By Micah Solomon
Most every company in business says it “strives to provide superior customer service,” or other words to that effect. (The exceptions are incredibly rare: a few delis that are legendary for their brusqueness, a few other companies with Soup N*zi-esque personas. But for the most part, we are all aiming for the same thing.)
I’m sure your goal is similar. However, I can tell you–as a customer service consultant–that you’re probably missing the mark, in spite of your good intentions. In which case, the results can be catastrophic for the success and sustainability of your business if the situation isn’t remedied. The good news is that your problems are unlikely to be unique. Even without visiting your business, I can give you a solid list of likely customer service and customer experience problem areas that could bring you immediate improvement if you get to work on them. Go ahead and take a peek yourself and save my consulting fee:
- Learn to hire customer-facing employees based on the right criteria. And it’s time to start being methodical and uncompromising about applying these criteria to every new customer-facing employee you consider hiring.
- Onboarding: From the moment a new employee walks in the door, it should be clear to them that they’re now in a world where the pro-customer (and pro-employee) values of the organization are front and center and taken seriously. Learn to stress this right away, rather than having your onboarding process be essentially “here are all the ways you can get fired at this company–watch your step” and “here are a thousand meaningless forms to fill out”?
- Daily reinforcement: Do you have a meaningful “lineup” procedure at the beginning of every shift, to reiterate the values of your company, to celebrate the ways your employees have succeeded in serving customers, to reinforce and further educate employees on what matters at your company and how to make it happen? You’ll be amazed the difference this can make: in the attitude and performance your employees will be able to deliver and sustain every single day for your customers.
- Have you, yourself, shopped your own business lately–offline and online, on the phone and via mobile, in person and via chat? If not, how do you know anyone is even answering the web queries that come in, let alone answering them in a timely manner? That customer parking spaces are sufficient and are properly marked? That your “handicapped accessible” entrance doesn’t have a stray trash can blocking the way? That cigarette butts aren’t marring the passage into your store? That your website login is actually workable for those without your internal override to bypass it? That your site is readable and usable on mobile?
- Is all the “ stupid stuff” that customers need answers to readily available without them having to track down an employee to personally answer the questions? Do your FAQ’s actually have the questions that are frequently asked (as well as the more obscure questions that are asked from time to time) that shouldn’t require human intervention to answer for your customers? Or are you forcing customers to contact you, only during business hours, for answers and options that should be available on a self-service basis?
- Are you losing it on the handoffs? The easiest place for well-intentioned customer procedures to fall apart is in the handoff from one employee to the next, from one department to the next. The employee initiating the procedure needs to double-check the results as well.
- Are you making use of the customer data you have to improve the experience for them? When customers entrust you with information, you should make use of it for their (and ultimately your company’s) benefit. Half of this is to avoid being obnoxious: When you know where a customer lives and what their interests are, don’t fill their inbox with marketing that is geographically or otherwise inappropriate. The other half of this is finding creative ways to take what you know about a customer to do something special, uniquely special, for them. Just like you would have done when you only had ten customers, not an entire database full of them.
- Do you involve your employees in continuous improvement? Or do you just use them for their labor and not involve them in creating a better organization? (Here’s a simple continuous improvement system, pioneered at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, that you can involve ever single employee in making use of.
- Is everyone trained in customer recovery, in how to apologize for and resolve an issue? If not, here’s what you need: a service-recovery system that will do wonders for you.
- Are your employees empowered to solve every, or nearly every, customer issue that comes up? Or do they have to track down their manager to get approval to do just about anything out of the ordinary that a customer might need? There is a better way: At Ritz-Carlton hotels, famously, every employee has the discretion to spend/discount up to $2,000 to solve any guest problem. At Hampton Inn, they don’t go that far, but every frontline employee can comp a night’s stay or the equivalent without running to a manager. What this buys you are employees who don’t have to be stressed and defensive when a customer comes to them with an issue-because they know they can solve it themselves–and who never need to inconvenience a customer waiting for a manager’s determination.
- Do you offer intelligently designed self-service options? Customers today expect that self-service will be offered as part of the service mix, in part because they need to do business with you in spite of, often, working unusual shifts and operating in a variety of time zones, and partly because they’re already making use of sophisticated self-service options at airlines and other technologically-savvy companies they do business with regularly.