8 Critical Steps to Establish a Customer Service Culture

“Every company’s greatest assets are its customers,
because without customers there is no company,”
–Erwin Frand

During our recent weakened economy, many businesses have seen declining revenues and declining budgets. Declining budgets often lead to reduced staff levels and diminished services. To me, this does not make sense. I believe that it is during the down times, when service should be at the forefront and retention of loyal customers even more of a focus.

When price wars fail to drive revenues, businesses often look to service to give them a competitive advantage. Many big business marketers are returning to a “service sells” mentality, however, many sell great customer service and few deliver. The problem is that few marketers have ever truly served a customer.

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

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

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

This sounds really obvious doesn’t it? How many times have you gone into a business only to wait while someone is on the telephone or busy doing some “non-service” task? Employees often lose sight of the importance of the customer and get consumed in lesser day to day tasks. Sure, there are tasks that need to be accomplished, but you cannot afford to sacrifice service to get them done. Good customer service must be a priority for you and your team. Without your customers, you have no company!

2. Train, train, and continue to train.

o Cross train your entire staff to be able to assist a customer regardless of their department. When a customer becomes upset they want their problem solved not to be shuffled between employees that are not empowered or enable to assist them.

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

o Utilize role play situations to assist your staff in recognizing and experiencing both easy and difficult service opportunities. If an employee has a level of comfort with a difficult situation, they will be able to better handle it.

3. Empower your staff to serve

o Establish a system of resources for your staff to serve the customer. Allow them latitude to take the necessary action to provide exceptional service and resolve any issues should a customer become disgruntled. Create a structured system to allow your staff to serve customers.

o Establish a discretionary budget that an employee may access to recover a customer before you lose them. I recently learned that a major hotel chain has a monetary fund available per year and per employee enabling them to go above and beyond to ensure exceptional service. This empowers the employee to right a wrong or create a “memorable” customer experience. I am not advocating large sums of money, but with regards to customer service, a small gesture can go a long way.

o Ask your staff what tools would enable them to provide better service. You would not send a fireman into a burning building without the proper equipment. Failing to empower and enable your staff with the necessary tools to serve you customer leaves you with few options other than poor service.

4. Make service personal

o Greet repeat customers by name, if possible.

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

o Thank your customers for their patronage. It really does make a difference.

5. It is OK to say “Yes”, even when you should say “No”

o Support your staff when they make customer service decisions. In my business, it is my policy that an employee can act without concern for repercussion, as long as they are meeting a customer’s need. I have found this creates a greater willingness to serve the customer.

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

6. Offer a solution

o Shift from the problem to the process for 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 these without success and do not believe that they work. I would tend to agree if the program were like most I have seen. Try something different; break the mold. One of my most successful clients offers spa treatments for his female employees if a customer goes out of their way to recognize them for great service. Another client provides his employees with a “day off with pay” incentive for every five unsolicited, positive customer comments that he receives. These are just a few examples that are “outside the box.” Be creative and generate a little excitement in your staff for customer service.

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

8. Ask your customers what they think of your service

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

You may be thinking, “Why should I go ask for trouble? Who knows what I might hear if I ask?” That is the point. As you will see in the statistics below, most customers will not voice their disappointment with your service levels. They will simply leave and never return. If you do not ask about the quality of your service, you might make the wrong assumptions and feel that you can reduce service levels because you get few complaints and lead your organization into areas that turn off your customers or cause problems that you never intended.

On the other hand, asking your customers about their satisfaction sends a message to them that you care about your business and about them. While you might hear some criticisms, you might also learn what you are doing right and see what you should modify.

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 doing business with people and businesses who give good service. We might not say anything, but we reward good service providers by continuing to do business with them. If the service is outstanding, we will probably tell our friends and colleagues about it. Likewise, when we receive poor service most of us vote, not with our voice, but with our feet–we just leave.

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

96% of dissatisfied customers do not complain directly.

90% will not return.

One unhappy 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 begin to excel at providing a superior customer culture today!

Building a Strong Customer Service Team – The Six Attitudes That Create Outstanding Service

In the final analysis, great service teams are a direct result of projecting the right attitudes toward the customer. Every management team who understands this will consistently provide an exceptional service experience to their customers. This is because when everything is said and done, the only real memory that customers will take with them is how they were treated by the people who had served them. Let’s briefly look at the six essential attitudes and how they affect the perception that others will have of our service:

1. The Attitude of Friendliness

Customers first and foremost measure our service by the friendliness shown.

As a customer service representative, we have the perfect occasion to show goodwill to those who make contact with us. It gives us a great opportunity to be friendly. I believe this attitude alone can change an entire organization if people simply understood the powerful attraction that kindness brings. I am convinced that if more customer service representatives projected a little more kindness to each customer, the customer would walk away feeling that the service was outstanding. Why do I say this? Because customers as a whole do not expect it!

I am always puzzled when doing business with a company that lacks in this area. The first thought that comes to mind is why any organization would put employees out in front who project an unfriendly attitude toward others. This not only makes customers feel uncomfortable, but also gives them a legitimate reason not to return in the future.

It is important to remember that the first guiding principle in providing great service is to understand that our job is to simply meet the requests of the customer in the friendliest manner. We are given the job of taking care of whatever need the customer may have at the moment. Since this is the first commandment of customer service, it seems only logical that we would want the service to be as pleasant as possible.

2. The Attitude of Enthusiasm

Serving with enthusiasm adds to the customer’s overall experience.

When we are excited to serve, we will not only excel as customer service representatives but will have people talking about our great service. I am convinced that without enthusiasm customer service becomes more of a duty to perform. No other attitude can make us more passionate about serving. When we are not excited about serving others, we somehow begin to lose our balance in providing our customers with excellent service.

Being enthused makes others take notice and will consistently deliver better service to our customers. They walk away and feel that the service was outstanding simply because of our eagerness to serve them.

When customers decide to make a purchase on a product or service, they are usually excited about the prospects of acquiring it. We as customer service representatives need to realize that our enthusiasm will increase their enthusiasm as well. When we are excited for them, they in turn become more excited about the purchase.

3. The Attitude of Caring

Loyalty occurs when customers sense that we genuinely care.

Of all attitudes in existence, none is more powerful than the attitude of caring about others. This attitude alone will determine the outcome of every relationship in life. It far outweighs any other attitude simply because it is the cornerstone by which every other attitude will manifest itself. No other attitude will determine our fate quite like how much we care for others.

Customers will also quickly take notice of our sincere desire to serve them when we care about their needs. Loyalty also begins to happen when our customers sense that meeting their needs is more important than simply making a sale. They will also be more attracted to us because they will sense that we truly care about their service experience. Without having to say anything, they will quickly sense by our actions that we can be trusted and will do whatever it takes to meet their immediate needs.

On the other hand, customers will sense when we do not care about meeting their needs. Whether we care or not will be projected in various ways to them. This attitude is difficult to hide because of the many signs that eventually come out.

4. The Attitude of Respect

Giving respect shows our willingness to serve others.

There is no attitude quite as appealing as when we genuinely communicate our respect. It not only validates others, but also gives them a sense of dignity. When we encounter a person who is respectful toward us, we tend to straighten up and present our best selves to them. This is the beauty and benefit of showing respect. It allows us to bring out the best in people.

As service representatives, when we show our customers respect, we are conveying a willingness to serve them. This attitude also gives our customers a sense of honor because of the high regard that is communicated through respect. It gives our customers a feeling that we admire and appreciate that they have decided to do business with us.

The mentality that every service representative should have is one where he or she views the customer as essential to the overall success of the business. When we look at customers as the ones who will help to make our business successful, our attitude toward them will begin to change in a more positive manner. The key in winning loyalty starts with respect.

5. The Attitude of Encouragement

Encouragement creates a positive environment for both the customer and the company.

When we truly begin to appreciate what encouragement can do for people, we will want to do it more often. A positive word can lift people up and help them to become their best. When we are serving customers, our words (along with the tone of our voice) can make all the difference in how they perceive our service.

The service superstars have a way of communicating in a pleasant tone of voice. Their encouraging attitude and kind words instantly give customers the confidence that they are looking out for their best interest.

But what about those experiences where the service was marked with a customer service representative who showed no signs of encouragement? I can recall experiences where there would be no friendly greeting or welcoming smile offered. If anything, it felt as if I was intruding on their time. There would be no positive sign of encouragement on their part. As a customer I wanted to leave as soon as possible. Looking back, I can see that these not so pleasant customer service experiences were caused by a person who simply lacked a supportive attitude.

6. The Attitude of Thankfulness

Customers who feel appreciated will rate our service higher.

I remember coming across a story about a young man who had been fired from an ice cream parlor. One of his duties was to say thank you whenever he handed an ice cream cone to a customer. The owner of the parlor understood the power of appreciation and made it a part of the job description for each employee who served ice cream. The owner finally had to let the young man go because of his forgetfulness to say thank you.

I relate this story because I am convinced that customers will always rate our service higher if we show them our appreciation in having done business with us. I am also convinced that the organization that consistently shows appreciation will have an advantage over other similar businesses.

We must remember that in today’s economy one company can practically match another company’s product. What can separate us from the pack is the service and the appreciation that we show. The power of appreciation can never be underestimated. We need to understand that everyone enjoys being appreciated. This is why having an attitude of thankfulness is so beneficial if we want to become customer service superstars and project a strong service team.

By learning to implement these six attitudes into our customer service training, we will soon find our customers telling others about the great service that we provide!

What is Good Customer Service? Common Misconceptions of Good Versus Bad Customer Service

On an average day, most people will deal with a customer service representative anywhere from one to five times. Some customer service experiences are classified as “good” while other are disdainfully referred to as “bad”. If someone experiences what they would consider good customer service, they typically just about their day as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. If this same person experiences bad customer service, they will not hesitate to tell everyone who will listen. Typically I ignore the latter of the two for one very important reason: does anyone really know what good customer service is?

Having worked close to ten years as a customer service representative and manager in multiple industries, I have experienced my fair share of customers who were not happy with me. And to be completely honest, very few of them really had any cause to be upset. They called me ready to fight.

Past Experience Can Lower Expectations

In some cases, previous instances of truly poor customer service can leave one with a bad taste in their mouth regarding customer service representatives, and cause them to go on the offensive from the moment they get someone on the phone. I’ll give you an example: years ago I joined a gym and signed up for some personal training sessions. After a while, I found that the sessions were too expensive and I really didn’t have much time to attend them, so I decided to cancel the service. It took me at least an hour of dealing with the original salesman, his manager, and the general manager to finally get it resolved, and even then I had to pay a cancellation fee. They tried to convince me to sign up for a cheaper plan, postpone my sessions instead of cancelling, and even take time off from work to make more time for the sessions. Absurd.

A few months ago I found myself in a similar situation with a different gym. The trainer sessions were not going to be worth the money and were ultimately going to conflict with other things that I had going on. I called the gym, already in a foul mood because I was expecting a fight with whomever I had to speak with. Much to my surprise, the first person I spoke to simply cancelled the sessions, no questions asked. Here I had gotten myself pumped up, ready to lay into the first person who gave me a hard time about my cancellation, and it turned out to be one of my most enjoyable customer service experiences.

Customer Service Is About Perception

However, often times what a customer considers “bad customer service” really is not bad at all, it is simply their perception of the situation. The furniture industry is a classic example where a customer’s misconception of what customer service really is can lead to them deciding that they have received “bad customer service”.

When I worked in the furniture industry I often found myself dealing with people who would, scream, yell, and even insult me because of a clearly written policy in place. For instance, furniture deliveries are typically given a four hour time window in which the drivers will arrive. This is an industry standard simply because everyone’s house is different, so there is no telling how long each delivery will take until the drivers get there. Deliveries are arranged geographically to enable the drivers to complete as many stops as possible, so a specific time of day is not guaranteed. The concept of delivery time frames and how they are scheduled was explained to every customer as they bought their furniture and again when their delivery was scheduled. Of course, for some customers, this simply was not good enough. Despite being told twice before, and having the written delivery policy attached to their sales receipt, they somehow had it in their heads that they were different from every other customer, and could pick their time of delivery. While we were open to the idea of trying to accommodate them, often times it was impossible when the trucks were already loaded. Those phone calls typically ended with “this is bad customer service”, “I will never shop with you people again,” “this is NOT how you run a business,” or my favorite, “I’m going to tell all of my friends to not shop here.”

Common Misconceptions

There are two common misconceptions about what customer service really is. The first is that a customer service representative’s job is to do everything the customer says, no questions asked. This is absolutely not true. A customer service representative’s job is to provide service to the customer and assist them in any way they can, but like any other organization, company’s have guidelines that their employees must abide by and specific rules that apply to customers. An employee’s inability or refusal to break these rules should never be viewed as poor customer service. In many cases, rules are put in place to protect the customer. In the case of a medical supplies retailer, a large portion of their items tend to be non-returnable due to hygiene reasons. When it comes to products such as toilet seats, shower chairs, and bathing aids, this policy makes perfect sense. However, despite this policy being clearly posted for customers to see before purchasing the item, it does not stop an alarming percentage from attempting to return the items anyways. Even though they know the product is non-returnable, and they would never consider purchasing an item of that nature that is used, they still believe that the retailer should take the item back if they decide they do not want it anymore. And if the retailer refuses, the consumer perceives the situation as “bad customer service”.

The other misconception is that a customer service representative’s job is to take verbal abuse from the customer. This behavior is completely unwarranted, and to be completely honest, immature. Problems are never solved by yelling, screaming, or insulting the person on the other end of the phone. 99 percent of the time, the person the customer is speaking to is not at fault for the reason they are calling in the first place. Whether a customer has had a bad day or previous bad experiences with a company, it does not excuse them to take out their frustrations on the first person who picks up the phone. Countless times I found myself hanging up on someone because they have crossed the line and resorted to personally insulting me because they were not happy with the company.

Customer Service Tips

So what is good customer service? Good customer service consists of several things that combine to make the ideal customer service experience.

1. Clear, precise explanations: An upset customer is typically an uninformed customer. In the case of the furniture company, a customer should get a thorough explanation of how the delivery process works. Never assume that the customer already knows. If you cannot do something for a customer because a rule is in place, clearly explain to them why it cannot be done. In the case of the credit card company, the representative should explain to the customer that regulations regarding account changes are in place to protect the cardholder and the credit card company from fraud.
2. Calm, polite demeanor: If a customer service rep does not sound polite on the phone, or simply is not nice to people, they need to find another job. The way a representative sounds when speaking to a customer will directly affect the way the customer speaks to them in return. A good customer service representative addresses the customer respectfully, only using their first name if given permission, and NEVER raises their voice. A customer service rep should never try to talk over a customer, nor should they raise their voice if the customer begins to get louder. No matter who seems to win a shouting match between a customer and a representative, the customer service rep has lost by being drawn into it.
3. Pay close attention (write it down if needed!): The worst thing a customer service representative can do is not pay close attention to the customer they have on the phone. It is important they put away all distractions and listen to the customer carefully, writing down notes if needed. A good customer service rep does not need to ask the same question more than once.
4. Under-promise, over-deliver: This is an old saying but will always ring true in the world of customer service. A large part of how a customer views their overall experience will be based on the expectations that were set. If a situation requires the customer service rep to call the customer back, it is important to allow enough time for the call back. A good representative will never exceed the time in which they promised to call the customer back, and will always give themselves more than enough time. The same goes for when products are being shipped to a customer; if the time in transit is typically 3-4 days, quote the customer 4-6 days. If the product arrives sooner, the customer will be even happier, and perceive their experience as “good customer service.”
5. Clearly posted policies: This is especially important for internet-based retailers. If a product is non-returnable, it is the responsibility of the retailer to post that in a place that customer can and will see it before the item is purchased.

The customer-client relationship is a tricky one, especially when it comes to determining what good customer service is and what bad customer service is. The key is for both sides to remain patient with each other and keep in mind that they need each other equally in order to achieve their overall goal: a good customer service experience.

In Challenging Times, Customer Service Quality Matters Most!

As the wind of economic cycles blows hard, some businesses try to contain costs by cutting corners on customer service quality. This is exactly the wrong thing to do, because customer service quality matters now more than ever. Here’s why:

A. When people buy during an economic downturn they are extremely conscious of the hard-earned money that they spend. Customers want more attention, more appreciation and more recognition when making their purchases with you, not less. Customer service quality is simply essential.

B. Customers want to be sure they get maximum value for the money they spend. They want assistance, education, training, installation, modifications and support. The basic product may remain the same, but they want more service and higher customer service quality.

C. Customers want firmer guarantees that their purchase was the right thing to do. In good times, a single bad purchase can be quickly overlooked or forgotten, but in tough times, every expenditure is scrutinized. Provide the assurance your customers seek with generous service guarantees, regular follow-up and speedy follow-through on all queries and complaints. Customer service quality matters more than you think.

D. In difficult economic times, people spend less time traveling and “wining and dining,” and more time carefully shopping for each and every purchase. Giving great service enhances the customer’s shopping experience and boosts your own company’s image.
When times are good, people move fast and sometimes don’t notice your efforts. In tougher times, people move more cautiously and notice every extra effort you make. Customer service quality is vital because people will pay attention and remember.

E. When money is tight, many people experience a sense of lower self-esteem. When they get good service from your business, it boosts their self-image. And when they feel good about themselves, they feel good about you. And when they feel good about you and your customer service quality, they buy.

F. In tough times, people talk more with each other about saving money and getting good value. Positive word-of-mouth is a powerful force at any time. In difficult times, even more ears will be listening. Be sure the words spoken about your business are good ones by making your customer service quality exceptional!

The Secrets of Superior Service

Giving high customer service quality in tough times makes good business sense. But how do you actually achieve it? Here are eight proven principles you can use to raise customer service quality. I call them The Secrets of Superior Service.

1. Understand how your customers’ expectations are rising and changing over time. What was good enough last year may not be good enough now. Use customer surveys, interviews and focus groups to understand what your customers really want, what they value and what they believe they are getting (or not getting) from your business.

2. Use customer service quality to differentiate your business from your competition. Your products may be reliable and up-to-date – but your competitors’ goods are, too. Your delivery systems may be fast and user-friendly, but so are your competitors’!
You can make a more lasting difference by providing personalized, responsive and extra-mile customer service quality that stands out in a unique way your customers will appreciate – and remember.

3. Set and achieve high standards for customer service quality. You can go beyond basic and expected levels of service to provide your customers with desired and even surprising service interactions.
Determine the standard customer service quality in your industry, and then find a way to go beyond it. Give more choice than “the usual,” be more flexible than “normal,” be faster than “the average’,” and extend a better warranty than all the others.
Your customers will notice your higher standards. But eventually those standards will be copied by your competitors, too. So don’t slow down. Keep stepping up customer service quality!

4. Learn to manage your customers’ expectations. You can’t always give customers everything their hearts desire. Sometimes you need to bring their expectations into line with what you know you can deliver in regard to customer service quality.

The best way to do this is by first building a reputation for making and keeping clear promises. Once you have established a base of trust and good reputation, you only need to ask your customers for their patience in the rare instances when you cannot meet their first requests. Nine times out of ten they will extend the understanding and the leeway that you need.

The second way to manage customers’ expectations is to “under promise, then over deliver.”. Here’s an example: you know your customer wants something done fast. You know it will take an hour to complete. Don’t tell your customer it will take an hour. Instead, let them know you will rush on their behalf, but promise a 90-minute timeframe.

Then, when you finish in just one hour (as you knew you would all along), your customer will be delighted to find that you finished the job “so quickly.” That’s “under promise, then over deliver.” This can help you gain a reputation for customer service quality.

5. Bounce back with effective service recovery. Sometimes things do go wrong. When it happens to your customers, do everything you can to set things right and demonstrate customer service quality. Fix the problem and show sincere concern for any discomfort, frustration or inconvenience. Then do a little bit more by giving your customer something positive to remember – a token of goodwill, a gift of appreciation,

a discount on future orders, an upgrade to a higher class of product.
This is not the time to assign blame for what went wrong or to calculate the costs of repair. Restoring customer goodwill is worth the price in positive word-of-mouth and new business.

6. Appreciate your complaining customers. Customers with complaints can be your best allies in building and improving your business. They point out where your system is faulty or your procedures are weak and problematic. They show where your products or services are below expectations. They point out areas where your competitors are getting ahead or where your staff is falling behind. These are the same insights and conclusions companies pay consultants to provide. But a complainer gives them to you free and can help you raise customer service quality!

And remember, for every person who complains, there are many more who don’t bother to tell you. The others just take their business elsewhere…and speak badly about you. At least the complainer gives you a chance to reply and set things right.

7. Take personal responsibility. In many organizations, people are quick to blame others for problems or difficulties at work: managers blame staff, staff blame managers, Engineering blames Sales, Sales blames Marketing and everyone blames Finance. This does not help. In fact, all the finger-pointing make things much worse.

Blaming yourself doesn’t work, either. No matter how many mistakes you may have made, tomorrow is another chance to do better. You need high self-esteem to deliver customer service quality. Feeling ashamed doesn’t help.

It doesn’t make sense to make excuses and blame the computers, the system or the budget, either. This kind of justification only prolongs the pain before the necessary changes can take place.
The most reliable way to bring about constructive change in your organization is to take personal responsibility and help make good things happen. When you see something that needs to be done, do it to raise customer service quality. If you see something that needs to be done in another department, recommend it. Be the person who makes suggestions, proposes new ideas and volunteers to help on problem solving teams, projects and solutions.

8. See the world from each customer’s point of view. We often get so caught up in our own world that we lose sight of what our customers actually experience.
Make time to stand on the other side of the counter or listen on the other end of the phone. Be a “mystery shopper” at your own place of business. Or become a customer of your best competition. What you notice when you look from the “other side” is what your customers experience every day.

Finally, always remember that customer service quality is the currency that keeps our economy moving. I serve you in one business, you serve me in another. When either of us improves customer service quality, the economy gets a little better. When both of us improve, people are sure to take notice. When everyone improves, the whole world grows stronger and closer together.