The Customer Service Casualty – The Lost Art of Customer Service

I was training some new Customer Service Representatives the other day, a task I take very seriously, and came across some customer service atrocities I thought I would share. If you recognize some of the bad behavior I list below, then you should consider making some changes.

My industry is Self Storage. This article is written with self storage facilities as the customer service example. The concepts in this article are universal. If you are not in self storage, you will still find strategies that work for you!

When I was training sales organizations across the United States, from time to time I would run into an abominable customer service situation. When I came across an obvious profit-killer, I would seek out the Manager/Owner and simply say, “If you can’t change your people…change your people!”

Yes, I am suggesting that you fire those responsible for costing you money. I know, I know; this person is your sister-in-law and you owe her because she saved your life at Sea World, or your great-grandfather, who just got out of prison needed a job and just needs a little time adjusting to the outside world; you can’t fire them…they are family. Well fine then; I guess if you have to do something, let’s try training them before firing them.

In selling, the receptionist is often referred to as the “GATEKEEPER”. The rejectionist, uh, receptionist is referred to in this manner because one of his/her job descriptions is to keep sales people from the owner/manager. I have heard that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so why risk it? There are a few simple premises on which customer service is based. If you adhere to these principles, you will be more successful more often.

From self storage San Diego to self storage New York, the lowest common denominator among under-producers in our industry is bad customer service. I don’t want to lay the blame solely on managers or receptionists, because we all know there are many owners without a clue running their own show out there. So EVERYONE listen up, customer service is everyone’s job; let’s get it right.

What is a customer anyway? Why do they need service? Originally, the word derives from “custom,” meaning “habit”. A “customer” became another word for someone who frequented a particular shop, and made it a habit to purchase goods sold, and with whom the shopkeeper had to maintain a relationship to keep his or her “custom,” meaning expected purchases in the future (Thanks to Wikipedia).

Nowadays, “customer” also has a broader definition. Customer service has become a term for any interaction with commercial and non-commercial entities. This may be part of the reason that our idea of customer service has become somewhat distorted.

In non-profit situations or government services, the “customer service representative” does not consider themselves as a customer service representative, and certainly does not regard the folks they speak to as “customers” (anyone ever been to the DMV?). People in this capacity don’t have an obligation to maintain a “custom” because they are at next to zero risk of losing their jobs, or losing a customer. Most government employees don’t care if you ever come back! Their lives and jobs would be less complicated if that were the case anyway. Thank goodness in recent years employees in this capacity have objected to the confining restraints that is appropriate customer service, and have substituted the term “customer” with words such as “constituent” or “stakeholder”. Wow! What would it be like to not have to be accountable to those pesky profits and bottom lines?

It is “custom”-ary to say hello when someone walks through the front door. It is customary to stand up when someone enters your business. It is customary to be friendly on the phone. These are all common sense, but you would be surprised at the amount of people who do not put these concepts into common practice. Below, I will describe some situations I came across recently. Please don’t hold it against me that this article is highlighting bad behavior in customer service. I usually like to write positively, but I realize in this article, you have to take your socks off before you clip your toenails.

In Challenging Times, Customer Service Quality Matters Most!

As the wind of economic cycles blows hard, some businesses try to contain costs by cutting corners on customer service quality. This is exactly the wrong thing to do, because customer service quality matters now more than ever. Here’s why:

A. When people buy during an economic downturn they are extremely conscious of the hard-earned money that they spend. Customers want more attention, more appreciation and more recognition when making their purchases with you, not less. Customer service quality is simply essential.

B. Customers want to be sure they get maximum value for the money they spend. They want assistance, education, training, installation, modifications and support. The basic product may remain the same, but they want more service and higher customer service quality.

C. Customers want firmer guarantees that their purchase was the right thing to do. In good times, a single bad purchase can be quickly overlooked or forgotten, but in tough times, every expenditure is scrutinized. Provide the assurance your customers seek with generous service guarantees, regular follow-up and speedy follow-through on all queries and complaints. Customer service quality matters more than you think.

D. In difficult economic times, people spend less time traveling and “wining and dining,” and more time carefully shopping for each and every purchase. Giving great service enhances the customer’s shopping experience and boosts your own company’s image.
When times are good, people move fast and sometimes don’t notice your efforts. In tougher times, people move more cautiously and notice every extra effort you make. Customer service quality is vital because people will pay attention and remember.

E. When money is tight, many people experience a sense of lower self-esteem. When they get good service from your business, it boosts their self-image. And when they feel good about themselves, they feel good about you. And when they feel good about you and your customer service quality, they buy.

F. In tough times, people talk more with each other about saving money and getting good value. Positive word-of-mouth is a powerful force at any time. In difficult times, even more ears will be listening. Be sure the words spoken about your business are good ones by making your customer service quality exceptional!

The Secrets of Superior Service

Giving high customer service quality in tough times makes good business sense. But how do you actually achieve it? Here are eight proven principles you can use to raise customer service quality. I call them The Secrets of Superior Service.

1. Understand how your customers’ expectations are rising and changing over time. What was good enough last year may not be good enough now. Use customer surveys, interviews and focus groups to understand what your customers really want, what they value and what they believe they are getting (or not getting) from your business.

2. Use customer service quality to differentiate your business from your competition. Your products may be reliable and up-to-date – but your competitors’ goods are, too. Your delivery systems may be fast and user-friendly, but so are your competitors’!
You can make a more lasting difference by providing personalized, responsive and extra-mile customer service quality that stands out in a unique way your customers will appreciate – and remember.

3. Set and achieve high standards for customer service quality. You can go beyond basic and expected levels of service to provide your customers with desired and even surprising service interactions.
Determine the standard customer service quality in your industry, and then find a way to go beyond it. Give more choice than “the usual,” be more flexible than “normal,” be faster than “the average’,” and extend a better warranty than all the others.
Your customers will notice your higher standards. But eventually those standards will be copied by your competitors, too. So don’t slow down. Keep stepping up customer service quality!

4. Learn to manage your customers’ expectations. You can’t always give customers everything their hearts desire. Sometimes you need to bring their expectations into line with what you know you can deliver in regard to customer service quality.

The best way to do this is by first building a reputation for making and keeping clear promises. Once you have established a base of trust and good reputation, you only need to ask your customers for their patience in the rare instances when you cannot meet their first requests. Nine times out of ten they will extend the understanding and the leeway that you need.

Why Do Businesses Need to Take Customer Service Seriously?

Most of us believe that our businesses exist for profit. Indeed, we do. But keeping this as a sole mindset may be detrimental to our enterprises in the long run.

We must understand that for our businesses to be able to sustainably exist for the long haul, we must endeavor to add value to the lives of our customers. We have to remember that consumers purchase our goods and services to solve their pressing needs. They don’t do it because they justwant us to earn profit.

Gearing for the long haul means building dynamic and productive relationships with the markets we serve. This means listening to customer insights, understanding their needs, and even thinking ahead of them to be able to provide unique and relevant solutions.

We see, the operative words in building a long lasting business enterprise are relationship andsolutions.

These two words exhibit the core ingredients in providing exemplary customer service: the kind of service that is relevant, useful, and important to the market that we do business with.

What is customer service?

For businesses, customer service really is putting on the customers’ shoes. It is a practice that ensures customers experience unique and personalized connection with the brand from beginning till the end of every transaction. Customer service is about how we help develop the consumers’ personal relationship with the goods and services that we provide.

It is how we design our products or conduct our services in a manner that may ease their problems and concerns. It is providing value and offering solutions.

Simply put, customer service is how we design the consumers’ journey from information gathering, purchase, and post purchase, to be as easy as possible, as pleasant and productive as possible.

In a nutshell, customer service is about the consumers’ total experience with our brands and services.

Why invest in customer service?

Having the biggest and the latest product is no longer an edge in today’s hyper competitive market. The trap of having the better mouse trap can be lethal to businesses. This is why, we need to uniquely define our brands and services to stand out – or at least survive in the arena.

Some businesses believe that adopting the latest technology may be the answer. Some think that having a deep pocket to splurge on marketing would save the day. These myopic senses, however, may lead them down the lion’s pit.

A cost efficient and relevant business differentiator may lie on plain and simple good ol’ customer service.

We have listed below five of the many reasons why businesses should invest in good customer service:

The age of human to human business

We’ve also been customers at some point in our lives. We know that it is not cool to talk to a robot on the other line, telling us that our calls are important… but we have to wait… and wait… and wait… until the robot talks to us again. Or after a long automated spiel and garble-y canned ads, we’re told, to speak to an operator, press zero.

We’ve also experienced how to be excited to use a new product only to be welcomed by a thick book of users’ manual (or log-on to this complicated site to start enjoying our services!).

Those scenarios are often frustrating, we wished we never purchased these goods or services at all!

Albeit the advancement of digital and telecommunications technology, as humans, we still prefer to talk to another warm blooded human. Similarly, a human voice, any human interaction for that matter, is priceless to our customers.

Humanizing our services creates a strong brand affinity among our customers. They can put a face to a brand or service, they know that they are being listened to. And they know that someone will understand them – beyond algorithms and codes.

After the digital explosion in the past years, customers have become exhausted by cold automation. They need to interact with humans. And this need, once wisely addressed, will provide businesses with opportunities to make a difference.

Approach clutter with personalized service

While most brands aimlessly busy themselves trumpeting how good they are, it is about the right time to step back and look at how our business should really make sense to the customers. Let us take time to understand them and their needs and find ways to make sense to them.

Customer Service Improves Sales

Henry Ford said ‘The only foundation of real business is service’. In many companies, the customer service function sits outside of the sales channel as it is seen in some way inferior to sales. Yet customer service is integral to sales success. Without good customer service there will be no repeat sales, and repeat sales are the most profitable revenue any company can generate.

The selling process is not complete merely because the customer has stated that he or she will buy your products or services. Throughout the entire selling process, the maintenance of goodwill is important, but even more so after the purchase. Regardless of your customer’s previous feeling towards your company, the experience they have after they have bought will have a significant impact on future sales. Customer service doesn’t complete the sale; it reignites the sales cycle. A worthwhile maxim to adopt is: ‘a customer cannot be regarded as satisfied until we get their next order.’

Whilst customer service represents the last element in many standard sales processes it could also be argued that it is the first element in a recurring sales process. Ask yourself:

Did I ensure that the agreements reached with the customer actually happened?
Did I attempt to up-sell?
Did I ask for a referral?
What records are kept and maintained?
What feedback did I get about how the customer benefited from my product/ service?
How could customer service be improved?

Why Is Customer Service Important?

There are a number of empirical studies on the value of customer service and the effect of repeat business on the bottom line. Frederick Reicheld and Earl Sasser said that ‘if companies knew how much it really costs to lose a customer, they would be able to make accurate evaluations of investments designed to retain customers’. They found that customers become more profitable over time as increased sales; reduced costs of distribution; referrals; and the opportunity to up-sell all add to the bottom line.

Heskett, Sasser, and Scheslinger collaborated on a training programme to assist managers in understanding the lifetime value of customers and in addition advised on the importance of developing a culture whereby employees are engaged to contribute to the value chain. They postulated that employee satisfaction leads to service value which produces customer satisfaction and which in turn results in profits and growth. It is hardly surprising that happen employees produce happy customers.

What is Customer Service?

Is it just about smiling and being nice to customers? It’s a good place to start but it can’t just be about that.

It is generally accepted that it is very difficult to deliver high standards of customer service. Some say we have not been educated for it – it is not our tradition. This observation is often justified by stating that since late Victorian and early Edwardian times fewer and fewer people have worked in ‘service’. What was a major employment sector in those days has now dwindled to almost nothing.

While this has happened, employment has increased in manufacturing, sales, administration, information technology, and social sciences. Through the years ‘working in service’ came to be regarded as a dead end job that nobody wanted and would only take as a last resort. As a result, the label ‘service’ has almost fallen into disrepute, and many people see giving service as something beneath them that lesser mortals do.

However, the truth is that everybody likes and appreciates good service.

Difference between Good & Poor Service
An often quoted but unattributed statistic is that where people have been asked the question – ‘what would you say was the main difference between somewhere where you received good service and somewhere you received poor service’ – in 70 percent of cases the response has been – ‘the attitude and behaviour of the person delivering the service’. Whether true or not, it seems probable that if we receive poor service from somewhere we are unlikely to buy from that source again.

It is therefore reasonable to assume that good customer service does not involve the quality of the product (unless you have advertised a product as being something it is not) but the quality of the people delivering the product or service, and the experience the customer has of buying your product or service.