Most businesses say it’s their customer service that sets them apart. How many times in the last 30 days have you read a newspaper advertisement that says the customer is “number one”? How many times have you been on hold for 20 minutes, listening to the company’s hold message say over and over that “you are important to us”?
Most of us don’t believe these claims because our daily experience tells us otherwise. Most companies we purchase from don’t walk their talk. But when we find a company that successfully creates an extraordinary customer experience, we’re usually surprised and tell everyone we know.
If you surveyed every customer, new and old alike, that did business with your utility the last 60 days, what would they say about their buying experience or their experience when they came in to pay their bill or called with a problem? Would every one of them say you provide friendly service and that your staff is knowledgeable and treats them in a warm, friendly manner?
Consistency is one of the critical keys to great service. Following are some thoughts on how to achieve that consistency.
Create a standard. Involve supervisors and staff in developing the service standards for your utility. You can create the best standards in the world but if the people who are expected to implement them aren’t onboard, you’re wasting your time. Develop a standard for how customers are treated both in person and on the phone.
Greet customers properly in person. This is where the customer service experience begins. Create a standard that each customer is greeted with a warm smile and eye contact before they reach the CSRs. Create a standard that every CSR stops any task or conversation to greet the customer before the customer reaches their desk. How many times, as a customer, have you watched and waited while a CSR completed a task or talked with their co-workers?
Greet customers properly on the phone. Increasingly, customer inquiries are coming in over the telephone, making the standard for how CSR’s greet customers on the phone critical. Here’s the challenge: a CSR’s ability to use body language, smiles and eye contact to communicate with a customer is significantly diminished. Create a standard that every time a CSR greets a customer on the phone, they introduce themselves using the company name and their name with a friendly inflection in their voice. The inflection must communicate that this is an employee who is ready and willing to help the customer with any problem they may have.
Interact with the customer. In most interactions, the CSR needs to access the customer’s account either to check information or for security purposes. Create a standard that CSRs will use the customer’s name during the interaction. If the customer is new to the utility, the CSR should ask for the customer’s name so they can use it. Customers want to be treated like they are special. And using the customer’s name during an interaction is a simple way to strengthen the relationship between that person and the CSR. Most people would prefer to have a CSR use their name. No one wants to be referred to as account number 1457093 when they do business with you.
Show appreciation. Set a standard that at the end of every interaction, the CSR looks the customer in the eye, uses the customer’s name when available and delivers a genuine “thank you for your business.” How many companies have you given your money to the past week where you, the customer, were the first to say thank you? You may have been the only one to say thanks. It only takes seconds to show genuine appreciation to your customers for their business.
Emphasize employee development. Simply creating and communicating standards to your staff is not enough. Your staff needs customer service skills and they must understand how important those standards are to improving the customer’s experience. Invest money and time to give your employees the skills necessary to communicate, listen and show appreciation to your customers. Skill development is an on-going investment in improving customer service.
Walk the talk. From the top down, every person at the utility must deliver on the standards. If management delivers those standards in their interactions with customers, they become a shining example for the rest of the utility.
Every day, your utility provides service to your customers. The question is are you like those hollow newspaper ads and annoying telephone hold messages or do you have standards that create an excellent experience for every customer that interacts with your company?
David Saxby is president of Measure-X, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based measurement, training and recognition company that specializes in customer service and sales skill training for utility companies. He can be reached at 888-644-5499 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Measure-X Web site at www.measure-x.com.