Excellence in customer service is THE differentiator that creates a strong reputation for an organisation in today's market place, and is the basis of success for all organisations. It is a measure of whether your organisation is one where people want to work, investors want to invest, and from which customers want to buy.
Customer service is the sum total of what an organisation does to meet customer expectations and produce customer satisfaction.
Customer satisfaction is the feeling that customers get when they are happy with the customer service that has been provided.
1. Recruit and train the right people
People with the right attitude are essential to building a successful customer service approach - "hire for attitude, train for skills" should be the maxim. Once in place, a planned training programme in both job skills and people skills must be maintained. This is not an area for cost cutting if the market gets tough. Consider formal customer service qualifications for all staff, such as NVQs or Institute of Customer Service Professional Awards.
2. Keep your staff happy
Staff retention is crucial to your organisation improving customer service excellence. Research shows clearly that staff stay when they are happy and respect the organisation for which they work. Efforts should therefore be directed at recognition and development programmes to determine potential, and a well thought out career plan structure. Research also shows that high employee satisfaction leads directly to high customer satisfaction and staff can also be a major source of feedback on your products and services.
3. Recognise the importance of customer loyalty
It is essential to keep the good customers you already have, and gain their loyalty. Loyal customers are active advocates of your organisation, and they also tend to be more profitable for you, more interested in helping you improve your products and services, and more forgiving of your occasional mistakes.
4. Lead from the top
Getting customer service right in an organisation, and continually improving it, is a long-term commitment that must be made by those at the top. They need to recognise its importance, believe in the strategy, be active in leading by example, and take actions that support those charged with carrying it out.
5. Welcome Complaints
Complaints are free market research and should be welcomed.
This might even lead to a short-term increase in complaints but this is artificial - you always had them but didn't know about it.
6. Utilise tools with caution - contact centres, CRM and other tools
If any of these things are being done/introduced primarily to reduce costs then it is doubtful whether real improvements in service levels will be gained, especially in the long term. If they are to be considered as an integral part of a strategy which is about improving customer service, one or more of them could be very useful. There are no quick fixes in improving customer service, but there can be some quick wins.
7. Tell the world
Being great at customer service is something to tell the world about, as long as you really are great. Customers can see through the marketing hype when it comes to service much easier than they often can with products. In marketing, for a long time product was "king" and an organisation built its reputation on this. Nowadays there is a growing push for service quality to be recognised as the real builder and retainer of reputation.
8. Build a reputation
A good reputation for customer service is a key factor in successful business results, and research has shown that to do this an organisation should concentrate on four key issues - going the extra mile, treating people as individuals, keeping promises, and handling queries and complaints brilliantly.
9. Measure your performance
Make sure that you measure the right things, not the easiest things - will it get looked at; will it lead to actions being taken; is it really relevant? The two things that you should always do are to measure employee and customer satisfaction/delight. The true question is - are you doing it to give yourself a warm feeling inside, or to see where you have to make changes?
Benchmarking can be a key part of your measurement programme. Learning from other sectors can often be much more beneficial than same sector comparisons, as one can see new ways of approaching issues and problems. Measuring and comparing the same things over time is much better than just a one-off view/comparison, as trends can be observed and learned from.
The full involvement in, and commitment of both staff and customers to, your organisation's customer service excellence programme can depend greatly on your skills at communicating with them. Keeping people informed, recognising good performance, celebrating success, marketing your services and achieving all of the above points requires a coordinated strategy of communications utilising all available tools. A reputation for great service can be easily lost by a poor telephone answering system (especially if automatic), confusing website, or lack of a corporate communications approach. Test it regularly and continually enhance it as new technologies develop.