Businesses that provide great customer service can be identified by observing the behavior of their customers. Do customers patronize a business by default, or do they explore all other options first? Do customers enthusiastically recommend a business to friends, family, and colleagues? Do customers react to performance claims made by the business with deep skepticism? If patrons have genuinely positive feelings about their interactions with a service provider, it is an indicator that the company provides great customer service.
The objective of great customer service is to produce loyal customers – those that return regularly, and bring others with them, without significant additional effort or expenditure. Customer acquisition costs can become burdensome if customer retention rates are low. Improving customer service quality is a cost-effective approach to increasing customer retention (i.e. loyalty), thereby reducing customer acquisition costs.
The actions a business takes in order to provide great customer service are simple in concept. Many service providers, however, struggle to deliver consistent quality and schedule compliance – hallmarks of great customer service. To achieve “default” status in the minds of customers, service providers should follow some basic “rules” of great customer service:
Give your best effort. Explore all potential avenues of assistance, not just the easy or obvious ones. Postpone a break, or closing, until legitimate issues requests have been resolved. Customers will appreciate – and reward – your commitment to solving their problem, even when no solution is ultimately found. For highly customized experiences, such as those in the hospitality industry, service providers may be required to deviate from standard protocols to address customer needs.
Sell only appropriate products and services. Reviewing requirements, discussing alternatives, and verifying compatibility can be time-consuming and require significant effort. The trust that this builds with the customer, however, will likely yield returns that far exceed the investment made. This behavior will help build a business’ reputation for great customer service; a good reputation is worth more to a business than any marketing campaign.
Upselling and cross-selling are common practice in many industries. If either is done with the customer’s best interest in mind, it does not violate the rule and is, therefore, acceptable. The “hard sell,” however, is not; if a product or service cannot be sold on its merits, it should not be sold. Any product or service that a customer has chosen to forego is no longer appropriate; further attempts to coerce a purchase is an egregious violation of the rule.
In some cases, the best customer service a business can provide is to turn away a customer or refer them to another business, even if it is a competitor. When a business cannot adequately meet the needs of a customer, whether due to a lack of capacity or of capability, that customer should be shown gratitude and respectfully turned away. Customers should be directed to the best alternative, even if the person directing them cannot provide a solution. When future needs arise, those customers will remember your commitment to their satisfaction and give your business additional opportunities to serve them.
Act with integrity. In this context, it is often equivalent to following the spirit of an agreement, despite what the letter may allow. Consider what you would want to happen in this situation if roles were reversed. The Golden Rule, once again provides sage advice.
Be honest and transparent. Communicate with customers regularly regarding the status of their order or project. If additional input from the customer is required to proceed, clearly state what information is required and the impact a delay in providing it will have on the delivery schedule. If rework or delay is due to a mistake or oversight on the part of the service provider, take responsibility for it! Explain what went wrong, the impact it will have on the project, and the efforts being made to correct the situation. Attempts to deflect responsibility will undermine the customer’s trust – it’s not worth it! Customers will overlook an honest mistake far more readily than dishonesty or a lack of integrity.
To prevent misunderstandings or misperceptions that could also jeopardize the relationship, avoid ambiguous or misleading language in all communications, written or verbal. Mutual understanding of significant matters should be confirmed before entering an agreement.
Be responsive. Promptly respond to inquiries; it is important that customers receive prompt attention both before and after the sale. A lack of responsiveness after a sale degrades the trust that the customer has placed in the service provider.
Underpromise and overdeliver. Providing more than expected is the key to customer delight; delight fosters loyalty. The danger of this “rule” is that it may invite “sandbagging.” This should be avoided, as most customers will not be fooled. A promise of poor performance followed by average performance will not yield delight. To achieve customer delight, promise a reasonable level of performance – average or better – then exceed it.
The “rules” described here correlate with the “key factors in providing exceptional customer service” discussed in “Customer Service – An Idea Whose Time Has Come” but are intended to be more directly practicable. Whether you prefer the terminology of “key factors” or the ruleset of “basics,” it is in the best interest of your business to adopt a set of principles that defines how you and your employees will interact with customers. Consistency is critical to maintaining a reputation for great customer service; the principles must be a tangible feature of your company’s culture to be effective. Achieving this may require extensive training and perpetual reinforcement.
At JayWink Solutions, it is our goal to demonstrate and reinforce the principles we exhort; that is, to lead by example. For additional guidance on creating a culture that espouses great customer service, feel free to contact us. You can reach JayWink by phone, text, email, online inquiry, or the comments section below; we would be happy to assist your development via the medium of your choice.
[Link] Coates, Floyd, Our Toilets are not for Customers; Wing and a Prayer, Scottsburg, IN, 2000.
[Link] Martyn, E., & Anderson, C. K. (2018). Customer satisfaction through service excellence: The importance of focused training. Cornell
Hospitality Report, 18(9), 1-14.
Jody W. Phelps, MSc, PMP®, MBA
JayWink Solutions, LLC
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