As you prepare to close out another year of serving customers, you should be asking an important question: “How did we do?”
Did you consistently provide excellent service to every customer that called or walked into your office? Did you educate customers on ways to lower their utility bills? Did you tell your customers about other products and services you offer that could make their lives better? Did you evaluate your processes for turning services on and off, billing and delinquent accounts with an eye to efficiency?
Is your Web site a model for smooth browsing and easy sign-up for new or additional service? Did you improve communication and service to your internal customers? Do they feel like they are part of the team?
And finally, what systems do you have in place to measure your improvements?
As you take a look back on your customer service endeavors for the year and create a new strategy for the coming year, consider the following ideas.
Invest in employee development. Your employees cannot meet and exceed customer expectations if they lack essential customer service skills. Invest time and money to give your employees the skills they need to communicate and listen. Teach them how to sell the value of your utility and its products. Customers turn to your employees for solutions. They want someone to help them make the decision that will benefit them.
Welcome customer complaints. Customers complain when they’re dissatisfied with some part of your service. Train your staff to welcome these complaints. Provide them with the tools and skills to resolve customer problems. Empower your employees to handle complaints on the spot. Identify those areas that generate the most complaints. Brainstorm possible solutions to the service process that could reduce angry customer calls and improve service.
Aim for consistent service. Consistency is a vital part of creating an excellent experience for every customer that interacts with your utility. If I called first thing Monday and then again at 4 p.m. on Friday, I should receive the same warm and helpful attitude from any employee who answers? I have a lot of experience cold calling utilities and I know that this just doesn’t happen. Be the exception! Your customers will appreciate it.
How effective is your technology? Can new customers who just moved into your service area go to your Web site and do the following:
— Order service online.
— Talk with customer service via the Internet while they are on the Web site to get their questions answered.
Take an even closer look at your Web site. Does it offer a tips page? Does it have a place to complain to management about a poor experience? Along the same lines, does it offer a place for customers to share their suggestions on how to improve the customer experience? Evaluate how user friendly your Web site is for customers.
Embrace failure. Every new product that hits the market today experiences a number of failures before it succeeds. If your company wants to be innovative in satisfying the needs of a growing and changing population, you must try creative strategies and embrace the inherent risk. Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our current problems at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” Most people are afraid to try something different because they fear failure. Ask your employees what they would like to do differently to improve customer service.
Is it fun to work at your company? Employees deal with customers who are in a variety of emotional states that range from one end of the spectrum to the other. Every day, they are faced with solving customer problems. Teach them how to handle emotional issues and how to create solutions and they will be much happier.
You have an opportunity to show your staff how much you value them by also teaching them how to reduce their stress level at work. Provide an area where they can unwind. Create fun breaks where they can forget about that last frustrating experience.
Your employees are the key to long-term customer loyalty and repeat and referral business. Your investment to improve your employees’ attitude will have a direct, positive impact on your bottom line. What did you learn this year and how will you use that knowledge to make your company a more prosperous, innovative company that is fun to work for?
Recognition is an investment, not an expense. Employee recognition is a powerful tool! Sadly, many companies do nothing beyond base pay to recognize their employees for performance above and beyond. Implement a recognition program to reward employees for exceeding your standards. Reward them for handling difficult situations with customers. And don’t forget that timing is everything. To have impact, the recognition needs to occur as soon as possible after the demonstrated behavior.
I know this is a lot to think about and a lot to do. But ask yourself one last question. Aren’t your customers worth it?
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.