How to Train your Staff to Deliver Great Customer Service
By: Scott A. Leonard, author of The Liberated CEO: The Nine-Step Program to Running a Better Business so it Doesn’t Run You (Wiley, 2014)
The biggest threat to customer satisfaction is passive avoidance.
In professional services firms, retail businesses, and even larger companies, the unplanned questions and concerns of the typical customer often represent a distraction and interruption of a day’s workflow for many professionals.
Customers are people, and when people are treated in a way that makes them feel small or invisible they begin to feel threatened and their satisfaction plummets.
In many cases, the customer’s concern will not align with your urgent priorities — but indeed it will be more important. We embrace disruption for those reasons. By responding to clients’ concerns whenever they occur, we exceed their expectations. This builds a strong customer bond.
Our philosophy is this: Nothing you are doing is more important than dealing with that client interruption, ever.
We close the loop on the customer’s request or question with as few pass-arounds and callbacks as possible. Our staff is trained with checklists that teach them a great deal about how we operate, so they can address many types of questions.
Here’s our process for addressing client calls and queries:
What Happens when the Phone Rings
First of all, we do not have a receptionist. In the classic sense, a receptionist’s job for an incoming phone call is to pass that caller on to someone else.
Many times, the caller has to start telling their story to the receptionist so that they can be transferred to the correct extension, only to have to tell the story over again; or the client just asks to be transferred to an individual and hopes they do not get voice mail or that they are in fact asking to talk to the correct person.
Neither of these scenarios is great for high-touch customer service.
When the phone rings in our offices, for the first few rings, it is the job of any and all of the administrative assistants to answer the phone. After a few rings anyone in the office is empowered to answer the call; if the caller is a customer, each staffer is given the leverage to answer the question if that question is routine to look up or common knowledge.
The goal is twofold:
1) Get the client the correct answer to their question in as short a period of time as possible, which may mean that the question is noted so that a return caller can have the answer.
2) It gets the clients used to looking to the entire organization as being able to address their questions, not a specific employee of the organization.
If the client wants to talk to me or a partner, the phone answerer will determine the nature of the request and see if another team member can help immediately (if the principal is not available).
Many of these calls are from long-term clients who may want to talk to me out of habit; by institutionalizing our approach, clients begin to look to the firm as a service brand, not just me or another principal.
If the customer has a more complex or more involved request, such as an investment allocation recommendation, a call back may be necessary; naturally there are dozens of times a year I stay late at the office to reach out regarding an urgent or delicate customer question.
Over time, however, we found that roughly 9 times out of 10 when a customer who initially asked to talk to a principal, another member of the staff could address their concerns without a callback.
Great Customer Service is Uneconomical
The best evidence of how this works is anecdotal, but most of the time clients no longer ask to speak with a principal, but rather go directly into their question or request with the person who answers the phone. They have learned to trust our judgment as to who can best address their important issue at hand.
Certainly, having almost every phone in the office ring with incoming calls is not the best use of everyone’s time. It is an interruption and inefficient. That is why many firms hire a receptionist, or worse a computerized system, to route calls.
But great customer service cannot start by wasting five minutes of a client’s time as they figure out with whom they should be talking in an organization, or making them wait for a callback from a voice message they left when others in the company could have provided the answer on the spot.
Great customer service is many times uneconomical. That is why it is so critical to be as efficient as possible, when appropriate, so that client interruptions are not viewed as interruptions but rather as the opportunity to do what our clients have hired us to do — provide great service.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from The Liberated CEO: The Nine-Step Program to Running a Better Business so it Doesn’t Run You (Wiley, 2014) Copyright (c) 2014 by Scott A. Leonard. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.
Scott A. Leonard, CFP®, is the founding partner of Navigoe, LLC, a leading, full-service wealth management and investment advisory firm. He has a degree in Economics from UCLA. Mr. Leonard has been an instructor at UCLA Extension, teaching courses in the financial planning certificate program. He was the Dean of the School of Investments for NAPFA University, and is a national speaker on topics addressing investments, wealth management and business best practices.
Mr. Leonard is a frequently published author, specializing in advanced investment theory, and has been the featured financial planner for the Los Angeles Times weekly “Money Makeover” column. He is often looked to by the media as an expert in a breadth of financial, business and entrepreneurial topics.
Away from the business, Mr. Leonard is busy working with his wife helping to raise their three boys and acclimate to the U.S. after spending 2 ½ years sailing the world with his family.