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Detox Your Culture for Better Customer Service

As a consultant, I get the opportunity to spend hour upon hour inside of client companies interacting with employees at all levels. The one thing that stands out most is the different company cultures and the impact to the customer’s experience. I have witnessed employees interacting with one another in a jovial manner. I have also witnessed employees living in fear within a tension filled environment. The root cause of both of these examples in my opinion is LEADERSHIP.

When leadership interacts in a professional, courteous, uplifting and encouraging manner, the rest of the organization tends to follow along and the customer ultimately benefits. Should leadership choose the opposites of the above mentioned characteristics, the organization is filled with tension, resentment, high employee turnover and as a result – a sub par customer experience. Leadership sets the pace. Leadership determines how employees will be trained, managed and reviewed. Leadership is responsible for everything, everything that happens within the organization. Leaders – be honest enough to examine yourselves. Are you the reason for your organization’s woes? If so – it’s time for a detox. Be the reason for your customers receiving a great customer experience!

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Management Skills Do Create Customer Experiences

When leaving a recent late lunch with a good friend here in Houston, Texas, we witnessed something that I personally had never seen before. The manager of the restaurant was loudly chewing out a waiter – right in front of customers! My friend and I were both taken aback by this behavior. What level of service did the manager expect the waiter to deliver after receiving a public tongue lashing? In continuing our series on tangibles that create customer experiences, let’s identify a few ingredients for successfully managing others and how a set of management skills can shape customer experiences.

Communicate Respectfully
In the above mentioned example, the manager’s behavior was most disrespectful to the waiter. Managers must be mindful to remember that employees are people and not machines. Heck, if you disrespect a machine by not recognizing its need for maintenance or adhering to proper operating procedures, it too will soon cause anguish via being less productive and eventually becoming non-productive! Humans are the same. Strive to always preserve their dignity as people. When it becomes necessary to issue a reprimand, do so in a manner which allows the employee to receive it. Stick to the facts of the situation. Never, ever reprimand an employee in front of peers or customers. Doing so is sure to result in a decreased level of service provided to customers.

Take Responsibility for Employee Success
It’s often been said that employees must be responsible for their success within an organization. In my opinion, managers are responsible for the success of those over whom they have authority. Being in this mindset is critical when those one is responsible for interacts directly with customers. Make sure that your management skills repertoire includes the ability to create skilled employees. Are they receiving adequate training? How much time are you spending with employees to insure they are able to successfully apply the training to their everyday tasks. Now I can hear some managers say “I’m too busy to spend time with my employees.” My response to that is – Take a look at what is keeping you busy. Are you busy putting out fires? Are you busy returning calls or visiting with upset or unhappy customers? Perhaps spending time with your employees might result in a decrease in your firefighting duties. These are opportunities to insure tasks are handled properly as well as to identify additional training needs. In addition, your employees will appreciate the personal attention!

Recognize and Reward Excellent Service
Make it a point to identify and celebrate the positive aspects of employee performance. Customers are the beneficiary when managers take the time to let employees know how they are positively contributing to the success of the company. When employees are recognized for their positive actions, high morale is usually not too far behind. An atmosphere of high morale results in customers receiving a high level of service. Develop performance standards that encourage employees to provide great service to both external and internal customers. Make sure that speed is not the primary factor in your standards as this will surely encourage a lower quality of service received by customers. Take all of the factors that are important to customers into consideration when developing performance criteria. Doing so insures that you are rewarding employees for creating great customer experiences vs meeting a speed goal. Make a big deal out of rewarding excellent service!

As a manager, always remember that you are ultimately responsible for both the customer’s and your employee’s experience. Think about Communicating Respectively with employees, Take Responsibility for Employee Success and Recognize and Reward Excellent Service. These three simple steps for employee management will certainly create great customer experiences.

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Why Are Your Customers Waiting?

During a recent client assignment, I noticed the frequency in which customers found themselves in the waiting mode. Waiting to be told what to do next. Waiting to be acknowledged. Waiting to be serviced. Now there’s one thing that customers delight in and that’s being provided with service in a timely manner. Waiting is high on the how to antagonize customers list. Can you put your finger on the reasons your customers wait? Here’s a few of the more common reasons customers wait.

Supply vs Demand
Oftentimes there’s just not enough personnel available (supply) to handle the number of customers (demand). Is the demand the result of a marketing campaign or new product release? Perhaps a glitch in your product has created an unexpected influx of customer inquiries or complaints. When you know what the issue is, take a moment to proactively advise your customers. If yours is a call center, utilize the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to advise customers that you’re aware of the issue and include an estimated resolution time, instructions to obtain a replacement product or whatever it is that you want to communicate. Most customers will simply choose to take this as enough information and disconnect the call. Is it possible to place the same information on your website? Perhaps in a retail environment, data mining can assist in determining the peak periods for customer/employee interactions resulting in proper scheduling of personnel in accordance to historical data. These are just two examples for possibly alleviating stress for both customers and employees.

Seasoned vs Non-Seasoned Employee Ratio
Perhaps the “seasoned to not quite seasoned” employee ratio is somewhat on the low side resulting in a longer than normal transaction/customer interaction time. When there are not enough properly trained personnel available for customer interactions, more often than not, customers will find themselves in the wait mode. However you describe this mode – queue, line, column, etc – most customers prefer not to be there. It’s important to combine great training with great employee relations to reduce personnel turnover. The more tenure an employee obtains, the more nimble he or she becomes at servicing customers. I have a saying – “Knowledge coupled with repetition creates experience. Experience assists in creating efficient interactions.”

Options for Self Service
It’s a good idea where possible to allow your customer to self-serve. Most customers today don’t mind serving themselves as long as the transaction is easy to complete. Oftentimes when given the option to self-serve for the checkout procedure, I’ll choose to do so rather than wait in line to be checked out by an employee. What self-service opportunities are available within your organization? When the customer has the option to order products and services or set appointments via your website, is the process seamless and easy to complete? Are you able to verify the number of transactions actually completed via your self-service options vs those customers choosing to opt out to a live person (either via phone, web chat or in person)? Monitor your self-service options to insure customers find it easy to complete interactions.

Customers are depending upon companies to provide prompt efficient service. Make sure your company is ready by checking to insure Supply Meets Demand, that the Seasoned Vs Non-Seasoned Ratio indicates you’re successfully retaining tenured personnel and that your Options for Self Service are efficient and effective for the “I Like To Do It Myself” customer.

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Quality Standards Create Great Customer Experiences

While spending the day with an installation technician during my most recent consulting assignment, it became apparent that this individual was focused on the quality of his work. The way he took measurements and utilized his various tools were indications that he was interested in providing a quality installation. When asked the reason for his methods, here’s his reply – “Errol, when I finish this installation, I don’t want to return because of a mistake that could have been prevented had I taken my time to do the job properly.” As he continued with the installation, I made notes on what I felt were items that would create a quality standard for this particular installation. When the technician completed the installation, we spoke about my notes. “If I were to prepare a quality checklist for an installation of this type, do my notes contain everything that should be on that checklist?” I asked. After reviewing the notes for a few minutes, he gave me a few additional items for the checklist. The idea for the checklist was to create a standard for all of the technicians to follow in order to ensure the customer has a great customer experience with the product after the technician departs. Here are a few ways quality standards assist in creating great customer experiences.

Standards Assist in Communicating the Customer Experience Goals – When developing quality standards, determine what the end result should look like and work backwards. It’s important that the individual service providers have a clear picture of their individual goals. Individual methods such as step sequence may be slightly different regarding task completion, but the end result should be the same. A customer should receive the same level of service no matter the individual service provider. Make sure the standard for the end result is based upon what’s important to the customer. Service organizations such as hotels, restaurants, in home services and others where tasks are somewhat repetitive are good candidates for incorporating quality standards. Service providers can self – check their work against the standard to insure their task performance is contributing to a great customer experience.

Standards Assist In Reducing the Need for Rework – When service providers are provided with quality standards along with the proper training to perform their respective tasks, a reduction in the amount of rework usually follows. Standards combined with competence are a potent combination when attempting to provide a great customer experience. The individual service provider must be properly trained in whatever tasks for which they’re held responsible. It’s been my experience that inadequate training leads to rework, which can lead to an unhappy customer. Take in home services for instance; usually the customer must be present in order to receive service. Should the customer have to request an additional service call due to the initial issue not being fully resolved or perhaps the product is not functioning properly, that means the customer must once again be available. As a service provider, it’s critical to remember to value your customer’s time. If proper training contributes to creating a great customer experience, then it’s important to make sure service providers are properly trained before providing service to customers. Rework is both expensive and a deterrent to establishing a long-term relationship with customers. When service provider training is aligned with quality standards, great customer experiences are sure to follow.

Standards Assist in Evaluating Performance – Once quality standards are properly developed and communicated, the task of evaluating performance becomes simplified. Individual service providers’ task evaluations should be objectively based upon the standards. Utilize your quality standards to assist in creating performance standards. Objective evaluations lead to better employee morale as objectivity – even when the employee’s performance falls beneath what’s required – is better than subjectivity. Employees are more likely to better receive a negative objective evaluation than a negative subjective evaluation. Employee morale is important when attempting to create great customer experiences. Happy employees who understand how they’re being evaluated assist in creating great customer experiences.

Developing quality standards can be beneficial to your organization. Under most circumstances, creating standards is not a one-day project, but one that requires patience and long-term thinking. When making the decision on whether or not to develop and implement organizational standards, remember to think about these three points: Standards Assist in Communicating the Customer Experience Goals, Standards Assist In Reducing the Need for Rework and Standards Assist In Evaluating Performance.

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