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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4 Steps to Retaining Employees When Your Company Starts to Grow

One of the main goals of a business is to establish a consistent pattern of growth. It’s what keeps the business alive. When a small business experiences the good fortune of an extended growth period, it’s critical to maintain a low employee turnover rate. Here are 4 steps to retaining employees when your company starts to grow.

Consider the Ability of Your Current Infrastructure to Handle the New Demand
Business growth can challenge your current infrastructure. When developing marketing plans, one question that business owners and or leadership teams can ask themselves is – If we get the long-term response that we really want, can our current infrastructure handle that influx of new business? It’s important to remember to take this into consideration. When the new demand for a product or service is greater than the company’s ability to process the influx, the door is now open to both employee and customer dissatisfaction. Review your current processes to determine if there are more efficient methods available to handle more business. Can low cost technology assist in meeting the new demand? Do outsourcing opportunities exist? You may discover that additional employees are in fact needed to handle the increase in business.

Consider the Impact to Your Employees
During a growth cycle, it may be assumed that employees should be willing to work longer hours or wear more than one positional hat, but it’s important to remember that it’s critical to maintain experienced employees during the growth period. Losing employees in key roles can result in a negative impact to both current and new customers along with damaging internal morale. Refrain from statements like “They’re not willing to grow with the company.” as this can be construed as insensitivity by employees. Remember that your employees have lives. Communicate the value that your employees have contributed to your company and sincerely express your appreciation for their efforts.

Get in the Trenches
Here’s one suggestion that I recommend to my clients which I believe can change a business owner’s or leadership team’s perspective regarding what is really going on day to day within the company – especially during a protracted growth cycle. Spend time of the front line with employees to see what they encounter in their day to day roles. This exercise is usually an eye opener! One can truly experience what employees encounter when faced with the increased activity.

Make the Necessary Changes
When it becomes apparent that infrastructure changes are necessary, take the steps to do so! The suggestions above are but ways to determine what changes may be required. The most important task is acting on the findings. The goal is to keep experienced employees in place when growth occurs. Your willingness to make the necessary changes goes a long way in employee retention. It sends the message that you are serious about ensuring employees feel that their voice matters. High employee morale is the key to keeping the business machine humming during a growth period.

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Improve Your Bottom Line With Data

My analytical inclinations lead me to ask lots of questions. Lots of questions! What often helps me to get the answers to these questions is data. It’s important to pay attention to data and even more important to get the story behind the data. Your bottom line is dependent upon your willingness to do so. Here are a few ways data can assist in creating more profitability for your organization.

What’s Trending? – Whatever industry you find yourself in, it’s good to know what trends are taking place within your organization. Are certain products selling more than others? Does this happen on a certain day of the week? At a certain time of the day? Do your customers call in more for a particular reason? Which customers? Do they web chat more than they call or email? Do employees take longer to properly service customers for particular issues? What are those issues? Which employees? (I warned you that I ask lots of questions!) The ability to identify trends can assist you in deciding what adjustments to your operation are necessary and which adjustments may result in reducing expenses or increasing sales, therefore increasing (hopefully) profits.

Long Term Patterns – When analyzing data, it’s important to look for patterns. Data has a way of creating operational identities through patterns. One must accumulate data over a longer period of time in order for patterns to materialize. Long term pattern awareness helps you to identify blips in real time, as one becomes sensitive to changes in the data because of regular analysis. Blips can be defined as events which usually require short-term or sometimes no action, while pattern shifts indicate something has changed and further investigation is in order. Blips may be driven by either internal or external events. Sales promotions, new product launches or product issues are examples of internal events. External events such as product endorsements, weather or negative press can also create blips. Determine what’s driving the blip. Some blips are planned. For instance, sales promotions or new product launches are examples of planned internal blips. You want to be ready for this blip as increased revenue is the event focus. Proper planning will assist in being ready to capitalize on the additional customer traffic whether via phone, visit or online. Blips of this type may in fact develop into a pattern shift if for example the demand for a new product remains high for a long period of time. For some external events, bad weather for example; it’s possible to utilize historical data to determine operational impacts. One can insure all internal operations are aligned and ready to meet the challenge.

Capture data for your core processes, especially those for customer interactions over long time periods. When analyzing data for your core processes, compare week over week, month over month, Monday vs Monday, Tuesday vs Tuesday, etc. I have found that doing so helps to find the rhythm for the operation. What’s normal for a Wednesday at 2:00pm for your operation? What about the first quarter of the year?  Long term pattern awareness helps one to plan accordingly and make the right decisions which in turn may assist in creating additional revenue or increasing profitability through lower expenditures.

Data Utilization Drives Retention – Proper data utilization is a key driver to customer retention. If you’re capturing data from your customer facing processes, more than likely you will identify opportunities to improve the customer’s experience. If you’re inviting your customer to provide feedback regarding their experience with your organization, once again there’s probably some adjustments that you can make which will improve your customer retention. Now we all know that retention equals additional revenue. Data from customer facing processes is crucial to improved profitability. How many visits, inbound calls, email contacts or web chats are income generators – I want to buy/utilize your products/services? How many are income preservers – I am encountering problems with your products/services? One must be able to determine this ratio as long-term profitability is at stake. Too many income preservation type encounters can certainly affect the bottom line if not captured , analyzed and acted upon.

Capture and utilize data to answer the myriad of questions that someone like me may ask regarding your operation. Your ability to provide the answers means that you’re on top of the situation. Remember – Identify Trends, look for Long Term Patterns and don’t forget that Data Utilization Drives Retention.


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Big Customer Service From Small Businesses

It’s often been said that small businesses are the heartbeat of any growing economy. Nimbleness, less red tape and quick decisions are some of the advantages of being a small business. When interacting with small business owners, quite naturally customer service becomes the topic of discussion. I’m often asked “Errol, should I go to all the trouble of developing a customer service strategy?” My response is “Yes you should! If you expect to retain your present customers, thereby growing your business through retention and referrals, then developing a customer service strategy is a smart step to take.” Here are several suggestions for the small business owner.

Act Like You’re Already There! – Most small business owners operate with the hopes of one day being a large company. Go ahead and act like a large business by developing customer service strategies that incent your customers to remain loyal to your brand. Decide how you will interact with your customer – What will you do when your customer calls? How many rings before you answer the phone? When your customer leaves a voice mail, how long will you take before returning that call? When your customer enters your establishment, how long will it be before that customer’s presence is acknowledged? How will you determine what’s important to your customer in regards to your product/service? When your customer emails, how long before you respond? When you have a long-term project, how often will you provide updates? When your customer complains about your product/service, what will you do next? Now I hear some small business owners saying “Errol, I don’t have time for that! I’m too busy running my business!”  It’s important to spend time working on your business which means answering those questions! Taking the time to do so will certainly lead to establishing operational standards which should transfer into a great customer experience.

Examine Your Processes – Most large organizations understand the need for process documentation, process analysis and process improvement projects. In their quest for growth, small business should regularly take a look at “how they do what they do” Identify your core processes – for example – customer request for product/service, order fulfillment, product delivery, and customer invoicing. What are the current steps for each of your core processes? What exactly does the customer encounter when interacting with your company? Are they customer friendly – for both the purchasing customer as well as internal customers (you may not have too many internal customers yet, but if you have just one other person involved in the day-to-day operation of your business, that’s an internal customer.) Taking this step assists one in identifying exactly what is taking place on a daily basis. Search for improvement opportunities and make the necessary adjustments to insure that your purchasing customer receives a great customer experience.

Establish Operational Metrics – Just as most large companies tend to identify what’s important to measure, it’s critical that small business owners do the same.  Operational metrics act as a barometer to assist you in knowing how your business is functioning. A great way to determine what to measure is to simply ask your customer what’s important to them about your product or service. For example, how about establishing operational  goals for Order Fulfillment, Email Response, On Time Appointments, Customer Complaints  just to name a few. Now I’m big on percentages so let’s go a step further – % of Orders Fulfilled Within Established Goal, % of Emails Responded to Within Established Goal, % of On time Appointments To Established Goal. Utilizing percentages helps one to see at what level the operation is performing in relation to the established goals. Once it’s clear where the operation stands, take the time to get the story behind the number. If an area is performing below the established goal, take a look at what impacts that particular situation. There’s a story behind every number. Take the time to get the story before making any changes. Your willingness to establish operational metrics allows for proactive management of your company instead of reacting to customer complaints or to a customer’s decision to stop utilizing your products or services.

Running a small business can be a daunting task requiring the owner to wear multiple hats. In your quest to grow your business, remember to Act Like You’re Already There by developing customer service strategies, Examine Your Processes to insure they are both customer and employee friendly and Establish Operational Metrics to always know the pulse of your business. By taking these steps, you greatly enhance your opportunities for growth!


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