Excellent customer service seems to have become a thing of the past. As an example, Amazon doesn’t post their customer service phone number on their webpage. You have to search for 10 minutes on other websites to find it. The big banks, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase, etc. spend more time developing technology that can limit their human capital expenses than actually taking the time to have a representative contact customers to see how they want to be serviced. Car salesmen use a variety of tactics to get you to buy something that you don’t need. Trying to work down from the MSRP. Talking about the monthly payment instead of the actual cost of the car. Setting a price and then trying to get more money for extra sunshades, floor mats or tinted windows. All of these examples speak to the need for a rebirth of people delivering excellent customer service.
There are many definitions of excellent customer service. Instead of reciting what you can find on the web, I’ll give you the working definition that has helped me. It isn’t simply under promising and over delivering; it is also making the customer happy in each moment as he changes the rules of engagement. In an effort to ensure that you are servicing others in an impactful way, consider following these six steps.
1. Put Others’ Needs Before Your Own
In a society where many of us try to keep up with the Joneses, it can be difficult to sacrifice of ourselves for someone else’s benefit. I would encourage you to consider the value of helping others and the benefits that it will bring to you. By constantly asking, “How can I help make this work for you?” or “What can I do to make your job easier?” you are displaying vulnerability and a willingness to contribute to the greater good. If you are worried that helping someone else will force you to put off the achievement of your goals, then be selective in what you give. But don’t avoid giving. By helping someone even when you are in need, you are showing a selflessness that is rare in America. The good deed will come back to you when you least expect.
2. Be Consistent
How many times have you heard the saying that the customer is always right? Admittedly, I have subscribed to portions of that theory before. If the customer asks you to do something illegal, you absolutely should not do it. So, is the statement entirely true? Probably not. But something that is valuable to the development of trust and integrity is consistency. When you are delivering consistent customer service to a wide variety of stakeholders, you build a strong reputation that builds your brand for you. Set standards for how you will deliver service to your stakeholders and stick to them. Keep an eye on the Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton for incredible standards of service delivery. Because guests of those two chains know that they can travel anywhere in the world and still receive an exemplary experience, they are loyal to the brand.
3. Listen Actively
When delivering service to a customer, always allow him to talk first, and for as long as necessary to truly get to the heart of the problem. Ask insightful and thought-provoking questions. I’ve found that when others vented their frustrations at me, they weren’t even mad at me, they were mad at my position or the situation. They were struggling to deal with something else in their lives. So no matter what is said, do not take anything personally. In the course of the customer venting, he will probably tell you exactly what he wants to make him feel better about a situation. Do your best to listen intently and then provide the solution the customer already proposed to you. Remember, excellent customer service changes from moment to moment as the customer changes the rules of engagement. See my other post about how to listen actively here.
4. Open Lines of Communication
As the leader of your team or the head of your own business, it is your job to be the Chief Relationship Officer. You are the person who must constantly be available to answer questions and provide direction. In order to do this, I recommend that you proactively ask questions, anticipate needs, and routinely stay in touch with your key stakeholders. There are a variety of ways to open lines of communication. You could have a great website, an expansive social media presence, customer service reps available to answer a customer’s call, or an open door policy to all those people you interact with. Whatever the solution is for you, being transparent and creating avenues through which your stakeholders can access you will further build your brand.
5. Be Memorable
Delivering excellent customer service in a unique and memorable fashion leaves an indelible image on the customer’s mind. Instead of responding to a “Thank you!” with “No problem.”, why not say “It was my pleasure.” When thanking an interviewer for the chance at your dream job, don’t just send a follow up email, either send a hand-written card or a video of yourself thanking them. If a contact of yours WOWS! you with her service, and you know she really enjoys golf (like I do), send her a gift card for free golf as a thank you. Tying the delivery of your service to the customer specifically with create brand evangelists. Evangelists are the 20% of customers who drive 80% of your revenue. Excellent customer service is memorable because it is unique to the individual. Remember, the little things ARE the big things.
6. Perform Service Recovery Quickly
The old adage states that a happy customer will tell one person and an angry customer will tell six. In the digital age, that number is closer to 6,000. The faster you find a way to solve the customer’s concern is the faster you convert an unhappy person into repeat business. As an employee at the Four Seasons, I learned very quickly that I needed to return the guests’ experience to an excellent one as quickly as possible. I also learned that I couldn’t always fix the guests’ issue. When I couldn’t help him, I always sent him to someone who could. Sometimes that meant putting them up at another resort on the Four Seasons’ dime. Be sure to always send a follow up note with an apology and some sort of gift. It could be tickets to a cultural event, a credit to their account, or complimentary dinner. Whatever it is, make sure that it is person specific and that it is done rapidly.
“A sale is not something you pursue, it is something that happens to you while you are immersed in serving your customer.” – Unknown
Through the delivery of excellent customer service, you will develop credibility and trust. That trust will develop brand loyalty. The brand loyalty will lead to sales, so much so, that you may never have to pursue “sales” again.