The Secrets of Providing Excellent Customer Service
Efficiency vs. Humanity
Massive corporations are known for the efficiency and uniformity of their branches and franchises. From fast food chains to internet providers, you basically know what you’re going to get. When you sign up for a data plan with Comcast, you know you’ll experience the same basic approach no matter where you are. When you enter a McDonald’s anywhere in the world, you can pretty much assume you’ll get the same thing and get it pretty quick. The quality is however, another story.
Talking to Machines
Large corporations are also known for the somewhat inhuman nature of their customer service. You call up the customer service line and hit up against a maze of machined messages. If you know the exact buttons to push, often through trial and error, you get to a place where you are told a customer service representative will be with you after an unspecified amount of time due to the volume of traffic they are experiencing. If you are VERY patient, you eventually talk to someone.
What happens next largely depends on the person you end up speaking to. At that point when I get hit with a wall of protocol and things that cannot be done, I say thanks, hang up, and call back. After going through the same exact delays, I get another person that hopefully can solve the problem. I know pretty much right off the bat if the person at the other end is a customer-service person or a customer-disservice person – to put it bluntly. I can tell by their tone if they are genuinely interested in helping me out or if they are just punching the clock and going through the motions.
The Human Touch
At smaller businesses, I usually get the human touch that is often sorely missing from the “big-box” operations. Small businesses can also be a little too laid back which can be a fundamental reason they stay small. So in customer service we are looking for a balance between efficiency and uniformity and the genuine human element – and not just as a slogan or ad campaign but for real. A few “secrets” to excellent customer service:
Make sure all those involved know the PURPOSE for what you are doing. People like to know that what they do does matter and has value. The purpose could be “to provide the best car wash services in the area” or “to provide apps that are highly practical and easy to use” – or whatever you formulate as your purpose. Having a clearly delineated statement as to your aims and intentions will help put everything in perspective. You can have more than one purpose.
Agreement vs. Enforcement
Hopefully, those involved in customer service WANT to deliver excellent customer service. A genuine interest and agreement on how things ought to be done will help elevate your customer service to a higher level. Service through enforcement – “you’re fired if you don’t…” – only goes so far. Such an approach is a stopgap and a substitute for real interest and agreement.
Company Culture & Branding
One fundamental way to cultivate a customer service mindset is by establishing a company culture that permeates your whole operation in a positive manner. “The way we do things here…” or “The Customer is the priority…” are ways you might phrase it. Crafting your culture and brand is a specialized activity which boils down to deciding who or what you are, your ideals, your standards, and your mission.
Speed vs. Quality
Speed of service is of utmost priority. Likewise, quality is paramount. It is however possible for a person to get so hung up on quality that they drive customers away in frustration. So you must always look at both and balance accordingly. “Speed” does NOT mean “careless.” Factually, real speed is extremely precise and of the utmost quality.
One tool that will help you improve customer service is to make up flow charts which graphically demonstrate how customers, products, deliveries, and other items flow through the business. Something (anything) starts at point A, moves through a LINE where it is CHANGED in some way and arrives at point B in a specified state. This is a FLOW. These flows move INTO, WITHIN, and OUT OF your business.
Type “FLOW CHART” under Google Images and you’ll get a lot of the same types of pictures. You can make these more useful when you add PEOPLE and LOCATIONS to the chart. You could literally do a chart against the floor plan of your office and you’d get the idea. A flow chart should minimally have a START and an END and demonstrate WHO does WHAT.
Another useful tool to speed up service beyond expectations is DRILLING. The military does a lot of drilling. A person training to be a pilot must do extensive drilling in a flight simulator before they get anywhere near flying an airplane. Drilling has unlimited usage. Once you make some flow charts – no matter how primitive – gather your staff and have them drill the actions on the flow charts. Startling things will come up and you should invite input and suggestions. You do this over and over again while continuously refining your charts and what those charts represent – the real world!
For an enlightening example of what precision drilling can accomplish, check out some videos of the USMC Silent Drill Platoon.
Fixed & Mobile Jobs
There are two fundamentally different types of jobs in any business: FIXED and MOBILE. A fixed job is one that is usually stationary, sitting at a station or desk, etc. A mobile job is MOVING or AMBULANT. It is highly useful to understand this delineation. A fixed person, like a receptionist, should have everything within arm’s reach in order to do his or her job. An ambulant person, such as a messenger, is often on the go and will facilitate the fixed jobs. He or she delivers messages, packages, etc. accurately and promptly so that the fixed person doesn’t have to wander about looking for things. These types of jobs work together to achieve greater efficiency.
External & Internal
Another fundamental division is EXTERNAL and INTERNAL. An external job or position is facing outwards toward your public or customers. An internal job or position is facing inwards toward the business itself. You frontline service people and sales people are EXTERNAL. Your HR department and IT department are INTERNAL. As an owner or CEO, you are overseeing all of the above. Differentiating and understanding the various types of jobs and departments helps you in establishing and running a business.
What is the lifeblood of your business? It is communication. If people don’t or can’t communicate, you have blocks and slows of all kinds, and customer service will most certainly suffer. If the salesman fails to inform the IT guy that his computer doesn’t work and as a result his customers don’t get contacted, you have a service problem because these people are out there waiting to hear what is going on. If the messenger delivers the package to the wrong office, thus delaying it by 24 hours, then a customer doesn’t get what was promised and tells his friends about it. Communication and customer service go hand in hand.
The Whole Picture
We have the word “holistic” in the drug rehab field meaning addressing the whole person or the whole situation, the root causes of things, the body, the mind, and the spirit. A business, from a corner store to a multi-billion dollar conglomerate, also has a body, a mind, and a spirit. All these parts are either working together harmoniously or they are not – and there are varying degrees in between.
Customer service is what your business is all about. The whole place exists to deliver a high quality product or service in a friendly and efficient manner. Every position and department plays a significant role. The job of an owner or manager is to make every part work together at the same time flawlessly. Simple, right? Well, hopefully I’ve provided some advice that will make it easier.