Fifth Third Bank keeps service a priority Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2009

If you’re looking at your budget and considering cutting back

on support for customer service, you might want to reconsider. About 96 percent of unhappy customers don’t take the initiative to tell you they’re unhappy with your service, but they

will tell nine other people and not return.

Customer service should be as important to you as it is to

your customer, and customer service is second in importance

only to product quality when it comes to satisfying customers.

The difference in today’s market is that brand loyalty isn’t

what it used to be. Businesses are making a new promise every

day without credible reasons for the consumer to believe the

promise. Customers make purchases because they believe

you’re selling something they need, but they also know they

have many options. A single bad experience with you can

result in your customers making purchases from the guy down

the street next week. The products may be similar, but the

quality of your customer service can be why they prefer to

make purchases with you.

“Businesses often want to jump to the easiest solution, but

we need to stop and listen to the customer to understand

what’s important to them,” says Mike Menyhart, senior vice

president and director of customer experience, Fifth Third

Bancorp. “You can’t operate on what you think they should

want as a resolution, you need to ask.”

If customers have a good experience with your business,

they’re more likely to return and spend money again. Positive

word-of-mouth is one of the cheapest and most effective means

of growing your business. It’s also much less expensive to retain

a customer you already have than to attract new ones.

Customer service in today’s market entails doing business

where and when your customers want to. The trick is to cut

costs while being flexible with your ways of improving customer service quality across all avenues, including online and

by phone.

There’s an easy formula for this, yet it’s not utilized. It starts

with paying better wages. Then you have to invest in your

employees’ ability to perform through education and train

them to respond to customer needs.

Why a customer service

program is important

Your customer service representatives have unlimited access

to your customers, products and equipment, yet they’re largely considered dispensable and are often treated as such. This

is the wrong approach. You can’t personally know who your

regular customers are or what their preferences entail, but

your employees do, so it’s important to retain them. Investing

in customer training and rewarding them with a pay increase

upon completion of the course or offering another benefit,

such as time off, makes for a more enthusiastic employee.

Although many customer service positions are considered

entry level, giving the employee the option to advance within the company will be an incentive for the employee to stay and

can help you reduce employee turnover, which on average

costs businesses 20 percent of an employee’s annual salary to

replace that person.

“Invest in managers and make sure that customer service is

part of your core business strategy,” Menyhart says. “Make

sure you provide career paths for employees so strong performers have incentive to continue to develop and stay with

the company.”

You may see investing in customer service training as a luxury in today’s economy, but experts warn that not doing so

could lead to your company’s demise.

What you can do

The biggest error you can make is getting too caught up in

cutting costs and other internal workings to see your business

from the customer’s point of view. Customer service is what

keeps the lifeblood of your business — the customers — coming back. Even when inevitable mistakes are made, customers

return if the error is handled properly.

“You need to track data to make improvements and invest in

training so employees know how to handle customers’ questions,” says James Durkin, executive vice president of North

American sales for OfficeMax Inc. “Take advantage of communication opportunities with customers and execute good customer service consistently.”

Another mistake is investing money in loyalty programs

focusing on drawing in new customers, while losing focus on

appeasing your current customers. If you don’t ask customers

about their experience with your business, they’ll likely not tell

you — but they will go home and tell others. If you stay flexible and listen to what they say by acting on their feedback, you

can best design a customer service program that works for

you.

What many companies don’t understand is that good customer service is rare. If you already have brand recognition,

you can further your competitive advantage by listening to customers’ concerns and acting on them. You need to define what

good customer service means to your specific set of customers

before you can best meet their expectations. This can be

achieved by polling them in a variety of ways, including comment cards, e-mail or an online form.

“Having a way to poll customers to see where you may need

improvement is a smart move,” says Chuck Fink, founder and

principal of Ascent Leadership, a business consulting firm. “But just performing well is the best route. The most frustrating thing for

customers is to have to hold while an employee gets a supervisor. Good customer service includes empowering employees. Customers want to hear, ‘I can help you with that,’ not that

they have to wait or be transferred.”

Even with well-trained employees and a list of customer recommendations, you still need your managers to be an integral

part of your program. They should point out positive behavior

and not just the negatives. Successes should be noted to

encourage employees to do more than the bare minimum, and

negative incidents should be handled immediately instead of

waiting for an evaluation.

“Employees may repeat a behavior they’re not aware is undesirable,” says Liz Tahir, an international marketing consultant

and speaker. “Having the proper communication with employees is essential. If you treat them well on a regular basis, they

won’t react negatively when a manager points out an area that

needs improvement.

“Employees treat customers the way you treat them. Ask

yourself if you greet employees enthusiastically, interact

politely and try to accommodate them in their requests.”

Making sure employees have the correct set of tools to perform their jobs is another important step in ensuring good customer service. Proper training and empowering employees to

handle customers’ concerns or problems will build employee

confidence while expediting the customers’ requests.

“Always putting yourself in the customer’s shoes when determining how to best resolve issues or respond to a request is the

best way to resolve issues,” Tahir says. “All of the great companies have incorporated customer service in their core business philosophy, helping to brand their business as one known

for great customer service.”