“Service that exceeds the need is the competitive edge for any organization in today’s highly competitive environment. The journey to ensuring exemplary customer service can only begin when an organization is committed to excellence,” says Dawn S. Ford, an associate with ARMSTRONG and Associates and the President of Consumer Awareness Management.
But just what is customer service excellence?
Customer service excellence is a “state of the organization’s attitude towards its customers.”
It occurs when employees feel valued, and management believes that their customers are being treated as well as possible by those employees. Customers experience service excellence when they begin to believe the service they are receiving is extraordinary — a level of service beyond the ordinary and expected.
“Creating outstanding customer service is about more than training,” Ms Ford notes. “It requires a total commitment of management to change the culture within the organization.”
Too often I have found this is where we find the major flaw in an organization’s planning and behavior.
For example, a few years ago we worked with a utility to “improve its customer service” through a training program that the company insisted would “fix the problem.”
Although we explained to the company that training created without benefit of a customer service audit, thorough research on the organizational issues, an understanding of stakeholder perceptions and interviews with key managers is less than desirable and would not and did not usually work based on our experience they were insistent that “training was all they needed.”
Several of their employees, especially the supervisors seem to really enjoy the training, however, the core philosophy of the organization and its management did not change and therefore overall customer service has not changed measurably in the company.
Develop a philosophy of customer service
You first must have a customer service philosophy in place and well communicated before training can ever be considered.
Customer service is not a process in exemplary companies – rather it is a way of life that is practiced at all levels of the organization and demonstrates that every customer contact is a top priority by every employee.
Therefore, a customer service philosophy must be clearly articulated to all employees by management. This philosophy must be carefully thought through and be realistic.
Here are some examples of customer service philosophies:
- Malone Landscaping Service — Build win/win relationships with all customers through delivery of 100% of what’s promised, on time, of Malone’s quality standards, and with a positive attitude.
- Av Fuel Services — Our philosophy is simple and has remained the same for the past 25 years. We are committed to offering our customers quality products along with the most complete array of programs and services in the industry. Most importantly, we know that our partner in this business, the customer, is best served when we listen to your needs very carefully.
- Santa Clara University — Think of the customer first, making prompt service to the customer a priority over other work.
- Chase Payments — Our service philosophy not only shapes our customer relationships, but it also guides our product and service development. Using our state-of-the-art technology, our electronic payment solutions can help your business grow. We want to work closely with you to ensure we do the best job we can to streamline your operations. Chase Paymentech is a resource on which you can rely. So whether you need to improve your back-office efficiency or maximize your customer base, we can help. And because we know quality people are at the heart of any successful partnership, we’ve assembled a great customer service team that’s dedicated to helping you achieve your business objectives.
- Thompson Realty — Our customer service philosophy is pretty simple — Provide superior customer service in all aspects of what we do.
A customer service philosophy should be carefully thought through, be realistic, be reviewed and have input from all departments affected and most of all have executive and senior management support.
Ensure top management is committed
Remember the utility company I mentioned?
The problem here was simple — the senior management just wanted an easy way to implement customer service without having to make the commitment to it from his level on down. Also, this manager chose not to understand that to develop, implement and evaluate effective customer service training programs a great deal of front-end planning is essential and yes that means some budget outlay.
Simply stated, this manager wanted an “easy and cheap fix” without her having to make a commitment to making behavioral change in her organization or even going through the process of discovering the real issues necessary to fix the customer service problems.
In organizations with exemplary customer service senior management takes an active role in a well defined and thoughtfully executed program based usually on a customer service audit process.
National programs in the hotel, food service and consumer industries where there are “champions” of customer service include executives such as Bill Marriott, Marriott Hotels; Frank Perdue, Perdue Chicken and Victor Kiam, Norelco.
Executive and senior management in these companies understand that employees must witness the commitment of management to customer service before they are willing to change their own attitudes and behaviors.
If senior management is not willing to take the time to work with their consultants to do effective front-end planning and discovery that can lead to an effectively designed and implemented customer service training program then I can assure you employees are quickly going to realize that they are not “willing to walk their talk.” This is a recipe for a disaster.
Develop service excellence standards
Service excellence standards are written specific standards that establish a code of conduct by which all employees live. They are provided to every employee and employees are expected to abide by them when servicing customers.
Service standards can be and should be written for any area of service where the customer and the employee have interactions.
Here is an example of specific standards at Sacred Heart University:
Professional courtesy standards
· Provide a memorable positive experience
· Show respect for all internal & external constituents
· Be empathetic listeners
· Be friendly and polite in every situation
· Treat each individual as a person, never a number
· Respond to each inquiry in a timely manner
· Be an advocate for the customer
· Exhibit a professional sense of pride for the University Community
Practice positive internal customer relations
Service excellence standards can be observed and measured.
However, before employees can practice outstanding customer relations’ behaviors with the public they have to see model behaviors practiced internally. The quality of customer service frequently parallels the quality of employee relations.
For example, all workers courteous to other workers at the end of shifts?
Do they clean up their work space before the next shift comes aboard?
When exceptional standards are practiced internally consistently they become reflective throughout the organization.
Customer friendly policies are critical to success
It must be easy for the customer to do business with you. The easier it is, the more likely you will develop “raving” customers that will come back often and refer your service or product to others.
Often procedures are established for the convenience of the organization but they do not result in customer friendly policies. Customer oriented organizations examine every contact they have with the customer from signage to invoices to ensure they make doing business with the organization as easy as possible.
This area is always a good place to apply continuous improvement processes to ensure that on a regular basis you are examining your policies and procedures and you are refining and improving them to the benefit of the customer.
Reward and recognize
It is just this simple: employees are motivated to improve their customer service behaviors when their efforts are recognized.
We are always looking for employee recognition programs and ideas. And, according to Steve Strauss, a small business consultant who often writes answers for the USA Today column Ask an Expert recent surveys and research shows clearly that Money motivates almost everyone, employer and employee alike.
Indeed, according to Michael LeBoeuf, author of The Greatest Management Principle in the World, the No. 1 work-related reward is money.
Your challenge is to use the money motivator in ways that get the desired result. For instance, the time-honored tradition of giving bonuses for a job well done is in fact time-honored for a reason: It works.
Similarly, the chance to get a raise if certain goals are met works well too. A promotion combined with a raise is one of the best motivators of all.
Taken one step further, top businesses find that offering employees the chance to get an ownership share in the business is a very strong motivator; having a stake in the business turns an employee into an owner and an entrepreneur.
Does this mean you will have to give up some ownership shares? Yes.
Does it also mean that it may transform your workplace in amazing ways you can’t even imagine? Yes again.
However, people work for a variety of reasons; money is just one of them. Therefore, motivating without money is possible if you tap into these other reasons.
Studies consistently show that, almost more than anything else, workers greatly appreciate being recognized for a job well done, and knowing they can get that recognition motivates them to work harder and better.
Giving them credit could be as simple as a letter home to the family saying how valuable the employee is or publishing compliments from customers in your newsletter.
Employees are also motivated by getting to work how and when they want. Consider flex time, telecommuting, or job-sharing as options to offer employees who reach certain desired performance benchmarks. Not only will they love you for that, but it will make your workplace a more family-friendly spot, which also can help with recruitment. Great policies cost you very little, but can create much.
Of course, everyone likes freebies. Gift certificates, dinners out, tickets to the game, or a free massage might be the right motivator. Maybe every employee could get a paid day off on their birthday.
Creating a great place to work, a place where people feel like they belong and are valued can be even more motivating than dangling some sort of carrot in front of them. And so, along those lines, one last way to motivate people is simply to listen. One small business offers gift certificates to employees whose suggestions are implemented. Another enters all employees who participated in the employee suggestion program into a yearly drawing for prizes and money.
Be creative. Take suggestions. Motivating and rewarding staff is easier when they like where they work. Even a few small changes can reap remarkable results.
Coming next: Part 3: How do I measure success?
P.S. Don’t forget to send me your examples of poor and exceptional customer service that exceeded the need. Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time.Dr. Darryl