One Secret that Guarantees Outstanding Customer Service
As a leader in your organization, are you ever frustrated by the lack of consistency in the customer service your people provide? Perhaps you’ve tried talking to them, but seen nothing more than sporadic improvement, only to slip back into average or subpar interactions with your customers or clients.
Allow me to share what I believe is the solution to this common leadership problem.
Feeling Like Just a Number…
It was 6:50 am, and I was heading to work for our weekly 7am team meeting. I pulled up to the drive-through line of a local well-known Mexican food restaurant to pick up the burrito order for the team that I had called in on my way. At the speaker, I rolled down my window and said, “I am picking up an order for Wes, please.”
“Okay, pull up to the window.” I pulled up, as instructed. The young lady slid her window back. Without even looking at me, the only words she uttered were, “$12.95.” I handed her the money. She handed me the order. No other words exchanged, and off I went.
She did not say, “Good morning.” She did not even look at me when I pulled up. It was a transaction for her that she completed successfully, but I was not a person to her. At least that’s how I felt. It was a robotic transaction. I did not take it personally. But come to think of it, it was a mildly dehumanizing. Observing the experience through the eyes of a leader, I could not help but think of the difficulty all leaders face to make sure our people consistently give exceptional customer service.
I have no doubt that the manager of that facility did not instruct her to treat customers that way. I can almost guarantee you that the corporate office, or the CEO of the company, would not be happy knowing of the poor service she offered.
How do you correct this common failure in customer care? First, let me share what an interaction like this can do to your organization.
What Poor Customer Service Communicates
I will very likely go back to that restaurant. After all, I like their breakfast burritos, and I like their prices. However, my perception of their organization is a bit tarnished. And that puts them at a greater risk of losing me as a customer. What this kind of service speaks to a customer is:
- This is a not a professional organization (even though this restaurant has over 300 locations in the US).
- They don’t have a good system for training.
- If they don’t have a good system for training, maybe they don’t have a good system for cleaning, or for preparing food.
- They don’t value people.
What Outstanding Customer Service Requires
Consumers are looking for exceptional customer service that is consistent. So, how do you define outstanding customer service? And more importantly, how do you communicate it to your staff and make sure they execute it consistently? It comes down to one word. This is the secret:
…and training, and training, and still more training. And when you are sure they are all doing what they are supposed to do, train them some more. Train often; train creatively; train with simplicity; train consistently; train all the time.
Let me break it down further. A word about hiring the right people before you start training is important here. I know it’s not always easy, but do your best to hire people who are naturally courteous. Now here are the two keys to training that produce consistent outstanding customer service.
1. Train consistently. I know many people who wish their problems away. They would really love to see great customer service practiced in their organization—I know they would. It seems to me that they think it will just magically happen by telling their staff to “practice good customer service.” Let me break the news to you. It doesn’t work that way.
Exceptional customer service requires consistent training. It’s not just a one-time course. Excellent customer service is a habitual behavior that comes by training your staff without ceasing. Remember that all good behavior will decline over time, unless it is intentionally reinforced. That’s true for us and for our people. So come up with a way to train your people all the time.
2. Make the training simple. Simplicity is key. Perhaps we send our staff to a seminar on customer service. A lot of material is offered. They hear content that is intriguing and seemingly helpful. But no one remembers or applies anything. Habits are not changed. I believe that the key to great customer service is very simple systems that are repeatedly infused into the culture of the organization.
Here is what we talk about in our clinic: “the patient encounter…” which can be applied in all customer interactions in different types of organizations. You may want to adopt it for your team…
Note that these are easily memorized steps for customer service that can be repeated and talked about among the team. Here is what each step means…
Connect: This is where the success of the entire customer interaction rests. We must see our patients (or customers) as fellow human beings, not as customers or patients. Seek a personal, not just professional, connection. Make an impact on people’s lives. Make them feel like a million bucks—because you love them, not because you are trying to make a sale or close a deal. All great customer service starts with genuine love for people.
Listen: As a doctor, I can spend forty-five minutes with a patient and solve their most troubling health issue. Yet, they will leave unhappy and dissatisfied, if they feel that they have not been listened to completely. We must learn how to listen to people. We must listen to all of a customer’s concerns. People do not expect us to solve all their problems, but they do expect us to listen and acknowledge that we have heard all their problems.
Solve: Here we must offer to do whatever it is we do—our service, our product, our message—exceptionally well. This is where we have the opportunity to perform our work with excellence.
Promote: Share with our customers (or our patients) any additional products or services we offer as an organization. We should build our business by communicating what we do well, and inviting people to come back when they need us again. Don’t think of this as sales. Rather, think of it as letting people know the ways that you can help them.
For each of these steps, we have “best practices” and other ideas on how to execute them. Each of these points are simple and easy to follow. You may choose to compose a different step-by-step process for your team. But my advice to you, is to apply something consistently in training. Remember to keep it simple.
- It must all fit on one 8 1/2 x 11 page. (You can provide other materials to elaborate and explain each point. But that one paper should be designed to be posted around the office for quick reference.)
- It should have bullet points.
- Each point should have one memorizable word (or at most two words). (ex: connect, listen, etc.)
- Make it methodical, with easy-to-memorize steps.
There are many guides and resources which offer insight into providing great customer service. Many books have been written on this topic, from creating the right culture, to the right mission, to the right evaluation process, etc. But if you will design or adopt a few simple steps, that are applied and repeated consistently among all levels of people in your organization, I guarantee you success in the area of customer service.
Actionable Step: Create daily or weekly times for training, even five to ten minutes. Make it consistent. Create or buy, an easy and simple customer service program that you can personally adopt. Make that program part of the culture and the lingo everyone uses.
For Further Reading: