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Defining Customer Service
By David Goldsmith   Printer Friendly Version

Focus groups always try to get feedback on this particular point all the time. But then why do we see and expect poor customer service. Just the other Friday we brought our vehicle in to be serviced and had to juggle a family with one car: you know, the meetings, schools, drop-offs and pickups- not fun. We have had trouble with a vibration since we leased the car and had scheduled an appointment weeks in advance. (for the 3rd time). At 5 pm, we swung by the facility to get the vehicle. I entered the repair docks of one of the larger auto dealers in the area and for 3 minutes three employees did not pick up their head from their terminals to even say to me, "One moment, I will be right with you," or that they had to finish these last few papers before 5…anything!! Our car had not been touched all day. Is this customer service? The major auto companies work around the clock to come up with methods to keep customers happy and 3 service "managers" could not pick up their heads to help a customer and to date we have leased $350,000 worth of cars. What made this one so poorly run? Did they not understand the basics? The customer's impression is what drives business. Let's state the seemingly obvious.

Good Customer Service = Lasting relationships
Average Customer Service = Steady relationships that could be lost
Poor Customer Service = Lost business

Here are a few tips.

1. Create systems to define customer service. Do not create customer service rules! They don't work. Most posted rules could only be followed by the holiest of people. Create systems that make customer service less of a reaction but an action that is defined by circumstance. Customers are happy when they get what they expect, (and they are won over when they get even more than what they expect.) When you enter a McDonald's, you expect the same results every time. If it's within tolerance of expectations, that's great! Whether that happens or not is up to the management from corporate down or up…depending on your corporate culture.

2. Evaluate what level of customer service is truly to be expected. Do not believe that everyone knows what's expected.

Managers who expect their employees to be at the height of their companies' standard charts must give employees empowerment to create the time and space to do things right. They must also be aware that they will be let down. We are all human and each day is different. Don't you love the manager who barks all day, is late on proposals, and is the cause of many of the customers' post impressions, but who is angered by how others treat the customers (as if the managers are excused from such actions.)

3. Create a feedback loop … too many customers are lost just due to an impression that their business is not important. It's not always the mistake that loses a customer. Mistakes are opportunities to create loyal customers. A simple card that says thank you for your business goes a long way. Sales automation tools are now adding features to automatically send letters and a thank you. Self-addressed cards or an internet site with a quick feedback mechanism will, in addition, help to gauge the satisfaction created by the experience.

4. The difference between a good company and a poorly run company is not always shown when things run smoothly; the difference is in how they handle situations when there is a mistake. You won't get it perfect every time, but you have control over the company's reaction to a customer when things go awry. Be honest and fair, and when in doubt, "the customer is always right."

5. Customer service must also be viewed as company etiquette. If employees are not treated well, it's going to be tough for them to treat others properly. No I am not trying to change the world …just pointing out that the little things internally really do count.

6. Qualify your hires. Put a potential employee in a situation that would purposefully allow them to expose their situational handbag. Treat potential hires to lunch. You'd be surprised how many will be eliminated from your list of potential employees based on their disgusting treatment of waiters. It's easier to start with a well-mannered person who is cordial than to try to teach a person who lacks respect for people. 7. Lastly, look for the good. On a recent trip to participate in a meeting with President Jimmy Carter, I arrived at one of the Courtyard Marriott Hotels in the Atlanta area late in the afternoon, asking if there was any way my suit could be pressed by 6:30 AM. Three people started to make phone calls to cleaners and in the end one person personally drove the suit across town and returned it to me later that night. It was done! That's a WOW! Not only did I send a letter to management but thanked the staff multiple times prior to leaving.

Customer service is not difficult if you know what it is. The rock quarry and the trucking company will have different operations than the health spa and the catalog company, but in the end, meeting and surpassing expectations will only come from people who have created environments to do so. Create systems that generate guaranteed predictable results.

David & Lorrie Goldsmith are founders of the Syracuse based MetaMatrix Consulting Group Inc. Their firm specializes in consulting and speaking services. They can be reached at 315-476-0510 888-777-8857 or emailed at dgoldsmith@davidgoldsmith.com

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