Introduction to Customer Service “There is only one boss, and whether a person shines shoes for a living or heads up the biggest corporation in the world, the boss remains the same. It is the customer! The customer is the person who pays everyone’s salary and who decides whether a business is going to succeed or fail. In fact, the customer can fire everybody in the company from the chairman (CEO) on down, and he can do it simply by spending his money somewhere else. Literally everything we do, every concept perceived, every technology developed and associate employed, is directed with this one objective clearly in mind – pleasing the customer.” Sam M. Walton, CEO Wal-Mart Credo from Sam Walton the owner and CEO of Wal-Mart – an international chain of department stores and the most successful company in retailing in the world. Customer Service in the 21st Century Ask any CEO of a company, president of a bank, manager of an office, minister or staff person and they will tell you HOW IMPORTANT the customer is to their operations and success. In meeting after meeting, heads of industry, the service sector, utilities, and government try to convince the audience how much they believe in customer service. “It is our mission, it is our number one priority, it is our goal, it is why we are in business, etc...,” often prove to be mere epitaphs. Unfortunately, these same “customer friendly” executives go back to their offices, de-employ office staff, fail to initiate a customer service improvement plan and send memos out saying customer complaints are unjustified and overblown. The Three Key Elements Expand Your Definition of Service Who are Your Customers? Develop a Customer Friendly Approach Expand Your Definition of Service How you define service shapes every interaction you have with your customers. Limited definitions of service based on an exchange of monies for goods or service misses the overall point of customer service. “Service” should provide the customer with more than a product or action taken on his/her behalf. It should provide satisfaction. In essence, the customer should walk away pleased at the result of the transaction – not just content but actually happy. A happy customer will continue to be a buying customer and a returning customer. Who are Your Customers? Customers, buyers and clients want to pay a fair price for quality service or products, and feel satisfied they have paid for a service/product and received what they have paid for in return. They also want someone to take care of them. They need someone to understand their needs and help answer them. They need someone to hold their hands and walk them through a process. Customer service starts with the ability to listen to the customer and find out through polite questioning what he/she needs or wants. Customer service and contact with a client mean that the customer will be heard and his/her problems will not go unanswered or ignored. It also means getting to know your client, his/her likes-dislikes, ideas, background, etc. The other most important aspect to do is to listen to what the customer is saying. If people do not understand what is motivating the customer, they will not be successful in handling them. Do research on customers, their habits, and what they want and expect. Most customer service is defined by how a company or organization treats “external customers,” but there is “internal customer service” as well. While this manual mainly addresses “external customers,” expanding your definition of customer service to include coworkers will lead toward even greater success. Remember, the internal customer chain is just like the external, we are all customers both inside and outside the company or organization. As a Wall Street Journal article succinctly put it, “Poorly Treated Employees Treat Customers Just as Poorly.” Develop a Customer Friendly Approach One commonality among all companies or organizations that provide good service is the development of a system and attitude promoting customer friendly service. By “customer friendly” we mean viewing the customer as the most important part of your job. The cliché, “The customer is always right” is derived from this customer friendly environment. Two critical qualities to the “Customer Friendly Approach”: • Communications • Relationships The two main tasks of successful customer relations are to communicate and develop relationships. They don’t take a huge effort, but don’t happen instantaneously either. Positive dialogue/communication with your customers and developing ongoing relationships wit h your customers are perhaps the two most important qualities to strive for in customer service. What Customer Service Means As mentioned earlier, customer service means providing a quality product or service that satisfies the needs/wants of a customer and keeps them coming back. Good customer service means much more – it means continued success, increased profits, higher job satisfaction, improved company or organization morale, better teamwork, and market expansion of services/products. Think about it places where you enjoy doing business – stores, petrol stations, suppliers, banks, etc. Why, aside from the actual product or service they provide, do you like doing business with them? You probably find them courteous, timely, friendly, flexible, interested, and a series of other exemplary qualities. They not only satisfy your needs and help you in your endeavors but make you feel positive and satisfied. You come to rely on their level of service to meet your needs and wants. On the other hand, let’s review a business you dislike patronizing maybe even hate utilizing but in some cases do so out of necessity. Maybe it is the Police when you need a new driver’s license or maybe it is the local store that carries a product you need but who offers lousy service when you purchase. In both of these cases we are willing to hypothesize that the customer experience is marred by long lines, gruff service, inefficient processing, impolite and unfriendly clerks or salespeople, lack of flexibility, and no empathy for your customer plight. In these cases you feel abused, unsatisfied, and taken advantage of – in essence, your experience is wholly negative. Unfortunately, in the cases we outlined above there is no competition for the services/products offered or you would gladly not consider using either the Ministry of Transport or the rude department store. This is the advantage of a monopoly on a good or service because in a competitive marketplace, the unsatisfied customer shops elsewhere. Remember, good customer service results in consumer satisfaction and return customers and growth in business. Poor customer service, except for monopolistic strongholds, generally results in consumer dissatisfaction, lack of returning customers and dwindling business. Professional Qualities in Customer Service Professionals who constantly deal with customers (inside and outside the company) need to strive for certain qualities to help them answer customer needs. The professional qualities of customer service to be emphasized always relate to what the customer wants. After years of polling and market research, it turns out customers are constantly internalizing their customer service experience. What this means is they are grading your customer service during each transaction but you rarely know it. While there are a multitude of customer needs, six basics needs stand out: • Friendliness – the most basic and associated with courtesy and politeness. • Empathy – the customer needs to know that the service provider appreciates their wants and circumstances. • Fairness – the customer wants to feel they receive adequate attention and reasonable answers. • Control – the customer wants to feel his/her wants and input has influence on the outcome. • Information – customers want to know about products and services but in a pertinent and time-sensitive manner. It is also very important for customer service employees to have information about their product or service. Service providers who answer, “I don’t know” or “It is not my department” are automatically demeaned and demoted in the mind of the customer. These employees can end up feeling hostile as well as unequipped. Customers want information, and they disrespect and distrust the person who is supposed to have information but does not. Customer Service Qualities Customer Service = Accountability + Delivery Good Information is Often Good Service Employees need to be empowered to satisfy customers. Employees will give bad service to customers if they themselves receive bad service and little feedback from their managers and supervisors. Remember: external customer service starts with internal customer service.