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Think Long Term When Servicing Your Customer

When I receive or am told of sub par customer service, I often wonder if the service provider is thinking about the long term impact of this type of performance. Providing a service or product to your customers requires one to always think long term. Customer service decisions made today impact your company’s future.

Thinking long term first of all should mean that the customer is at the forefront of your business strategy. Interactions with your customer should be done in a manner that promotes repeat business. Customer service personnel must be trained to think long-term and provided with options that allow them to resolve customer issues from a long-term perspective. A good friend here in Houston called me while he waited for service at a big box retailer. During our conversation, he paused to ask a store employee “So you’re going to bring another person in front of me? You have yet to ask me what I need!” What the store employee didn’t know was that my friend planned to purchase a laptop for his daughter. Well, he didn’t after this encounter! An acknowledgement of my friend’s presence along with an explanation of the employee’s actions may have led to the purchase of the laptop. Just a moment to consider the long-term impact of ignoring a customer may have led to my friend becoming a long-term customer.

Thinking long-term requires one to consider how to handle a customer complaint. The old adage of “the customer is always right” is not necessarily true in all situations. The customer may have misunderstood, misinterpreted, misread, or just plain wants to have his/her way. What’s important for the long-term is the handling of the situation. Your demeanor, voice tone, body language during phone or face to face interactions and verbage utilized when interacting via chat or email play a huge role in retaining this customer. Think long-term when formulating solutions to the issue. Preserve the customer’s dignity when you know that they are just plain wrong. Don’t allow your ego to enter into this interaction. Go into your INP mode. INP means It’s Not Personal. Take a deep breath and think long-term! Weigh the cost of resolving the situation in the customer’s favor against the possibility of losing long-term revenue.

Think long-term when considering changing your service concept of product. How will your customer be impacted by your decision? Is the change the result of customer input? If not, have you considered getting your customer’s feedback on your proposed change? I think we all remember what happened when a famous soft drink company changed the formula for its popular product. Although focus group results appeared positive before launching the change, customers in the southern U.S. held the original formula dear to their hearts. The backlash from this region was tremendous. Who holds your product or service dear to their hearts? Long term thinking will help you to ask the right questions of the right people when you’re considering making changes to your service concept or product. The trash service provider for my subdivision sent out a letter stating that they were changing the truck type from one that requires a crew of three to one that only requires a one person crew. Now I think that’s great for the expense categories of their budget, but how will this change impact the customer. The new truck’s retractable lift arms called for the customers to utilize a new garbage can – one that is specially made for the lift arms. I called the company and asked is the customer responsible for obtaining the proper garbage can or will one be provided by the company. That was six months ago – I’m still waiting for an answer. If the answer comes back that requires customers to purchase the new garbage can, the company will more than likely lose the contract. My subdivision is small with only 87 homes, but that contract represents about $17500.00 of annual revenue. Long term thinking is required by the company in making the decision as to who is responsible for purchasing the new garbage cans.

The willingness to think long-term when servicing customers is one of the most important business strategies that you can incorporate into your day-to-day operations. Make sure everyone within the organization is thinking long-term in regards to customer service. Thinking long-term requires one to always ask – “If I proceed in this manner, what is the long-term effect for both the customer and the company?”

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The Impact Of Performance Goals On Customer Service

Does this sound familiar? “I can’t possibly complete all of this work and meet the goals to receive a raise. It just doesn’t seem fair. I don’t think management understands what it takes to actually do this job”. Employees today are experiencing more stress than ever in this era of economic uncertainty. It’s very important to align workload and performance goals for long term positive employee morale, long term profitability and long term productivity. Your customers (both external and internal) are impacted by your performance goals. Here are a few issues to consider.

Performance Goals – Is That The Right Number?
When establishing performance goals, take into consideration the total process required for task completion. Base goals on outcomes over which the employee has control. Where the employee has accountability for additional tasks, factor this into goal setting for the employee’s primary responsibility. This will lead to setting realistic goals. Spend time with the employees as they actually perform their duties to get a “real world” feel for what it takes to perform the job. Include the employees who actually perform the job in establishing goals. An environment of mutual respect will exist as the employees will feel that they were able to participate in creating their own goals. The level of service provided to the customer is higher when employees are not overly concerned and stressed out daily about meeting performance goals. Taking these steps has a three-fold effect: 1. Improvement in employee morale. 2. You may be able to create a better process. 3. You should be able to determine if the stated goal is the right goal.

Quality Vs Quantity – Which Is Primary?
Does your reward system encourage quality work? A reward system based on unrealistic performance goals tends to promote quantity over quality. As employees struggle to meet the stated goals, quality will surely suffer as short cuts become the norm in completing tasks. This can lead to poor work audit results, rework (how much does this cost at your company?) and customer dissatisfaction. Employees are prone to display a sense of hurriedness when interacting with customers if the workload and performance goals are not balanced. Those employees choosing quality over quantity will become frustrated as their efforts to perform the job properly are rewarded with inquiries regarding their inability to reach the stated goal. In the quantity over quality environment created by unrealistic performance goals, long term productivity is sacrificed for the short term goal. Focus on systemic thinking and make this a high priority when designing reward systems. Reward actions that insure fluid cross-functional handoffs. This helps to build a culture of wholistic, systemic minded employees who understand the impact of their work to the product/service system.

Work Environment – Is This A Healthy Place To Work?
It is very important to create a positive work environment as your bottom line is directly impacted by employee morale. An environment where performance goals are fair and obtainable fosters an atmosphere of teamwork as employees do not feel the need to protect their “numbers”. Unrealistic goals lead to either unwillingness – for fear of not meeting their own goals or inability – due to unrealistic work load – to truly work as a team. Long term employee frustration usually results in a lower quality of work which ultimately impacts the external customer. Stress levels increase possibly leading to health issues. Employee turnover increases as well as some will seek relief from an atmosphere they deem unfair and unhealthy. This directly impacts your bottom line as the level of customer service delivered suffers via productivity lost to the need to hire and train new employees. How much does a dissatisfied customer cost your company? Promote employee quality of life versus “my work is my life” mindset. Give employees a reason to feel good about coming to work.

Performance goals and reward systems are key components of the business environment. Strive to base both on a “real world” workload. Your long term success depends on it. Your customer will feel the impact of performance goals and the workload. Balance these two in order to insure that the customer is positively impacted and gets great customer service.

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3 Reasons To Listen To Your Front Line Employees

During my customer service career, I have often heard the statement – “It doesn’t matter what I think, no one’s listening to what I have to say anyway.” More often than not, these words were verbalized by a front line employee. It’s important to appreciate and listen to your front line employees. Here are three reasons not to take them for granted.

They Are the Face of the Company
Whether face to face, on the phone or web chatting with customers, front line employees are the company to your customers! By the very nature of the position, front line employees are able to provide invaluable insights into how customers really feel about your products/services. Remember to treat them in the same manner as they are required to treat the customer. Your willingness to do so sends the message that they are an important component of the organization. Sooner or later, it will be pretty easy to spot an unhappy employee – body language, voice tones, customer complaints, attendance or all clues to employee morale. It’s important to keep morale high as happy employees create happy customers.

They Have Solutions
It’s common for front line employees to create “custom” resolutions for reoccurring issues. Through personal experience, I have witnessed front line employees put their “custom” resolutions in motion in order to deliver a great customer experience. Maintain open communication with front line personnel as this encourages the sharing of information. Their solutions keep customers happy which contributes to the profitability of the company. During a corporate stint as an operations analyst, it was common to conduct process analysis projects. I often found that front line personnel knew the process and its shortcomings much better than their respective managers. Upon further examination, more often than not, a communication gap existed between management and front line personnel. The communication pattern was one of “do this because it’s your job” vs “if we ask you to do this, how does this impact your job?” When more of the latter exists, the customer benefits as frontline personnel feel that their opinion matters, which leads to the provision of a better customer experience.

They’re Human
Probably the most important reason to listen to your front line personnel is a simple one – they’re human. Front line personnel want to feel valued and respected for what they do. Not everyone is capable of servicing customers. I repeat – not everyone possesses the ability to provide customer service day after day, minute by minute. It takes patience coupled with a good attitude and a highly developed listening ear to consistently meet customer expectations. I often hear people say “Anyone can answer a phone.” or “It’s pretty simple to take customers’ orders.” Yes, anyone can answer a phone or take customers’ orders – the key is, do you know what to do next? Not everyone has the personality or demeanor to turn an angry customer into a long-term purchaser of the company’s products/services. The next time you feel like your front line personnel are not performing to company expectations, carve out some time to get in their shoes. Take on their duties. Ask questions and really listen to the replies. You might be surprised by the knowledge gained from this simple exercise.

Are your front line personnel an untapped information reservoir? Remember – They Are the Face of Your Company, They Have Solutions and They’re Human. Spend time with your front line personnel today!

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What Is Customer Service?

While being interviewed on a local radio show, one of the co-hosts posed this question – “Errol, exactly what is customer service?” I don’t ever remember being asked that particular question but here’s my reply -“Customer service is a methodology that when put in motion, creates a customer’s experience.” This definition is not specific to any particular industry nor does the size of the organization matter. Now someone is probably wondering what I mean by methodology. When defining customer service as a methodology, I’m speaking of the systems that an organization chooses to put in place to provide a customer experience. Ok, now someone may be asking “Errol, now what systems are you referring to? Allow me to explain.

When determining what your organization’s customer service methodology will be, you are actually determining the experience your customer will receive when interacting with those within your organization. For instance, when your customer calls and your inbound call methodology dictates that persons answering calls will perform certain tasks while on the call and do so within a certain time frame, those requirements lead to the customer’s experience. When that person’s performance review and salary increase is tied to their success in meeting the goals of that inbound call strategy, this too determines the customer’s experience with your organization. If your strategy induces this person to be more concerned with meeting goals than taking the necessary steps and time for each customer’s situation, this too creates an experience.

When creating core values for your organization, you are creating an experience for your customer. If words such as integrity, honesty, respect and valued are included in your core values, your customer should experience these words when interacting with your organization. Core values are the frame-work from which your customer service methodology is created. Every component of your strategy should be grounded in your core values.

When choosing your training methodology, once again you’re creating an experience for your customer. Your customer is depending upon customer contact personnel to be experts on your products and services. Keep the customer’s experience in mind when developing training programs. I suggest focusing on creating ambassadors for your organization. Are customer contact personnel educated on your various products or services? Have they actually utilized or experienced your products or services for themselves in order to gain the customer’s perspective? What tools will they need to provide a great customer experience? Be sure to equip them with basic soft skills training as one’s ability to be pleasant and professional goes a long way in creating a positive customer experience.

When choosing who gets the opportunity to be the face of your organization through your hiring methodology, here again you’re creating an experience for your customer. It’s important to carefully establish your hiring criteria. What characteristics are critical for your customer contact personnel? Is industry experience more important than personality traits? Remember, you’re attempting to create a great customer experience. Your hiring choices will bear fruit! Make sure it’s good fruit!

When exercising your personnel management methodology , remember that this too creates an experience for your customer. Just as you must strive to make sound customer contact personnel hiring decisions, it’s even more important to utilize sound management practices. Make sure managers have the proper tools required for this position – people skills, products and services knowledge, coaching skills, leadership skills and a good comprehensive understanding of the organization. Should your customer contact personnel become frustrated with management practices, your customer will eventually be impacted. Employee turnover, discontent and low productivity all create an experience for your customer. Manage employees in a way that will certainly lead to a great customer experience.

When developing complaint resolution methodology – you got it – you’re creating an experience for your customer. We all know that sometimes mistakes are made or things get left undone. When these errors happen, the need for a quick and thorough resolution is paramount. Is your methodology in this area customer-friendly? Does every resolution require a supervisor/manager’s approval or are your customer contact personnel equipped with options for a speedy resolution? Are you tracking customer complaints for patterns and trends? Doing so allows one to identify possible operational issues which once corrected will alleviate repeat complaints which in turn – you guessed it – creates a positive customer experience.

When choosing the methodology to get your customer’s opinion regarding your products or services – one more time – you’re creating an experience for your customer. We all know the value in getting the customer’s opinion. Most love the opportunity to let you know what they think of your organization. Make it easy for them to do so as the more customer feedback you receive, the more data you have to make decisions. Do you need to make adjustments to your product or services? Do your customer contact personnel need additional training? Provide regular feedback opportunities in order to stay current on what’s important to your customer.

These various methodology components create an organizational customer service system which in turn creates customer experiences. Examine your methodologies to insure that they all are geared toward providing what’s important to your customer. Now put them all in motion and create great customer experiences!

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