The focus of any business, no matter how big or small, must be the customer. Unfortunately, there are very few businesses today that have an intense focus on serving the customer at a high level. In fact, there is a real crisis around how poor customer service is in so many businesses regardless of the type of business.
This article addresses ways to improve the level of customer service and instill a customer-driven culture in your business.
What Does It Mean to Be Customer-Driven?
1) The needs and wants of your customer base dictate (drive) strategic direction.
2) Significant input is gathered from customers prior to making strategic decisions.
3) The culture within the organization is a customer-oriented culture where employees understand the importance of serving the customer at the very highest level possible and they further understand that it is their responsibility and will, therefore, be held accountable for delivering the highest possible level of service to all customers. Their overall performance is measured heavily on the level of service delivered. It is a condition of employment!
4) A long-term approach to conducting business.
5) Policies are created with the best interest of the customer in mind and not with best interest of accounting, marketing, operations or any other department within the company in mind.
6) A truly customer-driven organization understands very well the concept of relationships and attempts to develop strong, long-term relationships with its customers.
How Do Businesses Develop Good Relationships with Their Customers?
1) There is mutual respect.
2) The customer likes those he/she deals with.
3) Service level is consistently high.
4) Company employees go out of their way to make the customer feel good about doing business with the company.
5) The company is easy to do business with.
What Are the Benefits of Having Strong Relationships with Customers?
1) Strong relationships with a broad base of customers = strong revenues
2) Strong people build strong relationships. It is important to have relationship-oriented people in customer contact positions.
3) Can command higher price with strong relationships.
4) Assuming the company manages operating expenses effectively, a broad base of strong relationships should translate into higher profits.
5) The problem most companies have is that they are inconsistent in how they serve the customer and how they make decisions.
6) Customers want to do business with companies they can depend on.
7) Most companies have significant number of competitors, all of which offer essentially similar products and services. This means that the customer has a multitude of choices of who to buy from.
8) This means that the only real way to differentiate one company from another is on the level of customer service.
9) Initial buying experience with a company might be price driven. But if that company does not offer at least good service, no loyalty develops. Without this “loyalty” (relationship) the customer will continue to shop around. We want to develop a sense of buying loyalty among our customers.
10) As in any relationship, first impressions are very important.
11) It’s overused but true – it costs a bundle to get a customer, but how many companies focus a lot on sales and marketing to attract customers, but give very little thought to retaining those customers?
12) Think of businesses you have bought from. How many really provide a level of service that “wows” you? Not very many, if any at all. What opportunity!
13) Our goal is to develop a culture that positively sets us apart (differentiates) from everyone else we compete with. If you have a strong competitor that understands what being customer-driven is all about, you have a real challenge on your hands, but not an insurmountable one.
14) What is outstanding customer service? Outstanding customer service is service that clearly meets and often exceeds customers’ expectations.
15) Customer service isn’t just about being nice to customers and helping them in an expedient manner.
16) We want your customers to say “Wow!” about doing business with you.
17) This will take a real commitment from all of your people, but they must be expected to buy into it.
18) How do we instill the type of culture that we’re talking about?
19) The first thing that has to happen is complete buy-in from top management. This buy-in is not a matter of saying, “We’re committed to providing strong customer service,” or “Oh, you bet we’re going to focus on our customers.” This means that each member of management must fully understand what it takes to achieve outstanding levels of customer service and must be willing to take a long-term approach to running the business.
And, top management must buy into the practice of soliciting input and feedback from customers and prospective customers on a regular, consistent basis. We want to know how the customer wants to do business with us.
What Needs to Happen Once There is Buy-In
1) The processes that impact the level of service delivered to customers and that have the potential to impact perceptions about the company must be identified, examined, refined, and redefined (if necessary) with the customer in mind. Processes will be discussed in greater detail later.
2) A complete review of all corporate policies that impact the customer. Do your policies have an internal focus or an external focus? Are they favorable to building strong customer relationships while maintaining the proper balance between profit orientation and growing the company through high levels of customer satisfaction?
This review should focus on a detailed assessment of how each policy impacts customer satisfaction and relationship building. Are your policies customer friendly? Or are they written to support internal operating systems?
3) Review hiring practices to ensure that the profiles of new hires match the profile required for customer contact positions. If you’re not currently utilizing a personality assessment tool, consider using one to develop an ideal profile. for customer contact positions and match profiles of candidates to the ideal profile. This will help augment interviewing and other testing techniques that might already be in place. Also, review the level of care taken in hiring. Do your managers understand that personality traits in customer contact personnel is as important or more important than existing skills. Remember, you can train in skills – you can’t train personality.
4) Implement a market research program that provides two critical functions: 1) regular customer satisfaction feedback; and 2) customer and prospect input to critical strategic and operating decisions. Your customer satisfaction research should take two forms: 1) ongoing “after-sale” (service) feedback utilizing random checks of satisfaction levels; and 2) annual customer satisfaction survey(s).
5) Examine each “impact point.” Impact points include anything that has the potential to impact a customer or prospects perception of the company. For example, if you have people in the field servicing equipment, how are they dressed? Are they in uniforms that are clean and professional looking? If you have marked company vehicles, are they kept clean? Are drivers of those vehicles well-schooled and are there clear expectations about driving the speed limit, courtesy on the road, etc.?
6) It’s Important to not just pay lip service to providing top-notch customer service. Developing a written customer service philosophy that is shared with and reinforced with all employees can be a good starting point for building a strong customer service culture. The following example may help you develop your own customer service statement of philosophy.
Example: Our job is to see that our customers truly believe that we have their best interest at heart. We will achieve this by always being honest, fair, courteous, responsive, and caring. While all of our customers won’t treat us the same way, it is our responsibility to maintain a high level of professionalism and courtesy. We will treat every customer like they are our only customer. While we might not always agree with the customer, it is not our job to argue or treat the customer in a manner that will cause their view of us to become negative. Every employee of our company is an ambassador of goodwill to our customers and will be expected to act accordingly. Our goal is to exceed our customers’ expectations as often as we possibly can. In doing so, we will provide outstanding customer service.
Set Expectations for Managers and Supervisors
It’s important to set expectations with all managers about customer service. These include, but are not limited to:
1) As a manager, you will be responsible for establishing a customer-oriented culture within your area of responsibility.
2) You will be expected to fully embrace a customer-oriented mentality. Your problems are secondary to the customer’s.
3) You will be expected to develop your people to the point of being able to consistently deliver outstanding customer service.
4) You are expected to hold your people fully accountable for delivering outstanding customer service always. There is no margin of error in customer service. You are responsible for seeing that your people perform at a very high level with respect to our customers.
5) You are expected to hire people who can deliver outstanding customer service.
6) You are expected to make decisions that will enhance our business over the long-term. Don’t make decisions that make your numbers look good today but make your business suffer in the long run.
7) You are expected to convey a positive, customer friendly attitude. This means setting a strong. example for your people in terms of how our customers are to be viewed and served.
Create Policies Around Customer Service
Establish customer service policies that will provide clear guidelines to all employees about how your company will serve the customer. These should be in written form and all employees should have a copy of them.
Examples of these policies:
- Return customer calls within 30 minutes of receiving them. If you cannot return them within the 30-minute time frame, do so at the very first opportunity. If you are in a meeting when the customer calls, sort through your messages and return customer calls first. Never fail to return a customer’s call in a timely manner!
- Answer the telephone before the third ring begins.
- Product ordered by 2:00 p.m. must be shipped that day.
- When a customer orders a product that is back ordered, inform the customer at the time of order and give a conservative estimate of when they can expect to receive the product. For all orders received by fax or mail, call the customer as soon as you determine their order falls into a full or partial back-order position.
Be Sure Your Employees Have an Incentive to Be Great At Customer Service
Reward your employees for delivering outstanding customer service. Performance reviews should include discussion and rating(s) regarding the level of customer service delivered by the employee.
Develop incentive programs that focus on customer service. For example, if you conduct regular customer satisfaction surveys, a simple incentive program can be based on the average rating received.
Don’t forget internal customers. The level of service delivered to internal customers has a direct impact on the level of service delivered to external customers. For example, if an employee in one department requests information, respond quickly. You never know when the other employee needs the information to respond to an external customer.
Customer service is a major driver for business success yet so many businesses do it so poorly. If you are a business owner or a manager working for a company, take customer service seriously and take steps to monitor and improve the level of service. The benefits of doing so are usually substantial and your customers will notice the difference. Businesses that differentiate themselves from others based on providing outstanding customer service are usually more successful. For example, some fast food restaurants deliver excellent customer service and they are generally successful as a result.
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