Is there a “secret” competitive edge that successful businesses already know? What are these businesses doing differently that sets them apart than everyone else? Every company is seeking a competitive edge that will translate sales into satisfied, return customers.
Regardless of selling a product or providing a service, the fact is every business interacts with their customers. Whether these interactions are minimal or constant, the bottom line is successful businesses capitalize on these meetings and make personal impacts that nurture lifetime customers.
We all have examples from our own lives of fantastic customer service experiences as well as awful customer service. Recall a memorable customer service experience and consider how the customer service itself impacted your view of the entire company. A terrible service experience will keep you from returning to a restaurant regardless of food quality. A frustrating phone conversation filled with “noes” and excuses will quickly turn a brand new customer into a remorseful buyer.
On the flip side, a caring and thoughtful sales associate will influence the direct sale and also lay the groundwork for a long-term return customer. Let’s take this a step further and assume this satisfied customer returns for a second time. If the customer is met with a similar considerate attitude from all employees, this customer will have a second experience as satisfying as the first and their opinion of the business as a whole will be positively shaped by these multiple experiences. If instead on the second visit, this customer is met with unimpressive customer service, the positive impression left from the first experience has been completely lost. Unfortunately for your business, it typically does not take any more than one negative incident to create a lasting opinions.
In order to fully develop and maintain effective customer service at your business, a culture of customer service must be established and regularly coached. As an example, consider retailer Nordstrom and the customer service culture they have worked to build . With a lenient, customer-friendly return policy already in place, management was seeking to better leverage this consumer benefit. A nightly routine was devised where over the loudspeaker as employees organized the store for the following day, management read comment cards praising individual employees who exemplified quality customer service that day. This act both rewards employees through social praise of their quality work, but also helps nurture an attitude of empowerment throughout your workforce by continuously praising and reinforcing expectations for a customer centered experience.
The reality is that most companies treat customer service similar to a marketing launch, a one time event measured by the attention gained initially rather than how well the materials will be absorbed and followed over time. Employees quickly see right through insincere “top down” customer service initiatives that fall flat shortly after implementation. Consistent emphasis at all levels of the organization is required to create a quality customer service culture that reflects the time values and personality of the company.
Ownership and management are beginning to better evaluate the far-reaching benefits enhancing the customer experience can have. The recent success of companies with strong customer service cultures are turning some heads in the marketplace. As an example, while it is true that Amazon did not turn a profit this past year, investors have not been turned away as the value of the company continues to rise. Shareholders agree with the long-term approach Amazon is taking to build their brand and cultivate lifelong customers. Rather than being satisfied with the status quo of happy customers, Amazon is further investing in enhancing their customer experience and the market is responding very positively.
The question becomes what is the most effective way to cultivate a customer service culture at your company? John Tschohl and the Service Quality Institute has developed a variety of training programs that are all part of their 3 year service culture plan, 11 Steps to Exceptional Service. The plan lays out a time-tested framework for how to turn your business into a market leader in quality customer service. The way the program works is every four to six months a new topic of customer service is focused on. With topics ranging from employee empowerment, speed, and service recovery, the program is designed to facilitate a consistent, insightful learning experience for all participants.