There are, of course, tools and technologies to help you, but the basis of your success will lie in the framework of customer service that you establish for your company and the atmosphere you set through your mission. Here are the building blocks you will need for a solid framework:
- A clear, stated vision of what your company does and how it does it, with employees who understand that vision and make it their own. This is the place for mission statements and employee training. This is the place for a lot of hard work before you put your first product or service on the market.
- Stated promises that you strive to keep. When you offer your company to the public be explicit about what you will do. Remember quality and quickness-two aspects that matter most.
- Ready access. Give your customers tools to find the information or the people they need. Technology will play a vital role here as you establish networks by which your customers gain access via their computer or telephone. If your customers press a number or click a button, always give them the path to a live assistant. No technology can substitute for a real person who has the knowledge and the authority to solve a customer's problems. Read on.
- Linked Sales and Service Departments. When you create the framework for your company, it is vital to keep your sales and your service closely tied together. A salesperson who has no accountability for quality and quickness will lose commitment to the customer and focus instead on his own success in numbers. The CSR who had no part in the sale will feel little accountability when things go wrong; "Hey, it wasn't my mistake!" Create a corporate body in which both hands, the head and the feet are part of one accountable being. Every department shares in the goal of excellent customer service.
- Authority to resolve problems is what your front-line people need to keep your customers happy. Companies that don't trust their CSRs engender fear in the employees that becomes an unwillingness to provide the "on-the-spot" solutions that create loyal customers. "I'll have to check with my supervisor", is a formula for disaster. There is a high correlation between excellent customer service ratings, a solid bottom line, and employee loyalty. Build these strengths into your structure. Teach your CSRs to say, "I can fix that," and give them the authority to do it. They won't give the store away. They will deliver profits.
- Service that goes beyond expectations. If you've made a mistake, fix it, and then provide a perk for the customer-something that says, "I'm sorry," and, "I care". When all is said and done and the dust has settled, follow up with the customer. "How did we do?" "Is there something else you need?" Chances are you'll get another order on the spot.
- A forum that gives a voice to the silent customer. Fewer than 10% of dissatisfied customers actually complain to a company, but they do complain to each other. They'll tell other people what you did wrong, even if they never tell you. Remember the statistics, and give these people every opportunity to tell you how you're doing. What you don't know can certainly hurt your company. Call them. Send them an e-mail. Write them a letter. Ask them if they're happy and what they need from you. Much of this will lead to more requests for your services or products.
Now, none of this takes into account the occasional customer that is rude, irate, and unreasonable. They're out there and despite what you've been told, they are not always right. But this is true, they are always human and chances are they will cool off and get their wits about them when they realize that you are listening, that you can help them, and that you care. Most customers will respond favorably to good manners.