What are the 4 Truths of Great Customer Service?

photo from State Library of New South Wales via Flickr

photo from the State Library of New South Wales via Flickr

Great customer service isn’t as simple as just being nice to everyone (although that’s not a bad start).

Commerce Bancorp (not the one here in Kansas City, the one founded out in New Jersey) was established by Vernon Hill in 1973 and went from 1 branch to 470 branches by 2008.  Even more importantly, they had a deposit base that grew 30% per year between 1996 and 2001 (vs. an industry average of 5% growth).  They were extremely successful…and they broke almost all of the rules in terms of how ‘conventional banking’ was done.

Hill’s strategy was to flip the banking model on its head.  Be great at service and convenience and choose to be bad at more traditional banking things like offering the lowest rates on deposits and fewer products overall.  He believed (correctly as it turned out) that there were a lot of banking customers who were fed up with short hours, bad service and rude tellers…if you could get those right, people would talk and you would grow.

But in order to deliver that great service and those convenient hours, you can’t also do what the other banks do.  You can’t pay for highly experienced financial professionals as tellers – they’re too expensive and they often don’t like working with the public.  You can’t afford to pay out the best rates of deposit and maintain longer hours.

That’s where the first truth of Uncommon Service comes into play as documented by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss in their recent book Uncommon Service. They wrote the book after working with lots of companies around the world and observing that despite the need and the value for great customer service; very few companies actually get it right.

Truth #1- You can’t be good at everything

Just as we saw with Commerce Bancorp, if you really want to stand out, if you want to be great, then you also have to choose where you want to be great…and just as importantly where you don’t want to be great. The real magic comes in knowing what your customers value most and value least when you make those choices.

If you try to be great at everything, you will either be crazy expensive or you will end up being mediocre across the board (much more likely outcome).

Question: What are you choosing to be bad at in your company?

Truth #2 – Someone has to pay for it

Excellent service comes with a price – as we learned in Truth #1, part of that price is choosing what to be excellent in (and what not to be excellent in)…there’s an opportunity cost.  Beyond that, you will drive more expense as you offer more/better services – and there has to be a way to pay for that if your model is going to be sustainable.

The good news is that payment can come from several places – you can charge extra for it, you can offer service in a way that reduces costs (think online FAQ or ordering vs. phone calls) or you can develop self-service options that customers love (think ATMs at banks, online boarding pass printing, etc.).

Question: Where are you spending the most on customer service? What could you do to reduce that cost?

Truth #3 – It’s not your employees’ fault

Are there times when your customer service is great…but it’s not consistent?  Do you have some employees who get it and do a fantastic job…but for some reason others can’t seem to pull it off?  In either case – whether it’s occasional greatness or excellence from a few ‘super hero’ employees, it’s your customer service model that’s that’s the problem, not your employees.

If you ever find yourself thinking “well they just need to try harder” after a service failure, then you’re on the wrong path. When you build in the right system and training that enables every employee to get it right, then you’re onto something.

Question: What’s the most complex part of your service? How could you streamline or simplify that so it reduces issues and can be more repeatable?

Truth #4 – You must manage your customers

Customers play a huge role in the overall outcome of the service.  It only takes one really indecisive customer to hold up a line for a long time at McDonald’s.  To make it even more challenging, your customers can have just as much impact on your service capabilities as your employees, but you have no direct control over them.

The customer isn’t always right – especially if they aren’t the right customer for you. Figure out who you work best with, design your service around those customers, educate them on how things work and then incent the right kind of customer behavior.

Question: When’s the last time you heard directly from customers on what they don’t like about your service? Go to the source to figure out the real issues.

It’s all about the design

Great customer service is critical to long term success…and it doesn’t happen by accident and you can’t just rely on a handful of superstar employees to take care of it for you.  Consistent excellent service happens when you design a service model that meets your customer’s most important priorities, is affordable and can be run by all of your employees. Add in a great culture and you’ve got a lot of people talking about you…in a great way!

How do you stack up against the 4 Truths of Uncommon Service? We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *