If you interviewed 100 people on the street, how many would tell you they think customer service is alive and well at the companies they patronize? Having asked such a question of thousands of people over the years, I’m sorry to say most people do not find that to be the case.
According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index established by the University of Michigan Business School, customer satisfaction with service has decreased as much as 12 percent in the last six years.
That’s amazing because many experts will tell you the only thing that separates you from your competition is customer service. This being the case, wouldn’t it then make sense, particularly in an unstable economy, that you work even harder to retain the customer base you have invested countless hours and dollars to develop? It sounds to me like customer service is nothing more than a convenient slogan at many companies.
The most valuable asset any telecom has is its customer base, and steps must be taken to protect this asset from diminishing in value. Those in the know understand how significantly assets impact their bottom line and they will do what it takes to protect them.
So how do they do that? When it comes to customer service and how it affects the customer base asset, they turn to their employees.
Look at it this way. Most telecoms view delivering reliable telephone service as a necessity and most will do everything within their power to make that happen. But when you throw the human element into the picture, there are many opportunities for things to go wrong. Have you ever stopped to figure out the variety of ways your staff interacts with your customers? Here are a few:
- Billing questions
- Establish new service – residential, business or cellular
- Request maintenance – residential, business or cellular
- Payments – residential, business or cellular
- Internet service – residential or business
- Field technicians – residential, business or cellular
These front-line employees have the greatest opportunity to influence your most important asset. The manner in which they treat your customers plays out very simply in one of two ways: your customer found the experience to be positive or negative.
The better question to ask is how many customers have you lost because of a poor attitude or lack of skills on the part of your staff? How many customers went to your competition, never to return, because someone didn’t have the skills to proactively resolve a cellular customer’s dropped call complaint or to listen attentively to a frustrated Internet customer?
And don’t forget, each of those customers that defected and took their cellular, Internet and other services to your competition is likely to tell 10 or more people about the experience they had with your company. If a friend of yours tells you that the latest Hollywood movie is a bomb and not worth your time, are you going to have second thoughts about whether you go see it? Thanks to the Internet, both good and bad customer service stories spread like wildfire.
The investment you make in training your staff to provide quality customer service doesn’t cost your company, it actually pays your company! Many companies see training as an expense because they see it as a cost. They have a difficult time understanding how it positively affects their bottom line.
One way to become a believer is to call your customers and ask them what they think of your level of customer service. I’m guessing some of you might be concerned about what they tell you. Most companies have no idea how many customers they have lost because of poor service.
If you spend money on advertising and marketing to attract customers, why wouldn’t you make a continual investment in training your staff to make sure that every customer has a great experience when they contact your company? If your business is a revolving door of new customers entering and existing customers leaving, something needs to change!
Skill development is an ongoing process. A one-time training program or the class you gave last month will not give your employees all the training they need to provide first-class, top-notch service. Creating a memorable experience for each and every customer requires continual reinforcement and coaching.
Consistency of service is the true key to a successful customer service program. It should make no difference to a customer whether they are the first or last call of the day, whether they are calling with a simple question or whether they are frustrated and don’t understand their telephone bill. They should be treated with an attitude and concern that clearly leaves them with the impression that they are valued and appreciated.
Many telecoms fail to create a culture that expects and rewards consistent top-notch service. Every person on your staff, whether or not they deal directly with your clients, needs to clearly understand the dollar value of a customer. Education will help your staff more easily relate to and appreciate that value. Knowledge is power and this power will, in turn, be reflected in how employees choose to treat your customers.
The old-school management philosophy that “you lead from the top” still holds true today. Front-line employees won’t honor service standards imposed on them if it’s their perception that management fails to adhere to the same requirements in dealing with internal and external customers. Actions speak louder than words. Nothing is more true than “walk your talk”! Management must become the coach and the model for the corporate culture you wish to create.
It’s the small things companies do to provide a consistent level of customer service that help them exceed customer expectations. Your staff must be able to go beyond just using the customer’s name. They need a variety of skills that empower them to actually hear what your customer is saying and then make appropriate decisions to effectively respond in a manner that leaves the customer feeling valued and appreciated.
Are the right people taking care of your customers? How many people have you hired because they had previous experience with the product or service you provide? When you hired those people, were you sure they had the appropriate skills to take care of your most valuable asset, your customers? Make a commitment to personality profile your job applicants to find out before you hire them if they have the attitude to treat people they way they should be treated. You can teach customer-friendly people the skills to do the job. You can’t always teach people to be customer friendly. Is there a possibility that you have someone with years of experience who’s tired of dealing with customers who ask questions? Don’t you want to employ a friendly and caring person who will do whatever they can to help satisfy the needs of your customers? In the current job market, people may tell you what you want to hear to get hired.
Customer loyalty starts with appreciation. I have to dig deep into my memory to remember a time when I received a genuine and sincere thank you from a company that sold me a product. Actually, there’s one exception. I recently received a card from Amazon.com telling me it has been a year since I made my first purchase. In honor of my anniversary, they gave me $10 off my next order. How do you think that made me feel? Here’s a company that deals with hundreds of thousands of customers a year but it values my business so much it gave me a gift certificate to use on my next purchase. Other than Amazon.com, I have not had one single company that I have ever done business with remember when I started buying from them as a customer. Guess who I’m going buy from next time I want a book?
If your staff does not possess these skills, then top-notch customer service really is just a slogan at your telecom! Are you satisfied with lip service or do you really want to develop a culture in your company that truly separates you from your competition?
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.