By Dan Bobinski
I sometimes find myself shaking my head at companies that place little emphasis on customer service training. Notice I didn’t say “dollars,” but “emphasis.” Training in customer service doesn’t require much money. It’s mostly just instilling an attitude of service that permeates an organization.
Some companies do this well, and even celebrate employees who provide good customer service. Such is the case with Tsheets. Their service is online timecards that replace paper timecards, so employees can “clock in” on their computers or their mobile phones. Their system even integrates with an organization’s QuickBooks software, so as you might imagine, customers sometimes have unique situations that require a phone call for help. During a recent conversation with a Tsheets software engineer, I learned that one of their customer service representatives recently spent five hours helping a client resolve an issue. The engineer said, “Where I worked previously, if anyone spent five hours resolving a customer’s problem they would have been reprimanded. The usual paradigm is ‘get off the phone as soon as possible.’ But customer service is part of our culture, so this guy was celebrated for sticking with the issue until it was resolved.”
Good customer service can reap great rewards, yet time and again we see companies fall down – and sometimes even close their doors – because of poor customer service. Remember a company called Circuit City? Before their demise, they ran neck-and-neck with Best Buy. You could go into any Circuit City store and get a question answered because their commissioned sales staff knew their stuff.
But along the way, something shifted in Circuit City’s management philosophy, and they replaced their commissioned salespeople with hourly wage workers. After that, it became difficult for customers to get answers to their questions. And, rather than deal with incompetence, many customers just shopped elsewhere. The rest is history, and Circuit City is long gone.
So what does it take to win and keep customers? Doug Dvorak, an international speaker and trainer on customer service, says providing quality customer service starts with authentically caring for the client. He says, “Most employees are focused on their jobs and their tasks, not what the customer may need or want. Putting yourself in their shoes may seem counterproductive, but this can be the first step to avoiding critical mistakes and losing clients due to poor customer service.”
Incorporating this very mindset is an organization known for setting the standard in customer service: the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain. Their customer service guidelines can be found in the book “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization” by Leonardo Inghilleri and Micah Solomon.
In their book, the authors’ first finding is that it’s vital to define good customer service, and then keep redefining it over time. The reason behind re-examining the standards is to make sure they’re working, because if something isn’t working, it needs to be changed. That said, any change must have a bona fide purpose and genuinely contribute to an improvement in the quality of service. Changes can’t happen just for the sake of change, or to make things flashy.
The authors’ second finding is that employees must be trusted to act on established standards. I love this one because whenever employees must “check with the manager” before addressing a problem, customers begin to feel their problems won’t get resolved to their satisfaction. Besides, when a situation gets conveyed, details almost always get lost. When that happens, it’s easy for problems to be misunderstood and therefore not resolved correctly.
Also, when employees are entrusted to make their own customer service decisions, they take more mental ownership and see themselves more as ambassadors for their company.
Thirdly, service reps need to know that good listening skills are vital, because their focus must be on the customer and the customer’s needs. Every situation is different, so they must listen accurately to learn the details of each situation.
The fourth facet goes beyond active listening. The Ritz-Carlton model says people should be observing and anticipating a customer’s unspoken needs. This is not an upsell mindset, but rather a service mindset. Think about this from when you’ve been a customer. If someone has gone out of their way to anticipate your needs, then you know what a positive impression it can make, and you understand the value of this mindset.
Finally, Ritz-Carlton wants their people to be concerned about leaving a lasting impression. They believe that if things are done right, profits will occur, so rather than focusing on profits, we should be looking at doing something that creates a lasting relevance in the world.
This last point was a topic of conversation the other day when I ran into an old friend at a coffee shop. He’s the co-founder of a medical service company that has multiple locations in my state, and I hadn’t seen him in a few years. When I asked how things were going, he said he was struggling because of some equity partners they’d brought on a few years back. “They don’t seem to understand the need for serving our clients well,” he said. “Their focus is only on money. They don’t realize that without top notch customer attention, we won’t have a good bottom line.”
I’ll close with this: A recent report found that 86 percent of adults in the United States are willing to pay more for a better customer experience, and 73 percent of American adults said a friendly customer service experience made them fall in love with a brand.
Companies like Tsheets and Ritz-Carlton understand this. Companies like Circuit City, as well as my friend’s equity partners, do not.
Dvorak agrees that companies should regularly remind their employees to provide quality customer service. He says, “Even the briefest customer interaction affects your bottom line.”
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed., is the CEO of Workplace-Excellence.com, helping teams and individuals learn how to use Emotional Intelligence. He’s also a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.