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.
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!