Superior Customer Service: An Investment with Ample Return


By James D. Roumeliotis

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Much is touted by companies about customer satisfaction but surprisingly only a few actually deliver on their promises. Prominent brands are not immune either. At the outset, it appears that many lack a vital customer relations policy and strategy. Inadequate staff training and stifling policies, amongst other factors, further aggravate the problem.  The frontline customer service, staff entrusted with and consented to solving various customer irks and issues, lack the empowerment to use critical thinking and initiative to offer satisfactory results – rather, the results are disappointing.

Picking up the telephone and calling certain companies can sometimes lead to an exasperating experience. Moreover, people love to hate the phone tree where you have to go through a maze of menus until you eventually get to speak to a human – assuming you’re lucky. This is totally unacceptable!

The executives who are in charge of finance and operations respectively (consider the CFO, COO including the leader of the pack, the CEO) consider customer service as an expensive, time-consuming obligation. Those leaders – most notably in public companies are under pressure to cut costs with the intention of delivering quarterly results for their shareholders.

Consequently, they will measure the calls answered per minute – regardless of the outcome. In contrast, a customer focused executive will reward those who take their time to listen, engage and solve customer issues.

The customer centric organization: solving issues before they occur

“Customer Service” is the set of behaviours which an organization undertakes during its interaction with its customers and how customers perceive the behaviours.

Going above and beyond customer expectations is focusing on customer centricity. This entails being proactive rather than reactive. It begins by developing, implementing and continuously delivering a total positive customer experience at every touch point and beyond. The costs and benefits of this practice are equally beneficial for the customers and the business. A University of Michigan study revealed that companies which received high scores in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) consistently outperform the S&P 500. Those companies include Walt Disney and Amazon, amongst others. Those are most certainly organizations that focus on quality over quantity and measure what truly make them remarkable.

The after sales service department should be designed with an efficient infrastructure in place so as to make the entire experience an effortless task for both the customers and employees who are assigned with the responsibility. It should be easy for the client to reach a customer service agent and/or online agent to chat with. Moreover, the client should not have to be placed on hold for more than 5 minutes. Whenever the wait is more than two minutes, there should be an option to offer a simple way to be called back. The organization’s mindset should be to constantly think of ways to release tensions and give solutions to the client promptly.

Since many of the inbound calls normally concern frequently asked questions, why not have them prominently displayed on the website and/or printed on the product insert. Having them recorded as an option on your phone line, in a clear English voice (and second or even third most popular language relevant to the region’s business demographics), can eliminate unnecessary calls and waiting times with a live person.

Staff tasked with customer service should:

  • Possess a positive attitude under duress;
  • Be initially trained and occasionally re-trained,
  • Treated with respect, and
  • Be empowered to make timely customer satisfaction decisions on their own.

There is no better example to illustrate this than online shoe retailer Zappos.  What customers get to see displayed prominently on the web site:
– 24/7 1-800 number on every page
– Free shipping
– Free return shipping
– 365-day return policy

What customers will experience:
– Fast, accurate fulfillment
– Most customers are “surprise”-upgraded to overnight shipping
– Creating a “WOW” factor
– Friendly, helpful “above and beyond” customer service
– Occasionally direct customers to competitors’ web sites

What’s done behind the scenes?
– No call times, no sales-based performance goals for representatives
– The telephone is considered for them one of the best branding devices available.
– Run warehouse 24/7. Inventory all products (no drop-shipping).
– Five weeks of culture, core values, customer service, and warehouse training for everyone in Las Vegas office.
– A Culture Book
– Interviews & performance reviews are 50% based on core values and culture fit.

Empathy, strategy, training and empowerment

Any business, regardless of industry, should be concerned about keeping customers content. It is their fundamental responsibility to retain them. Rather than treat them as a cost, the customers should be treated as an asset as it costs more to attract a new customer than to keep them loyal.  Think about it! A customer who feels snubbed and disrespected, may take his or her business elsewhere, receive a better experience and never return. What would be the ultimate cost of this outcome?

Four nouns applied can make a difference.

Empathy: This takes into account a focal job in making a palatable client experience by exercising genuine sympathy to the needs and concerns of the client, front and center.

Strategy: A plan is a start in defining the standards of service and customer care that is offered to customers and sets the requirements for meeting those standards.

Training: It is the act of educating employees what “customer service” means, the standards it comprises and how to offer a confrontational-free customer support and satisfaction. It is a process which comprises of teaching the competencies, necessary skills, and tools required to better serve customers so they derive more value from products and services which create the positive customer experience.

Empowerment: This means giving your front-line staff the proper training, tools and encouragement to use their instinct and critical thinking skills to do the right thing for customers without much delay. This entails not waiting for management to give approval. For example, the the Ritz-Carlton Hotel group, the gold standard in hospitality service empowers its employees to spend up to $2,000 to solve customer problems without asking for a manager.

Customer centricity should be everyone’s job in an organization. It’s to be embedded in the internal culture. It begins with the top leadership and permeates through the entire organization. Implementation of new and refined strategies and tactics equate to daily and long-term success in building profitable customer relationships. Been helpful with your customers, even if there’s no immediate profit in it, is simply a good business practice with pragmatic thinking for the long-haul.

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Filed under 1, Business, customer engagement, customer experience, customer service, total customer experience

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