In my view customer service is a series of planned and systemised activities in your business that ensures that your product or service delivers high levels of satisfaction and exceeds the expectations of your customer.
It is far too easy to get this wrong by not listening to your customers and doing what you think they want.
Your activities should be before, during and after a purchase.
It is just as important to consider your service delivery whether you sell a product or if you offer a service.
I would suggest that you need to consider every time a customer touches your business and then consider what you have to do to ensure that the customer experience is exceptional every single time. Every time a customer interacts with your business you have the opportunity to improve your reputation with them.
Not one service will fit all. A positive experience will be more important to some customers than others. Can you segment your customers and identify possible different expectations for different customer groups?
It may also be that the service experience is expected at different stages of their journey with you. For example on placing the order it may be a different expectation than when they receive the delivery?
Excellent service delivery can be more important in some businesses than others and will vary according to your industry.
For example, online businesses will not need the face to face positive contact, but will need order efficiency, after sales care, complaint handling, effective delivery channels. Or as a retailer you will have the face to face contact expectation, but how good is the telephone manner of your staff if a customer calls before visiting and what is the returns policy?
Customer service will be more important in some employees roles than others, however every role in the business should have a customer service focus. Receptionists, sales staff and any role meeting the customer is obvious to us that we should train these people in customer service. However what about the person who cleans the floors, arranges the distribution of goods on time, manages the web site or cooks the most fantastic meal? Without them your customer service and reputation will suffer,
Customers will pay more or return more often if they receive a level of service that meets or exceeds their expectations.
When you ask business owners what makes them stand out from their competition, quite often we hear that it is due to a better customer service. However I will always question what is different? and why is your service better?, because it is not just a question of being more polite as some businesses think!
So for this reason many businesses will promote their great service in their marketing. So by not delivering the promise will be a big disappointment for the customer.
A positive customer service experience can change the entire perception a customer has of your business.
There will be many factors that will impact on the customer experience including value for money, professionalism, friendliness, expertise, accessiblity, need satisfaction and your communication style.
However for you to deliver exceptional customer service, you need to know and really understand your customers expectations.
As a business we all collate data about our customer, sometimes without even considering it. For example, what did they order? What did they order with it? What is different to last time? What else did they ask for? Where are they based? How do they prefer to buy from you?
But you can also instigate direct feedback from your customers. By asking for feedback or via the completion of a feedback form, by holding customer forum meetings or by simply listening when they are with you.
It is all good collecting information about what your customers want from you, but it is the action you take with this information that will stand you apart from your competitors.
So review your current activity and systems, what needs to change. Consider giving the responsibility of exceptional customer service to one of your team, so it is always on your meeting agendas, discussions and more importantly the day to day thoughts of your team.
I would suggest that an important part of this responsibility for customer service is to establish some form of measurement. To have some management information that can help you measure the satisfaction of your customers.
For example, are they buying more, how many complaints or comment cards have you received, what are your order and delivery times, how many times did your account manager speak to the customer in the last month etc.
Day to day activity such as the telephone manner or face to face experience is difficult to measure, but from time to time you should check the delivery is as expected. You could do this yourself with observation or by using mystery shopping techniques where someone pretends to be a customer of your business.
This is a good technique for seeing what your competitors are doing and benchmarking your business against their service delivery standard.
If you are a business heavily reliant on telephone orders or contact, then you should consider telecommunications that allow you to listen to calls or record conversations.
Looking after your existing customers will be a key part of your business. They have already chosen you above your competitors and will therefore continue to do so with the right experience.
Much research indicates that it is cheaper to retain a customer than recruit a new one.
From time to time customers will not be happy and will make a complaint either verbally or in a written form. Please take these seriously as many other customers will not complain and just simply not buy from you again.
Your business should have a system for managing any complaint. Firstly what you do on receipt of a complaint, such as listening and the initial comments you make. Then how quickly will you respond to the complaint such as a written response within 24 hours and a resolution within 7 days? You should also know your options to rectify the situation for your customer such as repair, refund, replace or repeat order.
If you manage a complaint well and to the customers expectations, then there is every chance you will retain them as a customer.
In my opinion the two best ways to help and encourage your team to deliver exceptional customer service is from training and reward.
In terms of training, I believe that you need to communicate your goals and standards, your expectations, take the opportunity to advise of any feedback, provide details of the systems in the business that deliver great customer service, but more importantly try to get your team to feel the experience for themselves.
So asking them to put themselves in the customers shoes and consider the expectations of the customer and the different touch points with your business will usually bring visible results.
Where possible try to involve your team in creating the standard, as this will create greater ownership.
One area of specific focus for any customer service training should be in effective communication skills.
In terms of reward, this does not always have to be prizes or financial remuneration. Simply recognition in private and in public will go a long way in motivating your people to engage with the right habits.
Remember customer service is everyone’s responsibility. You should lead by example, as leaders create a positive environment, have a commitment to excellence and demonstrate a customer focused approach.