I recently picked up a car from one of the national rental car companies and left with more than a vehicle. I drove off the lot with a valuable lesson on why every employee counts when it comes to providing quality customer service.
Here’s what happened: At the counter, I was greeted in a friendly manner by the company representative. I signed my contract and walked out the door where another amiable person greeted me and offered me a choice from among several cars on the lot. I was impressed by the speed and friendliness of the service. My next encounter was with Robert, the employee responsible for checking my paperwork before I drove away. Why do I remember Robert’s name? He was downright rude and condescending, that’s why. He cared nothing about me as a customer. In an instant, my attitude went from elation to disgust. I was angered by the way he treated me, and I told him exactly what I thought of his behavior.
It was a reminder that each and every employee has an impact on the total service experience customers receive. This is true of car rental companies and telecom companies. With number portability around the corner, providing excellent customer service should be at the top of every small carrier’s goals. Money should be in the budget to provide employees with the tools to guarantee that each and every customer’s service expectations are exceeded. If customers aren’t getting excellent service, number portability will make choosing the competition easy — it will take only a phone call.
Here’s what you can do to retain customers through stellar service:
Service Standards Rule. Establish standards for greeting a customer. Use the customer’s name during the interaction and show appreciation at the end by using their name again. Develop standards for how to deal with unhappy customers. Empower your staff to go the extra mile to exceed the customer’s expectations for service without having to get management approval. Create a standard for the correct way to put customers on hold, transfer them to another party or solve a billing error on the first call. Communicate all of these standards to everyone in the company. Management should coach employees to make sure the standards are used during every customer interaction, whether it is in the office, on the phone or in the field.
Consistency is Key. Consistency is one of the keys to great service. Does every customer experience excellent service? The new customer who is establishing service, the existing customers adding features to their phone, the customers calling to report trouble with their lines — are they all treated in the same friendly, efficient manner? What impression do you make if you provide top-notch service when a customer calls today and then lousy service when that same customer calls again tomorrow? Management needs to listen to both phone and in-person interactions to ensure employees are consistent in the level of service they offer. When employees provide less-than-excellent service, management should coach them on how to improve their performance.
Lasting Impressions Matter. Do your employees treat every customer the way they would their best friends? Do your employees ask questions to determine the customer’s needs? Do they listen to their customers so they can understand what is important to them? Does every employee take five seconds to make eye contact with a customer, smile and communicate a heartfelt ‘thank you’ with a sincere tone in his or her voice? Remember, customers choose to do business with you, to give you their hard-earned dollars. They easily can choose a competitor.
Employee Development is a Must. When budgets are cut, training often is one of the first items to go. After 9/ll, most airlines made drastic cutbacks in training and other services to survive. Southwest Airlines increased its training budget. Why? “Any airline can fly 737s to different cities,” says Southwest spokesman Ed Stewart. “Our secret weapon is our people. So we had to invest in them.” Southwest is on to something. Without training, employees lack the confidence, knowledge and skills to provide high-quality service.
No Substitute for Measurement. If you called every customer who did business with your company in the last 30 days, how would he or she rate the service experience? What suggestions would they have for improving the level of service you offer? What additional products are they looking to buy that you could sell them? Companies are afraid to ask their customers the tough questions. Why? Because they’re afraid of the answers. Make the commitment to ask your customers what they think about your products, your service and your employees. Do it every month.
So how did my interaction with Robert end? I left a voice mail for the general manager because he was out of the office. I let him know I was a frequent customer and, based on my experience with Robert, I had rented my last car from his company. He now knows I will use one of his competitors for future car rentals. I left my name and number. Did the company care enough about my business to call me back? No.
Do you have a Robert at your carrier?
David Saxby is president of Measure-X, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based measurement, training and recognition company that specializes in customer service and sales skills training for utilities.