20 Service Excellence Leadership Practices

Inherent in Organizations that Consistently Provide Excellent Customer Service is the Notion of Service Statesmanship

Customer service ─ and service quality ─ are critical managerial topics in business today for many reasons:

  • Service quality has strategic importance in the long-term success of the business.
  • Excellent customer service is a critical means by which an organization can differentiate itself from competition.
  • Everyone in the organization needs to focus on providing good service (not just front-line staff) ─ from senior managers to customer contact personnel.

As we wrote in the previous Monday Morning Marketing Memo, inherent in organizations that consistently provide excellent customer service is the very notion of Service Statesmanship. The two key aspects of service statesmanship are:

  • A Service Statesman is a role model, constantly reinforcing the organization’s key service messages and service values.
  • A Service Statesman is seen by staff as constantly engaged and interested in improving service delivery.

Here are 20 Service Excellence Leadership Practices that any leader, from a department or business unit manager to the CEO, can and should perform in their role as Service Statesmen:

  1. You provide a clear, written statement to employees explaining what you mean by excellent service and how you will create it for your customers.
  2. You make certain that employees can explain their specific role in delivering excellent customer service.
  3. You make certain that employees know the day-to-day things they can do to deliver excellent customer service.
  4. You communicate to employees on a regular basis about the importance of providing excellent service to customers.
  5. You ask employees how customer service quality can be improved.
  6. You have your managers set personal examples of good service to customers.
  7. You set standards for response time to customer complaints or questions.
  8. You track the success of your efforts to improve service quality.
  9. You share customers’ evaluations of your service quality with all your employees, colleagues, and peers.
  10. You reward employees who take a personal interest in resolving customer complaints and problems.
  11. You recognize employees who provide superior service to customers.
  12. You make it clear that delivering excellent service is important in career advancement decisions.
  13. You keep employees up-to-date on customer expectations.
  14. You encourage employees to go “above and beyond” regular job descriptions for the customer.
  15. You encourage managers to work one-on-one with employees to meet service quality standards.
  16. You train customer contact employees to deal with angry customers.
  17. You provide employees with sufficient training on the company’s products and services.
  18. Your policies and procedures are designed to help deliver excellent service.
  19. You define procedures for what to do when mistakes are made or errors are discovered.
  20. You make it easy for customers to reach the right person or business unit when they have problems or questions.

Like most things in business, you have two choices when it comes to being a Service Statesman. You can either talk about it, or you can lead by example via the above 20 practices.

The “talk only” approach, or what might be called the NATO (No Action, Talk Only) approach, is unlikely to produce the desired results.

I always admire the restaurant managers at McDonald’s, whom you frequently see with mop and bucket in hand cleaning up after a spill or when customers leave a messy table behind. You know McDonald’s is serious about cleanliness when you see the restaurant managers actually doing the cleaning.

The same goes for your business. Customers know exactly how serious your organization is about customer service by observing how your managers act and perform. Likewise, so do your staff.

You can reinforce your dedication and your message about excellent service delivery, to both employees and customers, by putting into practice the 20 managerial habits we have given you this week.

KEY POINT:  inherent in organizations that consistently provide excellent customer service is the notion of service statesmanship.

TAKING ACTION:  select four of the 20 service excellent leadership practices found in this week’s Monday Morning Marketing Memo that you would like to start using in your job. For each practice selected, list 3-4 things that you could start doing this week to implement these practices.

Review your policies and procedures. Which ones enable your staff to consistently deliver quality customer service? Which ones hinder them in their pursuit of delivering excellent customer service consistently? How can the latter ones be amended and changed?

Are you seen by your staff as constantly engaged and interested in improving service delivery? What personal steps can you do to improve in this area?

Review your agenda for your last staff meeting. What percentage of the meeting was planned for customer service discussions? For your next 4-5 staff meetings, make sure that customer service is the dominant item on each agenda. Then your staff will know how serious you truly are about this topic.

This post is excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in paperback ($13.88) and Kindle ($3.88) formats.

Taking Care of Customers

If you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will

I was in Melbourne in 1999 attending a major meeting of the Australian and New Zealand banks that issue MasterCard credit cards and Maestro debit cards.

Mr. Nicholas Utton, Chief Marketing Officer of MasterCard International at that time, had one key message for this audience of senior bankers concerning customers: “if we don’t take care of our customers, someone else will.

That’s worth repeating — and reflecting on: “if we don’t take care of our customers, someone else will.”

And how true that is.

Just think about all the choices and options available to your customers today.

Rare is the organization that finds itself without numerous competitors. Even rarer is the customer without readily available options, choices, or substitute products for the solutions they seek.

To take care of your customers, you need to have a full understanding of their wants, needs, and desires.

I would also suggest that you need to have a corporate-wide attitude that understands a person or an organization is not truly your customer until the second time they buy.

That is right. I recommend you do not consider anyone a customer until the second time they buy from you.

The first time they buy they are merely a trial user. Unless they achieve satisfaction from the purchase and the use of your product or service, they may be unlikely to repeat their business with you.

Hence, taking care of the customer goes beyond the mere sales cycle and includes all post-purchase activities such as use, repair, servicing, customer service, warranties, and trade-in or re-sale.

The best way to take care of your prospects and customers is to tailor or customize your products and service offerings as much as you profitably can.

Treat your customers as individuals ─ with individual needs ─ at all customer touch points and you will be well on your way to developing customer loyalty.

And remember, in the words of MasterCard’s former Chief Marketing Officer, if you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will.

 

KEY POINT: if you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will.

TAKING ACTION: are you fully aware of the experiences customers have with your products? How satisfying are these experiences? Any way to find out?

Where can your product or service offer be customized? How can you create tailored solutions for your very, very important customers?

This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

Make It Easy For Customers To Complain

Customers Who Complain Are Customers Who Care

 Two of the key points from last week’s Monday Morning Marketing Memo are:

1)   complaints will happen because mistakes will happen, and

2)  customers who complain are customers who care.

Therefore, knowing that you are going to get complaints and knowing that such complaints are good for you, it makes sense to have a complaint management strategy in place. Such a complaint management strategy must not only focus on resolving the various customer issues that crop up, but needs to also systematically turn customer complaints into learning opportunities for the entire organization.

The first component of your complaint management strategy is that you should make it easy for customers to complain.

“What?” I can hear many of you saying. “Make it easier for customers to complain, so that we actually get more complaints?”

But that’s exactly what your goal should be ─ to drive more complaints. After all, if you do not hear about the problems your customers are having with your products, services, or staff, then how are you going to go fix these?

Secondly, when a customer has a complaint, and they run into hurdles and barriers trying to voice their complaint to someone, all they do is get angrier and angrier. This results in a small problem developing into a multi-faceted larger one, simply because the customer cannot find a way to channel their concerns, anger, fears, worries, questions, or complaints to your organization in a timely and convenient manner.

This is particularly true when it comes to the information posted on your website. Few things seem to infuriate customers more these days than not being able to find the right contact details for lodging a complaint, or for speaking to someone other than a call center “service rep” on an organization’s website.

Thus, there are two key benefits from making it easy for customers to complain:

1)   The customers do not get angrier and more upset from the additional frustrations of trying to contact your organization.

2)  You have more opportunities to fix initial, small problems before they evolve into larger and harder to resolve ones.

Part of your complaint management strategy needs to emphasize to all employees, especially the first tier and second tier staff who routinely have to deal with 90% of customer complaints, that service recovery starts with how they react to complaints.

Unfortunately, for too many organizations the initial reaction to a customer complaint is either defensive (trying to push the blame back onto the customer) or process driven (having a focus on a speedy resolution so that the frontline service staff can rapidly move onto the next customer complaint).

This approach often has unintended negative consequences, as customers end up feeling that they have been handled in a non-personalized fashion or have been quickly served so that another customer’s situation can take priority. This is not to say that speed and prompt resolutions are not appreciated; however it is important to understand that the manner in which swift results are delivered can be perceived as dehumanizing and robotic.

A good example of this is when an organization’s email autoresponder system sends out the highly depersonalizing “thank you for your inquiry, we will get back to you promptly” message when an email of complaint is sent via the organization’s website.

Please note: an email (or letter) of complaint is not an inquiry. It is an attempt to get a humanized and customized resolution to a situation that your customer finds unpalatable. It should not be responded to in the same manner as an email asking a general product or service question.

Additionally, in the most unfortunate situations, another unintended negative consequence of the focus on speed is that the customer actually walks away feeling unheard and that his or her true, underlining complaint was ignored, overlooked, or not fully understood. The result is that customers feel it is difficult to voice their complaints to the organization, and may end up deciding that it is far easier to take their business elsewhere than to continue dealing with an organization that fails to listen and comprehend.

It is for this reason that I advocate changing “customer service staff” into customer satisfaction staff,” who are then measured on their abilities to deliver complete satisfaction to customers, rather than by quantitative indicators such as the number of calls handled, the number of customers served, and the average time per service transaction.

This is not a matter of semantics, but of a philosophical approach of being fully customer focused and pro-active in the area of customer satisfaction, rather than being reactive and process driven in determining customer service standards.

One interesting thing I have noticed is that customers are more acute listeners and observers when they are angry. In fact, when angered customers notice every little detail about how they are being treated and what steps the organization is taking to settle the dispute. As a result, each and every thing done by someone representing the organization, including outsourced contract staff such as those in call centers, is noted and mentally recorded by upset customers. This is especially true for any attempts to forestall the customer from complaining or to thwart their desires to be fully heard and understood.

Customers willingly play these details back to the next level of management, or to anyone else who will listen ─ including your other customers and prospects ─ at a moment’s notice. This not only lengthens the time it takes to eventually solve the original customer complaint, but it also means the dissatisfactions incurred by the customer while engaged in the settlement process must now also be dealt with. This leads to additional costs to the organization, in terms of both staff hours and the eventual compensation to the customer, as well as an unsatisfying feeling all around for the customer, your staff, and the management personnel involved.

All this could be alleviated, of course, if you simply made it easier for customers to complain in the first place.

One of my personal marketing cornerstones is that preventing customer complaints is better than resolving them. Such prevention, however, must come through quality products, services, procedures, processes, policies, and staff. This does not imply that you should prevent customer complaints from being fully voiced and understood.

When something goes wrong, it is best to hear about it. Only the problems your organization hears and knows about are fixable.

Handling customer complaints properly impacts all current and future customers ─ and starts with processes, procedures, and systems that make it easy for such complaints to be communicated to your organization.

So, make it easy and convenient for your customers to complain. You will be glad you did. For the benefits will be for you and the organization to reap.

 

KEY POINT: make it easy for customers to complain to your organization.

TAKING ACTION: how are customer complaints handled in your organization? Are they processed and handled as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then forgotten? What can be done so that customer complaints are fully voiced and understood?

What steps are needed to turn the efficient handling of complaints into learning opportunities for your organization?

How is customer service monitored and measured in your organization? What does your customer service “scorecard” look like? Does it include measurements for how lessons from the frontline points of customer interaction are circulated to other staff, used in training courses, and incorporated into new employee orientation programs?

 

This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in Kindle and paperback formats at Amazon.

 

Customer Complaints Are Good

Customers Who Complain Are Customers Who Care

As sure as there are customers for your product, you can be guaranteed that there will be complaints about your products or services.

Why?

Is it impossible for any organization to deliver 100% customer satisfaction and 100% fault-free products and services all the time? In a simple word: yes.

I have yet to come across an organization that does not make the occasional mistake, or the employee who does not commit the odd accidental error or who simply is in a grumpy mood that is reflected onto your customers.

So face it ─ complaints will happen.

And this is good. For complaints are good for you.

One of the worst things customers can do when faced with unsatisfactory service or a poor quality product is to not tell you and leave for the competition. After all, if you do not hear of the problems that cause customers to take their business elsewhere, how can you fix them?

Customer complaints are good for these:

  • Highlight areas that need improvement.
  • Identify procedures that cause customer pain.
  • Reveal information that is lacking, or erroneous, in your communications.
  • Identify staff who need more training or closer supervision.
  • Provide a check on consistency levels.
  • Surface policies that may be outdated.
  • Trigger positive change (if you take the initiative to act on the complaints).
  • Raise staff morale (through positive change).
  • Provide a method of competitive intelligence.
  • Provide bench marking from other industries.
  • Identify customers who care.

That last point is a critical one to ponder. Customers who complain are customers who care!

Sure, customers who complain often want some form of restitution for the inconveniences suffered. But most just want the organization to live up to the promises made, which ought to be the key objective of the selling organization anyway.

So while they care about themselves and having their own satisfaction levels fulfilled, they also care enough about future engagements with the organization to want to help the organization live up to future commitments.

Otherwise, they would simply just walk away and take their business elsewhere (after demanding a refund of whatever money has already been spent on the unsatisfactory product or service).

Whether they are loyal customers, upset customers, wronged customers, disappointed customers, angry customers, right customers, or even wrong customers ─ customers who complain do care. (Okay, maybe not all, but certainly most.)

If your staff attitudes can be shifted so that they collectively and individually view complainers as customers who care, then your organization is in a much better position to learn from such complaints and to implement restorative steps that result in retrieval of departing and departed customers.

Unfortunately, too many organizations treat customer complaints as “sore points” that need to be counted, rectified, and forgotten as soon as the service staff moves on to the next complaining customer. This is why too much of “customer service” these days is reactionary and process driven, with managers and service staff monitored and measured in terms of efficiencies, quickness of response, and the number of complaints “handled” per shift, day, week, or month.

When complaints are handled and tracked this way, true organizational learning and the opportunity to turn complaints into new levels of customer satisfaction through positive change are usually lost. Forever. Or at least until an enlightened new manager takes over the so-called customer service unit.

Lastly, it is important to remember that all complainers have one of two things in common ─ they are all customers or prospects.

Service recovery starts with the way you handle complaints and complainers, a topic that we will discuss in the next Monday Morning Marketing Memo.

Until then, remember that complaints are good. And that, for the most part, people who complain are customers who truly care about your future. Or at least your future with them as your customers.

 

KEY POINT: customers who complain are customers who care.

TAKING ACTION: how are customer complaints handled in your organization? Are they processed and handled as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then forgotten? What steps are needed to turn the efficient handling of customer complaints into learning opportunities for your organization?

How is customer service monitored and measured in your organization? What does your customer service “scorecard” look like? Does it include measurements for how lessons from the frontline are circulated to other staff, used in training courses, and incorporated into new employee orientation programs?

How can lessons from the frontline be turned into learning stories to the benefit of the entire organization and its customers?

 

This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

 

Service Excellent Attributes

Excellent Customer Service Drives Customer Satisfaction

There are several attributes regularly displayed by staff who consistently perform at high levels of customer service delivery. These attributes are the ones that differentiate Service Excellence winners from other staff.  They are also the attributes that managers will want to search for in future hiring and staff transfer decisions.

These attributes are:

Cares for the customer ─ Service Excellence winners are sensitive to customers’ needs and are frequently described as customer advocates. They display a sincere willingness to listen to customers and to assist wherever and whenever they can.

Displays Consistent Service Ethic ─ Service Excellence winners are committed to doing the best job possible every day. They assume ownership of problems in spite of adverse circumstances or conditions. They work well under pressure and adapt quickly to new assignments.

Exceed Production/Quality Goals ─ Service Excellence winners regularly exceed their volume, timeliness, accuracy, and quality goals.

Solves Problems Creatively ─ Service Excellence winners proactively seek alternative methods to improve procedures, reduce costs, and improve quality. They place customers’ needs above internal concerns.

Works Well With Co-workers ─ Service Excellence winners have excellent working relationships with co-workers. They are always willing to help others and to share knowledge freely.

Helps in Other Areas ─ Service Excellence winners display a desire to learn jobs outside their immediate areas of responsibility. They frequently volunteer to assist on task forces and special assignments, notwithstanding the longer hours required.

Exhibits High Energy and Enthusiasm ─ Service Excellence winners exhibit positive attitudes that impact morale within their units. They have the ability to motivate those around them to work harder and smarter on behalf of customers.

Can you teach the above skills? You can, in the same way that you can teach ethics, good manners, proper social behavior, and fellowship to mankind. For in effect, what really differentiates a service excellence deliverer from anyone else is how they interact with their customers, both external and internal. It is really a personal attribute, sort of like being a good citizen or being a good neighbor.

In addition to teaching the above skills, it would be best to create the right internal corporate culture where these skills and attributes can flourish. As we discussed the Monday Morning Marketing Memo on Creating A Culture of Service Professionalism, none of the tactics employed by service excellent companies to build employee professionalism are necessarily revolutionary. Most important, however, these tactics are energetically and comprehensively inculcated throughout service excellence organizations on an on-going, never-ending basis.

In our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo we discuss the Five Dimensions of Service Quality Excellence, the 7 Cs of Customer Retention, crafting a Customer Service Creed, Creating A Culture of Service Professionalism, and other key attributes of service excellence providers.

The path to becoming a Service Excellence Company is figuring out how to integrate these concepts into your own comprehensive, energetic, interactive, on-going, and never-ending program.

For, at the end of the day, excellent customer service drives customer satisfaction; resulting in a strategic advantage for your organization with a direct impact on repeat business, customer recommendations to others, market share, revenue, and profit.

If your business focus is on customer satisfaction, all these other items on your corporate scorecard will fall naturally into place.

KEY POINT:  the attributes regularly displayed by staff who consistently perform at high levels of customer service delivery are different from other staff.

TAKING ACTION:  how do you recognize and reward staff who assume ownership of problems in spite of adverse circumstances or conditions?

How do you reward, recognize and celebrate your customer service success stories?  How can these be ingrained in the culture and practices of your entire organization?

Do your training programs focus only on functional skills, or do they also incorporate activities that help to grow personal attributes, social skills, and interpersonal communications skills?

Is your organization or business unit a high energy one or a demotivating, energy-sapping one?

This article is partially excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

Customer Service Creed

When the customer wins, you also win

The importance of focusing on customer needs, wants, and desires is a key theme in every seminar and keynote speech I give.

I have long advocated that too many businesses are being run in the pursuit of short-term shareholder value (i.e. share price) and not in the pursuit of long-term shareholder value through solving customer problems profitably and from developing long-term customer loyalty.

Now that a significant portion of the global economy is undergoing a slow (or negative) growth phase, the solitary pursuit by senior executives in trying to constantly push the share price higher and higher is coming home to scorch them.

The best way to create long-term shareholder value is to create and keep good customers.

In order to develop strong customer retention strategies, you need to have an organization-wide customer service creed in place.

Here’s a generic Customer Service Creed that you might be able to adapt for your own purposes:

Every employee has customers, either internal or external (or both). Everyone in the organization must walk the talk during every customer point of interaction.

Treat all employees as special, just as you would treat all customers as special. How you treat your staff is mirrored in the way they treat your customers.

Empower employees who are engaged in regular contact with external customers to make decisions. Establish relaxed levels of authority and alternate chain of commands. Not all decisions should, or need to, come to managers. Trust your staff, having given them appropriate guidelines to work within.

Customer service does not end when the customer has paid for the product and taken it home. Customer service must continue after the sale, just as it must come before the sale.

Allow the customer to talk. Look at them. Be interested in them. Summarize what they are saying. Treat each customer as a unique individual with individual needs, wants, and desires and never as someone who is making the same request you have heard before.

To the customer, each individual they interact with is the organization. Eliminate the “we/they” thinking. Success comes when you think of the word “us” when dealing with customers.

It is much easier to create a positive impression than to erase or correct a negative one.

Let the customer win. Then you both win.

Your competition is anyone the customer compares you with.

Reward, recognize, and celebrate your customer service successes. This creates momentum for future success stories.

To win today’s marketing battles, you might want to consider creating and publicizing, both internally and externally, your own Customer Service Creed.

And remember, when the customer wins, you also win!

 

KEY POINT #1:  in order to develop strong customer retention strategies, you need to have an organization-wide customer service creed in place.

KEY POINT #2: when the customer wins, you also win!

TAKING ACTION:  do you treat employees as special? Is how your organization treats its own staff reflected in the ways your staff treat customers?

What impressions of your organization do your customers take away with them after each and EVERY interaction with your organization?

How can you eliminate the “we/they” thinking between your staff and your customers?

This article is partially excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

Nobody Noticed

The Little Things Matter in Customer Service

A few years ago, when living in Australia, I flew from Melbourne to Singapore. Just another day, another international journey.

Except that it was not just another day. It was my birthday. And nobody noticed!

As a result, the airline and the hotel that I encountered that day missed a huge opportunity to provide this customer with an extraordinary experience.

Instead, I only received their “ordinary good, everyday customer experience.” And yet, there was really no excuse for this.

While checking in for my flight, the customer service person at the counter used my passport details to create the “Express Lane” immigration card that they give out to all Business and First Class customers. That card has my birth date details.

This airline is one of my two favorites, and I had already attained Platinum Level status in their frequent flyer program, because of my loyalty and the number of long-haul trips I had made that year between Australia and Asia. Their main competitor on the Australia to Asia sector sent me a birthday card that arrived two days before this journey. But I did not receive anything from this particular carrier.

Upon arrival in Singapore I proceed to the well-established, five-star Asian hotel chain where the three-day workshop I was conducting was being held. This time the lady at the check-in counter took my passport and completed the various boxes on the hotel’s registration card. I noticed that she properly recorded both my passport details and my date of birth. Again, there was no correlation to entry of the data and the fact that it coincided with that particular date.

In reflecting upon this, I see that the hotel staff had been well trained to fill in forms quickly and efficiently. But they took no notice of the information that was being recorded. I was just another customer to be moved as quickly as possible from the check-in desk to the hotel room.

Now I did not expect birthday cakes and birthday songs from either of these organizations.

I did think, however, that they would have had systems in place so that a personal greeting would have been proffered. On the airline, the Chief Cabin Officer always walks around, introduces himself/herself, and personally welcomes aboard their FFP customers. And while this did take place during the flight, I would have been extremely pleased had he quietly said, “Oh, Mr. Howard, I see that today is your birthday. Happy Birthday from all of us at XYZ Airlines.” Instead, he only checked to see if I needed an immigration form for arrival into Singapore.

The same goes for the hotel. Why don’t they have a system in place for the General Manager or the Resident Manager to send a short birthday note to the rooms of the guests who are traveling away from home on their special day?  I am not suggesting that they need to send flowers or a bottle of wine, but just a personal note (or even better a phone call) would go a long way in telling the guest that they are not just another customer in residence on a typical day.

There was nothing to fault in the normal service delivered by either of these two service providers. Both were efficient, friendly, and up to standard.

On any other day, the service delivery would have been proper and sufficient.

But this was not any other day. It was my birthday.

And hence the opportunity for an extra-ordinary customer experience was missed. By both.

KEY POINT:  a customer’s birthday is a great opportunity to provide an extra-ordinary level of personal attention and/or service.

TAKING ACTION:  are you capturing data about customers that could be put to better use?

Are your people real good at completing forms, yet taking no notice of the information being collected? How can you put to better use the information on customers you collect?

What important events in your customers’ lives are you overlooking?

How can you make a special day in your customer’s life even more special?

This article is partially excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, which is available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

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