Outside the city of El Paso, Texas, sits Damian Elementary School. This is a school with a 90 percent Hispanic population and 80 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged. In 1997, Damian was struggling to pass the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills.
For the past two years, Damian has earned an exemplary rating by the Texas education system and this year it was recognized as one of the best elementary schools in the state by the Texas Business and Education Coalition.
What caused such a dramatic change for this school?
At the core of the school’s turnaround was a five-point agreement outlining what students, teachers, parents and administrators should expect from each other. School principal Max Padilla stated that, “In order to run a successful business, you must treat your customers with dignity and respect.”
Every public power utility has an opportunity to exceed its customers’ expectations of service during any interaction. The small things your utility does, from the initial greeting through the close of the interaction, are what your customers use to decide whether you did a good job. Therefore, it is critical that your entire staff consistently deliver the level of service you desire for your company. This is what your customers should expect of you.
Here a few things to consider in creating a consistent quality customer service experience for your customers:
Create Clear Expectations Internally. Whether it’s how to greet a customer who calls to discuss their bill or what to tell the customer who has lost power to their home, it is important to establish a procedure for how every employee interacts with customers. Identify the steps during the phone call or in-person contact that are critical to creating an excellent experience for the customer.
Greet Customers Properly. Are your employees offering a warm and friendly greeting every time they interact with your customers? Are they speaking at a comfortable pace during the greeting so that the customer can easily confirm they have reached the right business and feel as if you have the time and desire to talk with them? During the first few seconds, are your employees offering their name to improve rapport with your customer?
Use the Customer’s Name. In many interactions, the employee will have to pull up the customer’s account record to respond to a request. Are your employees using your customer’s name during the conversation? Customers would rather be recognized by their name than an account number. Even worse is to not be acknowledged at all. Restate the customer’s name at the close of the conversation. Not only does this help personalize the conversation, it also increases the customer’s comfort level should he or she need to call again. Customers then feel as if they have a “friend” at your public utility.
Let the Customer Talk. Your employees face the challenge of hearing the same request a number of times in a day. Employees have a tendency to jump into the conversation to save themselves time. After all, they’ve heard it before and know exactly what the customer wants, right? That’s a dangerous assumption. Train your employees to allow customers to explain their issue fully. A customer who’s cut off in mid-sentence gets the impression that you care very little about them or their problem.
Ask Questions. Are each of your employees skilled in asking the appropriate questions to identify your customer’s true need or problem and then create a solution? Our experience in calling a number of utility companies to measure their customer service tells us that most times customers ask questions and employees respond only to those questions. This rarely gives the customer and the employee a complete picture or understanding and leaves them making decisions or judgments with limited information.
Be Proactive With Emotional Customers. Make sure your staff has the knowledge and skills to handle emotionally charged situations. When people lack the proper skills to deal with emotional customers, they tend to react instead of proactively creating a solution. Have employees role play various scenarios of customer interactions. Coach them on the appropriate way to handle a customer and make sure that everyone of your employees is comfortable demonstrating those skills. It only takes one poor interaction with one of your customers to change their impression of your utility.
Get Management Involved. Improving the skills of your staff is a process and management plays a key role in guaranteeing the success of the process. Management needs to listen to employee interactions with customers to confirm that every staff member is consistently demonstrating excellent customer service. When the interactions do not meet your new standards, management needs to step up to the plate and offer suggestions to the employee on how they can improve.
The reverse is also true. Follow the principle of “catch them doing it right.” Acknowledge those who are doing a great job. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you create a new expectation for customer service that every person in the company is committed to meeting those standards. Most people are uncomfortable doing something new and different. Your employees have been taking care of your customers for number of years in a certain way.
Measure the Quality of Your Service. How do you know if your customers’ expectations are being met? How do you know if your customers’ interactions with your company are positive? Here’s a simple method: ask them. Ask your customers if they think their expectations for service are being met. Survey them by phone to improve the accuracy and the amount of feedback you receive. One organization that offers such a service is Satisfaction Development Systems. You can learn more about them at www.sdsresearch.com.
If an elementary school in El Paso, Texas, can achieve extraordinary success by establishing clearly defined expectations for teachers, administrators, students and parents, what results can you achieve by identifying and implementing excellent customer service expectations?
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. 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.