Customers demand it.
Companies say they offer it.
It is customer service, which more and more organizations are discovering as a critical element in their overall success, especially with increasing global competition for customers and sales.
Customer service depends on the customer being served.
As is so often the case, each customer will have his or her own definition of customer service. To a procurement manager at a large corporation, it might mean quality products at good prices. For a time-challenged entrepreneur, response times may be the primary criteria. To a traveling business executive, it might revolve around helpful, knowledgeable staff. They're all right; superior customer service is each of these things and more.
Regardless of your customer base—and the specific products and services you're selling—it's absolutely crucial that your organization places a premium on maintaining the highest customer service levels possible. It's probably the most important thing you can do to keep customers.
Remember, even if exceptional products first attract customers, it's usually superior customer service that keeps them around for the long haul.
Take it to the front lines.
Some experts estimate that as much as 95% of your company's reputation with customers (and potential customers) results from the performance of your frontline, customer-facing staff.
As a leader and manager, it's important to make sure these employees are supported with both training and the authority to ensure that customers stay satisfied.
An expense—or an investment?
Today's top companies are realizing that resources allocated to improving customer service are not so much expenses as long-term, high-yield investments. The financial equation is simple: Great customer service leads to loyalty, which helps build a solid profit base.
Even better, satisfied customers not only buy more, they buy more often. As cited in a study by the American Management Association (AMA), loyal customers account for 65% of a typical company's sales volume.
Great customer service can also reduce the amount you need to invest in traditional advertising, marketing and promotions. There is no more effective form of advertising than word-of-mouth advertising—it's more credible than anything you can convey in a print ad or TV commercial. And, unlike other media, word-of-mouth advertising is free.
A moving target based on a few standard elements.
While customer service is a moving target when training and deploying your staff, there are basic elements to success:
employees. Employees dealing directly with customers should be experts on your company and its products or services. Give them the tools and training needed to effectively communicate your organizational vision to customers, as well as responding quickly, accurately and thoroughly to customer questions.
employees. Great customer service is impossible when employees don't have authority to make decisions. Allow them the opportunity to do whatever it takes to keep customers happy—even if they make a few mistakes as they learn.
employees. Train employees to understand the importance of a caring, courteous attitude in making customers feel valued.
employees. Show employees that it's O.K. to take responsibility and apologize for mistakes. Teach them to focus on correcting the mistake—and the proven strategy of offering wronged customers something of value: a discount, free shipping or even free a new product, as needed.
employees. Maintain a culture where phone calls are promptly returned, appointments are made and promises are kept.
employees. Great customer service is in the personal details—addressing customers by name, thanking them for choosing you and generally making them feel like the valuable customers they are.
Customer service recovery: a worst-case scenario.
No matter how hard you work at implementing an effective customer-service environment, at some point you or one of your employees will make a mistake.
The key, according to John Tschohl, an international management consultant and speaker described by Time and Entrepreneur magazines as a "customer service guru, isn't hard to understand.
"What separates service leaders from the rest of the pack," Tschohl reports, is how they handle those mistakes, how they meet the challenge of turning a disgruntled customer into one who sings their praises and becomes a customer for life.
a process Tschohl calls taking a customer from hell to heaven in 60 seconds or less. It is apologizing, taking responsibility, and giving customers something of value as a way of appeasing them and earning both their trust and their loyalty.
How dangerous are unhappy customers to your company's success?
Dissatisfied customers not only generate negative word-of-mouth publicity.
your bottom line
The good news: you can quickly convert smiles to frowns on unhappy customers—and keep them coming back year after year.
Whatever your industry, keep in mind that you're in the service business—not the technology, hardware, software or ice-cream-cone business. Establish customer-friendly policies and procedures. Hire people with customer-service experience and potential. And empower employees like it's going out of style.
Consider "unchaining" your employees.
Companies often handcuff front-line employees with strict rules and procedures. Employees who don't comply are reprimanded-or fired, if they're less fortunate. Leading customer—service companies enforce policies to the effect of: Do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer. These companies train their employees—and they trust them.
Restaurants can provide free drinks or appetizers. Hotels can upgrade to suites at no extra charge. Car dealerships can provide no—cost loaner vehicles. Airlines can offer passengers first-class upgrades. Internet service providers can waive fees. The list goes on and on
What can your company do to keep customers satisfied?
According to Tschohl, Price alone is not a competitive weapon. You must provide exceptional service and service recovery if you are to survive and succeed. Practice service recovery and you will be amazed at how often you can bring customers back from the brink of defection and at the positive impact it will have on your bottom line.
Every business—just like every individual—makes mistakes. The key is how your organization responds to customer-service challenges, turning dissatisfaction into loyalty and repeat business.
For more information about tools to help you improve your customer service scores, contact us at
"What separates service leaders from the rest of the pack is how they handle those mistakes, how they meet the challenge of turning a disgruntled customer into one who sings their praises and becomes a customer for life."
—John Tschohl, international management consultant
"Price alone is not a competitive weapon. You must provide exceptional service and service recovery if you are to survive and succeed. Practice service recovery and you will be amazed at how often you can bring customers back from the brink of defection and at the positive impact it will have on your bottom line."
—John Tschohl, international management consultant