A Passion For Customer Service Excellence

A had a meeting last night with the smartest guy in the room. It was a big room too, at the Hoxton Holborn. Boy he knows his stuff. He asked whether I was superman. He could not comprehened someone (me) writing 132 articles in 180 days (let alone reading them) as well as training every day, inspiring thousands of clients, running a business, training 4 restaurants, 2 Hotels and coaching lots of people.The answer is of course no, I am not Clark Kent. I am just living the be amazing every day programme. So my connection (call him Mr T), whom I have the total respect for, asked me to write about something in today’s article.

What is customer service excellence? 

Actually it is is a brilliant, highly complex and difficult question. Except it is very simple. Customer service is just a day in, day out ongoing, never ending, unremitting, persevering, compassionate, type of activity. Watch this first: 3.14 seconds of Tom Peters A Passion For Customers:

 

 

Now think about the last hotel you booked in and had poor service:

Customer service excellence has always been and will always be one of the critical competitive advantages for any business. Richard Whiteley In his popular book, The Customer Driven Company, (1991) emphasises the theme saturation with the voice of the customer as the key to ensuring excellent customer service and consequently a successful and profitable business. Failure to listen and respond to the voice of the customer causes stress, anger and frustration for millions of customers and the ultimate failure of those businesses that are not happily and intimately connected with their customers.

So Mr.T, here are my Seven Excellent Customer Service Commandments

1. Under promise, carefully understate and over deliver. Exceed customer needs and expectations. If customer satisfaction has one sure thing, it’s about exceeding expectations and how well it works. People like to be pleasantly surprised, within limits. Build relationships with your customers. In a highly competitive service environment, meeting customer expectations may not be enough. Successful companies strive to not just meet, but to exceed customer needs and expectations. Nothing impresses a customer more than an employee who goes, “above and beyond the call of duty” to ensure total customer satisfaction. Today, customers expect something more than this traditional customer service. They not only expect, they demand exceptional customer service. They are particularly pleased when businesses exceed their expectations, show that they care about them personally, and employees work swiftly and effectively on their behalf.

2. Ask the right questions.Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers. Never stop learning about your customers. This means really listening. Often, the only thing a customer wants is to feel understood. Learning how to listen effectively is not a widely held skill. However, it can be taught, and listening training is a common feature of many customer service courses. Know your customers so that needs can be anticipated. This best practice requires that owners and employees constantly ask questions, collect, analyze and use data. Feedback from the customer is a source of constant business renewal and adjustment. As the business environment changes and as customer needs shift, continuous feedback allows a business to adjust and change accordingly. The critical question is, “What do my customers need, and how can I best provide it?”The purpose of a business is to create a customer who creates customers. ~ Shiv Singh

3. Maintain happy employees. Remembering that happy employees make happy customers is a critical bit of advice for every chief executive. Happy employees mean happy customers. In most businesses, especially service oriented businesses, the employees’ attitudes and behaviours determine the quality of customer service. Herb Kelleher, former Chief Executive Officer of Southwest Airlines, argues,

Put employees first and customers second.

At first this may seem contrary to the notion of having a company that is customer focused. But, if we adhere to the notion of a happy employee makes a happy customer, then this makes sense. Southwest Airlines has been successful in a very competitive business (see / read again my blog on 10x companies by Collins on Great by Choice) Southwest has instilled a spirit of entrepreneurship in all its employees. The philosophy is that Southwest Airlines is in the people business and it just happens to run an airline. Companies that consider they are in the people business are companies that provide excellent customer service. Tom Peters, (1999), says that we should make work fun. In a company that makes work fun, employees look forward to their job where they are valued and appreciated.

4. Create and use service standardsYour customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. ~ Damon Richards. Successful companies that provide excellent customer service clearly define the service standards that are essential for business success. Service standards serve two purposes. First, they are a powerful force for shaping the image that your customers have of you. Secondly, they are a great tool for measuring how well each employee in your business meets the levels of service, which are essential for your business success. Service standards should be measurable because you can manage and train for things that of excellence in customer service.

5. Have a written plan for ensuring excellence in customer service.

This one, Mr T I am always amazed by – organisations that don’t have a plan. A written plan helps to ensure a total organisational culture you can measure. Especially critical is developing a mission and visionary plan that stresses the importance of customer service. The mission statement for the customer-oriented company clearly puts the customer in the spotlight. If a company cannot clearly identify the customer within its mission, the mission statement does not contribute toward the goal of customer service. The visionary plan should be developed among all employees with leadership from the owner or chief executive officer (CEO). It should have a limited number of goals that powerfully speak to the direction of the business and its emphasis on customer service. It’s recommended that not more than five to seven goals be developed. Customer service may be incorporated into one of the major goals or it may be inherent but clearly recognisable in all the goals. Having a plan in writing and frequently making reference to the plan is a way to put customer service in the forefront of a company’s business plan. This written plan should be based on customer input. The customer should be involved in the development of the plan, and it should be continuously updated and adjusted, as customer needs and expectations change in the changing environment.

6. Smash the barriers to excellence and adopt Excellence, always.

Here is a simple but powerful rule: always give people more than what they expect to get. ~ Nelson Boswell. 

It seems to be the natural tendency for organisations and businesses to develop a bureaucracy over time. The longer a business has been in existence, the more rules, policies, and regulations it seems to have in the rulebook. Frequently, these rules, regulations and policies are barriers to customer service excellence. Employees must be freed of the shackles of too many rules, too many regulations, too much paperwork, and overly restricted communication channels. Only then, will employees be free to truly focus on the customer and provide excellent customer service. The employees themselves are the best data source for identifying and eliminating these barriers, but the customers too can be an excellent source of this critical information.

7. Offer your customers options. If you can’t satisfy your customers needs and expectations, the next best thing is to offer options for other sources of service, even if it is a competitor. This shows the customer that you truly care about them and not just in selling your service. Good customer service is made, not born. Most companies find that employees require training to provide good customer service. Some of the areas in which employees often get help from customer service training include:

Then and only then can you walk the talk at the top. It is critical that the owner or chief executive officer of the business demonstrates a genuine concern and desire to provide excellent customer service. Tom Peter’s called it MBWA (managing by walking around). Nice.

So, Mr T, my 7 rules for Customer Excellence can be found in companies that exemplify a decision to do only excellent work.These practices are not just something the company does, these practices are the company. Every employee in the company must understand and carry out these practices on a daily basis. Hiring people with the right attitudes and keeping them constantly trained, rewarded and recognized for demonstrating the best of these twelve practices is the way that companies achieve success. It is essential that the top person in the organisation, CEO or owner also demonstrate these practices; not just among external customers, but among those internal customers, especially employees.

Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realise it themselves. – Steve Jobs

I am no Superman Mr T. I amazing, every single day.

Be Amazing Every Day.