How can you put more "service" in customer service?
In the U.S., "customer service" is one of those phrases that have become almost meaningless from overuse.
Almost every retail store these days has a "customer service center," employees who wear nametags that read, "customer service associate," and upbeat company slogans that say something like, "customer service is our most important product!"
Well, if that's the case, why does the person at the "customer service center" make me wait for a manager's blessing for the simplest transaction? And why can't the customer service associate answer the most basic questions about the product I'm interested in buying, or even simply smile once in awhile?
Yes, "customer service" is becoming a sad joke. Beyond retail stores, perhaps you've also experienced dismal customer service from delivery drivers, airline ticket counter agents, medical receptionists, taxi drivers, wholesalers, or online stores that ignore your e-mail inquiries.
As a customer, you've been on the receiving end of bad service. So what are you doing to ensure that your own company is providing superior service to your own customers?
Setting yourself apart
In almost every business, the product or service sold will not be much different from any competing product or service. So, as the business owner, how do you set yourself apart?
Let's start with a definition. EMyth defines customer service as all of the things you provide over and above the basic value offered in your product or service. In other words, it's your chance to give your customers added value for their money, which will open up almost limitless opportunities to set your business apart from your competition.
If you can create a unique customer experience that your customers will remember, they'll tell their friends and family all about it. But how do you create these memorable added-value experiences for your customers?
Creating a unique customer experience
I suggest that you start by writing down all of the things your business currently does to add value to the customer experience. It could be almost anything, and may vary by industry, but here are some examples:
- Free delivery
- Care and maintenance tips
- Cashiers who smile and call the customer by name
- Free painting and decorating classes
- Monthly newsletters
- Mints on your pillow
- Buy one, get one free
- Complimentary muffins and coffee
- Additional copies at no extra charge
- Free gift with purchase
After you have identified what your business is doing now to add value to the customer experience, I suggest that you follow some or all of the four steps below to research what more you can do.
Ask your customers how they feel about their past and current interactions with your business by calling them up or engaging them in conversation while they are in your place of business. What do they like about the customer service you offer? Is it memorable? Is it better than they can get anywhere else? What do they dislike? If they could change one thing about it, what would it be? Most customers are happy to take a moment to give you their opinion.
Take a walk in your customers' shoes and observe what they experience. How is the phone answered and how are they greeted? What is the overall tone conveyed in your brochure or on your website? Do customers get a timely response to their e-mail questions? How are their transactions handled? Is the invoice easy to read? Is the product delivered undamaged? Is parking easy and convenient? The more you can understand what your customers actually experience in their interactions with your company - from their vantage point - the more you'll be better able to optimize and add on to their experience.
Shop your competitors. What kind of customer service do customers experience elsewhere? The more you can learn about what your competitors offer, both in terms of products and customer service, the more likely you are to create a truly unique experience for your customers. Why? When you know what competitors are offering, you can also glean what they are not offering, and leverage that knowledge to your advantage.
Talk with your employees, especially the ones that interact with your customers every day. Your own employees hear first-hand what customers like and do not like about their experiences with your company. Employees will be able to tell you what compliments - and complaints - they hear most. Use this knowledge to strengthen the areas that customers like most, and to improve the areas that they like least.
Your customer service system
After you've undertaken this research, it should become clearer to you what customers want from your business. Write down what you have learned and evaluate the impact and costs associated with providing that service. You'll be surprised to discover that there are many different ways to enhance your customers' experiences that will also cost you very little or no money.
Choose a couple of areas you can improve, implement the changes, and test them by getting feedback from your employees and your customers. Find out which ones your customers like the most, and don't forget to look at any resulting changes in sales figures (either positive or negative).
After you quantify results and make any adjustments, be sure to write down and document the most successful ones, and to train your employees accordingly. Your newly innovated Customer Service System will thus become a part of "the way we do it here."
Putting "service" back into the customer experience may take a bit of time and effort, but the results - happier customers, more sales, and increased profit - are worth it.