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.