It is an easy excuse to blame any business problem or delay on COVID-19. While the pandemic has created myriad challenges for almost every business, many have found ways to overcome the impact of the virus on their situation.
And yet, based on multiple first-hand experiences, and receiving stories from colleagues and friends, I fear the concept of real customer experience has been lost and that many businesses are not embracing their opportunity to gain and retain customers.
I am sharing a couple of highlights of what real people, those whose job it is to deliver a positive and memorable customer experience, said and did to real customers.
First, a colleague noticed the interest rate had dropped dramatically on one of his savings accounts and decided to ask a representative (teller) at his bank for an explanation. When the representative couldn’t explain the sudden interest drop, she looked at him and said: "So, what do you want me to do?" Taking the initiative to connect the customer to someone in the bank who could explain the rate change would have avoided a disenchanted customer… and this story.
Second, a friend ordered an item from a large consumer electronics retailer in November, so the item would arrive in time for Christmas. The company acknowledged the transaction and indicated the item was available for in-store pickup but failed to mention that if the item was not picked up within three days of notification, it would be returned to their warehouse and the order cancelled. When a call was made to arrange a pickup, a company employee informed my friend that the item was unavailable, as their order had now been cancelled. When pressed, the employee indicated it was ‘company policy.’ Given the recent COVID-19 restrictions, you would think companies could allow some flexibility, so that customers could pick up their (non-perishable) purchases, as they comply with government orders to limit personal outings and interactions.
Finally, I recently placed an order to pick up two large bookcases from a ready-to-assemble furniture giant. When my wife went to pick up the items, a company employee showed her where to park our van, pointed to two large boxes (our purchases), and then turned and walked away, leaving my petite wife to struggle to load the items. Domino’s Pizza, as shown on a TV commercial, will now take your pizza to your car as part of their curbside pickup. Why wouldn’t a company allow an employee to assist a customer with a heavy load?
I have a long list of similar, or worse, experiences. Rather than just sharing the bad stories, I have some recommendations for all companies to consider, especially those claiming customer service is their advantage. Every employee has a choice to create a positive "moment of truth" when interacting with customers. And even if the initial moment is not perfect, an immediate service recovery can very often win the day with a customer.
The three-step process begins with establishing a baseline of customer service standards. From the speed of answering the phones by a person, to the delivery of packages to customer doorsteps, to carefully considering what can be done to ensure the customer receives top-notch treatment and respect, these concepts must be clearly explained to every employee. These are not "sometime expectations" they are "every time expectations." And from the leadership team to each front-line employee, there is no room for doing less than an outstanding job in every situation.
Next, employees must know there is only a right way to interact with customers. This is accomplished with more than just a single training session or employee handbook. The actual expectations are clearly articulated and reinforced at every turn. Leadership needs to be "goodfinders" and reinforce all the employee actions that merit acknowledgement when they occur.
Finally, first-hand experiences must be collected, assessed, and put into the improvement process within the company. Customer satisfaction research can identify weak spots. More importantly, the research can identify areas that you perform well in, according to your customers. And it is the customer perception that drives the ultimate value of the interaction. A great program builds on the strengths of your service standards being delivered.
The move to so many online contacts has taken the customer out of customer service. Poorly structured technology processes coupled with an inability for staff to provide a clear answer have led to confusion and customer anger at the inefficiencies and time wasted waiting for a resolution. If organizations are truly customer-service centric they must dedicate time and money to ensuring they review and improve every aspect of their customer contact.
Tim’s bits: Stellar customer service can help you win new customers and keep existing ones. It can truly be a form of sustainable competitive advantage. However, if your expectations are unclear, processes are flawed, and employees deliver the service inconsistently, you will be fighting a long-term uphill battle to find and retain customers. This is not an effective or efficient way to run any business. Very few companies are truly "at your service." Start with the basic approach noted above and you will be on the path to become a service-oriented star.
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.