Seeking a competitive edge? In any economy and any market, customer service is the key. No matter what your business, if you have one competitor or 100 selling the same product or service, you can tip the scales in your favor by offering a higher level of service. Customers will drive farther, wait longer and even spend more for better service.
You can probably name several companies that are known for delivering amazing customer service. By “amazing,” I mean service that is at least better than average, all the time. It doesn’t have to be an over-the-top “wow!” level of service. Than might happen once in a while, but true customer amazement lies in the service that is consistently above average — even if just by a little bit.
I hope that helps you realize that offering amazing service to your customers is within reach. Everyone and every company should be able to deliver service that is a little bit better than average — and there will be that “wow” moment thrown in every once in a while when the opportunity presents itself. Those occasional events could be called “hero” moments, when a customer has a problem or there is a special situation that allows employees to step in and do something extraordinary.
Confidence Is the Driving Force
By all means, take advantage of any opportunity to wow the customer, but understand this: The best companies don’t wait for situations like that to impress their customers. They review all of the typical “touch points” that a customer has with the company and ensure that each interaction has built in service that is just a notch above average.
So, the real secret that makes amazing companies amazing is the consistency. They offer service that is just a little better than average, but they do it all the time.
Think about this from the customer’s point of view. If every time customers do business with you and they receive better-than-average service — attentive, respectful, friendly — they will gain confidence that the same level of service will be there each time. That confidence is the driving force behind customer loyalty.
So, are you ready to set your company on the journey to delivering amazing customer service? You need to get everyone on the same page by operationalizing the customer service culture.
The culture of the company exists among those who work there, so — interestingly enough — becoming a customer-centric organization begins by first becoming an employee-centric organization. If you want your customers to be amazed, you must first amaze your employees.
There are many surveys and studies that list the top customer service companies. There are also studies that list the top companies to work for. If you compare the lists, you might be surprised at how many of companies appear on both lists.
Seven Key Steps
Here are seven ways to operationalize a customer service culture.
1. Define the customer service culture. This is where customer-centricity begins. Start with the end in mind. What does the perfect customer service experience look like for your customer? From there, determine what will deliver that experience. Then build a culture that supports the goal.
2. Communicate the culture. Do your employees really understand what your culture/vision is all about? Make sure it is simple enough for all employees to understand and perhaps even memorize. Some companies have done a great job of turning their brand promises into a simple phrase or sentence that sums up the goal. For example, the Ritz-Carlton has a nine-word sentence: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Ace Hardware is the Helpful Hardware Place. This is what the businesses want to be known for. This is what they want their customers to experience.
3. Hire for the culture. Make sure you have the right people in place — people who have both the skills and the attitude to take care of the customer. The old adage of “Hire for the attitude and train the skill” has merit, but you also need employees who have the personality that works for your culture. Personality is different from attitude. Don’t confuse them.
4. Train for the culture. You may have hired great employees, but regardless of their amazing backgrounds, if you don’t train them for your company’s culture, you can’t expect that they will be a great fit for your company. It is essential to start training the “soft skills” — your customer service expectations and core values — right away.
5. Model the behavior. Everyone must step up and be a role model for others to emulate, especially leadership. Treat each other with the same respect and dignity as you would the customer — maybe even more so.
6. Empower everyone to be a customer service leader. Once you define your customer service standards, don’t encumber your employees with rules that get in the way. Instead, give them the power to do what it takes to meet and exceed those standards.
7. Recognize and celebrate success. Let people know they’re doing a great job. The recognition may be the motivation they need to continue or, even better, take it to the next level. Employees love to be appreciated and respected. Celebrate when they are doing a great job. That doesn’t mean a party every week — it may be recognition at a weekly meeting or a mention in the company newsletter. On occasion it could be something big like an annual awards dinner.
Amazing companies operationalize their customer service. They create a system that supports what the customer experience is expected to be. They recognize that customer service gives them the competitive edge.
If they are focused only on price, the customer will be loyal only as long as the price is the lowest. If they focus on customer service, the opportunity for loyalty can last a lifetime.