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.

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.

7 Cs of Customer Retention

Seven Ways to Keep Good Customers

Many companies around the world are recognized by consumers for worldwide excellent service. Companies such as McDonald’s, Singapore Airlines, Federal Express, L.L. Bean, and Citibank are successful because they know exactly what their customers expect and then they satisfy these customer expectations (most of the time).

At McDonald’s, every employee ─ in every country around the world ─ knows the company stands for quality, service, cleanliness, and value. Every McDonald’s employee also knows exactly what each of these elements means in terms of HOW to do business with McDonald’s customers.

At Citibank, the service quality goal is to set and consistently meet service performance standards that satisfy the customer and profit the bank. In other words, at Citibank the customer is the final judge of service and the bank invests an inordinate amount of money each year in tracking its customer satisfaction levels.

While all customers are unique, and use different values to make purchasing decisions, there are seven common customer expectations for customer service that have basically become the MINIMUM LEVEL that today’s customers DEMAND be met by all the organizations from which they buy. Because these are the minimum requirements, they are also the ones that must be met if you are to achieve any significant level of customer retention.

The 7 Cs of Customer Retention are:

Caring Attitude ─ employees that are caring, friendly, helpful, care/show empathy, value me as a customer, apologizes for company errors.

Customized Practices ─ flexibility in applying most, if not all, company policies, simple documentation, forms that are easy to understand and use, suspension of disputed charges, willingness to extend additional services, ability of the organization at all key contact points to know and understand the customer’s relationship with us.

Competent CCPs ─ having customer contact personnel who communicate well and accurately, take action, meet commitments, keep customers constantly informed of a situation’s status, and who are fully aware of all the organization’s products, services, procedures, and policies.

Call/Visit Once ─ the customer’s initial contact person in your organization handles the problem, or gets it resolved. The CCP or contact person makes necessary decisions and the customer only needs to explain the problem once (even if moved to another service provider). All contacts know the customer’s account status, as well as the nature of the problem under resolution.

Convenient Access ─ your operating hours of stores, branches, outlets, offices, and call centers are structured with the needs of customers in mind. Your access numbers are easy to get through, are answered promptly, and the length of time on hold and the number of transfers internally before the problem is resolved are kept to a minimum. Your website is easy to understand, navigate, use and the ordering process is simple and caters for international orders (if you are willing to ship goods and products outside your home country).

Compressed Cycle Times ─ customers receive an immediate response to enquiries, products and services meet customers’ timing, adjustments or changes (such as address changes) are made before the next billing or statement cycle, and your organization provides consistently quick turnaround (especially for problem solving).

Committed Follow Through ─ the CCP and/or customer’s contact person commits to what/when/how, follows-up to confirm action, checks on satisfaction level, and your organization takes corrective action to prevent reoccurrence of an error or problem.

These 7 Cs are the minimum requirements your customers have. And if you do not deliver well against these criteria, then you cannot expect to have high levels of customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, or customer retention.

Last week we gave you a checklist of items that you can use in monitoring your business unit’s service delivery on these seven customer expectations. As several other successful, customer-focused organizations have done, please put this checklist to good use and you will be well on your way to achieving high levels of customer retention, or what I like to call the art of keeping good customers.™

 

KEY POINT: there are seven common customer expectations for customer service that have basically become the MINIMUM LEVEL that today’s customers DEMAND be met by the organizations from which they buy from.

TAKING ACTION: do all your customer contact personnel have caring, friendly attitudes? Do they exhibit empathy towards customers at all times? How could this be improved?

How flexible are your company policies? Could they be made more flexible? Would greater flexibility be appreciated by your customers?

How simple and easy-to-use is your documentation? How can this be made more simple or easier to use?

When was the last time you asked your customers these same questions?

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

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