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Take the “We Will Provide Great Customer Service!” Pledge

The advent of social media, specifically Twitter, provides an avenue for customers to express their happiness and unhappiness with products and services. Just search for “bad customer service” or “poor customer service” and you’ll be presented with a plethora of comments regarding customer service experiences gone wrong. There are, however, companies and organizations that strive to provide great customer experiences. I am issuing the challenge for 10,000 businesses – large and small, across all industries – worldwide to take the “We Will Provide Great Customer Service! Pledge. Let’s talk about what I am challenging businesses to pledge to exercise:

1. Reliability – Our customers can believe that our products and services will meet their standards. Our customers can unconsciously trust us.
2. Credibility – We will strive to maintain a positive reputation with our customers and employees. We will do what we say we will do.
3. Competence – We will take the time to properly train our employees to ensure they are fully knowledgeable about our products and or services. We also provide basic customer service skills training to all employees – especially those who interact with customers on a daily basis.
4. Accessibility – Our customers can easily reach and communicate with us – whether that be via phone, face-to-face, web chat, email or SMS text. If we have brick and mortar locations, we will utilize customer friendly signage to allow for quick locating and retrieval of our products. Our website will be customer friendly – easy to navigate and free of industry jargon.
5. Responsiveness – We are serious about responding to customer inquiries, requests and complaints. We will set time standards for responding to customer emails, chat requests and especially customer complaints. In addition, we will proactively provide updates and progress reports when working on projects. We will develop update criteria with the customer – #of updates, frequency and method.
6. Courtesy – We will remember and exercise the principle that everyone, customers and employees, deserves a measure of respect. We will courteously acknowledge our customers presence – via whatever method they choose to engage with us. When customers are angry, we will remain courteous to ensure that we do all we can to resolve the issue and retain their business.
7. Consistency – We will strive to consistently apply the aforementioned six keys as our ability to do so day in and day out, month after month, year after year is what will makes us great at providing an excellent customer experience.
Is your company up for the challenge? Go ahead and commit to the pledge today!

Commit To The Pledge!

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Performance Appraisals Do Create Customer Experiences

During my corporate customer service career, I learned very early the importance of a having a system in place for fair performance appraisals. Believe it or not, providing objective performance evaluations does impact the level of service received by your customers. When employees feel the performance appraisal process is objective and fair, morale is positively impacted. This can surely lead to customers receiving a great customer experience. Let’s talk about a few ways to ensure employees receive a fair appraisal.

Job Description
This is where the performance appraisal process begins. Every position within your company should have a job description as it’s the framework of the performance evaluation. When provided with a job description, employees are made aware of the primary tasks for which they are held responsible. While most job descriptions carry disclaimers which state that the tasks listed are not all-encompassing as employees may be asked from time to time to perform tasks not listed, one is still aware of one’s primary duties. Providing a job description sets the tone for the employee experience.

Performance Standards
Once a job description is in place, it’s time to add performance standards to the appraisal equation. In other words, once an employee is made aware of their position tasks, you want to provide them with information regarding how their tasks will be measured for evaluation. The key in establishing performance standards is to properly establish the standard. If the standard is number based, determine what the right number should be. Okay, so how do I do that Errol? I suggest spending time observing employees performing their specific tasks or even performing them yourself. Doing so gives one a good idea of what’s the right number should be. Also remember to think about the level of quality that is necessary to meet the customer’s (both internal and external) expectation when performing the task. This is also important when establishing a numbers based standard. What should that product look like when the customer receives it? How many quality installations can be done by an employee in the time allotted for his/her shift? How many minutes is the right number of minutes in order for an agent to provide a quality experience on the phone or when web chatting with customers? Remember to include quality when establishing numbers based standards as this will surely help to prevent rework – additional phone calls from unsatisfied customers or perhaps a return trip to a customer’s home or place of business. When the number is set unrealistically high, quality usually goes out of the window as employees are more focused on “getting that number.”

The Period Performance Appraisals
It always a good idea to meet with employees periodically during the appraisal period to talk about where the employee is in regards to the performance standards. Most employees want to know where they are in regards to meeting performance expectations. Periodic communication provides the opportunity to let the employee know where they are currently meeting or exceeding performance standards and perhaps identify areas of opportunity for improvement. These conversations are crucial as employees feel that they have been provided ample time to correct certain behaviors prior to the actual performance appraisal. Make it a practice to spend time with employees and offer coaching and guidance to insure employees know that you care about their success.

The Appraisal
Now if one has taken the time to develop job descriptions, performance standards and provide periodic updates during the appraisal period this should be the easiest part of the appraisal review system. There should be no surprises as this stage of the appraisal process. Employees should be fully aware of where they stand in regards to their performance. The appraisal meeting should be conducted in the most positive manner possible. Highlight the good performance and then provide feedback on the areas requiring improvement. Get agreement on a plan to address these areas as this requires the employee to buy-in to the process. Allow the employee to express his/her opinion in regards to their performance rating. Always refer back to the periodic reviews when addressing an employee’s disagreement with a performance rating. Doing so will assist in keep the appraisal review on track.

When employees feel that they are held accountable to reasonable performance standards and provided with objective evaluations, they are more inclined to provide a higher level of service to customers. Remember, it’s critical to develop Job Descriptions and Performance Standards, provide periodic updates during the Appraisal Period and conduct objective Appraisals. Happy employees create happy customers!

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The Big E Word in Customer Service

When speaking with managers in the customer service industry, this comment is often repeated – “I just wish I could get my people to show more empathy towards to the customer.” Empathy – The big E word in customer service. One’s ability to sincerely interject this trait in customer service is critical. It’s important to properly express empathy when customers are upset or angry with your company’s products or services. Let’s look at a few ways to express empathy.

How Would I Feel?
Empathy is the art of putting one’s self in another’s shoes. One can ask one’s self – If I were in this situation, how would I feel? The action of mentally pausing to consider this question allows one to “feel” what the other person is actually experiencing. When customers are unhappy, upset or disgruntled, they usually just want someone to listen to and acknowledge their particular situation. When customers feel “heard”, more often than not their level of discontentment is reduced. It’s important to place one’s self in the customer’s shoes!

What Would I Expect?
When exercising one’s empathy skills, it’s should be natural to ask one’s self: What would I expect as a resolution if I was experiencing this situation? If you know what you would expect, examine your options for the best way to resolve the customer’s situation. Should your options not include what you feel might be the best solution, make suggestions to upper management to get additional options included to insure customers are satisfied with your offerings for resolving the situation. When customers feel that you’ve provided the optimal solution for their situation, the chances of retaining them as customers are greatly enhanced.

Do I Trust You?
When assisting an unhappy, upset or disgruntled customer, exercising empathy helps to build rapport and establish trust. Think about it – if someone is indifferent towards your situation, how can you trust that they will put forth their best efforts to provide the appropriate resolution? Ask yourself, how can I get this person to know that I understand and truly empathize with their situation? Once the person truly feels that you are sincere when exercising empathy, they are more than likely to accept the offered resolution.

Are You Listening?
In order to empathize with others, one must first be willing to listen to their story. Utilizing effective listening skills is paramount to the customer feeling that you are being empathetic. When face to face with customers, be sure to maintain eye contact as this indicates to the customer that you’re focused on them. Watch your body language and facial expressions as these are indicators of how you truly feel about the customer’s situation. It’s pretty easy for customers to determine if you’re really paying attention to what they’re saying when face to face. When on the phone with customers, your voice tone and inflections provide assurance that you are listening. Allow the customer to get their whole story out before attempting to offer a solution. Interject with ” I understand your frustration.” or “I too would be unhappy if in this situation.” when the customer pauses while voicing their displeasure as these are indicators to the customer that you are in fact listening. Restate the customer’s issue to reassure the customer that you were in fact listening and understand their situation. Effective listening skills are the foundation for empathizing with customers. Remember, more listening and less talking leads to retaining an upset customer.

Employing the art of empathy can be the difference in one’s attempt to retain an angry customer. Empathize sincerely by asking yourself – How Would I Feel?, What Would I Expect?, Do I Trust You? and Are You Listening?

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Don’t Do This in Front of the Customer

Once upon entering a fast food franchise (yes I know it’s not healthy, but oh well) I witnessed a verbal altercation between if you can believe it – two employees! From what I could gather, there seems to have been an error on a customer’s order and one employee was trying to place the blame on the other. I was somewhat dumbfounded as both employees seemed not to notice that I had entered or that all of the attention of the eat-in diners was upon them. Finally, I moved closer to the order station and whispered to get their attention – “Hey – you really shouldn’t do this in front of the customer.”

I don’t know how many of you have witnessed similar encounter, but I do know it’s not the way one should represent their respective company to customers. When errors happen, they should be discussed out of the customer’s sight. It’s important to work as a team – not to place blame, especially in front of the customer! While it is necessary to determine how the error occurred it’s probably a good idea to not allow it to become heated. Employees should be trained to continue to work as a team, even in the midst of an employee induced issue.

The fast food as well as other industries require employees to quickly provide a great customer experience through producing a quality product in a timely manner. This means everyone working in tandem to make sure the customer’s order is fulfilled properly. Rarely will you see the person taking the order actually preparing the order. Each person is relying upon the other to properly complete their portion of the order fulfillment routine. As with any process where we humans are involved, errors will sometimes occur. When they do, it’s important to quickly resolve the issue for the customer. When discussing the error with the team, one should look to the system first for the breakdown and strive to preserve the dignity of the employee who contributed to the error. Moreover, employees should strive to preserve the customer’s perception of the company. As we all know, customers have smartphones with cameras and recording capabilities. One could unknowingly become a social media hit!

Remember when errors occur in fulfilling customers orders, especially in a public setting, choose an opportune time to discuss the situation. Just don’t do it in front of the customer!

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