and check in with your customer. Ask how you can serve them better or better meet their needs. And then Listen to what they tell you. Respond to what they say. (Did you notice the capital L in the word Listen? That word is so very important, as is the action that goes with it that we decided it deserved a capital.)
5. Treat your customers with respect and integrity. This goes for customers both within your organization and outside it. Imagine what it would be like if all the interactions you ever had were based on mutual respect and integrity.
Every so often, one gets irritated by the sight of a frowning front office staff who believes he / she is just doing a favor by attending to you or by replying your courtesy greeting. Even if the service is delivered knowledgeably and timely, the initial facial expression matters the most as it can indeed make or mar the company’s bottom line.
A loss can impact the company’s earnings because excellent customer service delivery in the true sense is a business delivered Friendly, Knowledgeably and Timely, that is, a 3-in-1 success recipe. If any part of this recipe is missing, particularly the Friendly part, the business or even the man in the street begins to suffer declining fortunes or declining friendship. How is a service delivered friendly?
A smile is the best, free gift anybody can receive any day. Just imagine when you are smiled at, you feel happy, excited and on top of the world no matter the burden weighing your heart down! Another good thing about a true smile is that it stimulates an inductive effect on the recipient causing him or her to pass the smile baton on and on. It may appear far – fetched, but we truly can make the world a better place with only one disarming, little smile. To achieve service excellence, every customer service job needs a smile and not some obscure and unresponsive customer service quotes.
There is no normal human being out there that does not want to be appreciated, not least your customer. All front office staff of business outlets such as banks, supermarkets, eateries, hotels etc must continuously train all their customer service staff to smile naturally to welcome their customers. A smile complements a good service, and together, combine to ensure customer retention, customer loyalty and more profits! Persons in customer service job positions must understand that it is the customer (who is often so poorly treated and neglected) that pays the salary. Without the customer therefore, there will be no profits, no salaries and ultimately no jobs!
It costs nothing to smile – God does not charge us a dime! Hence it is a wonder why many front office staff and customer service job holders fail to smile, or at best, wear a plastic smile (which does not deceive the customer). With a smile, the business is ready to Serve and Succeed, make more Money, more Investments which leads to Lasting Entrepreneurship.
To the corporate world and to achieve customer service excellence, S,M,I,L,E is all about Service (and Success), Money, Investments, Longevity and Entrepreneurship. As mentioned in the summary, smile should ordinarily be a way of living since we are all customers of one another. Therefore, S,M,I,L,E (SMILE) as a personal motto and memento for each and every individual should mean Smiles Makes Individuals Lucky Every day.
The most famous painting in the world is the Monalisa by Leonardo Da Vinci. Why has it continued to remain relevant and priceless to mankind for over the past 400 years? The answer to this question has been universally attributed to the infectious, intriguing and benign little smile of the lady in the portrait. Let us pledge today to deliver customer service excellence in our various Customer Service Jobs and in our individual lives with a smile and see how lives will be transformed and businesses will last forever like the Mona lisa and her renowned smile.
I am a lawyer by profession, but writing and internet market research are my greatest passion. I derive a lot of joy from writing in any medium though poetry and short story pieces have been acclaimed by fans as my specialty.
When you work in a customer service role by telephone, you will get times when you will have to deal with angry and even abusive customers. You may feel like screaming at them or slamming down the phone. But this can’t be done!
Instead I will show you a different way. You will not want to vent your feelings or win an argument, but look for ways to win the customer! I am providing you with some ways that can make you a winner! If you prepare you for difficult customer service situations you will come out as a shining customer service star. Now let’s get to work!
HOW TO HANDLE AN ANGRY OR ABUSIVE CALLER:
- You always begin with listening and listen to the whole story without tuning off.
- While listening you can practise empathy by trying to imagine how the customer feels.
- After you have heard what has happened you start your reply by apologising. No, you may have done nothing wrong but you can say: “Mrs White, I am so sorry about this situation. I can understand that you are upset about this. Let’s see how I can assist you.” Acknowledge the customer’s feelings.
- Bring into the conversation a positive comment that will give the customer a sense of well-being again. Tell the customer what you CAN do – not what you cannot do.
- Make the customer your team member so that you can work together towards a solution.
- Thank the customer for brining the complaint to you so that the company knows where a problem area can be improved on.
L – listen
E – empathize
A – apologize
P – positive comment
S – solution
Consider the three main reasons for complaints and practise empathy in relation to the feelings they have created in your customer:
- A poor attitude
- A bad product or service
- Being kept waiting for service without any explanation
- Five kinds of complaint calls:
- Caller did not get what was promised
- Employee was rude to the caller
- Caller felt indifference from the organization
- Caller felt no one was listening
- Employee projected a ‘can’t do’ attitude
There are others, like being given the wrong information, a misunderstanding about a customer’s requirements, and some inconsistency in service. (It was not up to the usual standard).
The potential value of complaints is that they point areas that need improvement. It gives you a second chance to provide service and satisfaction. It also provides a good opportunity to strengthen customer loyalty.
When dealing with complaints:
Never argue -remain calm, listen, establish the facts
Never be rude – this will only make things worse – if the complaint is face-to-face with you, remove them to a quiet corner where calm and peace can intervene
Use silence – let the customer talk, which reduces the anger and has a calming effect – this should not be an ‘angry’ silence on your part, just show them that you are listening, not interrupting.
Use skillful question techniques to get at the facts – try to strip out the essential facts from the anger and bluster
Show interest –listen, treat with respect
Show empathy – how would you feel if this happened to you?
Restate the problem back to the complainant – it confirms in your mind what you have been told, and reinforces the communication channel with the customer
Admit the problem – if there is one, and if a mistake has been made, an apology is needed – there is no point trying to wriggle out of an obvious shortcoming in your product or service
Ask the customer what they would want done – often this can be less than you have geared yourself up to provide
And do not:
Be defensive or aggressive – it may not be your fault
Say ‘NO’ – there must be an added explanation to give the customer rather than just a straight denial
Assign blame – you will know who or what is responsible, but the customer doesn’t need to; they just need to know that a mistake has occurred and you will put it right
Give the customer orders – be nice and friendly
Make unrealistic promises – this could make things worse and cause further complaints later
Leave the complainant in the lurch – keep them informed of progress in settling the complaint
When a caller becomes abusive:
- Know your company’s policy.
- Have a script ready by your workplace or phone.
- Control your emotions. Remain professional.
- Set limits. Convey you want to help but will not tolerate abuse.
- Warn that you will hang up or call for security if the abuse continues.
- If the inappropriate treatment continues – hang up or call security.
- Document your conversation and inform your manager.
A POSITIVE PHRASING EXERCISE
Now it’s practice time for you:
Respond in a caring and positive manner to the following questions and statements without using negative words or phrases such as:
“You’ll have to…” – “not” (in any form) – “unable” – “against policy or rules” – “no” – “never” – “shouldn’t” and other negative word combinations
Be careful. Really think about this and incorporate empathetic comments wherever you can.
- Customer 1: I’ve left messages three times today for one of your people to call me with some information. Why can’t I get a response?
- Customer 2: Your other receptionist was rude to me. I don’t have to put up with those kinds of treatment!
- Customer 3: I don’t feel like keeping my appointment today. Schedule me for tomorrow morning. (Your appointment schedule is already overbooked for tomorrow)
- Customer 4: My business is going bad, and I can’t make my payment this month
YOUR attitude, which is your mental position on the facts – or simply, the way the look at things.
- Your attitude towards customers influence your behaviour. You cannot always camouflage how you feel.
- Attitude strongly influences your level of job satisfaction.
- Your attitude affects everyone who comes in contact with you.
- Your attitude in reflected in your tone of voice, the way you stand or sit, your facial expression, and in other non-verbal ways.
- Your attitude is not set in concrete. You can CHOOSE your attitude.
Any organisation that is serious about delivering excellent customer service should consider adopting a standardised approach to communicate to and train staff in customer service excellence.
The customer should always be the centre of attention and an organisation should focus on how its service delivery can really make a difference to how they feel valued as a customer. We can separate the delivery of excellent customer service into 4 sections, the four pillars to customer service excellence.
Let’s have a quick overview of these elements:
Contemporary (get ahead to the front line of customer service)
Staff should be encouraged and made to feel empowered to be innovative. A great example of this was recently when I was shopping in a supermarket where a checkout operator reopened a till autonomously in order to cut down customer waiting times. Managers should encourage an innovation scheme where staff can make suggestions this should be a formalised and incentivised process to maximise the take up and ensure a good balance of suggestions.
Managers are very much aware of their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as they deal with them on a day to day basis but what about the shop floor staff? Managers could adopt a scheme called ‘Deputy for the Day’. This could let lower graded staff run the team on occasion to let them see how management decisions affect the KPIs. This will empower the staff to make decisions they wouldn’t normally make which they can take with them when they go back to their role. Again this should be a formalised process across all departments to ensure fairness and inclusiveness across the organisation.
We all know that customers tend to talk about bad experiences more than the good ones. We can use this to our advantage by linking this to effective Service Recovery. Something may have gone wrong somewhere in the delivery but with effective training and procedures we can ensure the customer is leaving satisfied and will hopefully go on to share this experience. Managers should encourage staff to talk about times when they have recovered a bad service, what was the situation? how did they deal with it? what did the customer leave feeling like? what could we do as an organisation to support you in similar situations?
Finally in this contemporary section we should talk about technology. Organisations should make the use of modern technology to attain great customer service. I refer back to my visit to a supermarket where they had embraced technology in the form of self checkout tills and a modern store layout but not to the detriment of the customer experience. Some customers will love a personal service, but some will prefer to serve themselves using one of the new self service check outs. More pertinently all customers love to be given a choice. We can also link back here to staff empowerment where they should be encouraged to feedback to the organisation on what new technology might benefit the service if implemented. Technology is good for efficiency (the ability to serve more customers more quickly, keeping the customers happy and the tills full), modernising the customer’s impression of the brand (an element of why a customer chooses a brand is from a lifestyle perspective and something they want to buy into), and of course choice, the more options there are available to the customer, for example the ability to buy online, in store, or from a smartphone app, the more likely it is that they will make a purchase.
Unique (individualise the customer experience)
Very simple really, take every opportunity to you can to encourage your staff to individualise the service. If you can capture the customer’s name such as when taking a credit card payment or filling out their details on an invoice then use it directly with the customer. For that period of time the customer is with your staff, its about Mr Smith and the organisation not any of the other customers that are waiting to be served. It’s important here to encourage staff to use this technique but not to the detriment of service levels to other customers. Always encourage staff to acknowledge customers who may be waiting in line.
Polished (if it looks good, people are going to like it)
Any customer facing environment is a reflection of the organisation, the brand and perceptively, the quality and perhaps reliability of the product lines. This all starts with the individual member of staff. They should be empowered to make it their responsibility to make the store/business premises, themselves and colleagues look the best they can. Workers should ensure their uniform is worn to the organisation’s standard, and kept clean and well maintained. Customers really do notice these things, if all they saw was a member of staff and nothing else then that is what their lasting impression of the business will be.
Staff should ensure that the store is ‘Picture Perfect’ where possible. Some stores have a policy of not taking the large delivery cages you often see onto the shop floor as this has a detrimental effect on the look of the store and the overall customer experience, they use smaller trolleys instead. I was on a flight once in business class and after I had been to the lavatory on returning to my seat I had noticed the staff members had discreetly re-folded my blanket, fluffed my pillow and topped up my wine. Come to think of it the whole cabin was kept this way throughout the flight; this kept the environment pleasant and agreeable which helped me to relax and enjoy the flight.
Managers should ensure that the store or business premises is customer focused. Customers will be happier if they can navigate a store easily and find exactly what they want, where they expect it to be.
Having a standardised consistent approach to delivering excellent customer service doesn’t and shouldn’t be as regimented as it sounds. Staff should apply these procedures uniquely for each customer. This way it will appear natural and personal for the customer. Any spare time that staff may have such as waiting for a card to be approved or packing their purchases should be spent interacting on a personal level with the customer. An occasion comes to mind when a checkout operator noticed I was buying beers and snacks during a trip to the supermarket. While I was packing she enquired whether I had a party planned for the weekend? This was a great way to start a personal conversation and made me feel like the worker’s attention was on me. It made me feel valued as a customer and recognised as a person. Staff can take this a step further and help the customer and the organisation by suggesting more suitable products (Service to Sales). On that same shopping trip I asked somebody where the dishwasher tablets were shelved as I needed a small pack. The assistant asked me what brand I used then suggested I took a bigger pack which was on offer at half price, which I duly took! An important element of this interaction was sound knowledge derived from effective knowledge based training. Staff should be fully aware of the brand and product lines to enable them to share their knowledge with the customer and help them choose suitable products as well as exploiting link sell opportunities.
The idea of a standardised approach with these elements is to ensure a consistent effective customer service experience. This should be applied on an organisational, managerial, and an individual level. A customer may have made a purchase in one store where they were greeted by a well spoken, well-groomed, friendly staff member one day. The next time they visit another store in the chain the assistant’s hair is not tidy and her uniform is dirty, the checkout belt is broken and they had run out of the product they wanted with no suggestions of an alternative. The customer quite rightly has been let down, their expectations of a good service has not been met and quite possibly the organisation has lost their business.
Creating a culture of service, performance, and operational excellence does not happen by chance. It takes a sound, systematic process, implemented throughout the organization, to create sustainable change.
During my 17 year career with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, I had the opportunity to see firsthand how creating a clear and simple service culture and holding everyone accountable for embracing it could create global, long-term recognition and success. After I left The Ritz-Carlton, I made it my mission to study other world-class organizations in hospitality, retail, manufacturing, and healthcare. In doing so, I found that there were many other organizations that also enjoyed sustainable success and recognition for driving excellence through employee engagement, customer loyalty, and ultimately profit dominance. During six months of in-depth benchmarking and research, I found six common principles that all of these organizations shared which attributed to their long-term success.
Thus, I created the customer service business model popularly known as The Six Principles of Service Excellence.
* Principle 1 – Vision & Mission – World-class organizations that are able to create and sustain a culture of service excellence have a sound vision and mission that is known, owned, and energized by every employee. In such cases, their vision statements clarify what they aspire to be in the future; while their mission statements articulate their purpose, what they stand for.
* Principle 2 – Business Objectives – World-class organizations that are able to create and sustain a culture of service excellence have clear, simple, quantifiable organizational goals and objectives that every employee is aware of. They don’t confuse employees with a multitude of objectives, but select 3-4 that employees not only know, but also understand how the work they do contributes to the successful achievement of them. Along with objectives that focus on growth and profitability, world-class organizations also have service-oriented objectives that focus on customer loyalty, employee engagement, and some form of quality improvement.
* Principle 3 – Service Standards – The purpose of service standards are to clarify for employees exactly what actions and behaviors are expected of them in driving excellence everyday, and creating customer loyalty. World-class organizations that are able to create and sustain a culture of service excellence create and regularly communicate the standards of excellence (key touch points) that are necessary in bringing their vision, mission, and business objectives to life. They do not leave this to chance.
* Principle 4 – Intervention & Learning Strategy – Just as they have a sound strategy in place to ensure financial success, world-class organizations have systems and processes in place to ensure their service philosophy (vision, mission, business objectives, and service standards) is interwoven into every aspect of the organizational culture. When it comes to employee recruitment and selection, new employee orientation, training and development, performance management, reward and recognition, incentive programs, and so on – the service philosophy is integrated each step of the way.
* Principle 5 – Organizational Alignment – World-class organizations that are able to create and sustain a culture of service excellence use every communication resource within their sphere of influence to constantly reinforce their service philosophy. They hold leaders accountable for regularly discussing the organizational vision, mission, business objectives, and service standards during daily pre-shift meeting, as well as, monthly or quarterly departmental meetings (which are required, not optional). Other communication resources used to align staff include posters, tent cards, and wallet cards that display the service philosophy. Also, they communicate and reinforce this information through employee newsletters, bulletin boards, and email taglines. Most importantly, senior executives are also accountable for discussing the relevance of the service philosophy every opportunity they get to interact with employees.
* Principle 6 – Measurement & Leadership Accountability – In the final analysis, what gets measured gets done. World-class organizations that are able to drive excellence use simple scorecards to help employees keep track of the organization’s success or failure in driving excellence. Measurement is what helps establish credibility in the process, by helping senior leaders determine strengths and weaknesses in the system, and more effectively hold mid-management accountable for driving excellence everyday.
Creating a culture of service excellence is a journey, not a destination. Honestly, there is no short cut or quick fix. To achieve it leadership must be 100% committed to applying a comprehensive approach and in it for the long-term to ensure sustainability.
Bottom-line, The Six Principles of Service Excellence is more than just a business model. It is a proven strategy for driving world-class employee performance and elevating the customer experience from average to extraordinary. And if followed implicitly, it will lead any organization (small or large) to achieving and sustaining a work environment that will foster superior employee performance and service excellence.
Theo Gilbert-Jamison is CEO of Performance Solutions by Design, a global performance consulting firm that caters to luxury and premium brands with an emphasis on transforming organizational culture. She is also the author of two books, The Six Principles of Service Excellence (2005), and The Leadership Book of Numbers, Volume I (2008). As the creative force behind Performance Solutions by Design, Theo is a highly sought after speaker and consultant to CEOs and senior executives in high profile organizations.
How do you know that your customers are happy with the products that you offer? Better yet, how do you know if they are satisfied with the services provided by your company particularly by your employees? This can be quite tough especially if you have a huge company. You will not be able to monitor the entire activities that are happening in your organization for the whole day. Sure, you can check whether everything is fine but how do you know that all is indeed well even when you are not around to check things yourself? This is the role of the customer service indicator. If your company values your customers, you should definitely utilize this managerial tool.
Customer service should be one of the top priorities of your company. After all, your clients are the backbone of your business. Without them, you will not be able to generate sales. However, getting customers is one thing but making sure that they remain loyal is another. From the two, the latter is more important, which is why there is a need of organizations to pay close attention to their customer service. Measuring this will help you a lot based on the improvements for the overall performance and this can be done with the use of the customer service indicator.
Key performance indicators are now being used in order for companies to keep track of the performance of certain aspects in their company that they consider as important. In this case, the customer service KPI is your tool to measure the performance of this factor. One of the goals of the companies is to make sure that they increase their sales volume everyday but you cannot do this if you do not have a solid customer base. Now, every company should have customer support in order to listen to the feedback or even complaints of the customers. While you can sometimes be dismayed by the criticisms that they give you, you should always be prepared to receive such commentaries. Since most of the time, your employees are the ones who will handle the customers, you will have to make sure that they are apt for the job.
Your customer service indicator therefore will not only include the details about the customer service performance but also with the employees. Hence, you can take in indicators such as employee training, customer demands, percentage of demands met, company offerings, number of calls received per day, number of unique customers per day and the number of recurring customers as well. Of course, you will have to limit the KPI’s that you will be using since it will be even more confusing for you to analyze all the results that you have gotten. In this case, pick only the key performance indicators that you will be using for your business. However, you can always change them whenever you feel that there is a need to do so. For instance, you believe that a certain KPI is not working, it is ideal that you replace it with a more effective one.