Being Customer Focused Means Being Easy To Do Business With

Customers Do Not Want To Be Nomads

Larry Weber, the founder of public relations firm Weber Shandwick , says that “most customers are nomads.”

And rightfully so. Too few companies and organizations deserve customer loyalty.

The reasons why customers are nomads are numerous:

  • Service delivery is inconsistent.
  • Customer service is perfunctory and uncaring, lacking warmth or even pleasantness.
  • There is no recognition of the customer’s previous engagements and interactions with the organization.
  • There is a lack of personalization to meet individual needs, wants, desires, likes, or dislikes.
  • “Value-added” pricing and packaging comes without the value add.
  • Customer rewards programs are thought to be true customer loyalty programs.

Despite all these hurdles, customers do want to be loyal!

After all, loyalty saves the customer time (our most precious commodity in today’s world). Plus consistent service delivery can be anticipated, expected, and planned for. No surprises results in the customer not having to make new plans or contemplate new decisions.

How can you obtain customer loyalty? Does becoming customer focused work? What does it mean to be customer focused anyway?

Call it customer focused, customer centric, customer caring, or any other clever phrase you want. Being customer focused may boil down to one simple question ─ are you easy to do business with?

How do you rate in terms of convenience, easy ordering, customizable products and services, personalized delivery terms, and flexible terms and conditions?

Being easy to do business with is more about pre-sales and post-sales support than about the core features of your products or services.

For example, I buy almost all my books from Internet retailer Amazon. Unlike the big chain bookstores, or even my local neighborhood bookstore, Amazon is easy to do business with because:

  • The titles I want are always in stock.
  • I never have waste time while the checkout person chats idly with the customer in front of me.
  • I never have to search for a knowledgeable staff member to help me find out where the book I’m looking for has been placed.
  • I do not consume fuel driving to Amazon, nor do I have to wait or pay for a parking space.
  • The time and fuel costs I save more than outweigh and offset any shipping charges I pay.
  • My personal shipping addresses and credit card details (yes, both are plural for a reason, another sign of their flexibility and customization) are on file, so I easily check out with the mere click of a few buttons.
  • Amazon notifies me when my order has been shipped, saving me the time to follow up.
  • Amazon gives me an approximate delivery date, thus setting my expectations (which they then always meet).
  • Even when I place an order on Saturday it gets shipped the next day ─ a Sunday!

I cannot think of a single thing Amazon could do to make it easier to do business with them. I have read where Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is passionate about improving the customer experience. For me, he is certainly hitting all the right buttons.

Amazon is a great example of a company that is practicing Customer Retention Marketing by being easy to do business with. As a result, they are keeping good customers (like me) loyal in terms of both buying behavior and brand preference.

Customers do not need (or want) to be nomads. All it takes to change this is being easy to do business with.

 

KEY POINT:  being customer focused may boil down to one simple question ─ are you easy to do business with?

TAKING ACTION:  ask yourself, is your organization easy to do business with? What rules, procedures and processes do you have that make it hard for your customers to do business with you?

How could you make it easier for customers to do business with you? What changes can you make in the areas of convenience, order placement, product or service customization, delivery, and other terms and conditions that would make it easier for customers to do business with you?

Review with your major customers which of your processes, policies, procedures, terms, conditions, and other elements drive them crazy and make them wish you did things differently.

 

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

Customer Churn Continues Unabated

The Importance of Measuring Customer Retention and Loyalty

Customer attrition rates remain unbelievably high, despite (or maybe because of) continued investments by corporations in CRM technology.

According to a study a couple of years ago of 1,000 consumers by Accenture, 18% of respondents reported they stopped conducting business with at least one retailer within the past year due to poor service. A significant proportion of consumers in this survey also stopped doing business during the previous 12 months with Internet Service Providers (15%), banks (14%), telephone companies (12%), wireless/cell phone companies (11%), and cable/satellite TV service providers (10%).

That’s a whole lot of customer churn going on.

And I have not read or seen any data or evidence that these numbers are significantly different today. In fact, they may well likely be worse.

It is little wonder that Larry Weber, founder of the Weber Shandwick public relations firm, says that “most customers are nomads.”

When viewed in the light of another piece of research, perhaps these findings are not so surprising after all. A destinationCRM.com reader poll conducted in October a couple of years ago reports that:

  1. 39% of customer contact centers do not measure either customer loyalty or customer satisfaction.
  2. 19% measure only customer satisfaction.
  3. 42% measure both customer loyalty and customer satisfaction.

This means that a full 58% of customer contact centers do not measure customer loyalty at all, at least according to this reader poll.

If you are not measuring customer loyalty, then you probably have little idea how to manage and reduce customer attrition.

Building a sustainable and profitable business requires a customer strategy that is centered on creating (and measuring) customer loyalty.

Doing so requires keen customer insight, not million dollar CRM computer systems. In most cases, the thousands and millions of dollars spent on CRM hardware would have been better spent on hiring, training, motivating, and retaining good staff who have your customers’ needs, wants, desires, and best interests in mind at all times.

In another Accenture research study reported in the article Meeting Individual Customer Expectations by Michael Breault, “delivering consistently on the brand promise plays a greater role in creating loyal customers than any other customer-facing capability does.”

In fact, according to the study, “regardless of their industry or business model (B2C, B2B, etc.), developing and delivering a branded customer experience comprises 33% of a company’s ability to achieve strong customer loyalty.”

In his article, Breault also cites a Bain & Company study that found some 80% of companies believed they are delivering a “superior experience” to their customers, while the customers of these firms rated only 8% of them as truly delivering a superior customer experience. Now that is a perception gap!

It is a perception gap that is caused by the corporate focus on using transactional data to define the relationships with customers and a lack of insight on customer attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions. It is also caused by the reliance on demographic segmentation instead of segmentation based on customer needs.

It is also caused by companies not listening to their customers. A study by customer experience research and consulting firm Strativity Group concludes that too many companies do not properly use the information garnered from customer surveys. The two biggest problems cited in this study were:

  1. although a majority of the respondents (59%) claimed to design customer surveys with strategic intentions, only a small minority (23%) managed to obtain internal buy-in for change in response to customer survey results.
  2. only 45% of the 200+ plus firms surveyed around the world could translate their customer survey results into actions.

One of the other problems identified in the Strativity Group survey is that 69% of the survey participants reported that they faced internal struggles with people arguing about the validity of the customer survey results. As the report concludes, “the study results indicate only a superficial and incremental commitment on the part of companies to their customer studies and to acting upon customer insight.”

When these various independent research studies are reviewed in aggregate, one reaches the conclusion that:

  1. Customer attrition rates of 10% to 15% per annum are likely to remain for years to come.
  2. Until companies start to measure customer loyalty, they will remain ignorant and naive about this critical bottom-line impacting issue.
  3. Too many companies are fooling themselves (or their senior management, but not their customers) by conducting customer surveys that do not result in action and customer experience enhancing changes.

One of these days, corporations are going to understand the cost of customer attrition. At least that is my hope.

Until then, of course, any company that makes customer insight and customer loyalty a focal point of their business operations will have a significant advantage in creating long-term, sustainable growth and profitability.

KEY POINT:  if you are not measuring customer loyalty, then you probably have little idea how to manage and reduce customer attrition.

TAKING ACTION:  review the results of your two most recent customer surveys and then identify what actions were taken as a result of the surveys. Was sufficient action taken? Why or why not? What actions were overlooked or not implemented? Why?

What is your customer attrition rate? If you do not know, how can you start monitoring this immediately? Your customer attrition rate should be a critical component of your Marketing Dashboard. Is it?

How can you start to measure customer loyalty? Make measuring customer loyalty one of your top goals for the coming year.

 

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

 

If It Touches The Customer, It’s A Marketing Issue

Base Your Marketing Strategy On Customers, Not Products

Many years ago I developed a personal marketing philosophy that I believe forms the core principle of marketing ─ if it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue.™

By focusing my thinking on what touches the customer, and how these impact and influence customers’ purchase decisions, I became highly adept at developing marketing and positioning strategies, first for my employers and then for my clients upon creating Howard Marketing Services in 1993.

Of course, everything your organization does touches your customers. This is why I advocate that long-term, sustainable success requires a customer-centric, marketing-led approach.

The key here is being customer focused, not just marketing led. Success will not automatically result from the traditional implementation of marketing techniques such as brand advertising, one-way communications with customers, lack of awareness of customer experiences, and reactive customer service strategies.

Rather, sustainable growth and success, as well as long-term customer loyalty, results from combining and modifying those traditional marketing approaches with TLC (think like customers), proactive customer engagements that lead to long-term customer satisfaction, two-way communications at all customer points of interaction, and a focus on understanding and learning from customer experiences with your products and services.

Prolonged success also results from adapting your current organizational processes and practices to better align yourself with the changing values of customers.

One of those changing customer values is choices and flexibility. Customers want both choices and flexibility, particularly when deciding what products and services will provide solutions to their needs, wants, and desires. Of course, when it comes to the actual purchase and use of a product or service, it is a bit different. As B. Joseph Pine points out in the book Mass Customization, “Customers don’t want choice. They just want exactly what they want.”

Only an organization that is fully focused on identifying the needs, wants, and desires of its customers will be able to provide exactly what they want. Then, if you give customers a little bit more than they expect, you are well on your way to developing long-term customer loyalty. As Susan Lyne, CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia said, “If people get what they expect from a brand ─ and more ─ they’re going to stick with it.”

Product Marketing. Brand Managers. Product Managers. Organization structures based on product lines or product groups. This is where the traditional focus of marketing has been, and unfortunately still remains ─ on products.

But, as I have often stated: “A product is or a service is just your point of entry. A loyal customer is the true goal.”

Having loyal customers should be the goal of every organization. The purpose of business, as the legendary Peter Drucker wrote, is “to create a customer.” In my view, the ultimate role of marketing is to create and keep good customers, to the benefit of customers, the organization, and other stakeholders.

Business is not just about sales, contracts, cash flow, internal rates of return, ROI, and profitability. Even Henry Ford recognized this when he said, “a business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business.”

Using traditional marketing techniques, being “customer oriented” has meant operating in order to meet the needs of the typical customer, or the average customer. Businesses today cannot afford to focus on the average customer. Your future growth, and future profitability, comes from satisfying the needs of your most valuable customers.

To treat your most valuable customers as your most valued customers requires that they be treated as individuals ─ with individual needs, wants, desires, likes, and dislikes.

To treat valuable customers as individuals requires the understanding that anything that touches these customers is a marketing concern. It also means understanding that everything you do as an organization ─ and sometimes the things that you do not do ─ touches your customers.

The bottom line is simply this:  if it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue™.

This simple phrase births an entire marketing philosophy that you can use to develop sustainable growth and a loyal customer base for your own products and services.

It means doing things ─ particularly “marketing” ─ differently than you are doing them today. It means putting the needs of your customers first, before those of the organization. It means inculcating the skills of thinking from the customer’s perspective throughout the organization. And it means delivering your brand through customer experiences rather than paid advertising.

It will feel different, doing all these things, of that I can assure you. But I can also assure you so too will be the results.

 

KEY POINT:  if it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue.™

TAKING ACTION:  what is the main focus of your internal meetings? Products or customers? Sales results or customer needs? How can you spend more time discussing customers and their needs and less time discussing other matters?

How do you reward those in the organization that exhibit high levels of customer intensity? How do you publicize their efforts internally? What can be done to improve these areas and turn your customer-focused folks into internal heroes?

What is your marketing strategy based on ─ products or customers? Are your marketing plans based on product groupings and goals or customers and customer segments? Now is the time to change from product-driven strategies to customer-driven ones.

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

Customer ENTHUSIASM

Fire Up the Enthusiasm of Your Staff for Your Customers

While doing research a few years ago for one of my marketing books, I came across a note I had written to myself on creating enthusiasm for customers within an organization.

In the note, I turned the word enthusiasm into an acronym:

Enjoy your work. When you enjoy your work, customers enjoy you.

Never say “no.” Find ways to say “yes” to customers.

Take the time needed to fully satisfy the customer. The best gift to offer customers is your attention and time.

Hustle. Time is valuable, help customers save it by serving them efficiently and fast.

Understand before trying to be understood. You cannot satisfy customer needs until you listen.

Smile. Your smile tells the customer he or she has come to the right person.

Insist on astonishing. Merely satisfying customers is not enough. Astonish.

Ask if the customer is completely satisfied. Ensure customer satisfaction by asking if there is anything else you can do and if what you have done is enough to have them return to you again in the future.

Suggestive sell. Suggest related items that make the customer’s purchase better.

Meaningful “thank you.” A sincere thank you builds loyalty that brings back customers.

Legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi is quoted as saying “If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.”

We are not suggesting that you need to start enthusiastically firing your staff. But we do hope that the ENTHUSIASM acronym might be useful to you in firing up the enthusiasm of your staff for your customers.

Otherwise, it may be your customers who fire you with enthusiasm.

KEY POINT:  never say “no” to a customer; find ways of saying “yes” instead.

TAKING ACTION: are your frontline staff and customer contact personnel only measured on quantitative scores such as how many customers per work shift they handle? Why?

How can you institute some qualitative scoring measures tracking how their handling of customers impacts your customer retention results?

Train your staff to take the time necessary to fully understand the needs, wants, desires, likes, and dislikes of your customers. Time spent with customers is rarely wasted.

Teach your staff not to be afraid to ask customers if they are fully satisfied. Without asking, you will never know their true feelings. Asking shows that the organization cares and wants these customers to return again and again.

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

 

The Customer Experience Is More Important Than Price

Consistently Good Customer Experience Drives Repeat Business

From a customer’s perspective, every interaction with your organization is a customer experience. And each of these interactions has a cost to the customer ─ in terms of money, time, or both.

If these experiences are consistently good, customers are more likely to repeat business with you; giving you the kind of customer loyalty your organization truly desires.

A research study from Amdocs, a leading provider of software and services that enable integrated customer management, supports the importance of the customer experience on customer retention.

Called the Customer Experience Survey, the survey reveals that consumers and businesses around the world say that they are more likely to stick with a telecom provider based on the quality of the customer experience than on the cost of its service. For an industry that seems driven by constant cost pressures and incessant price cutting, this survey may be quite an eye opener.

For those of you who hate being put on hold when calling a customer contact center, you will not be surprised to learn that 57% of the respondents to this survey said they would pay extra not to be put on hold, or have to talk with multiple service representatives, when dealing with a call center.

This survey queried over 1,000 consumers and 400 businesses in the United States and the United Kingdom about their interactions with telecom providers. While the results are industry specific, I believe similar findings would occur in most other industries and markets across the globe.

After all, the frustrations that customers feel about the service they receive, particularly when trying to reach a frontline support person, are universal.

“The Amdocs Customer Experience Survey proves that keeping customers happy is not just about reducing prices,” says Mr. Michael Matthews, Chief Marketing Officer of Amdocs. “By adopting an integrated customer management strategy, providers can get a full picture of their customer interactions. From there, they can identify customer needs and provide a differentiated and intentional customer experience. That is the right strategy regardless of whether the customers are consumers or large corporations.”

Customers buy experiences.

Customers pay for the experiences they receive from your organization ─ either in money, time, or both.

For many customers, perhaps even a majority, time is a more valuable currency than money.

As a result, many customers are willing to pay for convenience. In the Amdocs survey, a majority of respondents claimed they were willing to pay an extra US$5 a month if it meant that they would not be put on hold and not have to talk to multiple service representatives when contacting a telecom call center.

In a world of product parity and commoditization of both products and services, it may seem like price is the most important determining factor in the customer buying decision-making process.

But as the Amdocs survey results show, this may not always be the case. Even in the highly competitive telecoms industry, where product parity and service commoditization are the status quo, there are market segments eagerly willing to make purchase decisions on factors other than price.

In a world of customer experiences, sustainable growth will come to those who monitor and improve the experiences of customers at each and every point of interaction.

After all, good customers place a higher value on their experiences in dealing with organizations over the prices paid for products and services.

And since customer retention is all about the art of keeping good customers,™  focusing your efforts on improving convenience to customers and reducing their time costs when dealing with your organization is one of the best ways to improve the overall experiences of your customers.

 

KEY POINT:  customers pay for the experiences they receive from your organization ─ either in money, time, or both.

TAKING ACTION:  survey the top 20% of your customers and ask them specifically what steps you could take to improve your convenience to them. Also be sure to ask them if they would be willing to pay a fee to receive improved and more convenient service.

Monitor your call abandon rates, as well as the length of time customers spend on hold, at all your telephone service centers. Survey your customers about their experiences with your phone and call centers. Where is improvement needed?

Benchmark your customer experiences with those of your competitors. How can you make the customer experience a point of differentiation so that you do not need to compete as much on price?

A World of Customer Experiences

Every customer interaction is an opportunity to build long-term loyalty.

Customers buy experiences.

That is the premise behind the book Building Great Customer Experiences which I had the pleasure of reading several years ago.

The authors, Colin Shaw and John Ivens, have seven philosophies for building a great customer experience, including:

  • Great customer experiences are a source of long-term competitive advantage.
  • Great customer experiences are both revenue generating and cost reducing.
  • Great customer experiences are an embodiment of the brand.

In a world of product parity and commoditization of both products and services, their arguments make a great deal of sense. And even when customers buy products or services, they repeat buy based on their previous experiences.

It is interesting to observe how many organizations focus only on the customer experience at the beginning of the sales cycle, rather than at all points of interaction.

For instance, how many large retail stores have a greeter who welcomes people as they enter the store, but have no one to say “thank you” as the customers leave with their purchases?

Even worse, there are the stores that have people at the exits checking everyone’s shopping bags to make sure nothing is being stolen. How many thieves are caught or prevented by this? A few a week? That is not necessarily a good trade-off for making hundreds of people a day feel like their privacy is being violated or, worse, that they are being falsely considered as shoplifters.

People often cite the phrase that first impressions matter most. From a marketing perspective, I disagree. I often write that it is the last impression that matters most.

For instance, you may have a wonderful check-in experience and an enjoyable in-flight experience, but if your bags are not on the carousel promptly (or at all) at your final destination that will be the thing you remember most about your flight and the airline you flew.

Or, you may have wonderful help in the aisles of a store, but if you encounter a rude and surly cashier at the check-out counter that will be what you remember most of that particular visit to that store.

The entire shopping experience at Amazon is a delightful experience. This company understands the mentality of people who want to buy books, videos, CDs, and other merchandise from an online outlet. Likewise, Borders understands the mentality of people who want to buy books, videos, CDs, and other merchandise in a “bricks and mortar” retail outlet. Both are sellers of books. But, more important, both are sellers (and deliverers) of unique customer experiences.

The success of Starbucks comes not just from the taste of their coffee, but from the customer experiences they deliver to their sit-down and chat, take-away, and even drive-through customers. Buying and drinking a coffee from Starbucks is an experience, one that an increasing number of customers around the world appear to enjoy and repeat.

One of the secrets to increasing customer loyalty is to fully understand all the experiences customers have with your organization when they investigate, evaluate, purchase, use, and dispose of your products and services. Each point of interaction is an opportunity to build long-term customer loyalty. Each point of interaction is an opportunity for your organization to better understand your customers.

Your competitors can copy your products, replicate your services, and match your pricing strategies.

This means that the customer experience you deliver is one of the few marketing advantages remaining to keep your customers loyal and to convert occasional buyers into long-term and loyal customers.

In a world of customer experiences, sustainable growth will come to those who monitor and improve the experiences of customers at each and every point of interaction.

KEY POINT:  every point of interaction is an opportunity to build long-term customer loyalty.

TAKING ACTION:   walk through every location that your customers visit or see. What needs cleaning, fixing, brightening, toning down? Who are the staff talking with:  themselves or customers?  What do customers see in your environment ─ a company in control or one so cluttered it appears to be in control of nothing?

Touch everything your customers will touch. What feels good? What does not? What is warm?  What is cold? Is it nice to feel?  How do you react to this? How do your customers react to this?

Close your eyes and listen to the environment. What do you hear? Is the music too loud or not appropriate for your target customers? Are the staff talking about themselves or about customers and their needs?

Examine all forms.  Fill them out as if you were a customer. How can these be improved?

Call your call center with a complaint. How is this handled?

Call your call center with a query. How is this handled?

Review your website. How easy is it to contact your organization via the website? What information is lacking or missing (from a customer’s perspective)?

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

Customer Points of Interaction

Gaining a Competitive Edge at the Point of Interaction

A critical aspect of customer retention are the key touch points where customers see, hear, feel, taste, touch, and experience your products, services, people, environment, processes, procedures, policies, and attitudes.

This is extremely true in many of today’s markets, where intense competition and commodity functions and features of competing product offers lead to price-driven and promotion-driven marketing tactics.

As I have written numerous times, the experiences customers receive through their interactions with your organization will make or break your ability to develop a long-term relationship with them. The experiences customers receive will also impact your immediate sales and short-term relationships, as well as any hope you have of turning casual customers into loyal ones.

Competitive advantages are eroding faster than ever in today’s world.

Great products, top-notch technologies, and superb customer service are merely the cost of entry into today’s markets. How do you get a sustainable edge when all of these supposedly competitive advantages are easily replicated?

One route to a sustainable competitive edge is how your organization interacts with customers.

According to the authors of the article Beyond Better Products: Capturing Value in Customer Interactions (MIT Sloan Management Review), “customers often value how they interact with their suppliers as much or more than what they actually buy.” Their conclusions were based on data collected from more than 1,500 senior executives in interviews and discussion groups on the topic “why do your customers choose to buy from you rather than your competitors?”

I believe the authors are correct, especially when it comes to services and non-tangible purchases (creative services from an agency, legal advice from a law firm, recommendations and therapies from a health care provider, etc.).

Taking this further, authors Jeffrey F. Rayport and Bernard J. Jaworski argue in their book Best Face Forward: Why Companies Must Improve Their Service Interfaces With Customers that overwhelmingly intense competition and markets where products and services become commodities overnight have combined to make superior interface capabilities the only lasting competitive advantage.

According to them, companies must create more effective (yield a better quality customer interaction) and more efficient (incent a better interaction at a lower cost per interaction) interfaces with customers to create and sustain true competitive advantages. Other than their overuse of the word interfaces (I much prefer interactions, as it is more consumer friendly and less of a technical lingo), these authors are on the right track.

If you are interested in learning more about their views, there is an excellent CMO Magazine audio interview with former Harvard Business School Professor Rayport. It is well worth listening to this 30-minute interview as Rayport explores why the points of interactions that determine how customers view a company has become the new frontier of competitive advantage.

At the end of the day, the customer experiences at every point of interaction with your organization create the brand experience. To keep customers returning, these unique brand experiences must be customer-focused and virtually imitation proof.

Doing so not only creates a unique corporate brand that cannot be copied, but simultaneously creates strong emotional and rational reasons for your good customers to continuing doing business with you.

Your points of interaction with customers may be the only competitive advantage you have. They may also be your weakest points. The old proverb about a chain being only as strong as its weakest link applies readily to the strength of your customer relationships and the points of interaction upon which these relationships are built.

The bottom line is: if you are not delivering the right kinds of customer experiences at every point of interaction, all your other relationship building efforts will be for naught.

KEY POINT:  one route to a sustainable competitive edge is how your organization interacts with customers.

TAKING ACTION:  have your senior managers brainstorm and develop a list of answers to the question “why are your customers buying from you and not from your competitors?” Analyze these responses in terms of product features/functions and the ways customers interact with your organization.

Which of your customer interfaces are machine driven? Which are people driven? Which are a combination of the two? Survey your key customers to ascertain if these interfaces are delivering the quality of interactions they want and, if not, how would they like to see changes made?

Give us a call or an email to discuss your customer interactions strategy. We can help you analyze your needs and work with you to create better interactions that cannot be copied or replicated. You may also benefit from our two-day workshop on Innovative Strategies for Reaching (and Keeping) Good Customers or from our half-day interactive program Customer Retention: Creating Value for Customers in the Service Sector.

 

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

20 Quality Customer Service Practices

Two months ago I wrote about Service Statesmanship, giving the two key aspects of this managerial attribute as:

  • 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.

I followed this last month with a list of 20 Service Excellence Management Practices that each of you can implement, modify, and adapt to lead your business unit or your organization to higher levels of excellent customer service delivery.

Thus, I thought I would share with you 20 Quality Service Practices that any Service Statesman, from a department or business unit manager to the CEO, can and should instill in the individuals within their organization:

  1. You make customers aware of the options available, including advantages and disadvantages of each.
  2. You respond to customers’ needs in a timely and effective way.
  3. You keep customers involved as you serve them.
  4. You work with customers to completely define their requirements.
  5. You are clear with customers around service issues (e.g. costs, results, options).
  6. You exhibit flexibility in making whatever adaptations are necessary to enhance working relationships with customers.
  7. In proposing solutions to customers, you clearly link the solutions with the customer’s business or personal objectives.
  8. You are flexible in adapting solutions to customer needs and desires.
  9. You let the customer know exactly what is being done and why.
  10. You help customers clarify and prioritize their needs.
  11. You keep customers updated on the status of work.
  12. You do what is best for the customer, rather than what is best for your own function, when there is a conflict between these two.
  13. You encourage customers to give you feedback on your performance.
  14. You pay close attention to small details that make a difference to customers.
  15. You ask what they expect from you when problems occur.
  16. You are committed to providing excellent service.
  17. When a customer experiences a problem, you follow up to see if it has been resolved.
  18. If you cannot help a customer, you are able to refer them to someone else for help.
  19. You will go out of your way to solve a customer need or problem that is out of the ordinary or that requires extra effort.
  20. You will treat your colleagues and peers as internal customers worthy of the same respect, treatment, and concern as you would give to external customers.

In reviewing how Qantas handled my personal situation 10 days ago, I can spot how several of the above practices were put into action (particularly numbers 6, 8, 9, and 14).

Outstanding customer service appears to be ingrained in numerous organizations, and woefully lacking in others. Those who get this right are the ones who have no trouble keeping good customers and getting these to return time and time again.

Those who do not implement these 20 Quality Service Practices in a consistent manner are the ones with high customer attrition rates and high employee turnover levels.

If you want to be a true Service Statesman in your organization, you can lead by example and reinforce the importance of constantly improving service delivery by inculcating these 20 Quality Customer Service Practices into your business unit.

KEY POINT:  outstanding customer service delivery is ingrained in organizations that implement the 20 Quality Customer Service Practices in a consistent manner.

TAKING ACTION:  select four of the 20 practices found in this week’s Monday Morning Marketing Memo that you would like your organization to start using.  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 pursuit of delivering excellent customer service consistently? How can the latter ones be amended and changed?

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

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.

Service Statesmanship

Serving As A Customer Service Role Model

Why do some companies seem to exude stellar customer service at all levels, when others only offer satisfying service on a sporadic basis?

Outstanding customer service appears to be inculcated in numerous organizations, and dismally lacking in others. What is the underlying factor that determines whether excellent service delivery is a cultural characteristic of an organization? I think the root cause is the concept of Service Statesmanship.

One of the best definitions of Service Statesmanship came from a CEO who said, “When a fish stinks, it stinks from the head.” What he meant, of course, is that service excellence is first and foremost the responsibility of managers and senior executives. Staff, by themselves, cannot ensure excellent service.

After all, when service “stinks,” it stinks from the top of the organization right through to the bottom rungs. To stop the rot managers and senior executives need to become Service Statesmen.

When the fish “doesn’t stink,” managers are usually doing two things. They are establishing service quality and service excellence as the overriding goals of their business units, and they are serving as role models who translate these core values into exemplary personal behavior. These are the key duties of anyone who aspires to be a Service Statesman.

As a role model, a Service Statesman:

  • Constantly reinforces the service message to staff, colleagues and peers.
  • Constantly communicates the organization’s service performance to all staff.
  • Holds regular service progress reviews:
    • To review performance against goals.
    • To discuss how to remedy situations where standards are not being met.

 

Serving As A Role Model

A Service Statesman is a role model, constantly reinforcing the organization’s key service messages and service values.

Having established quality as a high-priority objective, Service Statesmen will literally take this company goal and run with it. They will inspire and cajole other managers to sign up for the program. They will reward their own staff for outstanding service performances. And, many Service Statesmen will adamantly insist that every executional detail within his or her business unit contributes to every customer’s perception of quality service.

This last trait sometimes leads employees to think their managers are “a little crazy about service.” This is not bad. Actually, this is good!

The manager who holds up introduction of a new product because the frontline staff have not been fully informed or trained on the product is a Service Statesman. The unit head helping his business unit work out of a processing backlog is a Service Statesman. The branch manager who regularly spot checks account applications for accuracy is a Service Statesman.

A Service Statesman will be seen by staff as constantly engaged and interested in improving service delivery.

At one major utility, employees were shocked to see their CEO bicycle to the site of emergency weekend repairs to “spur the troops on” and to motivate those working on the problem. Here was a smart Service Statesman at work, capitalizing on the value of a dramatic gesture and its rapid incorporation into company folklore.

Service Statesmen typically work hard to ensure all service employees correctly interpret decisions affecting operating conditions. During interviews at institutions renowned for service excellence, a large number of managers volunteered examples when they personally explained service policy changes far down the chain of command, even at stressful times on major internal changes.

Seasonal peaks, a new product introduction, or customers leaving for a major competitor ─ any of these planned or unplanned events can swamp employees with extraordinary service burdens. Certainly managers should give employees all the practical assistance possible during such stressful periods, but at the same time managers must reinforce the organization’s corporate service values and reward peak or superior individual performance, especially those performed in times of duress.

In short, managers who desire to be Service Statesmen must:

  • take a personally active role in building service excellence into the organization,
  • establish service excellence and quality customer service as the over-riding goal in their business units, and
  • serve as a role model through exemplary personal behavior at all times.

Service quality delivery has strategic importance for the long-term success of any business. Excellent service is a critical means by which any organization can differentiate itself from competition. (Which makes me wonder why more organizations do not focus on this issue.)

Everybody in the organization needs to focus on providing good service, not just frontline customer contact personnel. When such efforts are consistently and constantly led from the top, one is most likely to find a culture of service statesmanship inbred and ingrained at all levels of the organization. One is also likely to find satisfied customers repeating their business.

That combination ─ excellent service delivery and satisfied repeat customers ─ is definitely a surefire formula for long-term, sustainable, profitable business growth.

KEY POINT:  Service Statesmen take an active role in building service excellence into their organizations and constantly reinforce the organization’s key service messages and service values to staff, colleagues, and peers.

TAKING ACTION:  which departments or business units in your organization are known for stellar service delivery? Which are not? How can the learning, ideas, techniques, and culture of the outstanding units be transplanted into other units?

Who are the Service Statesmen in your organization? What do they have in common? How can their passion for outstanding service delivery be leveraged and spread throughout the organization? How can they “infect” their colleagues with their spirit and zeal?

At what level of your organization does the enthusiasm and fanaticism for service delivery seem to come to an end? At what level of the organization is only “lip service” paid to the topic of service excellence? How can the need for organization-wide service statesmanship be communicated to the executives at these levels? (Hint: forward them a copy of this week’s Monday Morning Marketing Memo).

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

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