Q: What does customer service mean to you?
The most important thing for any business to remember is that ‘customer service’ is not a noun, it’s a verb. You need to be doing it, not saying it. And it’s also important to remember that it’s not just a question of whether you deliver customer service, it’s a question of how you do so. The right approach focuses more on delivering the positive experiences you know your customers actually want and less on getting them to hand over more cash.
If you follow this customer centric approach to customer service, it results in loyal customers who know they can depend on your business as a reliable, trustworthy, and competent business that appreciates them, values the fact that they choose to spend their hard-earned cash with you, and knows that it’s a pleasure doing business with them.
Q: Has the importance of good customer service grown?
Without a doubt! While good service has always been at the heart of business success, the world is a far more competitive place today than it was yesterday. And it will be more so tomorrow. It’s really not easy for businesses to compete on price anymore, so they have to find other ways of differentiating themselves from their competitors – and customer service is the one sure-fire way of doing that.
Any business can advertise, market, and run promotions – and given the tough economic climate, most are. But there are still very few businesses that understand the importance of great customer service – let alone practice service excellence. So, if your business does, and is, you’re already streets ahead of your competition. And it will show on your bottom line.
Conversely, the risk of failing to deliver great service is greater than ever. Social media has meant that the world has shrunk to the point that thousands, even millions, of people can instantly know about the bad (or good) experience a customer just had at your establishment. It’s worth making the customer service effort to maximise the chances that your business is ‘liked’.
Q: How important are employer/employee relationships to customer service?
Mutual respect and understanding between employer and employee is critical. You cannot and will not achieve anything near the customer service commitment you desire if your employees couldn’t care less about your business. In many ways, realising a solid customer service culture begins with cultivating a solid staff care and communication culture. When you recognise, acknowledge, and reward the value your employees add to your business, they respond by delivering more value. It’s a basic rule of business success and it lies at the heart of a customer service culture.
Q: Are there any starting points for businesses that want to improve their customer service?
There are plenty of ways for any business to start a customer service improvement journey. The first step, though, is to get a clear understanding of why you’re doing it and what the consequences could be of not doing it.
Once you’ve done that for yourself as the business owner or manager, start by:
- Changing your culture. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s definitely do-able. Make sure your new customer centred strategy has top management buy-in, then educate your staff on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. This education never ends. You need to be a customer service champion and constantly remind everyone to keep on serving.
- Recruiting the right people. Focus less on looking just for the highest qualifications and more on employing people who have an obvious passion to serve and will genuinely care about your customers.
- Finding out what your customers actually want. Not only will they be happy to tell you what they expect from your business and its employees, they’ll feel good that you thought highly enough of them to ask in the first place.
Q: What are the basics of customer service that all companies should adhere to?
It doesn’t matter what business you are in, there are five non-negotiable customer service priorities you simply have to deliver:
- Make each customer feel genuinely special. They need to know you value their business.
- Give your customers a voice. Listen to what they have to say.
- Embrace complaints. Stop seeing the complaining customer as a ‘pain’ and start seeing them as loyal enough to tell you what’s wrong so that you can fix it, rather than simply going elsewhere.
- Create great customer experiences. Customer service is not just a smile and friendly greeting, it’s a total positive experience from start to finish.
- Never lose focus. Raising your service levels sets expectations. If your service declines, don’t expect your customers to just accept this. You need to strive to keep getting better, and they’ll keep coming back.
Q: What are the costs involved in good customer service?
There is no cost, but there may be some investment required. The difference is that one drains your bank account while the other grows it. In reality, excellent customer service need not cost you anything. After all, how much does it cost to change your attitude? And in the long term, good customer service will actually drive your business costs down while driving the value for your customers up. That’s because when you do things right the first time, you actually save money – and your customer saves time and hassle.