The difference between good and great customer service can mean the difference between a good and a great company.
“Effective customer service means going the extra mile and creating a situation where you can see your customers as diamonds in the rough,” says Hugh Littleton, training coordinator at Corporate College. “If you don’t look at them closely, you’ll only see a small portion of their potential. But if you go the extra mile, you find out they are really gems.”
Smart Business asked Littleton how new customer service paradigms affect how companies are doing business in the 21st century.
Has emphasis on customer service increased, even as companies ship more such functions abroad?
It has definitely increased. Companies are now understanding that they have to be customer-focused in order to survive. In the past, we might have thought that the human touch didn’t impact the bottom line, but it really does.
Has the bar been raised higher? Are customer service practices that were acceptable then not acceptable now?
In business today, there are more positive customer service initiatives than ever before.
For instance, look at the banking industry. A customer comes in for one transaction. Today, bankers are being trained to look at the customer as having more needs than might be evident at first. It’s like only seeing 15 percent of an iceberg. That 15 percent might a business need. If you look beneath the surface, though, another 85 percent is related to personal needs. So to find out the other needs of that customer, he or she needs to be touched at the personal level.
What are the key elements of effective customer service?
Corporate culture, hiring and training will all affect how efficiently and effectively you service your customers.
The most important is corporate culture, which all starts from the top. The CEO sets the stage for how employees relate to both internal and external customers. He or she has a great responsibility for making sure employees respect and are accountable to each other, which helps foster the process of customer service. If you as CEO can focus on customer service internally, employees begin to take the initiative to do things more expeditiously when they interact with external customers.
You also have to hire people who want to serve others. There are some effective ways to do that. You need them to have the desire to understand customer service, but then you must provide with different skills that potentially become competencies, like effective communication and listening skills. Hearing is passive, but listening is a learned behavior that can develop to the point where an employee can become an excellent customer service manager just by listening.
To that end, we want to our employees to receive: to stop, to hear what the customer is saying, and to get on a two-way street to clarify and better understand the customer’s needs.
How does a CEO stay one step ahead of the competition in his company’s approach to customer service?
Traditionally, a company may have categorized its customers by certain demographics. Now, selling and customer service is personalized in a more nontraditional way. It’s been a paradigm shift.
Today, you have to make sure to ask each individual customer what he or she needs, rather than saying, ‘This is what you need.’ One solution doesn’t fit all anymore.
If CEOs can look at each customer individually, not collectively, they are staying one step ahead of their competition. That’s how you get repeat business.
How do customers judge the companies with which they do business?
They judge us on five key points: attention, speed, trustworthiness, accuracy and resourcefulness. To become a great company, you must meet or exceed their expectations in those five areas.
You will note that none of those five points has to do with technology. We work in a high-tech world. Technology is fine. It will always be with us. It’s a part of our future. But the human touch — the human voice — is what customers really want.
Any last thoughts?
When it comes to customer service, you have to do unto others as you would have them do unto you — only give them more than what you would want. Go beyond their expectations.
HUGH LITTLETON is training coordinator at Corporate College. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (216) 987-5926.