Comedy writer Bob Orben had an interesting take on customer service: “You go to a coin-operated store and wash and dry your clothes. Then you go to a filling station where you pump your own gas. And on to a fast-food restaurant where you carry your own tray. And what is it being called? A service economy!”
The irony has not escaped customers, who will be the final arbiter of the current options.
Electronic self-service may be the wave of the future for many organizations, but lots of consumers are bucking the trend. The CRM Buyer website reports that researchers surveyed more than 24,000 consumers in 12 countries about customer interactions, and here’s what they found:
- Eighty percent prefer customer service from a human being instead of an automated system.
- Eighty-three percent say that interacting with a customer service rep is important on the phone or in a store.
- Sixty-eight percent believe they’re more likely to get a better deal when negotiating in person instead of online.
- Eighteen percent said they would renew products or services because of good personal customer service, even if they were more expensive.
Good, personalized customer service is that important.
Companies are facing new and serious issues meeting the expectations of customers in the current climate. Hiring difficulties, pandemic restrictions, merchandise shortages and financial challenges have made many organizations rethink their practices. And stressed employees need support more than ever as they handle extra work and procedures.
In addition, customers who got accustomed to online shopping and home delivery have meant many businesses have had to make adjustments to the services they offer.
Those challenges aren’t disappearing soon.
And an unhappy customer who receives poor service can make or break a business. Bad online reviews can cripple an otherwise thriving business.
So the one constant that must not suffer in the midst of all these obstacles is good customer service. There are some fundamentals to keep in mind to achieve that goal.
Hire the right people. The rule is you either hire smart or manage tough. Hiring smart is better, but it requires you to know what you’re looking for and to recognize the skills and attitude you want. Look at experience and listen to your gut.
Keep score. If you don’t measure performance, your team will be in perpetual warm-up mode. Let employees know what they’re being measured on and how it is relevant to them, their customers, and the organization’s bottom line.
Reward. Make sure you reward the desired outcome. For instance, if you want your salespeople to create relationships and long-term accounts, reward them with back-end commissions, bonuses or some form of appreciation.
Practice what you preach. If you want a motivated customer service rep, you need to be motivated yourself first. Are you genuinely excited about the work your group produces? You need to love your customers, because if you’re not sincerely motivated yourself, you’ll never motivate other people to provide excellent service.
Being put on hold on the phone is a pet peeve for most of us. Although you may have to put a client or customer on hold, offer them the courtesy of waiting or getting a call-back.
Give employees the power to actually serve the customer’s needs.
Steve Hardison, who went on to become a successful executive coach, began his career in sales at Xerox. Product returns were against company policy at the time, but according to a story in the Chicago Tribune, one day Hardison decided to let one of his customers return a copier regardless of the rule. When his boss demanded an explanation, Hardison said, “If I lose a job because I took care of a customer, then I never had a job.”
The next day his boss’s boss called him into his office. Hardison fully expected to get fired. Instead, the executive said, “I wish I had more people like you.” His reputation for honesty and integrity was made.
Referring to a column on customer service a few years back, one of my loyal readers sent me an email about the power of personal touch. He and his wife serve on the welcoming committee at their church. Before each service, they try to greet as many people as they can with “happiness and appreciation,” visitors or members alike.
He mentioned an occasion on vacation when attending another church, only one person spoke to them. As they left, the pastor greeted them, and that made all the difference in the world.
Mackay’s Moral: Make “at your service” your motto.