In lesson one of the inside-out approach to customer service, I spoke about the value and importance of serving our internal customers as well as we are to treat the external customer. So now, let’s focus on our external customers.
Some may say, “It’s our competitive prices” or “We are convenient.” The fact is that when your product or service is seen as nothing more than a commodity to the customer, then yes, customers often use price as a major factor in their purchasing decisions. However, according to the results of a survey that Richard C. Whiteley shares in his book, The Customer Driven Company, 10,000 people across the country were asked what they expected from the companies with whom they did business. Surprisingly, price was not a factor…when their most important criteria were met. The research study indicated those customers placed most value on:
• reliability that you can deliver what you promise;
• assurance that your employees convey trust and confidence;
• physical appearance of your facility and employees (yes, neatness does count);
• empathy, that you care and understand their needs;
• responsiveness, the willingness to help them and be prompt about it.
The point is, the emphasis on price decreases significantly when we demonstrate by our actions that we meet their criteria listed above. It is these actions that define the quality of service being provided to the customer.
There are two models to customer service. One serves as a business model. This is where we are working with the customer in order to address a need, a request or a question and get a problem solved. Customers expect us to meet their needs. However, it is at the human level-that being taking into account our customers’ unique reactions, thoughts and feelings-where we have an opportunity to pleasantly surprise and delight our customers. Achieving superior customer service means not just taking the appropriate steps to solve problems, but going the extra mile to see if such problems can be prevented in the future. Superior customer service is not an individual effort but a team effort, with everybody working toward the same goal. With today’s tough competition in an economically strained society, it is more important than ever that your team deliver excellent customer service. As a manager, you have to know what excellence looks like for every job and every individual who falls under your direction. If you have this information, you can bring individuals into the team with the natural talent to succeed in that job.
World class organizations are normally known by their “image.” The image is created by the employee and his or her part in providing consistent exceptional customer service. Not only is it important to know what to say, but also how to say it. When dealing with customers, we must consider ourselves “on stage.” Opportunities to play a major part in providing exceptional customer service can be as simple as offering an enthusiastic greeting using the customer’s name; smiling when talking to a customer on the phone or in person; catching the eye of customers in line and smiling at them. Using caring words such as “thank you,” “have a good day,” or “good luck!” can turn an ordinary customer experience into a positive customer experience.
In today’s fast-paced world with too many commitments, too little time, information overload and “press one” for service, small acts of kindness can really mean a lot. Let people know you understand their needs. Make sure you let them know that they matter to you. Caring is the greatest form of service you can provide. Don’t ever underestimate the impact of giving someone your time and attention.
In lesson three of Customer Service from the Inside-out, you will understand the communication process of customer service and how to manage difficult customers.
A former business owner herself and graduate of the Urban Hope Entrepreneur program out of Green Bay, Michelle Madl is currently the business development coordinator for Nicolet Area Technical College, where she assists and coaches new and existing entrepreneurs and small business owners with business plan development, provides professional development workshops throughout the area and coordinates and teaches Nicolet College’s eSeed Entrepreneur Program. She holds a baccalaureate degree from Mount Mary College in behavioral science and a master’s in management and organizational behavior from Silver Lake College. Madl is also the current president of the Northwoods Entrepreneurs Club and Northwoods Women in Business, and sits on the state advisory board for the Small Business Development Centers. She can be contacted at mmadl@ nicoletcollege.edu or (715) 365-4492.