By Ann Pitts
Customer service issues have become a trending topic lately, and it’s generally reported that the level of customer service delivered today is suffering greatly. News media has recently headlined the airline industry, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. From airlines to hotels to retail to service providing fleet operators, first-class customer service seems to be getting harder and harder to experience, and yet most businesses tout their customer service as a reason to do business with them.
To examine this trend, it’s worthwhile to ask why this is happening. Are the up-and-coming frontline employees in that 18 – 30 age range (Millennial generation) unable to deliver what could be considered first-class customer service because they have not experienced enough themselves? Are technology and digital service diluting the ability to be truly responsive to customers? Is society moving away from caring for customers? Could lackluster customer service be a combination of poor training practices and employees that don’t really know what to do or how to do it?
The answer is probably a combination of all the above, but even if employees have not experienced something personally, or don’t feel it’s all that necessary, they can still be trained to deliver stellar service.
As a business owner, the most troubling thing about erosion of how customers can expect to be treated is that within the corporate culture, bad customer service just breeds more of the same bad customer service. It’s like a cancer growing within an organization that is very hard to stop. Once the company’s culture dial is set on “who cares,” the only hope of reversal starts at the top. This means the leadership level, which is not to be confused with or delegated down to the managerial level. When leadership focuses in on a problem or issue, real change begins to happen.
While there might not be an employee dragging a struggling customer down an airline aisle, there are likely things going on in your company that need to be fixed. The dial needs to be moved from “who cares” to “you better believe I care, and am going to do whatever I can to make you happy.” Employees that don’t have that skill, ability and personality style need to go work for a competitor.
Putting a direct emphasis on employee training, scripting of problem scenarios and role playing (with one employee taking the role of the angry customer and another as the problem solver) are all ways to elevate the level of service within an organization. Company meetings to talk about how service is delivered—led by leadership—can deliver priceless results. Open discussions and Q&As can uncover basic training needs that can be fixed. Put some fun in this project! Organize Family Feud-style teams to compete against each other on the best responses to commonly heard company complaints.
Are customers always right? Of course not, but first-class customer service depends on redirecting the blame and the “who is right/who is wrong” discussion to actually solving difficult problems. Retention of customers is directly related to how well a business handles the inevitable complications that come up when dealing with the public.
First-class customer service is truly delivered not only in the message, but also the messenger. Being attentive, exhibiting a positive attitude and good listening skills goes a long way in soothing angry customers. No amount of customer relations management (CRM) software can make up for the front-line employees’ interaction with customers, especially when a rough situation pops up. Examining what employees say, and how they say it, can uncover some inflammatory habits that can be changed through script training.
During a difficult situation, when an employee is stuck in a loop and unable to satisfy a customer, it’s helpful to bring in a different person. Oftentimes another perspective and communication style will diffuse a volatile situation. Perhaps the CFO or a manager can redirect the conversation from possible loss of a loyal customer. This type of transfer of customer experience should be decided and communicated to employees well ahead of time, before it’s needed.
Keep in mind every customer situation should be ended with a verbal agreement of satisfaction. Ask the customer if they are satisfied with the resolution that’s been offered up. Give customers a final opportunity to be heard before ending the phone call. In some cases, a next day followup call to make sure everything has been resolved can turn a disaster into legendary customer service. Small, simple gestures make all the difference.
Finally, do not forget to tell every customer, every time, that they are valued and appreciated. They are part an important part of a business partnership. “Thank you” is a big statement most customers don’t hear nearly enough.
Ann Pitts is the President of The Pitts Group, a company dedicated to assisting petroleum marketers with increasing their cash flow by improving accounts receivable results. Staff training, sharing of best practices and strengthening company policy are all part of The Pitts Group program. Ann is an experienced business speaker and trainer who has enjoyed focusing on the petroleum industry for over 12 years. Contact her via cell, 817-304-1533, or email, Ann.Pitts@PittsGroup.net.