If we asked your managers and your front-line employees what makes your company different and better, what would they say?
In this turbulent business market, consumers are more conservative and prudent on how they choose to spend their money. Every person in your company should know and be able to demonstrate to your customers or potential customers the benefits of your products and services.
Most businesses would say that it is their customer service that sets them apart. How many times in the last 30 days have you seen or heard a company claim they provide excellent customer service?
Ironically, most of us don’t even believe them! Why? Because our daily experience tells us different! Most companies that we purchase from don’t walk their talk.
It’s the small things a company does to make their customers feel special which separates them from all of the other competitors that are vying for that same customer. It’s those same small things that can make a significant difference in your bottom-line.
1. Employee Development. In the current business climate, training is one of the first items eliminated from most budgets. How can you expect to retain your current customers if your staff lacks the proper skills? Without the right skills, your employees lack the confidence in most cases to really help the customer make a buying decision.
Invest the money and time to give your employees the skills necessary to communicate, listen and sell the value of the products that you offer. Customers come to you for solutions. They want someone to help them make the decision that is going to benefit them.
Make sure your employees have mastered these basic skills:
- How to develop rapport with a customer
- How to make your customers feel as if they are special
- How to ask the right questions to understand your customers’ needs
- How to provide your customer with a solution and then help your customer make a buying decision
- How to appropriately suggest additional products
2. Recognition. How certain are you that every person in your company is committed to meeting the standards you have established for customer service? Set up a system to recognize those employees who meet or exceed your standards.
Identify a customer expectation that is easily measured so that you can reward employees that meet that expectation. Reward people immediately. Don’t wait until the next office meeting, the next company function or employee review to praise, recognize or reward an employee. Let them know how important they are and how much you value them. Reinforce their positive actions and behaviors.
Be specific with your appraisals. Tell them exactly what they did right and how it helped the company and their fellow employees.
For a winning combination, recognition should be both private and public – a hand-written thank-you note, a letter to the employee’s family or a plaque or trophy with their name engraved are all simple ways to recognize stellar performance.
3. Measure your staff’s level of satisfaction. A simple employee survey can provide you with invaluable information. Structure the survey to be as objective as possible. Some suggestions for areas to solicit their feedback might include:
- Available benefits – determine if they are aware of the benefits you provide and ask them to rank each benefit’s value.
- Training programs – do they feel that the training provided is adequate and provides them with the proper skills for their job functions and additional opportunities?
- Professional standards – do they understand what levels of service you expect and the behaviors/actions that will accomplish this?
- Likes and dislikes – give them the opportunity to tell you what they like and dislike about your company.
- Recognition – what is important to them? Do they feel they are being recognized for work?
- Communication- how would they rate the communication between management and staff?
Most employees will give you honest feedback if they believe there will be no backlash or a negative consequence. So allow them to give you information freely, anonymously. Take this information and use it as a means for improvement.
4. Where are you headed? Do your employees know the mission and the vision of your company? It is difficult for any employee to know where the company is headed if they don’t clearly understand the direction of the company and know the role they have in the accomplishment of that mission.
Does each employee know the beliefs and values that your company has when it comes to providing excellent service to your customers?
If they have a clear understanding of what those are, it will help employees go the extra mile for your customer.
5. Involve your employees every chance you get! A recent study showed that more than 57% of hourly employees did not know their company’s annual sales. More than 26% did not know if their company’s financial position had changed in the last three years.
Don’t be afraid to share sales and expense numbers; teach everyone how to read a P&L statement. Get them involved and examine expenses in their departments. Invite them to come up with strategies on ways to increase sales and decrease costs. Ask for their feedback on how to improve your level of customer service. Front-line people have the opportunity to see many things daily that, if done differently, could improve performance, save time and money, and improve your bottom line.
Convert their idea into goals and actionable items so that everyone clearly understands what needs to be accomplished. Involve them in the tasks toward the completion of those goals. Update them weekly or monthly as to the progress on meeting the goals set.
6. Empower your staff. Knowledge is power. The more your employees understand about your company, the philosophies, marketing strategies and goals, the more effective they will be in delivering the level of service you desire.
Does every employee understand what a customer is worth to the company? Make them aware of what an access line is worth to the company. Do they know what it costs to acquire a new customer? If they understood that cost, they might be more apt to work to keep an existing customer!
Do your employees understand exactly what the financial loss is to your company if their behaviors are such that they drive a customer away?
It goes without saying that the more knowledge an employee has about their job function, the more effective they can be in their job. Take a close look at your systems and processes so that you can strive to empower and educate employees to handle a customer from start to finish.
7. Are you listening to your customers? When was the last time you asked your customers to rate your business? If your customers are the life blood of your business, then what are you doing to better understand who your customers are, what their needs are and how you can fill those needs?
How would they rate your customer service, friendliness of employees and product knowledge? What additional products would your customers like to see you offer? Let them respond anonymously so that they will feel comfortable telling you the truth.
What you do with that feedback is most important. Post the results of the feedback at your business for all of your employees to see. Let your staff know what strategies you are implementing as a result of your customers’ feedback.
Measuring customer feedback is not a one time event. Use the results of the survey as a benchmark to measure your future progress. To understand and exceed your customers’ needs in a competitive market is critical to maintaining customer loyalty.
8. Set the standard. Train every employee on how each customer should be greeted. Role play with employees to make sure they have first-hand experience as to what the standard means. Does each employee clearly understand why that standard is important? One of the Hilton Hotel’s standards states that “Calls will be on hold for 30 seconds or less. After 30 seconds, the caller will be given the option to hold or receive a return call.”
9. Product Knowledge. Today’s customer tends to be more knowledgeable than in the past. This makes it even more important to educate your employees on the benefits of your product. Customers rely on your staff to give them factual information to help them with their buying decision. If your staff has the ability to accurately answer their questions and to further explain and provide information, your customers’ confidence will skyrocket, as will the likelihood of a sale.
It’s equally important to teach your staff that if they don’t know the answer to a question, the appropriate response is to explain just that to the customer and then find someone who has the information. It is absolutely unacceptable for an employee to guess or make up an answer.
Providing misinformation to a customer is a deadly practice that places both you and your customers in a position neither of you want. Your employees need to understand that it’s perfectly acceptable to explain that they don’t have the answer and that they will try to get one. Customers appreciate honesty!
Here are some other ideas:
- Give short quizzes on products to determine your employees’ knowledge.
- Reward them for increasing their product knowledge.
- Allow them to use all of the products and services you offer. It’s easier for an employee to tell customers about a product when they have used it and experienced the results themselves
Educating your staff on product knowledge is not a one-time effort. It’s an ongoing process. Ask your employees to compile a list of the most commonly asked questions from customers. Use this as a basis for training.
10. Practice, Practice, Practice. Management should be the coach for your team. Role-play various customer-buying situations with your staff. Role-play the new customer, the demanding customer and the unfriendly customer. Practice each of the steps from greeting through helping the customer make the buying decision. Your employees will demonstrate more confidence in selling when they feel they have the experience to handle any type of customer they may encounter.
The interaction your staff has with your customers is critical to the success of your business. They can make the difference between no sale, a one-time sale or developing long-term relationships with customers. The time and money you invest in your staff to educate them with knowledge and skills will come back many times over and over and will have a direct impact on your bottom line!
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.