“The greatest asset of any company is its customers,
because without clients there is no company”,
–Erwin Fran

During our recent weak economy, many businesses have seen declining revenues and dwindling budgets. Declining budgets often lead to reduced staffing levels and diminished services. To me, this doesn’t make sense. I think it’s during down times when service needs to be at the forefront and loyal customer retention is even more important.

When price wars fail to generate revenue, companies often turn to the service to gain a competitive advantage. Many large enterprise salespeople are reverting to a “service selling” mindset, yet many sell great customer service and few deliver. The problem is that few marketers have actually served a customer.

Throughout my years in the business, I have had the opportunity to interact and develop a philosophy of customer service. It’s inherent that when you’re in a service-based business, there will be times when your customer is compelled to offer feedback. It is what you do with this feedback that will shape the future and your impression of your business.

Upon reflection, most of my interactions with disgruntled customers were not the result of a poor product, but rather a disappointing customer experience. Why is that? Because the product is not personal, customer service is. Briefly, I’d like to share with you eight critical steps in establishing a culture of customer service.

1. Clients are the reason for work, not an interruption of work

This sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it? How many times have you walked into a business only to wait while someone is on the phone or busy doing some “non-duty” task? Employees often lose sight of the importance of the customer and become consumed with minor day-to-day tasks. Sure, there are tasks that need to be done, but you can’t afford to sacrifice service to get them done. Good customer service should be a priority for you and your team. Without your customers, you have no business!

2. Train, train and keep training.

o Train your entire staff to be able to help a customer regardless of their department. When a customer gets upset, they want their problem resolved and not get mixed up with employees who aren’t empowered or trained to help them.

o Offer ongoing customer service training for your staff and once they are providing good service, continue training them.

o Use role-play scenarios to help your staff recognize and experience both easy and difficult service opportunities. If an employee is comfortable with a difficult situation, he will be better able to handle it.

3. Empower your staff to serve

o Establish a system of resources for your staff to serve the customer. Allow them the freedom to take whatever steps are necessary to provide exceptional service and resolve any issues should a customer become dissatisfied. Create a structured system to allow your staff to serve customers.

o Establish a discretionary budget that an employee can access to win back a customer before losing it. I recently learned that a major hotel chain has a monetary pool available per year per employee that allows them to go above and beyond to ensure exceptional service. This empowers the employee to correct a mistake or create a “memorable” customer experience. I’m not advocating big bucks, but when it comes to customer service, a small gesture can go a long way.

o Ask your staff what tools would allow them to provide better service. I wouldn’t send a firefighter into a burning building without the proper equipment. Failing to empower and enable your staff with the tools they need to serve your customer leaves you with few options other than poor service.

4. Make the service personal

o Greet regular customers by name, if possible.

o Offer a handshake and introduce yourself. Creating a service that is personal will not only retain customers, but will also help defuse sticky situations should they arise.

o Thank your customers for their patronage. That really makes a difference.

5. It’s okay to say “Yes,” even when you should say “No.”

o Support your staff when they make customer service decisions. In my business, my policy is that an employee can act without concern for repercussions, as long as he meets a customer’s needs. I have found that this creates a greater desire to serve the customer.

o Many times you could say “no” to a customer, however, “no” can have huge implications for your business. Ask yourself, “Am I willing to potentially lose 10 customers as a result of this interaction?”

6. Offer a solution

o Move from the problem to the process for its resolution.

o Offer a choice between several options.

o Put yourself in their place.

o Involve the customer in determining the solution.

o Clearly explain any limitations that exist.

7. Recognize your staff members for outstanding service

o Implement a customer service awards program that recognizes employees for exceptional customer service. Maybe you have tried them without success and you don’t think they work. I would tend to agree if the show was like most I’ve seen. Try something different; break the mold One of my most successful clients offers spa treatments for his employees if a client goes out of his way to recognize them for his great service. Another client offers his employees a “paid day off” incentive for every five unsolicited positive customer comments he receives. These are just a few examples that are “out of the box”. Get creative and build some enthusiasm in your staff for customer service.

o Take time to recognize employees at staff meetings. People want to make their mark and feel like they matter. Taking the time to acknowledge them in front of your peers can make a real difference.

8. Ask your customers what they think of your service

The best way to know if you are satisfying customers is to ask them. Formal efforts might include customer surveys, questionnaires, interviews, or comment/suggestion cards. Informally, go out and talk to your customers and your staff. Ask them how they feel about the service you are providing. The ideal is to use a combination of both methods.

You may be thinking, “Why should I go looking for trouble? Who knows what I might hear if I ask?” That is the point. As you’ll see in the statistics below, most customers won’t express disappointment with your service levels. They will just leave and never come back. If you don’t ask about the quality of your service, you may make the wrong assumptions and feel like you can reduce service levels because you receive few complaints and lead your organization into areas that drive away your customers or cause problems you never intended.

On the other hand, asking your customers about their satisfaction sends a message that you care about your business and about them. While you may hear some criticism, you can also learn what you’re doing right and see what you need to tweak.

In addition to the information, you will benefit from the interaction. Every interaction is a customer service opportunity. Make the most of each and every one.

Most of us continue to do business with people and companies that provide good service. We may not say anything, but we reward good service providers by continuing to do business with them. If the service is great, we’ll probably tell our friends and colleagues about it. Likewise, when we receive bad service, most of us vote, not with our voice, but with our feet, we just walk away.

In the 1980s, the White House Office of Consumer Affairs commissioned a report called the TARP study. The report revealed the following facts about dissatisfied customers:

96% of dissatisfied customers do not complain directly.

90% will not return.

One disgruntled customer will tell nine others.

13% will tell at least 20 other people

Superior customer service is one of the most difficult deliverables facing the business world today. Selling service is the easy part, delivering on that promise offers a tremendous challenge. So I ask you, what can you do to improve the service you provide? Implement these eight steps and start to excel in delivering a superior customer culture today!

©Anthony Mullins – Elite Coaching Alliance 2005