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Customer Service Is Key to Success

By Chris Freddo on June 19, 2006

In all your years of business, did you ever hear a successful CEO, manager, or customer service representative say, "I couldn't care less about my customers?" Instead, you probably believe that satisfied customers are essential to success and of paramount importance in the mind of a company leader.

Yet, in your daily dealings with banks, stores, and some vendors, you are often left feeling that service, and even common courtesy, have taken a backseat to other business interests. If, for example, your credit card company really understood the importance of personal service, why would it install a voice mail system that does not provide the option of speaking with a live person right away, if at all? Or, if the local post office understood customer service, would it allow the staff to take lunch at the same time that you do?

Sooner or later, we all find ourselves wondering what has happened to good customer service—the lifeblood of any business. You can offer promotions and slash prices to attract many new customers, but it will not have a lasting impact unless accompanied by excellent service.

Selfless Thinking

One thing all companies that give great service have in common is that they have a genuine client-focused attitude. These firms view customer service as the most important part of their job. The very best companies in America are built on the philosophy that the customer is always right. In "In Search of Excellence," Tom Peters wrote, "the very best companies, and the very best people in those companies, have an obsession with customer service."

Worldwide, the most successful companies are those for whom the customer is king or queen, and customer satisfaction is the driving force of all activities. All decisions are made with the customer in mind. When these companies discuss products and services, they always ask themselves, "What would our customers be thinking if they were sitting here listening to us? What would the customers say? Would they approve or disapprove of our plans?"

The very best companies are committed to treating their customers well. For example, Walt Disney hires thousands of college students to work at its theme parks each summer. These students are hired mid-May and are trained for six weeks, and then only work eight weeks before returning to school.

When Disney representatives were asked why the students receive such rigorous training relative to their length of assignment, they explain that students are drilled in their positions to the point where they can perform their tasks without even thinking. The aim is to allow students to be able to pay more attention to the guests. Because the students memorize their jobs completely, and can execute them routinely, they are more conscious of the things they can do to please the visitors who have chosen to visit a Disney theme park.

The best companies invariably have the best people. These firms discovered that the people working for them would determine their success. If a business is run by good managers who treat their staff well, you, the customer, are in turn treated well. If an employee of a company treats you poorly, you can bet you are receiving the same type of treatment that person is receiving from his or her manager.

Worldwide, the most successful companies are those for whom the customer is king or queen, and customer satisfaction is the driving force of all activities.

People are primarily emotional in their actions. This is why caring is a critical element in successful customer service and selling. You may have heard it said, "people do not care how much we know, until they know how much we care." It is also true that the more you love your work, the more caring you will be. The more committed people are to your company, and to your products and services, the more they will naturally care about pleasing your customers. Ultimately, the more you honestly care about customers, the more concerned you will be about helping them make the right buying decisions.

Fielding Complaints

Customer complaints are like medicine: Nobody likes them, but they make us better. They can also be like preventive medicine, because they provide advance warning about problems. When your customers are upset, they typically want two things—to express their feelings and to have the problem solved. Some customer service people may view customers' venting as a waste of time, because they want to move on and solve the problem; however, trying to resolve a situation without first listening to a customer's feelings rarely works. For the most part, it is only after your customer has sufficiently vented that he or she can hear what you have to say.

Business is becoming increasingly more complex and fast-paced. Customer service professionals have to know their products and services, their company information and the technology that supports it, and how to communicate all of this to savvy, demanding customers. Even a small gap in knowledge or skill could cause harmful repercussions in terms of lost business.

Giving great customer service when everything is going well is easy. The real test of your service quality is how well you handle things when the going gets tough. How you handle a problem situation with a customer will determine whether or not he or she will continue to deal with your company in the future.

When you or your company makes a mistake in any area, listen to your customer's complaints. By making the appropriate corrections, you can help recover any respect, confidence, or faith that may have been lost. Customer complaints are never easy to hear; however, if you shift from being defensive to opportunistic, complaints can become your best friend, helping you to learn and grow as individuals and successful business people. If you do not listen, rest assured the financial statement will communicate the news eventually.

Getting Great Customer Service

  1. Answer the phone with a greeting before identifying yourself or your company. This starts the conversation off right.
  2. Become aware of your facial expressions when a client approaches you. A smile (even when on the phone) works much better than a grimace.
  3. Do not take it personally when a customer complains. A complaint is an opportunity to get valuable feedback from your clients. You will listen better if you do not feel threatened.
  4. Always offer options when you cannot give customers exactly what they want.

It Pays to Please

  1. You will spend 10 percent more for the same product with better service.
  2. When you receive good service, you tell nine to 12 people.
  3. When you receive poor service, you tell up to 20 people.
  4. An 82 percent chance exists that customers will repurchase from a company they had a complaint with if their complaint was handled quickly and pleasantly.
  5. If the service is poor, 91 percent of retail customers will not return.

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