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Last July, my Free Press column focused on core components of customer service. The main point was that you must do more than just say you have good customer service; you need consistent actions to demonstrate your delivery of great customer service. Only then will your customers acknowledge and reinforce your service-delivery claim.
Sadly, I am hearing about too many examples of shoddy customer service these days. One large pizza company had their app compromised and when notified of the potential data breach, blamed the customer who contacted them instead of investigating the claim. In another case, a small fitness facility neglected to provide its members with any pertinent information during the recent COVID-19 shutdown. Members had no way of learning what was happening with their monthly payments or how to freeze or discontinue their memberships.
These examples show that any interaction with a customer, whether an end consumer or an intermediary, must have a focus that the only thing that matters is the customer in front of you at that moment. The customer can be in-person, on the phone or on a web chat. To be effective, your staff should handle only one contact at a time, as it has been proven that multi-tasking does not work. Your winning game plan includes a comprehensive review of all the training and expectations your staff need to consistently display.
Laurie Nesbitt, President of Florists Supply described customer service in his company in a recent conversation. "Customer service needs to be embedded in the culture of your organization. If you want your staff to treat customers as their number-one priority, leadership needs to always deal with customer issues first in their day as well. If the level of care and attitude towards customers is poor at the management level, good service staff will sense that and eventually leave the organization. Train staff to be comfortable and confident before dealing with customers, support them to autonomously solve customer problems, and keep them consistently updated with arrival times, changes in products, processes and customer feedback."
Nesbitt’s experience indicates that customer service training is not one and done. You simply cannot train someone for a couple of hours and expect that they will be proficient regularly. Great football teams practise the fundamentals every day. Mastery of fundamentals makes it easier to practise key plays over and over to achieve the level of execution needed for the game. The players are "coached up" to embed the tools needed to perform their role on any given play.
Building on my football career as a player and coach, here is the three-step process to help you coach your team to deliver exceptional customer service. First, find out what can be helpful for customers — is it smaller order quantities, adjusted payment terms, vendor-managed inventory, confidence in your in-store COVID-19 policies? Build a meaningful library of the words, phrases, and examples used by all staff in all interactions and keep adding to it to ensure consistency. And make sure that everyone has access to and reviews these best examples.
Next, you need to ensure everyone in your organization knows what is expected of them and receives guidance and reinforcement of the proper approach. This is your initial training program. For example, accounting has a different interaction with a customer than a front-line cashier does. However, the total experience should feel the same from the customer’s perspective.
Finally, leaders must assess the results regularly via customer and staff feedback. And this is where great coaches correct behaviour and actions with immediate adjustments to modify the team’s overall approach. Refinement of employee’s techniques and understanding of their individual responsibility can turn a negative customer situation into a positive one. In all cases you should always applaud in public and correct in private. As a player and employee, I always responded better to a deliberate "way to go" than a nasty "what the heck were you doing?"
Nesbitt adds, "Our industry has a lot of moving parts including logistical changes and disruptions, new flower varieties, new product developments, and changes in colour and floral design trends. Ongoing communication and training with our front-line staff are essential to allow them to provide the customer service we expect daily and to contribute to our customers’ stress-free success."
Installing this approach as part of your winning game plan will enable your employees to be empowered to deliver what your customers expect — exceptional customer service that meets their needs.
Tim’s bits: Instead of my usual summary, I am inviting you to let me know about business topics of interest or stories of your experiences that can be shared. Please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your input will ensure this column covers the areas that are most important to you. With my Tim’s Bits, of course.
Tim Kist, CMC, a certified management consultant by law, works with organizations to improve their overall performance by being truly customer-focused.
Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.
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