I was doing some spring cleaning in my office and uncovered a pamphlet I had acquired back in 1988 titled, "Marketing is You." The pamphlet was created that year by the American Marketing Association (AMA) and featured a list of 11 practices to become a better marketer.
All 11 practices remain valid today because they reference the importance of the customer-first approach businesses must have. However, it begs the question of how, in 33 years, many have not been able to actively implement these practices on a consistent basis to create better customer encounters. As a followup to my May article on building trust, I want to focus on two of the 11 AMA items that can help any organization improve their trust with their customers.
The No. 1 concept on the AMA list is, "be friendly and willing to help." This is so basic and yet it is often difficult to find in practice. Customers expect "service reps" to be friendly and helpful because it is in their job title. In my experience grocery shopping, I have encountered positive and negative examples of this concept. I am sure everyone has had questions of where to find certain items in a large store. At Safeway, the employee will take you to the aisle and find the product for you. This act of friendliness and helpfulness creates a high degree of trust with me for the store and the employee. Unfortunately, there are other stores where the employee acts as if you are interrupting their day by asking such a question and respond with something like, "I think it’s in aisle seven or maybe 12." I no longer shop in those stores.
The second concept that can be a building block of creating trust with your customers is "handle complaints quickly and professionally." There is almost nothing a person in an organization can do to erode trust faster than to mistreat customers during a complaint situation.
Recently, we purchased several items from a national retailer. When the goods arrived, they were not as presented on the web. When we returned them to the store, a staff member advised us the store no longer provided a credit on account; they only provided gift cards. When asked for a reason, the clerk indicated the store credit card program was no longer active, and a credit to the account could not be given. The retailer had apparently quietly off-loaded their card to another credit card company. Later, when speaking with a customer service representative, I was advised that the company would accept several forms of payment on my account, but the rep said I "can’t" use my newly acquired gift card as payment. Consider that someone (or a group of people) created this ridiculous process where the word "can’t" is a prominent word in their response. With customer service like this, the retailer may be on their way to the Sears and Eaton’s graveyard.
The fault of poor employee behaviour should be laid at the feet of the leadership of the store and the chain itself. What type of hiring brings disinterested people to act as the in-store ambassadors? And what type of training and support, if any, is provided to ensure that such situations do not end this way? The fact remains that I no longer trust that store and the people who work there. They will not receive any more of my money.
Here are a couple of tips to help staff in any potentially combative situation whether dealing with someone in person or on the phone. Your initial role is to listen carefully and ensure you really understand the situation. Don’t worry about who might be to blame. You must remain calm, no matter the anger of the customer, and do your best to ask questions to better inform you of the situation and the full extent of the complaint. If you can resolve it, then you must do so quickly and efficiently. If you cannot resolve it, you must immediately find someone who can. Stay with the customer until you have turned the situation over to someone who is able to deal with it. By doing this you are not abandoning the customer in their time of need. You are showing them that they matter and that you want to help them resolve their problem.
To build a true marketing culture you must have the customer at the centre of your activities. Successful companies ensure that all aspects of customer contact and interactions are as positive as possible with each one providing yet another opportunity to earn a customer’s trust…and continued patronage.
Tim’s bits: While these ideas may seem basic, it is apparent that many organizations still need to get better at them. To be successful, these concepts must become the natural way for you to do business. This holds for everyone across the organization from the CEO to the newest front line staff. Let’s all raise the collective customer service bar, not continue to lower it.
Tim Kist is a Certified Management Consultant, authorized by law, and a Fellow of the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Manitoba.
Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.