In a world where personnel managers often scramble for employees who are technically competent to fill their vacant positions, the desire for a truly customer-friendly workforce may be put on the back burner. Don’t let that happen! Building a team that makes your customers their top priority may well be your fastest route to happy customers, a bigger market share, and a better bottom line.
Providing top-notch customer service isn’t rocket science; it’s really not that hard. With that said, though, some folks are just more inclined, interested, and capable of doing the job better than others. Even the best of the best sometimes need a little reminder or coaching. In golf, keeping one “swing thought” in mind during a shot can keep a person on target. Here are a few “customer service thoughts” that can help us and our work teams hit a hole-in-one:
Check out that body. Language, that is.
You’ve heard all the body language advice before, but it can’t be overemphasized. I took my car in for a regular servicing recently. No real problems, just the regular check up. I was greeted, as always, by the service manager who, technically, is extremely professional. He was dressed just right (crisp, clean clothing but not too fancy for the service department), he was expecting me and called me by name, and he handled the transaction quite efficiently. You know what is missing every single time I visit? A smile. I’ve never seen one. As good as the overall experience was, I still remember most his “professional but not friendly” demeanor.
Having the word manager, vice president or president in your title doesn’t mean you have to become solemn and serious. Smile when you greet your customer, and watch the rest of your body language, too…don’t close yourself off by crossing your arms, look your customer in the eye, and help her feel comfortable and welcome.
Don’t break character when you’re “on stage.”
I’m not encouraging people to be fake or phony, but when we’re representing our business, that’s job-one and it means behaving accordingly. When I attended training at the Disney Institute in Orlando many years ago, one of the most memorable messages I brought back was the importance of “staying in character.” For Snow White or Prince Charming to break character in a Disney performance or even in Goofy’s Kitchen restaurant would be a big no-no. Very few of us have such a well-known persona in our day-to-day job, but we’re still “on stage.” When we’re representing an organization, we’re building a brand, and our attitude and “performance” matter.
Imagine seeing a doctor in scrubs or a firefighter in uniform – or one of your front-line employees – behaving badly while they’re on duty (or even off-duty yet still in uniform). They break character and they also begin to damage your brand. The same goes for someone wearing a name tag with your logo on it, during a work event or not. What that person says and how he behaves is a reflection on you and your business. Those of us who own a business or are in a leadership role don’t even have the luxury of taking off our uniform or name tag. We are our business’ brand. Always.
See the Customer’s Experience Through to the End
Assisting a customer all the way to the end of their experience almost always takes more time and it definitely takes more commitment, but it’s also where the cream rises to the top. It means exceeding the customer’s expectations, not just meeting them. It’s the difference between an employee at Orchard Supply Hardware walking with you to the light bulbs so you find the right one, vs. another store’s employee directing you to, “Aisle 9, half way down the aisle, on the top shelf. But I think we’re sold out.” I love browsing through a book store, and I don’t like asking for help because the search can be as fun as the find. Recently, though, I just couldn’t find the book I wanted, so I asked an employee for help. Her plan wasn’t to take me to the book (which would have been just fine); her plan was to go find the book herself then bring it to me. Great customer service! (I tagged along anyway, to satisfy my own “need to know.”)
In a different kind of business, seeing the experience to the end might mean taking on responsibility that isn’t normally your own. In my business, economic development, every day is different. Helping a client might mean walking them through a permitting issue or connecting them with a cell phone provider to resolve service issues. We may not have the answers ourselves, but we can being together the problem solvers. My husband owns a small electrical contracting business. For him and his team, it sometimes means more than just installing a new electrical service, it might also mean arranging for inspections that have nothing to do with their electrical work, just to help their customer.
Don’t Forget Your Internal Customer
The fourth of my favorite customer service principles is to provide stellar internal customer service. It’s not just our traditional, external customers that matter, it’s the people within our organization, as well. Co-workers, bosses and board members fall in this category, and so do people in other departments or on the front line – folks who rely on our work in order to help the end user.
Helping employees identify their internal customers (and their internal service providers) is a good first start. For example, a publication editor relies on another person for an article, the person writing the article requires data from a researcher in another department…and the researcher is distracted because human resources hasn’t gotten their payroll error resolved yet. You get the picture, it’s a whole line-up of internal customer service opportunities!
Next, I like to talk about Stephen Covey’s concept of the “emotional bank account.” Each of our relationships has an imaginary emotional bank account. When we have a positive interaction with a teammate, we’re making a deposit in the bank account; a negative interaction of course equals a withdrawal. As long as the emotional bank account has a nice, healthy balance, an occasional withdrawal won’t jeopardize the alliance. An overdrawn account results in internal glitches and conflicts that, believe me, will eventually impact your external customers.
As consumers and professionals, good customer service experiences are all around us. These are my favorite, tried and true approaches to building a strong customer service culture. I’d love to hear about yours!