I’m not a customer service professional by title, but I write a good bit about “customer focus” and its importance to a business. As I interact with businesses in my personal and professional life, I’m always looking for those that exhibit world class customer focus. A marketing professor once told me that everyone is a salesman and marketer in their organization regardless of their title. His point was that whether your customers are internal to the organization or external you have a job to satisfy a need in order to complete a transaction. That’s the role of a marketer. As I think about this, you could easily apply this model to customer service as well. We are all customer service professionals for something within our business. We have responsibilities to interact with our customers, to listen to them, and to meet their needs. External customers base decisions of loyalty or continued use of our products on the customer service they receive. Internal to an organization, people based opinions and collaboration decisions for peers based on how well they exhibit customer service traits. Think about who you know that you have labeled “the go to guy”. This person has earned that title in your mind based on repeated acts of customer focus in the past.
Studies have shown that a secret to repeat business is customer service that that totally satisfies the customer and goes beyond their expectations. That’s not easy to do. How do get more than a ‘satisfied’ rating with your service? To answer this, I looked through my own experiences and research and created the three tenets of customer focus competency for organizations. This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list, but I wanted to capture elements of the service system that are a basis for the core building blocks.
#1 Create a memorable experience
What better way to establish an emotional connection with the customer than to create a memorable experience for them with your product or service. To do this your staff has to understand that their “work” is creating an experience. Some great examples of this are Disney theme park workers, performers at a Cirque Du Soleil, and a CNN anchor. These workers are trained to in the art of creating an experience.
The idea here that all workers in an organization need to understand that all their interactions with a customer create an experience. The question is, will they make it a good memorable experience, a forgettable one, or a negative one? Think about this. It puts the CEO of an organization on the same playing field as a front-line line worker such as bagger at a grocery store or a cashier at a fast food restaurant. Will the customer remember you because you created an experience they must have again?
#2 Get engaged in the community
Traditionally organizations that earn the respect of people are involved in their community. They’ve done this by getting involved in their local area through avenues such as acts of service, sponsorships and employing residents.
In the last several years the definition of community has expanded because of the ease of user generated content. The online community doesn’t have geographic boundaries and suddenly customer service agents and marketers have come in immediate connection with their customers. You’ve heard of this right? Social Media? We are in the age of peer testimony and customer reviews. These bits of words written on your online sites may hold more weight than your carefully spent advertising dollars. Organizations are are now trying to reach customers through social media sites like twitter, Facebook, and blogs. They want to be part of the conversation online, part of the friendships, part of the community.
How does this tie into customer service? It’s part of the experience from the first tenet. Organizations are composed of people. Its the staff that must be involved in the community, creating relationships, and providing value to people. Customers that are able to interact with your brand feel like they are part of your brand. Now that, is a memorable experience.
#3 Customer Interviews
Depending on your business, it may not be possible to do entry and exit interviews with all customers. The idea is to interview customers when they start as a new customer and if they leave ( Just like you do for employees). Ask new customers how they found about your business to get a read on the advertising and promotion success of the company. This will show you which channels are the most effective. Also asked them why they wanted to try your product or service to get an understanding of their decision making process. What are the needs or problems that your products and services are solving? You’ll want to focus on those in the future.
If they leave you, try to find the real issue. Often times this is more than pricing, its related to service. It’s easy for the customer to say they found a lower price somewhere else, so you need someone that can carefully navigate this conversation. Remember, you’re trying to find out if there are issues with your customer focus and servicing. This is how your organization improves!
For more information…
The Customers Revenge by Dan Ariely. Harvard Business Review December 2007.
Designing and executing memorable service experiences: Lights, camera, experiment, integrate, action! by F. Ian Stuart. Indiana University Kelley School of Business. 2006.
Why Satisfied Customers Defect by Thomas O. Jones and W. Earl Sasser, Jr. President and Fellows of Harvard College. 1995.