Most, if not all organizations and business leaders know the importance of providing good customer service. They recognize it can cost up to 10-20 times more to attract a new customer than it does to keep an existing customer. Or, that a five percent increase in overall customer retention equates to a 25-55% increase in profitability. Statistics like these and others are readily available. Why, then, do companies both large and small still struggle with satisfying their customers?
Unfortunately, common knowledge does not always equate with common practice. For many businesses, customer service remains a challenging and neglected area leading to the loss of profits and potential opportunities.
Providing superior customer service requires several components:
First, customer service begins at the top and must be woven into the fabric of the company. In other words, the organization’s slogans, clichés and badges are all meaningless if its culture does not support what it declares. A critical component of this is how leaders treat their staff. An autocratic leader who employs the “yell, scream and tell” style of management and then expects the staff to treat customers with respect and friendliness, is totally misinformed. Employees will perform as they are treated. A customer-centric culture is one that treats internal customers the same as external customers.
A second consideration is establishing systems and policies to ensure the customer is satisfied. Far too often, companies are reactive and defensive. Instead of empowering staff to exceed the customer’s expectations, the company’s policies are such that they pit the staff against the customer. The disempowered employee is forced to respond to an unhappy customer with the following toxic statement, “The company policy states we cannot…(fill in the blank).” A business can have the finest food or the best product, but if its delivery system or process is unorganized and inefficient, the customer is not returning.
From a company’s culture to its processes, there is one common denominator — the staff. The human connection is the final element to providing superior customer service. If employees are treated as software to be downloaded in a computer, you reinforce mindless obedience. On the other hand, when employees are empowered, encouraged to truly connect with the customer, trained to provide the finest service and supported by a customer-centric culture, satisfaction is almost guaranteed.
It is imperative, therefore, to provide employees with the education and training necessary to consistently deliver exceptional service. This involves more than a 30-minute video or a “rah-rah” speech from leaders. Just as product and technical training is necessary for employees to do their jobs, interpersonal skills training is equally important. Some of these skills involve: communication, team building, dealing with the difficult customer, and managing stress. These skills are not inherent; they need to be taught, trained and reinforced by a culture that honestly respects and values the employees and the customers.
— Keith Levick, Ph.D., is the CEO of Goren and Associates, a corporate education/training/executive coaching firm; and the Associate Publisher of Customer Care News magazine.