In this rapidly changing economy, one of the biggest challenges public power utilities face is how to keep pace with the constantly evolving business world. Many utilities seem to think the answer is to throw millions of dollars into technology that will help them “manage” their business.
Unfortunately, many electric power companies fail to ask one key question: “How does this investment impact our customers?”
In competitive power markets, including markets where utilities vie to provide additional revenue-producing services such as cable TV, cellular phone service and Internet access, customers have a choice of who they do business with. In today’s world, there usually is very little that differentiates us from our competition on the pricing front. But your level of service is one area where you can clearly stand apart from your competition. Good service means happy customers and happy customers have a positive impact on the bottom line.
Your employees deliver that crucial quality service. So if it’s easy to justify a sizeable investment in technology, why do so many utilities find it difficult to invest in developing and polishing the skills of their employees through effective training? Employees with the fastest computers and most recent cutting-edge software systems drive customers away with poor service.
Oftentimes, employees have not been trained on the most basic of customer service skills. Let’s take a quick review of the primary areas where your employees should be using exemplary skills.
Creating a positive first impression – The operative word in this skill set is first. We’ve all heard the saying “you only have one first impression.” As corny as that may sound, it’s so simple and so basic that it can’t be ignored! We do have only one opportunity to create that first impression.
Customers often formulate their opinion within the first few seconds on the telephone. While a call may be the 50th for your employee that day, it is probably the first for your customer. Do your employees understand how vital those first few seconds are to creating a favorable impression with your customer? How they greet the customer, the tone and volume of their voice and the words they choose – all of these factors impact the customer’s perception of your utility.
Active listening – Do your employees listen without interruption? Do they ask probing questions to better understand the customer’s needs? Do they provide feedback to make sure they have clear communication? Do they confirm the details of the customer’s request and does the customer know when they can expect to have a solution to their problem or have their service hooked up?
Dealing with customers’ emotions – Are employees trained with the skills to communicate empathy when a customer calls frustrated or upset? Through active listening, can they identify the emotion level of the customer and react appropriately? Do they communicate sincerely that they care about the customer and their concerns? Does the customer feel like your employee is really there to help create a solution to their problem?
What to do when things haven’t gone right – Do employees know what to do with an angry customer? Do they understand how important it is to let the customer talk, without getting emotionally involved in the conversation? Asking the right questions to understand the customer’s needs most times leads to the creation of a solution and, therefore, satisfies the needs of your customer. Do your employees know what these questions are? Do they thank the customer for taking the time to call and provide the company with feedback? Mistakes are opportunities for improvement!
People call companies every day angry, upset and frustrated for one reason or another. The skills your employees possess can make the difference between retaining a loyal customer and the customer telling 20 other people about their poor customer-service experience with your utility. Research shows that 90 percent of customers with a complaint will still do business with a company if they feel someone really listened to their problem, even if they weren’t able to solve it. Are you in this 90th percentile?
Expressed appreciation – Do your employees end every phone call by expressing sincere appreciation to the customer for choosing to pick your company to do business with? If the call was for support, do your employees suggest in a warm and friendly manner that the customer call back again if they have any additional questions or concerns? Do they communicate to the customer that they really care about them?
Delivering a consistent level of service – If a customer calls your utility in the morning and then calls back 10 minutes later, will they receive the same friendly service with both calls? Do you have a few “shining stars” and the rest are falling from the sky? Use training to make sure your galaxy is full of shining stars!
Empowered decision making – Training is important but are your employees empowered to make decisions on the spot to resolve customer concerns? Studies show that 96 percent of dissatisfied customers will still continue to do business with a company if their problem or concern is handled on the spot.
Motivate, recognize and reward your employees for the behaviors you desire!
The harsh reality is this – you can provide employees with skill training day in and day out, but what is it that motivates your employees to change their current skill sets to provide the kind of customer service that keeps customers coming back? What’s in it for your employees? Do you have an ongoing program that augments training by rewarding employees for providing excellent customer service?
Ask your employees what types of recognition would be important to them. Recognize them in a variety of ways for a variety of skills so that you demonstrate to them how important it is to provide awesome customer service. Develop a reward program that recognizes more than just the top performers! Recognize those who are improving their skills.
Exemplary customer service is not rocket science. But most people do not naturally possess the skills to deliver it and, fortunately, people are not computers. We cannot be programmed for performance. We must be taught! How much money are you willing to invest in training to help your staff develop the necessary skills to become shining stars?
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.