[To comment: email@example.com]
This week’s blog comes from:
Dale Carnegie Training Newsletter
By Anita Zinsmeister, President — firstname.lastname@example.org
Dale Carnegie® Training of Central & Southern New Jersey
From time to time, in my work as a customer service consultant, I run into company leaders who wake up on a random weekday morning, suddenly and unstoppably gung ho on improving customer service companywide. This can be in response to an inspiring article about Zappos customer service or the Nordstrom customer service experience, or to slipping NPS scores or a skewering on social media (or possibly-let’s be honest here!-an incomplete skimming of one of my customer service books). That pumped-up leader then goes out that very morning, in fine snake-killing style, determined to raise customer service performance right then and there.
After all, how hard could it be?
The problem with customer service is that it only looks easy, and good intentions are only going to take you so far. You can’t transform your customer experience by just smiling harder, or asking people smile harder for you. It’s going to take more.
Here’s how to start.
1. Ask yourself if you really want to go through with this. Everyone can say they’re in favor of improved customer service-and most everyone does in fact say this. But to transform customer service performance requires a commitment deep enough to sustain the required day in, day out effort.
2. Put into words what your goal is with this effort. I don’t mean something vague and generic like “to be the best” or “to provide white-glove customer service.” Instead, put into words how, as a transformed company, you will now strive to treat every customer in every upcoming encounter. Here again, I want to warn you against relying on a vague clich like “We will exceed their expectations.” (There’s a bit of illogic in this goal anyway, as the exceeded expectations in encounter #1 will be the new expectations to now be exceeded in encounter #2, and so forth. Ultimately, well, I’m sure you see the problem.)
So what does work as a goal here? I would suggest something along the lines of “In every encounter, we strive to create a pleasant, safe, and memorable experience for our customers.” Or consider this poetic example from The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company: “to fulfill even the unexpressed needs and wishes” of our customers.
3. Look at how you select the employees who work for you in customer-facing positions. If you’re not hiring them based on customer-friendly criteria, you’re putting yourself at an almost-insurmountable disadvantage. This is a place to consider using a scientifically-based selection methodology, such as can be achieved by collaborating with one of the major vendors who are available to partner with companies in this area. If this is not currently feasible with your budget, you can use one of the available off-the-shelf profiling tools instead.
4. Look at which behaviors and mindsets you’re encouraging and reinforcing.From new-employee onboarding onward, what do you give employees the impression that you value? Many businesses hold meetings to encourage sales, to promote technical skills and mastery of new technology. But only standout businesses devote time and breath to supporting the concepts and the mindset involved in superior customer service. This is a good thing to stress immediately in orientation, and then to follow up with daily ten minute huddles. Or if such a schedule doesn’t work in your organization, at the very minimum, schedule such meetings once a week.
5. Map out customer touchpoints and figure out which ones to overhaul first. Even the best-selected and most-inspired employees can’t stop an organization from delivering crummy service, if clunky or glitchy processes are the order of the day at key moments. The problem with mapping out customer touchpoints (which is an important exercise) is that you will very quickly realize that nearly every touchpoint could benefit from improvement. Prioritization, therefore, is needed to keep you from getting overwhelmed.
How to prioritize? The ranking of customer misery can be learned directly from your customers, if you have time to thoroughly survey them. Or, if you need a shortcut, your frontline staff probably know where the pain points are that need the most immediate attention.
6. Make a plan to sustain your progress. You need to avoid backsliding: to avoid erasing the progress that you’ve made initially, and you need to continue propelling yourself forward: to continue achieving more and more customer service improvement.
What should the plan be to accomplish these two essential elements of progress? I suggest you write (and post) an official framework for how to go about serving customers from here forward, as well as develop a continuous improvement system that all employees not only can but must contribute to. I also encourage that you develop measurements, visible on an organizational dashboard, to make it clear whether you are in fact maintaining the progress that you have made. Finally, you’ll need a focused team tasked with continuing to work on these issues, a team that reports directly to a high-level leader in your organization.
Micah Solomon, recently named the “new guru of customer service excellence” by the Financial Post, is a customer service consultant, customer service thought leader, keynote speaker, customer service trainer, and bestselling author. Click here for two free chapters from Micah’s latest book .