Do you really have Great Customer Service?

customerservice  photo by Phil Dowsing

Customer service is critical to long term success…everyone says so, which is why you have great customer service – right?

Think about it though…what company doesn’t think they don’t have good customer service? Go into any establishment and there’s at least one sign in every business promoting customer service, even if it is only a sign the says “Customer Service”. I am sure the owners of the businesses send out at memos, hold a meeting, or maybe even dedicated an entire section in their employee manual to “Customer Service”.  If you ask anyone if customer service is a priority – they’re going to tell you that it is.

Clearly Customer Service is important…but what is it really?

Ah – there’s the rub.  Customer service is actually in the eye of the beholder.  The simplest answer is that Customer Service means different things to different people and it depends on the business at hand. If you’re walking into a fast food restaurant your expectations for Customer Service are not the same as when you walk into a 5 Star steak house.

What does customer service look like to your clients?

As a business owner, the important thing is to think about what do your customers expect?  What does customer service look like to your clients and customers you interact with on a daily basis? What’s expected in your industry?  In your marketplace?

Do all the people in your organization understand and share the same beliefs you have about Customer Service? Have you established boundaries with them? Do they have the authority to effectively handle a potentially combative situation that means making a decision that doesn’t follow the company’s guidelines 100%?

These are important conversations you should have with your employees. A company can easily spend years of time and money building a solid business relationship with a customer or a client base and literally destroy it over something that may have cost the company a fraction of profit in the short run.

Let me give you a quick example:  A few years ago, I was at a local business on a busy Saturday, a gentleman walks in and wants to return an item he had purchased and did not perform as he felt it was represented. The person behind the counter was adamant that the store policy was they could not take that particular item back if it had been used. The customer proceeded to try and explain his case politely, but he was not being heard. The person behind the counter deferred the issue to another person behind the counter, who had the same answer. The customer starts to get a little irate and then grew more agitated. All this time, there is a line of people waiting to pay and observing this great demonstration of “Customer Service”. Eventually the customer lays the item on the counter and walks out of the store.

On top of the poor perception, the employees behind the counter are relieved this “crazy customer” finally left and they feel good that they held their ground with the return policy.  WIthout another word they continued their business of providing “Customer Service” to the rest of the people in line.

What was the impact? To start with you had 4-6 customers standing in line witnessing a spectacle that should be happening in private. What’s the likely outcome for those customers?  How has this influenced their opinion of the store and this company’s “Customer Service”?

The irate customer who left will NEVER spend a penny in that store again and he will tell at least 10 people personally about his horrible experience in that store.  Today in the age of the internet, it’s quite likely he could share his story with hundreds of people. To emphasize the issue even further, the return in question had a retail price of under $20. The average sale per customer at this store is substantially more than $20.  The employees may have won this battle, but they certainly went the wrong direction when it came to winning the larger war.

It’s a fact – negative stories make for more interesting stories

Everyone has several stories of poor customer service they can tell at the drop of a hat. Why? Because those are the stories we remember and tell our friends about.  Think about the last time you had a bad encounter with a business…you’re a lot more likely to go out of your way to talk about than then you are to talk about a pleasant encounter that met or even exceeded your expectations.

The take away?  Effective Customer Service is critical and it can have a huge impact on your bottom line. As a consumer of goods and services, you know there are a LOT of businesses out there who don’t have good Customer Service…it’s hard to do it the right way.

Make sure everyone in the organization understands what customer service needs to mean to your clients and your markets. Don’t be afraid to empower your employees to make a decision if you aren’t there. Most employees want to do what right – direct them and let them. Discuss situations in advance, so if your employees are ever in a difficult situation with a client a reasonable solution can be reached without the risk of losing them to a competitor.

Good Customer Service has to be just that, it can’t be “Lip Service”, it has to be “Real Service”. I will end with this thought…If asked, what would your customers & clients say about your businesses level of customer service? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Chris Steinlage  Kansas City Business Coach