• Kathy Miles

Delivering Effective Customer Service


Christmas is just around the corner and everyone goes into overdrive. Businesses want projects finished up, retailers wants to drive sales to finish the year well, hospitality venues are booked out with Christmas parties and employees are gearing up for holidays and social engagements. Silly season is well and truly in full swing.

My question to everyone is - are we so busy and preoccupied that we can simply push pause on providing customer service?

There is a quote by Mahatma Gandhi that goes:

"A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is a part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to do so."

Chances are in the month leading up to Christmas, you will experience one or more of the following:

  • Standing in a long queue just to pay for a product from a shop;

  • Stock that has run out when you have gone to order/buy something;

  • Retail assistants or checkout operators who are rude, non communicative or unhelpful;

  • Employees that come across as tired, unenthused or that complain about their hours, work, the people or the busy period;

  • Phoning and being put on hold for ages before finally getting to speak to someone;

  • Ringing or visiting an organisation and being met with a rude or unwelcoming response;

  • Contacting an organisation with an issue and having the employee not understand your needs due to their impatience or poor communication skills;

  • Asking for assistance with some work and getting told that they are too busy; and/or

  • Requesting some work to be done and having no one get back to you.

The list could continue on, but ultimately all of these are signs of poor service. How does this type of service make you feel? Some words that might spring to mind are frustrated, angry, annoyed, irritated, stressed, impatient, unimportant or under-valued. None of these are a positive emotion. If you have felt like this as a result of bad customer service, this is how your customers will feel as a result of similar types of service from your organisation.

It is easy to pick on retail at this time of year as we can pretty much guarantee that at some stage you will experience bad customer service. Although these experiences can be frustrating and stressful, the problem doesn't just lie with retail operators. It is an issue that can be seen in many different organisations and industries.

Types of Customer Service:

The majority of employees in any organisation are required to provide customer service of some kind. There are two types of customer service:

  • External Customer Service: This is providing a service to people and organisations external to your business as part of your role.

  • Internal Customer Service: This is providing a service to people that you work with such as your manager, your colleagues, other departments or business units.

It doesn't matter whether you are dealing with an internal or external customer, they should be of equal importance.

What is Good Customer Service?

Customer service is primarily about operational efficiency and customer satisfaction. Regardless of the customer service interaction (be it phone, email or face-to-face), customers want solutions to their problems and to be served in an efficient and friendly manner. This will result in positive feelings and will most likely see the customer return. Customers want to see and experience the following characteristics during an interaction:

  • Good product/service knowledge;

  • Efficiency and promptness;

  • Good communication skills (listening, questioning, understanding);

  • Flexibility;

  • Willingness to help;

  • Friendliness;

  • Respect;

  • Can do attitude;

  • Tolerance and tact;

  • Politeness;

  • Genuine concern for their needs;

  • Ability to empathise; and

  • A positive attitude.

Why Customers Stop Frequenting Your Business:

According to survey results published in 'How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life' by Michael LeBoeuf, customers stop coming to your business for the following reasons:

  • 1% die;

  • 3% move away;

  • 5% develop other relationships with other businesses;

  • 9% leave because our competitors are doing something better (e.g. a better price);

  • 14% are dissatisfied with the product; and

  • 68% feel that they are not valued as a customer.

This means that a total of 96% of why customers stop going to a business can be solved by providing remarkable customer service where your customers feel valued, satisfied with the product and have a good relationship with employees.

Steps to Keeping Your Customers:

All customer service interactions involve a range of steps that should be followed to ensure a positive experience and a greater likelihood that your customers will return:

1. Understanding Role in the Customer Experience: Employees need to understand that they may represent the first point of contact that a customer has with your organisation. It is important that they appreciate the significance of this role and the results of good and bad customer service. This can be achieved through some simple training processes.

2. Create a Great First Impression: The first impression that a customer has of your organisation is called the "Moment of Truth." This is normally formed within 20 seconds of the first customer interaction, which is why creating a great first impression is so important. Impressions formed during this point can be difficult to change and can lead to loss of customers and business. According to Karl Albreccht:

"A 'Moment of Truth' is any incidence in which the customer encounters contact with any person, situation or appearance of your organisation and gains an impression of the quality of your service or product."

The 'Moment of Truth' includes the initial contact (visual or auditory), the first words that are spoken, the attitude of employees, the actions demonstrated by employees and the surrounding environment (presentation and look and feel).

3. Establish the Customer's Needs:

Determining your customer's needs is the key to ensuring that you provide appropriate service to your customer.

To be able to identify their needs, employees must use effective communication skills. Listening for verbal cues and then responding appropriately is a skill to master, for example, if your customer says "I'm really looking for a more cost-effective product than what I currently have", this gives us some vital clues as to where to start. Employees could reply with "I understand you are looking for a more cost-effective product. What are you currently using so that I can show you some options?" They could also ask if there are any other features or functions that the customer is looking for.

By determining the customer's needs upfront they save the customer valuable time by only showing them appropriate options.

4. Establish a Rapport with the Customer: Knowing how to establish a rapport with customers is another important skill. Knowing how to start a conversation and demonstrating a positive attitude can go a long way in establishing a good rapport.

Being able to start a conversation with customers helps them to feel welcome to your business. Some suggestions on initiating a conversation are:

  • Ask open-ended questions that start with what, where, when, why, which, who or how, for example, "how has your day been so far" or "what can I help you with today?"

  • Use questions that require a greater response, for example, "describe the outcome that you wish to see" or "tell me about what you are looking for."

  • Use a question or statement to spark interest, for example, "It's a lovely warm day today!" or "what brought you out today, just a bit of shopping?"

Employees can ensure that they demonstrate a positive attitude throughout the interaction by:

  • Maintaining eye contact (where appropriate);

  • Smiling;

  • Being present in the moment and avoiding other distractions;

  • Being genuine in their interaction;

  • Keeping their energy levels high;

  • Listening to what the customer is saying and responding appropriately; and

  • Being polite, friendly and courteous.

5. Deliver the Customer's Needs:

Once employees have worked out the customer's needs and have built a rapport with them, it is important that they deliver their needs to the best of their ability. This means that they provide the service/product that the customer is looking for if at all possible. If it's not possible for whatever reason, this needs to be explained to the customer in full, along with an action plan for addressing the issue, for example, we are out of stock right now but we have some more coming in tomorrow. Can I take your name and phone number and I will call you the minute it comes in?"

When delivering the customer's needs, it is important that they ensure that they educate the customer on anything they might need to know about the product and/or service. This includes how it works, features and benefits, things to avoid, warranties and guarantees, what is included/not included and general expectations. This will ensure that the customer is prepared and doesn't get any surprises.

6. Deliver Consistent Service:

Customers want consistency more than anything else. If they have been to your business before and enjoyed the product and/or service they received, then they want to know that the next time they come back they will receive the same product and/or service. Nothing is worse than having a fantastic experience and going back the next time expecting the same, only to be disappointed. This is a sure-fire way to send your customers marching for the door.

7. Follow Through on Any Promises:

Building good customer relationships is all about trust. A great way to build and maintain trust is by promising to action something for the customer and following through on it, for example:

  • "I will look into this for you and get back to you by close of business";

  • "I will call you back within an hour";

  • "I will have that report to you by the end of the week";

  • "I am in the middle of something urgent right now but I should be finished within the next two hours at which time I will come and see you";

  • "I will email you within the next hour to confirm"; or

  • "I will have that sent out to you immediately and it should arrive by the end of the week".

All of these promises say that the employee cares about the customer's needs and that they will go out of their way to try and assist them as soon as possible.

Breaking a promise (like people who don't phone back when agreed) can be one of the most damaging things to customer loyalty. Even more so than delays in work, incorrect orders or faulty products.

8. Thank the Customers:

Employees need to get into the habit of thanking their customers for their patronage. They customer has chosen to come to your business when they could have chosen any other organisation with similar products and services. Thanking the customers helps them to understand that their business is appreciated.

9. Provide a Genuine and Friendly Farewell:

All customer service interactions should conclude with a warm, genuine and friendly farewell, for example, "Have a lovely day and thank you for shopping with us. I hope to see you again soon." This type of farewell will increase the chances that the customer will remember their experience with your business fondly.

10. Ask for Your Customer's Feedback:

Experienced businesses always seek feedback from their customers. They know that the only way to improve the customer interaction and experience is to seek feedback. They will celebrate the wins and they will learn from the mistakes that have been made. Feedback gives you an excellent opportunity to implement training processes to fix any problem areas that are consistently receiving negative feedback.

PDI Solutions can work with organisations to implement a customer service strategy and training tailored to your particular business. Contact us today for a free consultation at info@pdisolutions.com.au or visit our website at pdisolutions.com.au

#CustomerService #MomentsofTruth #FirstImpressions #CustomerServiceExcellence

© 2015 PDI Solutions (Trading as Kathleen J Miles)

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