How successful businesses are built on exceptional customer service

Jo Ann Lofton, senior vice president, retail executive, Cadence Bank

Jo Ann Lofton, senior vice president, retail executive, Cadence Bank

Interaction with an employee forms the basis for a customer’s perception about a company, which makes customer service a great opportunity to showcase the company’s brand, says Jo Ann Lofton, senior vice president, retail executive, Cadence Bank.

“It’s all about knowing your customer — they trust you and you trust them. That’s the basis of a good relationship,” she says.

Smart Business spoke with Lofton about best practices for good customer service.

What is the value of good customer service?

Good customer service creates loyalty, generates customer retention and ultimately brings in revenue. It also creates an avenue for referrals. Word-of-mouth endorsements are extremely important, especially when based on a strong and proven relationship. Creating that is an exception and people talk about exceptions.

What are the top elements of high-quality customer service?

Listen and get to know your customers and what’s important to them. It’s critical that you understand the customer’s concerns in order to offer help and solutions.

Employ people who like people, have good judgment skills and an innate desire to help others. Make sure employees have the attitude that you want projected. If there’s friction in the office, call the staff together, acknowledge it and find solutions to create a positive atmosphere. It’s amazing how a friendly and peaceful office will give energy to customers who call or walk in.

Train your people diligently. They need to know exactly what’s expected of them, both with external customers and co-workers. They must have the tools and the authority to bring about swift solutions to problems, and they should be acknowledged for good performance.

Be responsive, whether by email, phone or to a customer in front of you. It’s unacceptable not to respond. Even if you don’t have an answer or solution, you can thank them, tell them you’re looking into it and promise to get back in a timely manner.

Finally, honor what you promise the customer. Customer relationships are built on trust, respect and integrity. These qualities determine the strength of your relationship and give the customer confidence in the decisions that are being offered. You have to know when to be flexible to meet a need. Customers relate your resolve and decision-making ability to their overall impression of the company, and that can have a lasting impact.

How do you instill a culture of service excellence?

A service-centered culture begins with a leadership team committed to a philosophy that advocates exceptional service and employees who are deeply dedicated to fulfilling that promise.

It’s also essential to know your target market and how to respond to them. Different cultures, for example, have specific expectations that may call for distinctive interaction in certain situations. Understand the differences and what’s important to each culture, and see how you can meet the needs of those customers with the resources you have available.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from disgruntled clients?

The greatest lesson is to know that you can help resolve any issue by listening, staying calm, and using common sense and good judgment when offering solutions. And remember it’s not just what you say, but how you say it — your body language speaks volumes.

If what you’ve proposed does not work for the client, work with him or her to devise an agreeable and suitable solution that meets his or her needs, and then take action immediately. Most importantly, take the opportunity to learn from the experience and make improvements.

What would you consider an out-of-the-box convenience to offer customers?

It doesn’t have to be dramatic. If you have conference rooms, you can offer them to good customers. You can invite customers to have lunch with the chairman, and have an open discussion on the economy and what’s happening. It’s more than just taking on a little inconvenience in the hopes that maybe you’ll get something out of it. If you really want to help them they will sense that.

Jo Ann Lofton, is senior vice president, retail executive, at Cadence Bank. Reach her at (713) 807-1336 or [email protected]

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