Providing Outstanding Customer Service Is an Art Not a Science

Lessons from Experience

Shortly after my twentieth birthday I went to work in an art gallery. My job was to make the picture frames. The business was run by one man, I’ll call him Peter. We did quite a bit of work for restaurants and pubs. We would source and frame pictures around the particular theme of a restaurant, pub or whatever the establishment might be.

We also did some bespoke work. Customers would bring in their pictures or photographs and we would frame them. A few customers would buy pictures from us. Many of these would be prints of famous paintings – the impressionists were quite popular. Selling pictures – particularly original and limited edition pictures – was an aspect of the business that Peter wanted to expand; but it never really happened, for good reasons as you will discover below.

Peter was not an easy man to get on with. Many people simply did not like him and would do their best to avoid him. He knew this and, publicly at least, took great delight in it. On occasions, however, he could be charming. More often, he could be rude, arrogant and, at times, thoroughly obnoxious.

Peter frequently displayed his less desirable traits towards his customers (more usually potential customers who were soon dissuaded from becoming customers). There were a small number of customers who came back time and time again. These people were treated by Peter with a service that was almost servile – and I could never work out what it was about this handful of people that Peter treated very differently from the vast majority of others who came into the shop.

With most potential customers Peter revelled in being contrary. If customers asked for advice: he’d refuse; if customers did not want advice: they got it forced upon them; if a particular moulding for a frame was out of stock: he would refuse to order it for customers who requested it; if a particular moulding was in stock; he’d insist that customers who wanted it must have another. I could go on, but you get the picture (pun intended!).

Peter went out of business in about 1986. I’d left a couple of years before. I was not surprised to discover that he went out of business; I was surprised that Peter lasted as long as he did. As I said above, Peter never expanded the picture selling arm of his business and the picture framing aspect was always a very small part of what we did. It was the work for pubs and restaurants that brought in the money, which was never very secure at the best of times.

The recession of the 1980s forced hospitality chains to curtail their spending. This had a devastating effect on the business. By 1981, Peter had started to feel the squeeze, but did little to improve things. From about 1983, the business was in trouble. By 1984, the work from the hospitality companies was not enough to keep the business afloat. There was certainly a market for the bespoke framing service: competitors locally appeared to be doing very well notwithstanding the recession. Peter, however, continued to bite that hand that wanted to feed him.

Whilst I worked for Peter, I never thought too much about how Peter ran his business. I guess I found it amusing. Sadly, though, it wasn’t amusing for the people who lost their jobs when Peter went under.

Customer Service

I am obsessed with customer service. That is no exaggeration. If I’m on the receiving end of poor customer service I’m – to put it mildly – angry. If any of my staff are responsible for poor customer service I’m equally angry – perhaps even angrier – and that anger is infused with heavy doses of disappointment and regret at what they have done and contrition towards the customer we have failed. Once again: that is no exaggeration.

Marketers – especially social media and content marketers – often say that content is king. That may have a great deal of merit lying behind it. However, it is the customer who rules. The customer has always ruled; the customer will always rule. Provide your customers with what they want and you are more likely to retain them as customers. Retain your customers and give them outstanding experiences and those customers are more likely to recommend your services to others.

This is not exactly ground-breaking stuff. If you take a look on the reverse of a Bank of England £20 note you will see a picture of a singularly brilliant man. Adam Smith lived during the eighteenth century during which time he was a key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment. He held a chair in moral philosophy at Glasgow University and is sometime referred to as the father of modern economics.

Amongst his many erudite utterances stands one that contemporary businesses, however large or however small, would do well to heed. The real cost of any product or services, explained Smith, is the time and trouble of acquiring it. For latter day business people the message is that you should ensure that your company has a customer centred philosophy that delivers superior value.

In Search of Excellence

Today there is a mass popular business book publishing industry like never before. I have to say that I’ve never been that keen on that particular type of book, with a few notable exceptions, one of which is In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, the book that some commentators credit with creating that aforementioned publishing phenomenon. I have written about this book before, and I have no doubt that I shall write about it again. I should wholeheartedly recommend it as staple reading for anyone in business.

The book has come in for a bit of criticism in recent years, not least because some of the companies held up by the authors as paragons of excellence have seen their fortunes dip in the years since the book’s publication in 1982. However, many of the books principles, I should suggest, are sound, and offer businesses a source of first rate advice for improving their customer service.

I confess that I have drunk deeply from the cup that is In Search of Excellence and become intoxicated on the “… eight common themes which [Peters and Waterman] argued were responsible for the success of [their] chosen corporations, which have become pointers for managers ever since.” I’m not expressly going to refer to those themes; however, much of what follows is underpinned by the work of those two authors.

All Experiences Are Valuable

I’ve always taken the view that all experiences are valuable. Human beings learn from experience. Sometimes the worst experiences are the ones we learn most from. My time working for Peter in no way constitutes a bad experience. Quite the reverse in fact: it was a time when I was extremely happy. My time with Peter, though, did provide me with a formidable learning experience. I came to appreciate this many years after I left Peter’s gallery.

I am going to go through just six principles that I consider to be central to providing outstanding customer service. My time with Peter offers me innumerable examples of a business failing to follow these simple rules and suffering the consequences.

The following are not the only principles of outstanding customer service: there are others. The following may not be the most important principles: there may be others that could conceivably claim a higher ranking. They are not principles in any particular order: there is a solid case to be made for all to share star billing. One thing is sure, however: companies that fail to do these things are not providing outstanding customer service. Indeed, fail to do these things and providing outstanding customer service is next door to impossible.

Principle Number One: Always Be Polite

I know this is obvious: it is obvious. But how often does it fail to happen? How often have you been subjected to the rudeness of some company employee? Let’s look at things from the employee’s point of view: customers might rule but sometimes they can be very difficult. And that is very true. Impoliteness is not a one way street. For that reason, employees who deal with the public need very special skills.

Many might disagree with this but I’ll put it out there anyway. There are some things that cannot be taught, and one of those things that cannot be taught is how to deal with people. Either you can deal with people or you can’t. If you can’t deal with people, there are a few things you can learn to make things easier for you, but you will never learn how to do it in the way that it is done by someone to whom it comes naturally. It is something that is innate.

Even Peter knew this. He knew that he could upset people just by being in their presence. Fortunately, he had someone who was far better at dealing with customers than he was. Her name was Beth. She’d worked for him for a number of years. Now and again he would let her deal with customers. I never knew what the criteria were for assigning Beth to these customers. Peter never gave any reasons; however, he was quite open about the fact that when he sent Beth to deal with customers it was because he wanted to win the business.

Principle Number Two: Answer the Telephone

When I worked for Peter, I never answered the telephone. Peter insisted that he or Beth answered it. If he was in the gallery he would usually answer it. If he was busy Beth would answer it.

Some companies set targets for how quickly the telephone has to be answered. There’s nothing wrong with such a target so long as answering the ‘phone is not the job of just one person who has multiple other tasks to do and the ‘phone rings every five or six minutes.

Peter used to set a target for how quickly the ‘phone had to be answered. He used to say that it should ring fifteen times at least. His reasoning – I’m not sure whether to dignify what follows as being the product of reason is justified – was that if the call was important the caller would hang on or would ring back!

If someone is taking the time to ring my company then it is right that I should assume that the call is important. What may seem a trivial matter to me may well be of monumental importance to the caller. Of course, there are times when it is physically impossible to answer the ‘phone immediately. Today, however, there are various ways that customers can leave you a message and you can then ring them back the first moment you have a chance.

Principle Number Three: Return Telephone Calls

This follows on from the above principle about answering the ‘phone. Inevitably, there will be times when a customer calls and the person she wants to speak with is unavailable. It beggars belief that anyone in business would not claim it as a company mantra that calls must be returned at the earliest opportunity. It may beggar belief but the failure to return calls happens all too frequently.

I have no idea how many customers Peter failed to gain (and how many existing ones he lost) through his arrogant insistence of returning only certain calls. Peter would go out once or twice every week usually to auctions or art galleries. He would be out the whole day and Beth would answer the ‘phone and diligently take down messages for Peter’s return (these were the days before mobile ‘phones).

Beth told me that he would return calls from friends and usually from designers who worked for the large hospitality chains. He would never return a call from a name he did not recognise, unless it was a new designer, and rarely return a call from private customers even if he did recognise the name. When the gallery was doing quite well in 1979 – 1980, Beth said it was rare to receive fewer than 10-12 calls a day.

Just recently I had to contact a local firm of solicitors. In my area this firm is very well known. I asked to be put through to the department I needed on five separate occasions spread over about five weeks. On each occasion there was no one there to take my call. On each occasion I asked if someone could call me back. On each occasion I was assured that I would be telephoned. On no occasion was my call returned.

In my business, it is not too much of an overstatement to say that my insistence that staff return calls at their earliest opportunity comes close to being a mania with me. I have four simple rules. Number one, if you are asked to return a customer’s call, return the call as soon as possible. Number two, the person who takes the call initially should indicate to the caller when the person the caller wishes to speak with will be available. Number three, if there is someone else who can deal with the matter then that person should have the call transferred to him immediately or should be asked to call the customer at the earliest opportunity. Number four, always keep the customer informed, which brings me to my next customer service principle, number four…

… always keep the customer informed…

… because sometimes the world conspires against you and you cannot do what you have said you will do. In my experience, people are very reasonable so long as you let them know what is going on.

When customers brought pictures into Peter’s gallery to be framed they would be given a receipt and on that receipt Peter would write a date from which customers could collect their framed pictures. All too often, we failed to have the pictures framed and ready for collection by that date. Some customers were fairly phlegmatic about things; some were irritated; some were angry. If Peter dealt with the angry ones the outcome was almost inevitably that they were given back their unframed picture and told to go elsewhere. If Beth dealt with them, in Peter’s absence, she would ensure that the picture was framed within the hour and we had a relatively happy customer. I don’t recall once our ever ‘phoning a customer to tell him his picture would not be ready on the day we said it would be ready.

It is always a salutary experience for managers and business owners to put themselves into their customers’ shoes. They should do it often and ask the question: “As a customer, what are the things that are likely to make me view a business in a particularly unfavourable light?” High on the list of answers will surely be: “Not knowing what is going on”.

Principle Number Five: Say Yes

There are few words more pleasant for a customer to hear than “yes we can do that for you”. Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not for a moment suggesting that you should say yes to everything that customers ask for, however unreasonable. If you are an electrician you’re probably not going to agree to plaster a customer’s walls; if you’re a physiotherapist you might draw a line at dental surgery, and if you’re a tree surgeon unblocking drains may not be your thing.

The point I’m getting at here, is that businesses should take every opportunity to delight their customers with the services that they can offer. Electricians may not plaster walls but they may well be able to recommend someone who can do the job.

A couple of years ago we took out a group of staff for lunch at Christmas. The choice was a Christmas menu, which some people wanted, or the normal menu, which others wanted. However, the restaurant insisted that if you were sat on one table you must all choose from one menu or the other. Eight people on one table must have the same menu. Eight people split into two groups of four and each group on a separate table could have had a different menu.

Once again, I should exhort business owners to put themselves in the position of their customers. Peter either could not do this or perversely could do it very well and knew exactly how to make his customers miserable. Beth seemingly had the ability to empathise with customers.

Principle Number Six: Promise Less; Deliver More

I think this principle is very much implicit in much of what has gone before. Never, and I mean never, promise what you know you cannot deliver. Just in case I haven’t made that clear let me say it again: never promise what you know you cannot deliver. The temptation is often to promise something to win business even though you know the chance of your delivering on your promise is less than that of winning the national lottery jackpot (and that by the way is a one in 13 983 816 chance; your chance of being hit by lightning is significantly higher).

For a small period of time I worked in car sales (this was after my time with Peter). Note I didn’t say that I sold cars. I didn’t say that because it would be stretching a point to say that I sold cars. The reason I worked in car sales for a short period of time is that I was not particularly successful at selling cars. The point of this is that I used to work with sales people who would promise almost anything to get the sale. The consequences of this were usually three-fold (at the minimum). First, there would be a pretty upset customer to deal with at some point in the near future following the promise that had been made. Two, that customer would not come back to the dealership a second time. Three, that customer would never recommend the dealership to people he or she knew.

Conclusion

I know what you are thinking: you’re thinking that surely some of these principles clash with each other. For example, principles five and six appear, potentially, to be inconsistent with each other. And you would be right to point that out. But that’s the problem with any system of principles: unless there is a hierarchy of principles clashes are inevitable.

Providing outstanding customer service is not a science; it’s an art. There will be times when things go wrong; there will be times when you cannot do what you would like to do for your customers, and there will certainly be times where you are faced with dilemmas. Do one thing and you get an undesirable by-product; do a second and you get a different undesirable by-product. In situations like this I should submit that the course of action you should take is the one that is least damaging to the customer. The alternative is to do what Peter would have done: take great delight in upsetting a customer.

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6 Steps to Deliver Remarkable Customer Service

From a viral video to a positive review, a customer’s motivation to share their experience with your product or service usually comes down to remarkability. By remarkable we mean something that is worth commenting on and sharing with others.

Sharing can be in the form of ratings, reviews, comments, posts, and good old fashioned word-of-mouth. For small businesses, what your company offers must be remarkable, and the largest opportunity to make a guest’s experience notable lies within the domain of customer interaction. From the smallest details to the overall company culture, the customer’s experience is what makes or breaks continued client attraction and retention.

How do you instill a culture in your small business that motivates your staff to deliver consistently remarkable customer service, resulting in increased customer loyalty and revenues?

Here are six steps to delivering consistently on your customer promise and improving your business.

It Starts and Ends at the Top

Customer service begins and ends with YOU, the owner. Nothing else really matters, and all other efforts are pointless, unless the owners truly believe in the value of delivering remarkable customer service.

Do you believe your customers are looking to take advantage of you, or do you realize that the vast majority of them are honest and will reward you with their loyalty if you treat them right? Are your employee policies all about control and avoiding theft, or is your staff truly empowered to take care of the customer? The “Employee of the Month” plaque on the wall is meaningless if the owners and management of the company don’t truly believe in delivering remarkable customer service, and the investment it requires.

The investment from the top includes believing in and instilling a persistent culture of superior service. It should include a shared manifesto which serves as a foundation for your company’s culture. It’s not just the cliché posters about leadership and team work, but your true conviction about running your company in a way that proudly represents you and your staff. It’s about delivering the service you enjoy experiencing when you visit your favorite establishments – the places you go back to again and again because they make you feel great, and which you share with others!

Culture

The interaction between customer and company has become increasingly transparent, thanks in part to technology. Company brands are no longer static entities, but rather dynamic and personified. Culture is everything in today’s business environment, and customers can smell insincerity from a mile away. Part of a brand’s culture must be built from the values and core beliefs of the company’s owners. Your company should foster an environment where a passion for remarkable customer service can thrive. Like much in life, it all comes down to balance. If you believe in your core values and have faith in the ability and training of your employees to deliver, it will be easier to develop an environment of empowerment and trust.

Culture is a living, breathing organism that needs to be supported and nurtured. It evolves over time, but the core tenets should never waiver. One way to measure if you have successfully instilled a strong culture is to observe how your team handles a new member. Does the team automatically correct and guide the new member’s behavior and actions if they vary from the accepted norms of your culture without being told? Are they quick to tell managers that this new employee is not a fit? Does the new employee stand out from the other employees and feel as if they are a “fish out of water”? These are good signs that your team embodies the culture of your business and leads to consistently delivering on your customer promise, even when you are not watching.

Systems

Systems are the ways in which a company’s culture is carried out consistently and repeatedly. Without the infrastructure of systems (including software, manuals, forms, training, and checklists), remarkable customer service deteriorates quickly. Systems are the key to executing consistently in every aspect of your business.

As it relates to customer service, your employee training and development systems are critical. Well trained employees that have access to protocols and procedures which foster good client relationships are a key to the success of any business. Your focus should be to develop systems as if you are a multi-unit operation, even if you are running a single-location company. This approach supports the repeatability of your process which should ensure that every new employee is hired, trained and developed to the same productive and effective standard.

Employees

Your culture and systems mean nothing without the right team of highly motivated people to execute them. When it comes to your company’s team of workers, it’s important to take the time and focus on finding people that will make a good fit.

Always remember to hire slowly, and fire quickly. If a member of the staff is not a good fit, it is critical to sever ties quickly. Remember, just because an employee is unsuited for a particular position does not make them a bad person or poor worker, it’s just likely not a good fit.

When hiring customer-facing employees, personality and character are often more important than skills or experience. You can teach a person new skills, but it’s extremely difficult to teach someone how to enjoy working with and serving customers. It’s helpful to have a baseline of a great employee, and also use employee assessment tools like Kolbe’s RightFit™ solutions when possible to help you choose the right candidate for the position.

Listen and Measure

How do you know if you are delivering consistently remarkable customer experiences? How do you measure customer service and satisfaction? It’s imperative that you and your management team listen and measure to objectively assess your progress and execution. Your customers will tell you what they think about your product and service, but you have to listen and be receptive to their feedback. You must also measure, and reward or correct, how your staff is executing. Doing so keeps your focus on customer service top-of-mind throughout your entire organization.

From online reviews to mystery shoppers, the trick is to make sure to listen and take into account what your customers are saying. Try listening for broad themes that permeate from a variety of sources. Ask your employees what they think, or ask a friend to test out your business as a customer to get an unadulterated and trustworthy view of customer-facing interaction. Monitor social media platforms and use alert technologies to stay attuned to what people are saying about your business. Take reviews and feedback to heart, and take input from the loyal customers who love your company.

Execute Consistently

Consistency is the true test of your commitment to delivering remarkable customer experiences. Are you dedicated to delivering remarkable service for the life of your business, or was it just a fading phase?

An individual customer does not really care that you have executed flawlessly on the previous thousand customers – it’s their transaction and interaction that matters most. Furthermore, a high opinion from one customer can be cancelled out by a bad opinion from another. And people are more likely to share a poor experience than a positive one – a reality which is greatly amplified by the relative anonymity and ease of the internet to share with others and encourage everyone to become a critic.

Delivering consistently, with each customer and every interaction, is the most difficult thing to achieve, and it should be your ultimate goal. While it’s impossible to be perfect, your standard must be set extremely high so that you execute as closely to 100% as possible. And when you fail, as we all naturally do at times, your process should include a fast and genuine resolution for your customers. Most customers understand that we all make mistakes – what they don’t usually tolerate is indifference and lack of follow-up.

Being remarkable is often what sets us apart from the competition. Our products and services must be of high quality, but it’s the experiences our customers enjoy when they interact with us that they value and share the most.

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Customer Centricity: Begin With Customer Service

One of the basic tenets of Customer Centricity is service. Why? Service is taking action to take care of someone else. More importantly, it is taking action to create value for someone else (Ron Kaufman). It is how one adds value to others and in the process, gains more of himself. In most cases (though not on purpose), people feel good about providing others a service, as doing so naturally entails a positive feeling within themselves. In essence, service is a spirit of altruism. It is not just a procedure to follow, but a mindset of purposeful engagement and proactive communication that leads to a productive behaviour.

Let us define Customer Service.

Wikipedia defines Customer Service as the act of taking care of the customers’ needs by providing and delivering professional, helpful, high quality service, and assistance before, during, and after his/her requirements are met. One of my favorite Customer Service (CX) gurus, Michael Falcon, defines it as “an action within an entire customer experience; and to achieve an excellent experience, every touchpoint from beginning to end must be exceptional.” Take note that this definition of Customer Service gives rise to its particular ingredient, “touchpoint,” which means, every point of contact with a customer (face to face, phone calls, emails, ticket logs, etc).

On the other hand, Turban (2002), defines Customer Service as “a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction — that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer’s expectation.”

Apparently in these concepts given by the experts, common factors in Customer Service surface: action/delivery, care, and meeting customers’ needs. In addition, there is frequent usage of superlatives such as exceptional, excellent, highest quality, and the like.

In a nutshell, Customer Service is any action on all customer touchpoints, where we deliver our knowledge and abilities to customers to meet their needs and expectation in an excellent way. It is a cornerstone to a customer experience (CX) strategy. It is a balance of commendable acts between delivering service (which includes best practices and agent experience) and satisfying customers at a cost. It is about how an organization delivers its products or services in the most humanly satisfying manner, as pleasurable as possible.

What kind of service is needed then? Answer: we need superior service be delivered at any touchpoint, for “Good is no longer good enough.” To quote Ron Kaufman once more, “What was good enough for yesterday, isn’t good enough for today. What’s good enough for today, won’t be good enough for tomorrow.” This is so because of the fast-changing business world. It is very important to keep climbing the ladder of service level to keep up with the competitive environment. Being close to your customers and really anticipating their needs as even their wants and needs also change quickly. “The business world is always unpredictable,” as they say it. This gives us more reason to get even closer and know our customers even better.

With standards ever rising, how then do we give great or superior service? As mentioned, there should surely be a balance of sterling performances between the product (technical or otherwise) and experience (relationship aspect of our customer interactions). On top of this, we must make our customers a priority. One critical component of Customer Centricity is a customer-focused mindset (or for some people, “customer-first mindset”). Focus on them as people and not an issue to create a satisfying human experience. Superior/excellent customer service may not only result to Customer Satisfaction alone but more so, Customer Loyalty — the ultimate reward of Customer Centricity. Without a question, top-notch service creates loyalty and a returning customer, which is all our aim in business.

According to Mohandas Gandhi, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” This dictum is the foundation of any customer service definition and execution. We define service as any action taken to take care of someone. Hence, customer service should be executed in a way that takes care of our customers- whether internal or external. The truth is everyone in your business environment is your customer (they are your internal customers) and your external customers are the people who pay the bills that becomes a revenue of your business or company.

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Making Customer Service Effective in the Digital Age

What is Customer Service?

Customer service is an elaborate and interactive process of understanding a customer and fulfilment of his needs as per the company’s resources, capacity and capability for the product sold or service delivered. In this context, the customer’s expectation starts from the time he has purchased the product or subscribed or hired the services. Therefore, customer service is an end-to-end process which begins from the time of sale till the end of life cycle of a product or the service or its usability to the customer. Thus, this concept originates with the customer and ends with the customer.

Synonyms of customer service: customer support, helpdesk, service centre, customer care, troubleshooting team, client service, after sales service, customer helpline.

Customer service is a part and parcel of every organization. For any company to sustain and grow, their focus and efforts have to be channelized towards creation of good customer service team.

Good customer service should aim towards enabling the following:
– Long-time Customer retention
– Loyalty towards Company’s products and services
– This in turn should build a customer’s trust toward the brand
– Enhancing product effectiveness and its value among the competitors
– Translating to higher sales thereby impacting overall revenues positively (due to same customer buying products or services repeatedly or recommending them to his family and friends)
– Resulting in Company saving its cost of customer acquisition on account of customer churn (which is almost 5 times more expensive)
– Strengthening a positive word of mouth and increasing Company’s goodwill and equity
– Leading to less expenditure on advertising, promotion and marketing activities

So, all these efforts will ultimately lead to company’s prosperity and increased market share which is beneficial for its employees and vendors and its longevity.

Nevertheless, an unhappy customer is an opportunity and the company should never lose out on insightful experience through the customer’s feedback to analyse the root cause of the problem that led to poor customer experience. Further, the company should invest time in reviewing their current working mechanism, getting into process reorientation, improving their product or service, it’s features or offers, grooming and training the staff or bridging any gaps that exist as per the customer inputs.

Customer Service Representative, his qualities and the different channels:
Customer service representatives (cse) are the actual brand ambassador for any company since a customer interacts with them on phone, through on-line chat, on company’s website or portal, on e-mail, social media and on-line forums, face to face interaction at service center.

A CSE should therefore:
– Speak to the customer politely
– Listen to him
– Give him respect
– Understand his need or concern
– Empathise
– Finally, most importantly, provide solution or an alternative as per his problem or requirement.

Being polite and humble without resolving customer’s query won’t help. Similarly, giving solution but in a rude tone will also back fire. It’s a viscous circle of expectations. Customer wants everything – politeness, empathy and solution. And he is right as he has paid for the product or the service. Customer is always right and is the king.

A Company has to:
– Keep their CSE motivated.
– They should be trained well in product and soft skills
– They should be able to communicate well with the customer
– Have patience, take ownership and work towards providing resolution to the customer.

Every organization contributes in some way or the other by working for its customers – it could be a B to B (Business) model or a B to C (Customer) model. In the long run, to accomplish its goals, every organization should align customer centricity to its vision and organizational strategy. This is an aspect no Company can afford to miss even a PSU or a Government organization.

Guide to great customer service is extremely simple:
– Remember, it is important to build a good rapport or connect with the customer
– Have qualitative interactions with him
– An intent to solve his problem no matter what.
– Smile while talking to the customer.
– Acknowledge the fact that most of the customers prefer human interaction more than communicating with machines. So, treat the customer the way you would like a service provider to treat you.

Different industries could have different levels of customer engagement as per their business and could have different ways to assess or measure their customer satisfaction.

Customer needs could be different for retail industry with regards to telecom, utilities, logistics, financial, outsourcing, government, healthcare, media, manufacturing, IT, real estate, service industry and so on.

Background of Customer Service: The concept of customer service is as old as early 1800s and it all started with the industrial revolution where products were designed and manufactured as per customer’s needs. However, since then, as we have noticed, customer’s behaviour has been dynamic, unpredictable and influenced by numerous factors, that’s why it is never consistent and is changing even faster than a stock market. Dealing with customers is challenging most of the time as it is like solving a jig saw puzzle every time.

Problems faced in Customer Service due to:
1. Limited authority with each service channel
2. Communication barrier between the customer and the CSE
3. Resolution being awaited from the concerned person/ team
4. Every customer’s problem is unique and expectations could vary to a different degree
5. Less staff available to cater to customers (due to leave, absenteeism, attrition) leading to high pressure
6. Technical or unknown issue (with no timelines or alternative available)
7. Company policy that acts as a hindrance sometimes
8. Lack of knowledge or skill
9. Customer reluctance to accept a resolution
10. Competition leading to higher expectations

How do we gauge effectiveness of customer service?
1. On-line surveys (as part of CSAT tool) as a part of buying a product (mostly asking to rate customer’s experience on E-commerce websites). CSAT is Customer Satisfaction.
2. Surveys at IVR (Interactive Voice Response) as part of CSAT tool
3. Mystery Shopping by posing as a customer
4. Live and remote monitoring of customer interactions (random sampling) and evaluating the quality of each interaction
5. Feedback calls, SMS, e-mails or IVR calls made to the customers to confirm if their query / concern was resolved or not
6. Analysing and taking action basis customer feedback on Website, Social media, Customer Portal
7. Assessing customer’s behaviour towards the brand, its products and services by applying Business Intelligence, Data analytics, Search Engine Optimization and other techniques.

What is CSAT?
Customer Satisfaction Survey is a powerful tool shared by the Service provider with the customer after he has had an interaction with the Customer service representative to rate his experience along with rating on service related parameters including resolution of his problem. This tool is a Voice of Customer that provides an insight on customer’s experience, whether it was as per his expectations and anything that was lacking or could have been done better. For most of the companies, CSAT is linked to the performance ratings of the employees and it impacts their annual bonus and increments. Why not CSAT rating impact everyone in the organization as every employee is expected to do his bit that contributes or adds value to customer’s experience? Thought to ponder.

With digitization, things have completely changed and the transition phase has emerged. Thanks to the changing technology and other strong factors:
1. Customers have become very demanding and so have their expectations increased with ease of technology. They want to control everything through the click of an app. They don’t want to waste their valuable time visiting a Store or a Service Center waiting for their turn unless it is unavoidable. They don’t want to call up the Call Center, wait in the queue and then talk to people who behave like robots reading a script and not as human interface.
2. There is whole lot of competition, which has given world numerous options available online as well as offline and that too cost effective ones. While there is a Big Basket for every Grofer. There is OYO rooms for every Make My Trip and Yatra. There is Amazon for every Flipkart and Snapdeal. There is Ola for every Uber. There is Zomato for every Swiggy and Food Panda and the race is endless. There is a Big Bazaar for every Reliance Fresh. There is a Chroma for every Reliance Digital, and there is a Jio for every Vodafone, Idea and Airtel.
3. With VCs and new investors coming from rest of the world, the business landscape has evolved and grown multiple folds adding to everyone’s benefit including income.
4. Next is obviously, people’s incomes (including disposal incomes) have increased along with the lifestyle. Luxuries have becomes necessities in today’s universe.
5. Government policies inviting foreign funds, FDIs, have been favourable for creating a business friendly and investor friendly climate.
6. Start-up Culture, Tech Parks have been a big hit.
7. Mergers and acquisitions have become a norm of the day.

Thus, technology has bombarded our day-to-day life. Daily Routine has been adapted as per the smart phone and what what’s app demands. Social media has transformed our life completely. Posts on FB, Twitter, and Instagram are dearer than real life friends.

So, if the personal and professional life has transitioned at such a rapid pace in the new millennium and in the last 10 years to be precise, the customer is justified in demanding excellent customer service with better reachability rates.

Sad but true, we are still missing out on several basic and important things that a customer in digital era will need even though he might be the most tech savvy person on this earth.
1. Most of the product Companies and Service providers are lacking in providing personalized services to every customer customized especially keeping his needs in mind. This is a challenge with hundreds of downloads happening every day for most of the Companies.
2. Deciding on the most suitable and preferred blend of touch points or channels of communications available to a customer 24 by 7. A company just cannot rely on FAQs provided on its app for all its customers. Or running analytics engine might not be sufficient for analysing his behaviour. A mere e-mail survey might not gather complete feedback about customer experience. All channels are equally important at different times and for different reasons and for different customers. A farmer using services might still prefer to visit a Service Centre personally while a person whose internet pack is over might just call up the Call Centre.
3. Even Robotics, Machine learning, Artificial intelligence and Chatbot has limitations and cannot answer everything or replace human interactions. Let’s keep that factor in mind. However, in most of the Call Centers, CSEs have a very limited role acting like robots following a script blindly.
4. A help menu inbuilt in an app is a basic necessity but is the organization smart and prompt enough to swiftly engage with the customer on any dissatisfaction or mishappening reported in the app?
5. Is every CSAT survey being looked carefully to arrive at some conclusion? Who takes the ownership and why?
6. Are service commitments still being offered? How often does the Company engage with its customers and to what extent?
7. How about customer education not only about new offers and schemes but also guiding a customer what plan should be appropriate as per his last one year’s expenses or usage?
8. Time to stop and think. With Big Data analytics, internet of things, is the company’s quality of interactions getting improved or deteriorated? How does the customer satisfaction graph look like? How about the turnaround time for resolving a ticket on their Portal or app?
9. How about collaboration with the customer in making their app more useful and customer friendly? Inviting customer’s feedback and suggestions from improvement and not just triggering a request to the customer to follow on FB, Twitter? Ensuring speed, agility, updation of question bank, posting customer ratings + reviews, checking app and portal’s feedback and suggestions on regular basis?
10. How about ensuring adherence to code of conduct and ethical dealing with critical pointers being followed as a mandate: no data leakage, privacy breach, sharing of data with the third party?
11. Keeping the Customer Service employees motivated as happy employees will keep customers happy.
12. Challenge of retaining the customer and building loyalty. With a better offer, each day customer switches to a different Service provider.

Examples where services could improve (though their app is user friendly but few requests where customers cannot rely on app alone)
1. Paytm: For completing KYC (Know Your Customer) process, customer has to visit either the nearest store or paytm person visits the customer for fulfilling the process requirements. These guys seems untrained, lacks helpful attitude and professionalism. Company here lacks setting expectations and training its customer service staff.
2. Ola/ Uber: Their app and Call Center is extremely good. However, since they rely on a third party, sometimes, the cab is not clean, the driver talks rudely or does not follow route shown in maps or comes late for pick -up. In such cases, Cab Companies should have extremely stringent audits and regular checks to catch hold of defaulters.
3. Amazon/ Flipkart: They rely on third party courriers for more than 40% of their consignments and these courier persons give false commitments which leads to delays often. And no one takes ownership of such delays or miss outs.

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Ways To Improve Customer Service In Your Business

How many times have you been into a department store, supermarket or clothes shop and been completely ignored by the sales assistant whose job it was to serve you and make you feel as if your custom was not only welcomed, but appreciated? Have you called a service provider such as a gas company, an electricity supplier or a Digital TV provider, only to be offered multiple “Press 1 for X” and “Press 2 for Y” choices and not known which option to choose? Equally, on how many occasions did you eventually get through to a customer service agent who told you he or she could not answer your query and they would have to pass you to another colleague, leaving you on hold for an even longer period of time?

We have all been there and on such occasions we can often have thoughts such as “Why don’t they just improve their customer service?” or “Why don’t they treat me the way I am supposed to be treated?”

We can also very easily remember the companies, stores, restaurants and services which have delivered amazing customer service every single time and these are the businesses that we are always happy to recommend to friends, family and colleagues. It is this recommendation which grows a business and entices new customers to use a particular company or service, so why haven’t companies and businesses realised that if they simply improved customer service, it could mean the difference between growing their customer base or losing it to another company which provides a superior level of customer service?

The reality is, that improving customer service within your business is not rocket science and if you hold the view that the customer is king and keep that belief at the very heart of your business, you will ultimately keep the customers you have and attract more customers to your business – whether you are running a small business, a large company or whether you are working for yourself and providing a niche service to clients and customers.

Here are 5 very simple ways in which you can improve customer service within your own organisation…

Develop and nurture the belief within your company that the “Customer Is King”

If you want your current customers to return to you and you wish to attract even more customers to your business, you must nurture a belief system within your company and among your employees which encourages those employees to keep your valuable customers at the heart of everything they do. Something I am helping some of my own clients to do, is to develop their Mission Statement or Company Ethos, which is not only circulated to employees but is also posted to workstations, kitchen areas and on bathroom walls above the wash basins. Whatever your company’s mission statement is, it should have terrific customer service at its centre and it is vital to encourage all employees to develop this belief system together as a team.

Engage with your employees and encourage them to offer opinions and solutions

The best way to encourage your employees to improve their own customer service skills, is to treat your employees like valuable colleagues whose opinions matter and whose views and opinions are listened to, appreciated and taken into consideration by the decision makers within the company.

Something I see quite frequently when clients are having issues such as a decline in employee morale, low customer retention and the resulting fall in profits, is that very often there can exist a “them and us” mentality among employees and a genuine belief that the company consists of two separate factions – Management and Employees. If customer service is to be improved in companies, it is vital to break down these barriers, negative thought patterns and beliefs by treating employees like valued colleagues who have a vital part to play and a major contribution to make to the success of the company or business. As a business owner, if you can encourage your employees to come to you with their thoughts, opinions and ideas, you will immediately find that they not only have a greater respect for you and for the company but that they feel they each have their own part to play in improving customer service, growing the company or business and maximising opportunities to make a real difference both to customers and to their own job satisfaction.

Listen To Your Customers!

If the customer is king, then as a business you must learn to listen more to what your customers are telling you and, often, what they are not telling you. By this, I mean that if you are losing customers and takings are down, this is not always due to economic issues or changes in customer behaviour, but can often be an indication that there is something not working within your business and you need to take action to put it right. As business owners, it can be very challenging to come up with new strategies, new products and new ways to keep our customers and clients happy however we must be completely adaptable and able to adjust to what our customers need and want if we are going to be successful.

Case Study

There is a restaurant quite near to my home which operated for a long time as a really great place to go to get a beef-burger and fries, toasted sandwich, omelette or a great Irish breakfast. The place was always packed out and on Saturday and Sundays at lunchtime there would often be people queuing out the door. The service was good, the waiting staff were polite and the food was good quality. Then, a few months ago they decided to turn it into a noodle bar. They changed their signage and devised a whole new menu aimed at customers who liked noodle dishes and Asian-Fusion cuisine. It didn’t work. Every time I walked past, the place was empty. Overnight it went from being one of the village’s top eateries to an empty restaurant with no customers. Thankfully the restaurant owners, having tried something new and different, very quickly realised they’d made a mistake and changed the restaurant back to the old one… within about 2 weeks the place was back to exactly how it had been before and of course now it is packed out again and all is good.

The moral of this tale is that the restaurant owners, realising their mistake, listened to the noise that a “lack of customers” makes and switched their restaurant back to the way it was. To them, the customer is king and always will be. They didn’t valiantly battle on, hoping things would improve or think, “Well, we’ve spent all this money creating something new and exciting, it’s not working yet so we’ll just keep at it and try to make it work… ” Instead they listened to their customers and gave the customers exactly what they wanted.

Develop Process Maps Within Your Business

Process Mapping is a vital part of any organisation. Without putting processes in place, it is very difficult for businesses to offer a consistent level of service to customers which can seriously affect profits. It also makes it difficult for everyone in the business to understand (a) what is expected of them, (b) what their role in each process is and (c) the commitment made by the company to the customer and how this commitment is fulfilled. If processes are not part of your organisation, then it becomes difficult to manage when serious issues and problems arise.

Processes are vital, regardless of what business you are in. Imagine for a moment that you are a florist. You have 3 trainee florists working in your shop and each day you are dealing with customers who want flowers for lots of different occasions – birthdays, funerals, to say “I’m Sorry” or simply to cheer someone up. For this example, let’s imagine you have been asked to design all the flower arrangements for a wedding, one of the most important occasions in anyone’s life. You are going to be looking after the flowers for the church, the bridal bouquet, the buttonholes and the flower displays on the tables at the reception. The happy couple have requested pale pink roses which have a special meaning for them. You brief your team on what needs to be done and what the couple are looking for and you assume that because you have briefed your staff, that everyone knows which part they have to play, who is responsible for ordering stock, who is doing the buttonholes, who is making the bridal bouquet etc. Normally, all the flowers are ordered in advance and the order is double-checked by one of the staff members to ensure that the supplier can deliver exactly what you need. However, a week before the wedding you accidentally cut your finger with a pair of secateurs which means you have to rush to the hospital to get stitches. You assume that because the other staff members have lots of experience and have done weddings before that they will know what you normally do and so you leave it all in their capable hands and trust that all will be fine.

The day before the wedding, you are waiting patiently for the flower delivery to arrive and by 2pm you are starting to get worried. You phone your supplier who informs you that the pale pink rose you said you wanted a month ago could not be sourced and that he had called the flower shop the previous week and spoken to “one of the girls” to let them know. You call an urgent meeting in your shop and get everyone together, but because of several other urgent orders that week (birthdays, funerals and “I’m Sorry” bouquets) none of the girls can remember speaking to the supplier or taking the message.

If a Process Map had been put in place – let’s call it “Process For Wedding Orders” – and had been distributed to all staff members so they could learn the process and know exactly what to do in every type of eventuality, this would have avoided a situation like this from ever having arisen. The fact that there was no process in place meant that no one really knew who was responsible for what and unfortunately, as owner/managers, it is very difficult for us to be everywhere at once, particular when there is a crisis or emergency. This is why having processes in place is vital to an organisation and can mean the difference between keeping a customer or losing one and, ultimately, losing money.

Hold informal review meetings with your employees on a regular basis and provide customer service training at least twice a year

One would think this should be an obvious one, but it is incredible how many businesses operate day in, day out, without ever holding review meetings or training sessions with their employees. This point is very much tied in with the point I made earlier about how important it is to include your employees in the decision making process and to encourage them to speak to you about what they feel is working, or where improvements can be made. Very often, we find as business owners that we get caught up in the day to day running of our business and it is difficult to find time to focus on some of the things that our employees may not be happy about within our organisation. If we can get to the root of why an employee may be unhappy and offer solutions, we will find that the level of customer service increases dramatically and our employees and colleagues will want to provide a better level of customer service, because they feel listened to and understood.

Remember, a review meeting with an employee to discuss customer service improvements is a two-way conversation, so it is really important to engage with your employees as much as possible. You also should prepare yourself to hear not only positive comments, but also negative ones and if you view this process as an opportunity to improve customer service, you will find the review meeting much easier to handle! Also, review meetings do not have to be held on a one to one basis, but could be held as a town hall meeting, for example which gives everyone an opportunity to voice their opinion. Make sure you have someone there to take notes, as this is more difficult to do if you are trying to engage and have a conversation with your colleagues.

Some questions you could ask during an informal review meeting are:

1. What do you feel is working well within the company?

2. What do you feel is not working?

3. Where do you believe improvements could be made?

4. Do you feel there is anything the company can do to help you improve your customer service skills and if so, what kind of training would you like to see offered in the future?

5. Do you feel there are areas the company could offer you more support that would help us to improve our level of customer service?

It is so important in the current climate to ensure that we are delivering the best possible customer service to our valued clients and customers as without them our business would not succeed, so it is worth investing some time and energy into seeing where improvements can be made and implementing changes that can make a real difference, not just to our business but to our clients’ and customers’ lives.

Even if you are a business owner who works alone and does not have employees, looking at ways to improve our own customer service and after-sales service is vital to retaining existing customers and also encouraging some new ones!

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5 Reasons to Use a Cloud Server for Your Business

The majority of traditional companies invest in expensive in-house servers for their file sharing, email and applications. These solutions feature physical servers and a number of virtual machines. For the management of the servers, they need to spend a lot of money in the beginning. The cost includes the purchase of equipment and IT staff, just to name a few. But cloud servers offer many advantages. Let’s talk about 5 reasons to use a cloud server instead.

The downside of an in-house system is that it comes with high initial. Plus, you need to order a replacement as soon as the old system stops working. Not all of small businesses can afford to buy a new unit. Cloud servers, on the other hand, are much cost-effective. Without further ado, let’s read about 5 reasons to use the alternative.

1. No Upfront Cash

The first reason to go for a cloud server is to save tons of money. Unlike a conventional system, cloud machines don’t require you to invest in high-end machines. All you need to do is pay a small fee at the end of each month, and you will be good to go for the entire month.

2. No Cooling Required

Since you don’t need to manage all the equipment in-house, you can use a server that an experienced provider can control. Therefore, you don’t need to install air conditioners to cool down the servers and the related equipment.

For small businesses, this is a huge advantage as they can invest that budget on other projects to expand their business.

3. Software Updates

Another great advantage of cloud servers is that the software they run receives updates on a regular basis. You don’t need to pay for buying the software updates as this will be taken care of by the service provider. This can save you a lot of time and effort.

Opting for the updates is based on the computing needs of your business. So, this is another reason to go for this alternative instead of in-house equipment.

4. No Surprise Costs

This is another huge advantage of these systems. You can easily predict the costs of IT support. You don’t need to worry about the server outages. Although the cloud service comes with its own costs, you can enjoy cost savings over the long haul. That’s the reason many companies don’t manage in-house hardware anymore.

5. Easily Scalable Solution

Cloud servers offer a scalable solution to meet the changing needs of a small or large business. On the other hand, these systems require a fast, stable internet connection. As long as you have a fast connection, you can get the most out of these servers. Also, you can buy more bandwidth and other system resources by paying a small monthly fee.

Long story short, these are some of the reasons to choose a cloud server instead of an on-site system for your small business. You can try out these systems if you don’t want to manage in-house systems. Hope this helps.

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