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3 Ways To Get Your Customer To Help You Provide Great Customer Service

In our efforts to provide great customer service, we often forget to remember that it’s important to get the customer to participate in helping us to do so. In some situations, customers can assist in the quest if given the opportunity. Here are a three ways to proactively do so:

Tell your customers what you need them to provide: It has often been my experience that if I had been advised of what was needed when calling or visiting certain businesses, the interaction may have been more efficient for myself and the customer service employee. Post contact requirements on your website’s contact us page, on your snail mail information, in your emails when appropriate, in your interactive voice response system (IVR) , at customer service counters, and other contact points. If your customer has an appointment to visit your business, advise them of what they should bring in order to make the experience a positive one. Doing so prompts your customer to have all of the necessary information readily available, which in turn assists the customer contact personnel in promptly and efficiently servicing the customer. Before having minor knee surgery a couple of years ago, I was advised by a representative from the surgical facility what information and documents to bring when arriving the morning of the surgery. The interaction was very smooth and efficient upon my arrival for surgery.

Tell your customers what you need them to do: Recently I visited the post office to retrieve a certified document. I stood in the line for 10 minutes before catching a glimpse of a sign stating – “Customers picking up certified mail form a line here.” The sign was located behind, to the left and above the front counter, in a recessed storage area, thereby increasing the possibility of one not seeing it when entering the post office. I would recommend placing the sign near the post office entrance and once again at the entrance to the main area where most transactions take place. This would aide the customer in going to the proper counter, thereby eliminating unnecessary time spent in the wrong line. Strategically placed signage assists your customer in going to proper locations for service. Anxiety and frustration levels tend to rise when the customer is not sure where they need to be when entering your facility. Make sure the signage is clear – During a visit a few months ago to a local car wash, I noticed the signage had changed, but the new signage was a little confusing. As I pulled forward and asked the attendant which line was the correct line for someone on my specific wash program, he bluntly stated that the information was on the sign. After reminding him that I can read, but the signage was a little confusing, he gruffly advised me that I was in fact in the correct line. In both situations, a little time taken to become the customer in regards to the sign location and language may have prevented the negative interactions. By the way, the car wash employee was the recipient of my “Secret Service Agent” stare after his remarks.

Tell your customers how to help themselves – Not all customers require the personal touch. Some prefer to do things themselves – not necessarily because they fear the level of service they may receive when interacting with customer service personnel – it’s just their preference. When a customer chooses to utilize your “self service” channels, make sure that instructions are readily available. Place clear instructions on your website, in your interactive voice response system (IVR) and at your self service counters. Make it a point to regularly check your self service systems to insure smooth functionality for your customer. Once again, become the customer to make sure your instructions are clear and to insure your systems are customer friendly.

Your customer depends upon you for a great customer experience. Get them to assist you in doing so by proactively : 1. Telling them what they need to provide. 2. Telling them what they need to do. 3. Telling them how to help themselves. They will appreciate your attention to detail and your front line employees will benefit as well via increased interaction efficiency.

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He Just Handled It!

My son drove in from Austin a few days ago and his car’s exhaust was a little louder than normal. He stated that he was scheduled to take it into the Houston dealership, Russell & Smith Ford, where it was purchased on the next day which happened to be a Saturday. At his request, I tagged along. The car was checked in at the service department with my son being told that the service person would contact him in about an hour with an update. We took a short walk to a nearby restaurant for breakfast. After about an hour, we arrived back at the dealership just as they were notifiying my son of his vehicle’s status. It seems that the repair person felt that he could not properly make a repair weld and didn’t want to perform a substandard repair. The service advisor, B.J. Villareal advised my son that the repair should be done by a one of their vendor muffler shops as they are experts with exhaust repair, but he did not have access to purchase orders on the weekend. Without a purchase order, the vendor muffler shop would not perform the repairs. When B.J. was advised that my son lived in Austin, he called his manager at home to get authorization and then called the muffler shop to make sure that they would do the repairs without the purchase order. He then advised my son to take the vehicle to the muffler shop for completion of the repairs. We arrived at the muffler shop a short time later and the repairs were completed within 40 minutes. Now B.J. could have easily told my son that without having the ability to create a purchase order, he couldn’t authorize the repairs until Monday or he could have said just take it to a dealership when you get back to Austin. He didn’t do that! He took the necessary steps to get the repairs done and for that he is a recipient of the “Now That’s Customer Service!” Award. Congratulations B.J.!

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Customer Service – It’s Not Rocket Science

Over the years that I’ve spent in and around the customer service industry, lots of changes have occurred. Methods of interacting with the customer. The variety of ways customers interact with companies. Monitoring and measuring employee performance. Metrics and more metrics. This methodology vs that methodology. These changes have often helped in creating a better service experience for the customer. It seems that some of these changes however, make it difficult for some people to understand what they mean and how they impact customer service. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for change – where would we be if everything stayed the same? The one thing that I’ve learned is that customer service is not rocket science. There’s a question that keeps running around in this analytical brain of mine – What would we rely on to provide great customer service if these changes were non-existent? The answer that I get is – We would rely upon basic human interaction principles. Let’s turn all of the tools off for a minute while we look at a few of these principles.

Principle of Respect – Every person by the fact that they are a human being deserves a measure of respect. In my opinion, the same holds true regarding customers. Every customer deserves a measure of respect, even when their actions are somewhat callous and uncaring, it’s still possible to show basic respect during these encounters. It’s been my experience that when one remains respectful during customer interactions, there’s usually a positive outcome to the interaction. How many of you have received a call back or return visit from a customer that was blatantly disrespectful to apologize for their actions? This would not be possible without a conscious decision to always give every customer a measure of respect. On another note, some companies give priority based upon customer size or revenue. While it’s smart to know how much a customer contributes to the bottom line, be careful not to make your smaller customer feel unimportant. Treat all customers with respect – make sure they know how important they are to your organization’s success. Employees should treat each other with respect across the organization. One’s position or status does not exempt one from this principle. Internal respect becomes respect shown to the customer. Make sure this principle is very apparent within your organization as the failure to do so will most certainly impact customer service.

Principle of Service – It seems to me that the main goal of any organization providing a product or service is to be of service to those that call, visit – in person or via web or are visited by a representative of that organization. Service is defined as “an act of helpful activity; help; aid”. How can those of us in the customer service industry be more helpful to those that we serve? Can we take the time to really help our customers or are we more concerned with being measured while helping the customer? Are our actions really “helpful activities” or are we providing just enough help to satisfy the customer for the short-term because our metric says it’s time to end the interaction? Customers expect to be serviced in a timely manner, with a certain measure of respect by someone who is interested in doing what’s best for the customer. Organization leaders are responsible for developing a culture whose main purpose is to properly service the customer.

Principle of Integrity – I think that I’m safe in saying that most organizations seek to operate with a high level of integrity. Integrity is defined as “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” This principle requires an organization to ask itself “Are we doing what’s right for our customers.” “If we follow through with this decision, what will the impact be to our customers?” “If we chose to ignore what we know about this situation, what is the long-term impact to our company’s reputation with our customers? This principle requires one to be above-board at all times with customers. It is imperative that customers feel that they can trust your organization. Today’s customer can create a whirlwind of negativity via the social media channel. Numerous examples exist where an organization was not forthcoming with information that impacted the customer – in some cases the situation was life threatening! Once again, leaders are responsible for setting the tone here.

Principle of Pride in Workmanship – One’s satisfaction in providing the best possible service to a customer is a form of pride in workmanship. It’s no secret that a lot of front line people feel they’re unable to provide the best experience due to time constraints imposed by organizational metrics. It’s important to be able to go the extra mile in servicing the customer without the fear of negative repercussions. This principle in action creates both customer and employee satisfaction. Customers benefit greatly when employees take the time to do what’s necessary to provide a customer service experience that fully satisfies their reason for contacting the company. Most employees feel good about their ability to utilize their skills to fully meet a customer’s needs, especially when it involves resolving an issue that could mean the difference between losing or retaining a customer. When given the proper time to service a customer, it’s my belief that most employees will do what’s necessary to make sure the customer is satisfied at the end of the interaction. Most people like to feel good about the level of service they provide – it’s just something about knowing that your actions resulted in a positive outcome for another person. Set your metrics to afford your service providers enough time to properly service the customer. If it’s possible, measure how many of your customer interactions are the result of their not being serviced properly the first time.

There’s one thing that I’ve noticed about principles – they don’t change. Principles should guide how you service your customer. Principles should determine how you treat your employees. Principles should be the benchmark for running your organization. Set your principles first before setting your metrics. Your customers and employees will love you for that! Okay now turn all of your tools back on!

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Managing for Great Customer Service

As a former customer service manager, I know the position requires one to possess a balance of operational knowledge and people skills. Both are necessary in insuring the best possible experience for both team members and customers. Here are a few tips on managing this balancing act:

Remember that your employees are people. Often times as a manager, it’s easy to get caught up in metrics. These are important, as they assist in advising you of the state of your operation. Your employees help drive these metrics, so your people skills are required here. Take the time to explain to your team members how they contribute to the success of the customer’s experience. Always be conscious of the fact that you can’t meet the metric goals without your team. Your listening skills are critical in your role as a manager. Seek out and reward ideas for improvement. Implement those that result in cost savings or have a positive impact on the metrics. Provide more positive feedback than negative feedback. If your employees receive enough positive feedback, they are better able to receive feedback that points to needed improvement. Keep team meetings based on team issues. Celebrate individual and team accomplishments. Protect the integrity of your team members by keeping individual negative performance issues private. Find someone on the team to develop for a management position – in other words, train someone to replace you.

Develop cross functional awareness. This one is for the operational side of your skill set. As a manager, I always found it interesting and helpful to understand how other areas of the company operated. It’s important to know how your operation impacts other areas within the organization and vice versa. This knowledge will help you to develop better processes within your area. Share this knowledge with your team in order to promote cross functional thinking. The goal is to get your team to say to themselves – “When I do this, who’s impacted by my actions?”

Watch for patterns. – This tip has a mixture of both people and operational skills. Let’s start with the operational side. As an analytical person by nature, I’m always interested in patterns which meant I spent a lot of time graphing data. What I learned by doing this is that operation metrics usually contain patterns. I found that every one of my operational metrics flowed in a pattern. Since data analysis was a fun task for me, I would graph weeks of data to identify patterns. Doing so helped me to make operational adjustments to correct a negative pattern. More importantly, it helped me not to improperly respond to “blips”. “Blips” are what I considered a temporary change in the pattern that could be attributed to a one time incident – product issues, service related issues, etc. I would closely watch to make sure that the negative pattern change did not become a permanent change. Even if the pattern change is positive – it bears investigating to get the story behind the change, just to make sure that the customer still receives a great experience.

In regards to people and patterns, it has been my experience that everyone has a pattern. I found that team members usually perform their duties with their own signature – the way they converse with customers, the way they input information into systems and the way they interact with others. Just as in the example regarding operational patterns, it’s important to know and monitor people patterns. A negative “blip” on the people side may be a one time loss of call control or improper account notation. If further observations reveal no indication of repeat behavior, then consider that a “blip”. Protracted negative changes in the pattern may be an indication that the team member is experiencing stress – either occupational or personal. A conversation with this team member advising them that you’ve noticed a change in their work pattern and give them specific examples of the change. A simple conversation like this may lead to the team member advising you of issues that are impacting their job performance. Offer the appropriate assistance within company guidelines. Your team member will feel that you care about them as a person and not just an employee. During one managerial stint, I remember listening to one of the best call center employees with the company stumble through several calls as if it was her first time taking calls. Knowing that this was not her normal pattern, I advised her that I had listened to her last several calls and that she didn’t sound like herself. She advised me of some personal issues that she left home that morning without resolving. I advised her to call home and resolve the issues and come see me before resuming her duties. She took about 15 minutes to do so and appeared at my door to thank me for allowing her to take care of the unresolved issues. After resuming her duties, she was back to her normal pattern in handling her customers.

Remain objective. This tip is critical when giving feedback to your team members. Performance evaluations and coaching sessions should be based upon objective information. Provide data and examples on which the evaluation is based. Subjectivity will only lead to trouble. Team members should know that their performance rating is based upon their written performance standards which were created from the job description. Provide performance feedback on a regular basis as your team members look for consistency in this area.

Give respect to get respect. I think it’s every manager’s wish that they be respected as the person in charge. It’s been my experience that the best way to get respect is to give respect. Respect your team members as people first. Respect what they do by spending time performing their duties. Whatever it is that they do – take calls, service customers face to face, handle customers as a field service rep – you do it with them to get a real world view of what is required to actually do the job. Ask for their opinions by using these four words – “What do you think?” Listen to their opinions regarding operational issues. Be an advocate for your team. Remove obstacles that hinders their success. Team members will respect the position when they feel that the person in that position respects them.

It takes courage to be a manager. Balance the operational side and the people side for a better long term result. I always found that it’s better to manage through persuasion (here’s where we’re headed) vs commandment (you’re going whether you like it or not). The best compliment for me when one of my team members was asked “What do you like most about having Errol as a manager?” was their answer “He cares about us as people and he’s fair.”

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