How to provide World Class Customer Service Featured

9:13am EDT June 7, 2010

There’s no formula for providing great customer service. But when Northeast Ohio’s leaders came together for the World Class Customer Service Awards VIP Reception at Metro-Lexus, they shared what works for them. We spoke with them about their methods for providing an award-worthy customer experience.


Customers at Ambiance, the Store for Lovers, for example, see that service as soon as they walk in.


“First of all, we greet them with a non-businesslike greeting and we ask them questions to get a rapport with them,” says Jennifer Downey, president. “And then once we do, that’s when we start getting into what are they really shopping for today.”


But by then, Ambiance employees have already gone through 30-day training to practice responding to potential customer queries. Through that role-playing, employees learn to think like customers – TLC, as it’s called at Ambiance.


[Watch a video of Downey discussing customer service at Ambiance.]


A. Ray Dalton also gives his PartsSource employees some tools for understanding customers. It starts with different mindset for looking at what you do for them.


“We don’t wake up every morning thinking that we’re going to sell 5,500 parts or do $500,000,” says Dalton, president and CEO. “We think about lowering the cost of healthcare. We think about access to health care. We think about getting equipment up and running so that people can be treated. When you break your product down and humanize it, all of a sudden it makes it a more important job that you do.”


[Watch a video of Dalton discussing how he empowers employees at PartsSource.]


Humanizing your product can mean simply building relationships with your customers. By getting to know them, you can identify ways that your services can meet their needs.


Bill Botkin, a sales consultant at Today’s Business Products, says his job isn’t just learning about new products as they come out. He also has to understand customers well enough to match products to their needs.


“The best advice I could give would be to develop the relationship within the client’s business,” Botkin says. “It’s a matter of knowing who the decision makers are and knowing what initiatives the client has that are important to them. What’s their mission? How can you help them accomplish their mission?”


But be prepared – once you ask the questions, the answers will keep flowing, bringing buckets of ideas for how you can improve your service. A network of consultants for Prentke Romich Co. stays in touch with customers to find out what’s working for them and what’s not. Ideas and suggestions bubble through them to a list in research and development.


When Russell Cross, vice president of product development, looks at that list to decide which ideas to implement, he subjects the suggestions to some metrics.


“At that point, what we do is to look at how many people we can affect by making a change and how much that will change their lives,” he says. “How will that affect the lives of their caregivers? Also, what does it take us in terms of manpower and resource to do it? The trick that we have is … to get a mix of finding opportunities that will give us the maximum output for the most people but using as few of the resources that we have available.”


[Watch a video of Cross discussing how ideas become reality at Prentke Romich Co.]


Because those resources are limited, you won’t be able to go after every opportunity – and you shouldn’t, says Carmella Calta, founder and CEO of Staffing Solutions Enterprises.


“[It’s] really understanding your customer base, really making sure that your core competencies are shored up and that you don’t move too far away from the core of your business,” Calta says. “It’s very attractive; you hear about all of these different opportunities and it seems very easy to go into a new business line or whatever. But if your core business isn’t strong, sometimes – especially as a small business owner – you’re spreading your resources out too thinly.”


[Watch a video of Calta explaining how she adapts to changes at Staffing Solutions Enterprises.]


For more coverage of the World Class Customer Service Awards, read about all 31 nominees.