Today, having customers simply satisfied isn’t enough. We want customers to feel an undying sense of loyalty to our company and its products, but like any relationship, building that level of devotion is hard work. It requires a service-oriented company culture with employees who are relentlessly committed to delivering exceptional care.
I am not a customer service expert, but as co-owner of a company that recently overhauled its customer service protocol, I now understand the difference between simply addressing clients’ needs and demonstrating genuine care during every client interaction.
Top-down culture and commitment
Leaders don’t always recognize the significant role they play, but they are implicitly responsible for fostering a caring culture that embraces service as a platform. Employees rally behind initiatives that executives endorse, because those will be perceived to be the most strategic endeavors. When an initiative is not outwardly supported by top leaders, it is perceived as less important.
Identify internal champions
Successfully effectuating cultural change requires top-level commitment, but implementing related process and procedural changes takes something more. When our company recently revamped its customer service protocols, we first researched and tested a new service system. More importantly though, we trained a team of qualified people who were not only knowledgeable about our business but also excited about the service role they would perform. To oversee a project of this magnitude, we identified an internal champion who was personally committed to customer service and also had the passion and conviction to motivate others.
If you are truly committed to improving your company’s level of customer care, you are going to have to give more than mere lip service. Delivering exceptional service requires teams of talented people who are equipped with progressive technology and top-notch tools, so be prepared to commit dollars and resources to the initiative.
Hire the right people
Whenever someone recounts a story about customer service, a large part of his or her experience relates to the person whom he or she had the pleasure, or displeasure, of dealing with — an especially engaging flight attendant, a sales associate who went out of his or her way to locate an item, an inattentive waiter. Because one person can make or break a customer encounter, it’s critical that the right people are working for your company. Identify service-oriented people during the hiring process. Whether you are hiring a sales rep or a receptionist, ask interview questions that gage an applicant’s level of customer care.
A few years ago, an employee contacted me about sending flowers to a client whose mother had passed away. At first I was frustrated that she felt it necessary to ask my permission to do something so appropriate, but I realized I had failed to properly empower her. Guidelines are useful and monetary limits are often warranted, but your employees deliver front-line customer service. Empower them to overwhelm your customers.
Make training a priority
Our company needs front-line customer service representatives who understand our business and are well-versed in all aspects of our service offering so they can address client concerns that are often complex or technical in nature. As a result, we’ve made training a priority to ensure that our customer service representatives are capable of dealing with the most complicated customer issues. It is equally important that we train our front line representatives to effectively deal with people under the most delicate of circumstances.
You don’t need to be an expert to know that keeping loyal customers by delivering exceptional service is smart business. Customer service, however, isn’t a box that can be checked off a “to do” list. New protocols and systems are not enough. Delivering remarkable service requires ongoing companywide commitment and continuous attention.
John Allen is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based human resources and administrative services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses. To reach him, go to www.gnapartners.com.