When companies say their strength is their customer service, what does that really mean?
Many businesses say their advantage is their great customer service and the concept is promoted through their advertising and on their websites. When considering this, the real question that companies need to answer when developing their winning game plan is "what do our customers define as great customer service?"
First, companies must distinguish between customer service, customer experience and customer expectations. The customer expectations are what they hope to receive from you, based on your advertising and other messages. The overall customer experience is what they receive from you throughout the entire customer journey through your organization’s many touch points. These include the initial phone or online encounter, physical attributes such as store atmosphere and tangible benefits like free shipping. In contrast to these experiences, customer service is the advice or assistance provided when you answer any questions or resolve their problems.
These factors are all important for your customers to keep doing business with you.
People’s wonderful customer service experiences become the standard by which they measure their interactions with other companies. The Walt Disney Company was the first to establish the definition of first-class customer service. The company’s language, which refers to customers as "guests," is the beginning of its definition. I was fortunate to participate in a behind-the-scenes tour of Disney World to learn how Disney crafts and delivers its excellent customer service. Every new employee, known as a "cast member," is trained for two weeks on the Disney customer service expectations. We were told of a story where Lee Cockerell, a vice-president at Disney, was asked about this substantial investment in training. The interviewer asked, "What if the employee leaves shortly after training?" To which Cockerell responded, "What if we didn’t train them, and they stayed?" Today, companies like Amazon and Apple also set the standard for excellent customer service.
How do you help your employees understand this concept of customer service and how can you improve your overall delivery of this essential quality?
Your customer defines the expectations of their interactions with you and then every aspect of your organization must deliver on these expectations. While this is a daunting task, remember that no one person delivers on this. Your entire organization is involved. You can win a customer for life by providing continual outstanding experience. Conversely, you can lose a customer for life with just one bad experience. The good news is that even if you stumble, you can earn their loyalty back through immediately correcting that bad experience.
A very important word is often missed when setting the customer service standards in an organization — empowerment. You need to ensure that your employees are truly empowered to deliver what the customer expects and not be afraid to do so because of the potential consequences.
When I led the call centre for a major cable company, we allowed our customer sales and service representatives to offer credits of $50 without requiring a supervisor’s approval. At the time, this amount was more than one typical month of service and seemed fair (in most cases) when our service fell short of expectations. The main challenge management encountered in implementing this policy was convincing our representatives that they were free to use their discretion when addressing customer service issues and that their decisions would be supported.
This small example should help you understand the intricacies of delivering great customer service. When you change policies significantly or initiate a culture change in your organization, everyone must understand their new decision-making boundaries.
It is also critical that your front-line staff know they will not be penalized for deciding what they believe is best for the customer.
In most cases, these decisions will not bankrupt your company. If this is not the decision that leaders want, they can correct the boundaries. Too many employees have "the fear of management" in them and will default to their supervisor for fear of making the wrong decision.
Setting standards of service can be improved by involving the employees who are delivering on these expectations. Encouraging their contributions will provide some practical capabilities of what can and cannot be reasonably delivered. When your front-line staff have this level of ownership and empowerment, you will set yourself apart because your service will be the difference.
Tim’s bits: Being truly customer-centric is hard to achieve if departments are not empowered to deliver on the expectations of the customer. Because marketing collects the customer expectation data, they can lead the development of the overall customer-service strategy and translate the findings, and every department will understand these expectations. Ultimately, customer service must be delivered by the entire organization.
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.