Haven’t most of us heard one of our elders say, “Practice Makes Perfect!” The wisdom of our elders most certainly still applies!
We have all walked into a restaurant, bank or convenience store and experienced great service. When we return to that business, we expect the same level of service but sometimes are greeted by a rude individual who could care less that we are alive. Such an experience leaves a long-lasting impression.
So how can you create an excellent service experience for every customer that touches your company, every single time? The answer is consistency. How do you create consistency? By establishing customer service standards, practicing those standards and making certain that they are upheld, throughout the company.
Here are some thoughts on identifying and implementing customer service standards at your company:
Step 1. Identify service standards that all your employees – those in the office and in the field – should demonstrate when they interact with customers. For your customer service representatives, that means greeting every customer as they walk through the door in a warm and friendly manner and showing appreciation for customers’ payments and service orders. It also means using an energetic voice to welcome customers who call the company, using customers’ names from their account records, thanking customers for their calls and confirming they have answered all customer concerns.
There’s more: respond quickly to e-mails, use words that demonstrate to customers your willingness to do whatever it takes to create solutions to their problems, follow up when promised and deliver solutions when promised.
Your outside plant staff also interacts with customers every day. Do they greet your business and residential customers in a friendly manner? Do they use the customers’ names? Do they thank customers for their business at the end of the interaction?
Step 2. Communicate the service standards to all employees. Demonstrate the standards in training sessions with all employees to ensure everyone understands them.
Step 3. Write down the most commonly asked questions posed by customers for all kinds of situations – both of sales and of a service nature. These situations could involve delinquent customers, new service extensions, disconnecting customers, high bill inquiries and billing issues. Write down various responses and approaches to these questions. Identify solutions to challenges. Write down the different ways employees approach these situations. Discuss what gets the best results as well as what does not.
Step 4. Practice and reinforcement are required to turn a new skill into an established behavior. The problem is that most adults don’t like role playing or practice sessions. But if employees don’t practice a new skill until they are confident with it, their tendency is to fall back on old habits and do what they are accustomed to doing.
How do you improve your employees’ comfort level with learning and using new skills? Form practice teams. Have one team be the customer and the other team is the company. Each team should brainstorm first on the questions they want to ask the other team. One person from each team should actually role play the situation. Teammates can help out at any time with suggestions, questions or comments that would help their team. That way, it becomes a team effort to demonstrate the standards, rather than an individual effort. Reverse the roles that each team plays. Everyone gets to be the company and the customer.
Step 5. Make a simple standards checklist that can be placed by each employee’s telephone or computer. It will help remind them of the steps that lead to excellent service for every customer.
Step 6. Measure the results. You created service standards, communicated them to every employee in the company and provided training to help them learn new service skills. But how do you know if your employees are consistently demonstrating these skills with customers? Many companies have recording capabilities on their phone systems. Developing a coaching program in tandem with recording software is one of the best ways to ensure that the customer interactions are yielding the desired results.
Another approach would be to hire a mystery shopping company, a company that provides people who visit or call your business posing as existing or new customers. The mystery shoppers will check to see if the skills are being used.
Hire a company to survey your new customers after turn-on or installation of new service to see if your field staff is demonstrating the new service standards.
Step 7. Everyone likes to receive recognition for doing a good job. Turning a new skill into a behavior requires rewarding people when they get it right and coaching them when they don’t. Managers need to become the coach for their employees. This involves listening to customer interactions and recorded calls, acknowledging employees with words of praise and providing small incentives when they perform their job correctly. Individual coaching may be needed to help employees who find it difficult to embrace the new standards.
Step 8. To create customer service consistency, every employee from the top down must demonstrate the standards. Everyone must be held accountable for providing excellent service. They also must understand the consequences if they are unwilling to provide excellent service to every customer.
Step 9. Review the processes that you use to provide service to your customers. Many companies are task oriented rather than relationship oriented. Employees are rewarded by the volume of calls they handle instead of the quality of those calls. Many of us forget about building relationships with the very people who keep us in business – our customers.
Whether or not you function in a competitive market, creating and then breathing life into customer service standards impacts the company’s bottom line. Developing and nurturing service standards that are consistently delivered creates both satisfied and loyal customers and employees.
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.