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Entrepreneurship Success: Customer Service (II)

Last week we introduced what customer service is and its benefits. Today, we will conclude on how to go about developing a culture of great…

Last week we introduced what customer service is and its benefits. Today, we will conclude on how to go about developing a culture of great customer service that we commenced last week.

Train all employees in the art and science of great customer service: It is common for employees to dichotomise themselves into ‘customer contact’ and ‘backend’ staff. Whilst some employees might practically be back-end staff that hardly get in contact with customers, what they do invariably impacts on customers’ overall experience. From the conduct of your customer contact employees to those at the backend, everyone does something that contributes to or hurts customer experiences. 

Train all your staff regardless of their actual direct responsibility to appreciate the significance of customers to the success of the business. Train each of your staff to positively view each customer contact, directly or indirectly, as an opportunity to live your brand promise. The level of preparation of your employees to handle both routine and special requirements of the customers is critical to the effectiveness of these interactions. Ironically, even when things go wrong we can get great opportunities to redeem ourselves with the customers by doing what is right beyond, perhaps, their expectations. By making all employees customer-centric in their thinking and actions, we improve our sales revenues and profitability through strong customer loyalty. 

One of the big issues in our environment is the unwillingness of entrepreneurs and their managers to suffer occasional transactional losses to the detriment of their relationships with customers. The common remark in such situations is ‘Ah, I can’t lose money’. But sometimes, the right and wise thing to do is to suffer those transient losses if that will strengthen our relationships with the customers. What is important is to ensure that if an error was made, the cause of the error is understood and avoided in the future. Sometimes, absorbing one-off losses to maintain relationships is in our long-term business interests. That is why large corporations, such as Toyota, Samsung, etc. could easily recall thousands of cars and mobile phones due to some factory faults at great costs to the corporations. In the end, however, the corporations know that they are building a reputation of trust and reliability with their customers that will more than compensate for their short-term losses. 

Design a structure geared to serve the customer: Beyond training your staff on customer service, your company’s organizational structure and operating procedures should ease and facilitate your customer service strategy. Your controls and procedures should be designed to protect the company but also to serve the customers without the customers suffering delays or undue inconveniences. Some of the best things in life and in business are easy. You should, therefore, design a simple but effective structure for quality service delivery to customers. 

The features of a customer service-oriented organisation include:

• The most senior executives sincerely believe in the doctrine of customer service and they live it, thereby showing examples to the middle-level and junior employees.

• Employees are always happy serving customers. They work as seamless teams determined to make the customers’ experience wonderful. Turf wars and claims and counterclaims for credits are minimal.

• They always want to improve the quality, features and benefits of their products and the effectiveness of their service delivery. They do not wait for the customer to first get frustrated before they change and improve. They force positive change on themselves internally.

• They are consistent in delivering excellent service. The customer always leaves feeling great about the experience. Inconsistency kills customer loyalty! 

• They always strive to surpass their customers’ expectations.

• They are accurate in handling transactions. Furthermore, they try to do the right and correct things the first time and always. 

• They make good use of technology to serve their customers.

• When things go wrong, as they sometimes do, customer-centric organisations respond quickly, communicating sincerely, timely and fully to those affected or likely to be affected and telling them what is being done to remedy the situation.

Learn from those that serve customers very well: There are corporations, of all sizes and in varied industries, all over the world that take customer service to very interesting academic heights. The extent these companies go to serve their companies will look, on the surface, counterintuitive. But in the short and long run, these companies do very well exactly because of the customer loyalty they are able to earn and retain. Read about these companies and what they do, learn from them and contextualise to your own situation. Some of these companies include the hotel chain Ritz Carlton, online retailer Zappos, entertainment giant Disney, luxury department store chain Nordstrom, Toyota division Lexus, etc. 

Regardless of your operating industry, some specific measures you can take to ensure that your people and business become adept at providing great customer service are as follows:

• Your customer service philosophy must be constantly explained and promoted within your organisation.

• Hire people who show proclivity and potential to support your customer service philosophy and disposition.

• Your great service employees should be recognised and rewarded regularly.

  Let your customers actually see, feel and believe that they truly matter to your business. 

• Allow and encourage your staff to come up with new customer service ideas. 

• In small and not-so-small ways, participate in what matters to your customers.

• Create camaraderie in your teams. 

• Take actions that push you toward your goals but which also live your customer service principles.

• Build relationships with your customers.

Great customer service is real. There are many companies in real life, from different industries and of different sizes that thrive well on deliberate customer-centrism. They can be corner shops, bakeries, airlines, banks, construction companies, recruitment agencies, etc. Work to build your company into a great customer service machine.  With this, we conclude this series. We will take up risk management next week.