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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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Keys To a Great In-Home Service Experience

There are a multitude of in-home service providers in today’s economy. Carpet cleaners, appliance installation/repair, cable TV/internet service just to name a few. When providing in-home service at the customer’s residence, it’s important to have a plan for providing a great customer experience. Take the following into consideration when developing your plan.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Timely communication is a key aspect of your in-home service plan. When your customer sets an appointment, advise the customer that you will contact them again 24 or 48 hours prior just to verify that they will be available at the scheduled time. Provide your customer with instructions on how to cancel or reschedule their appointment. Call the customer again the day of the scheduled appointment. Verify the service to be provided. Make sure that the service provider is clear on the service he/she is to provide. If possible, have the service provider call when en route to the customer’s residence. Your willingness to effectively communicate will set your business apart from the competition.

Before You Ring the Door Bell
I remember having an issue with my home AC unit where service was required. When the service provider arrived, I couldn’t tell what company he represented. No signage on his truck. No uniform. No company ID. And his girlfriend was in the truck with him! Not the way to make the customer feel at ease. It’s important to make a good presentation of one’s company at the customer’s residence. Is the company or contractor vehicle clean with company signage readily visible? Is the service provider dressed in a clean company uniform? Does the service provider present his/her company ID before entering the customer’s residence? Has the service provider slipped on shoe covers so as not to inadvertently soil a customer’s floors? These are all things to consider before ringing the doorbell!

The Service Experience
When it comes to the providing a great in-home service experience, two key ingredients are one’s ability to ask the right questions coupled with excellent listening skills. As a service provider, it’s a good idea to establish the service the customer is expecting to receive during your visit. “Sir/Ma’am – I here today to -” just to make sure you and the customer are on the same page before starting the actual physical service process. When at a customer’s residence to resolve an issue another key ingredient to add to your skill set is the ability to ask the right questions? When did the problem start? Where is the noise located? What time of day is the issue most prevalent? By allowing your customer to answer questions, you make them a part of the service experience. Most customers appreciate being asked these questions and it helps one to possibly pinpoint the issue or maybe change resolution strategies.

Rate My In-Home Service Please!
It’s important to know how your customer feels about the level of service provided during their in-home service. Customer feedback is important to consistently providing great in-home service experience. While in the customer’s residence, provide a short (5 to 10 questions) survey for the customer to complete right on the spot. The experience is fresh in the customer’s mind which oftentimes leads to a more accurate rating. Offer the survey right before removing equipment, tools or whatever is required for service completion. The customer can complete the survey while you’re loading the truck. Create the survey with what’s important to the customer in mind: Timeliness, Effective Communication, Level of Service Provided and Service Provider Appearance (clean uniform, shoe covers, company ID, etc.) among other possible categories. Customers love to give feedback – let them give their opinion regarding your service. It helps service providers stay on their toes and helps one to determine what’s really important to customers.

In-home service is a big deal in today’s world. Make sure you’re creating great in-home customer experiences by Communicating, making sure service providers create the right impression Before Ringing the Doorbell, providing a great Service Experience and allowing the customer Rate Your Services.

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5 Tips for Creating Great Field Service Experiences

During my last corporate stint, I spent countless hours servicing customers in the field. This experience has proven invaluable when working with clients with field service personnel. Servicing customers in the field requires one to possess both the skills necessary to meet the customer’s needs as well as customer service skills to provide a complete experience. It’s my opinion that it’s critical that customers receive the best of both skills from field service personnel. Here are five tips that will help to insure your field personnel are providing great customer experiences.
Verify Skill Set – When field service personnel encounter customers, more often than not they find themselves on the customer’s turf. The customer is depending upon the field service person to possess the skill set to perform the required tasks. Before putting your field service personnel in front of the customer, take the time to make sure that they possess the skills to address, resolve, repair, install, build, test or whatever it is that they’re required to perform for the customer. Provide sufficient product/service training to insure your field service personnel can confidently answer customer questions. Develop scenarios that field service personnel will face when servicing customers and gauge their ability to complete the task. Make sure your field service personnel understand that exercises of this type allow you to identify training opportunities. Let them know that you want them to be confident in their ability to exhibit the highest possible level of skills when servicing customers. Monitor your field service rework levels as this too may be an indicator that certain field personnel may need additional training. Your customer certainly receives a better experience when your field service personnel possess the proper skills to complete the task right the first time.

Balance the Workload – My own experience shows that field service personnel can possess the proper skill set, but may not provide the best quality of work because they may find themselves distracted by something in the near future – the next assignment. When one is faced with more assignments than can be properly completed during the workday, sooner or later the tendency to take short cuts becomes an issue. This is a tw0 headed dragon as this can lead to both employee and customer dissatisfaction. Remember that your dispatch/work assignment procedure impacts the experience received by your paying customer. Does your customer complain that your field service personnel seem to be in a hurry? Are they short on conversation when answering customer questions? These may be indicators that your field service personnel may not be allotted the proper time to provide a great customer experience. Remember that we mentioned rework earlier? Concern with checking off each assignment as completed at the end of the day may lead to work quality issues which more than likely will require rework to resolve. How much does rework cost your organization?

Tag Along! – Here’s one of my favorite ways to get an employee’s perspective of their daily experiences. Regularly schedule time to ride with your field personnel. Get in their environment to see what they encounter when providing service. Ask open ended questions that allow them to elaborate on how they feel about your organization. Take notes on improvement opportunities. Are the “office people” negatively impacting field service personnel? Are field personnel receiving enough pertinent appointment information? Does anyone understand just what information is deemed critical by field personnel? Make others within the organization aware of what’s important to the field service personnel. When “tagging along” with field service personnel, jump in to assist with the various tasks. It’s okay to get those hands (or feet or maybe both!) dirty. More than likely you’ll get an education on “real world” scenarios when you spend time in the field.

Develop Standards – Are all of your customers receiving the same level of service? Are your field service personnel aware of what their finished product (repair, installation, test, build-out, etc.) should look like? Make it easy for them by developing standards. Doing so not only makes it easy for the field personnel to gauge their performance against the standard, but it also helps to insure that all customers receive the same level of service. The ability to consistently meet the customer’s requirements helps to build a long term service provider/customer relationship. Random inspections after service completion is a simple way to measure field service personnel performance to the set standards. Standards also provide an opportunity to afford field service personnel with an objective performance evaluation. On another note about standards, how should your field service personnel present themselves to your customer? If your industry requires your field personnel to get dirty, sweaty, etc when providing services – how about a clean uniform at every appointment – especially when entering the customer’s premises! What about the company vehicle – Is it clearly marked? Is it clean? Include standards that address customer perceptions about your organization.

Provide Basic Customer Service Skills Training – In knowing that your field service personnel will have direct face to face customer contact, remember to provide basic customer service skills training. Don’t assume or leave to chance that they should know how to deal with a customer. Remember we just said they’re more than likely meeting face to face with your customer – and more than likely on the customer’s turf! Educate them on the importance of voice tone, voice inflections and body language. Stress the importance of refraining from the usage of industry jargon when communicating with customers. Stress the importance of providing timely updates and regular status reports. Some customers may be angry or upset for whatever reason so equip your field personnel with the skills to effectively deal with someone who is not so happy with your products or services.

If field service personnel actions are critical to your organization’s success it’s probably a good idea to Verify Skill Set, Balance The Workload, Tag Along, Develop Standards and Provide Basic Customer Service Skills Training. Taking these basic steps will surely drive up both employee and customer retention.

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The Mobile Customer

In today’s world, more and more people are choosing to do everything from their smartphone. Ordering dinner, purchasing tickets, paying bills, making reservations, etc. and even more etc.! What does this mean for the service related industries? Should this be a priority when developing or enhancing one’s customer service strategy? When your customer chooses to communicate in a certain manner and your competition chooses to accommodate the customer’s desire to make life easier via technology, the answer is pretty obvious. Either get on board or miss out on the opportunity for increased  revenues. How can one provide a great customer experience to the mobile customer? Let’s look at a few ways to get this done.

Determine what’s important to the mobile customer. – While it’s important to be “mobile friendly”, (your website is mobile friendly right?)  it’s also important to know what’s important to your mobile customer. Mobile customers are busy people and really want to do everything from their mobile device. They want the ability to visit your website, conduct business and move on – while waiting at the traffic light! This means that your website should first of all be built for speed. How many clicks to complete a transaction? How many clicks to locate items? How does the site look on their smartphone screen? Is there a “click-to-call button” available on your mobile site? Are they able to find your locations and open hours? Can they email you from your mobile site?  All of these are important to your mobile customer.

Get an app. – Another way to deliver a great mobile customer experience is to provide a downloadable mobile app. Doing so creates an avenue for two-way communication. A mobile app allows you to be proactive in having the ability to “push” information to your customer. You can advise your customer of future events, sales, changes or delays. Your customer should also be able to contact you as well via your mobile app. Let’s say your customer is running late for an appointment or reservation – can they communicate this information to you through your mobile app?  Now some might say “Why not just make a phone call in this example.” I would say it doesn’t have to make sense – it’s what the customer prefers to do. If your competitors are providing an avenue for customers to communicate in their preferred manner and you’re not, you run the risk of your customers becoming your competitors’ customers.

Pay attention to your data. – Your mobile customer’s activity should provide some great data for you to establish usage patterns. What percentage of your website visitors do so via their mobile device? What percentage of customers who downloaded your mobile app actually utilizes it? What percentage of mobile visitors actually make a purchase from your website? What percentage of customers making reservations do so from a mobile device? When pushing out sales specials to your mobile app users, what percentage take advantage of your offer? What percentage of total sales are attributable to mobile customers? These are some questions that can assist you in determining the effectiveness of your mobile strategy. The answers will surely create more questions – How can we get more customers who downloaded the app to actually utilize it? Does our advertisement wording incentivize our mobile customers to make a purchase? Do we have all of the pertinent information available to our mobile customer? The answers will certainly identify areas of opportunity in the quest to create a great mobile customer experience.

The mobile customer is not one to tolerate a slow or non-existent mobile customer strategy. Make sure yours in running on all cylinders by Determining What’s Important to the Mobile Customer, Providing A Downloadable Mobile App  and Paying Attention to Your Data.

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