By: Roberta Chinsky Matuson
When you think of high levels of customer service, what businesses come to mind?
The first names to roll off people’s tongues are usually Apple, Land’s End and Zappos. Why? Because outstanding customer service methods are more than a mantra in these organizations. It’s part of their company brand. Yet poor customer service can also be the demise of your brand if you don’t do it well.
Many businesses continue to treat great customer service as a cost center, despite the fact that it drives business and profitability. What do you think would happen if you took a different view of customer service and treated it more like a profit center?
The following are ways you can create killer customer service and thrive in any economy:
Happy employees result in happy customers. Walk into any Apple store and what do you see? You see happy employees interacting with happy customers. Now what do you see when you go into another store two doors down? Your front-line employees are often the only people your customers interact with in your company. Take extra care and time in hiring and interviewing customer service representatives. They are the ambassadors for your business.
Replace rules with guidelines. Nothing disappoints an unhappy customer more than hearing a customer representative say they can’t satisfy a request because of company policy. Most company policies are put into place because employers don’t trust their employees to do the right thing. Take a page out of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel playbook, where regardless of position, every staff member can spend as much as $2,000 without seeking approval to resolve a guest’s problem. This approach can be effective -- even with a smaller budget. Hire great people and empower them to do right by the customer.
Make customer service an elite club Reserve positions in customer service for the best and the brightest in the organization. Make securing a position in this exclusive club a reward worth receiving. You can do this by paying those in the club on the higher end of the scale and committing funds to continually help each member improve their skills.
Surprise your customers in a good way. Nothing delights a customer more than when an employee who volunteers to provide them with an upgrade or additional value without being asked. Train your people to think out of the box. When it comes to delivering killer customer service, asking for forgiveness rather than permission should be your company mantra.
Make customers feel special. It’s hard to feel special when you can’t find anyone to help you out. An example of this is when you step into a big box retail store. Are there people available to help you with your purchases? Or do you feel like you are playing a game of Manhunt? Know the peak times when people are making purchases. Use this knowledge to staff your store or your phone lines properly to ensure that customers feel like they are your top priority.
View complaints as opportunities. Most businesses view customer complaints as problems. But what do you think would happen if you looked at complaints as opportunities? When you hear anyone complain about something, ask yourself, “What opportunity is hidden within this complaint?” Are you missing out on potential business opportunities? Many products and services are created as a result of complaints. After all, new product and services are the lifeblood of all businesses.
Leave a positive lasting impression. Think about one of your favorite companies that you do business with. What is it about this organization that makes it so memorable? Perhaps it’s the staff or the ease of their transaction process. Or maybe it’s an organization that has customers dreaming about their next visit. Remember: happy customers use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to share their happiness. Conversely, their unhappy counterparts are telling anyone who will listen not to do business with your firm.
Know how to apologize. Can you remember the last time a company apologized to you? I can’t either. Companies are comprised of humans, which means that mistakes are bound to happen. It’s what you do about these mistakes that matters most. Don’t wait for the customer to find a mistake that you already know about. Beat the customer to the punch and take responsibility for the error. Apologize and ask what you can do to make it up to them.
Give more than expected. Kimpton Hotels is an example of one company that always gives more than is expected. They do this by upgrading loyal guests to rooms that otherwise would have gone empty. Or they offer free keys to the mini bar; a treat for weary travelers.
What can you do in your business to provide unexpected value? Can you extend the warranty on your services for an additional period of time? Can you call customers back within two hours of receiving their calls? Can you offer cold bottled water and fresh coffee to those who are waiting? Delight the customer and then expect the unexpected -- a satisfied customer who is now your company ambassador.
What is good customer service? It’s more than just a one-time event. It’s something great companies do everyday. Practice any one of these tips consistently as part of your hiring of hourly workers and it won’t be long before your company is top of mind when people say the words, “Killer customer service.”
Download a handy checklist for onboarding new customer service representatives.
© 2011 Human Resource Solutions. All rights reserved.
Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the President of Human Resource Solutions and author of the highly-acclaimed book Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around, a Washington Post Top-5 Leadership pick. Sign up to receive a complimentary subscription to Roberta's monthly newsletter, HR Matters.