Customer Service Is King

If you want to rule in the world of business, remember service is king.

When I was a kid, a long time ago, everyone talked about the “$64,000 question.” In today’s world, with shows like “Deal Or No Deal,” it’s the $1,000,000 question that counts.

And the million-dollar question… in business… is focused on customer loyalty. People want to know what kinds of things ensure a customer’s loyalty.

=> Key To Customer Loyalty

Well, the answer comes from a study done by Genesys Telecommunications Labs. According to their survey respondents, 46% of them listed customer service as the most important factor in determining their loyalty. Another 37% of the respondents listed product quality, followed by 13% listing price, and finally 2% listing brand name as the key factor in determining their loyalty.

So Harry Bullis, the former chairman of the board at General Mills, was right. Bullis used to tell his salespeople, “Forget about the sales you hope to make and concentrate on the service you want to render.”

The moment your attention is centered on the service you can give, the more dynamic you become. And the more dynamic you become, the harder you are to resist. After all, how can your customers resist you when you’re trying to help them solve a problem?

Bullis continued, “I tell our salespeople that if they start out each morning with the thought, ‘I want to help as many people as possible today,’ instead of, ‘I want to make as many sales as possible today,’ they would find a more easy and open approach to their buyers, and they would make more sales.”

So service is king. If you want to rule in the world of business, you’ve got to be great at customer service.

=> Different Definitions Of Service

But that brings up a key question. What is GREAT service? I find customer service providers think it’s one thing… while the customers themselves… think it’s something else. And that causes huge problems.

On the one hand, I never find customer service reps saying they’re lousy at service. Most of them say they’re “pretty good” to “excellent.” And yet customers across the country report large amounts of dissatisfaction with the service they receive. Obviously, the service reps and the customers have very different definitions as to what constitutes GREAT service.

Consultant Carla Furlong found that out. At one photocopy outlet, the customers frequently complained about paper jams. And so the manufacturer figured if they could reduce the number of paper jams, they would earn the customer’s satisfaction and loyalty.

Not so. That wasn’t the “real” issue. When they dug a bit deeper, the manufacturer learned their customers expected some paper jams. It was the speediness of the repair that made the “real” difference for them. The quicker the repair, the higher the loyalty.

In another situation, a bank got several complaints about their long lines. And so the bank figured it had better speed things up if they wanted to retain their customers.

But Furlong found, after doing more extensive research, that long lines seldom lead to customer defection. Instead, it is unresolved problems… such as incorrect bank statements… that kill off customer loyalty.

As a customer service provider, be very careful of assuming anything. You can’t “assume” your customers will be happier, more satisfied, and more loyal… just because you remove some of their complaints. And you can’t “presume” to know what’s most important to your customers.

You would think, for example, that the most important factor for an investment customer would be the return on her money. Not so. Richard Clements, in “Customer Retention: A Neglected But Necessary Part of the Quality Puzzle,” found that “inquiry responsiveness” was even more important. In fact, in one Boston investment firm, the customers cared more about getting their questions answered within 24 hours than the actual performance of their portfolios.

So what’s the lesson if you’re going to win in the game of customer loyalty?

=> Know Your Customers.

There’s no substitute for knowing your customers… REALLY knowing your customers. After all, if your definition of “great” service is different than their definition of “great” service, you lose.

Unfortunately, most people and most companies “think” they already “know” their customers. They’ve worked with their customers for some time and have a “gut feeling” as to what their customers need. And to some extent, they’re right. But they’re also wrong… to some extent.

To REALLY know your customers, to have an “intimate” understanding of your customers, you’ve got to do several things. You’ve got to do the following.

** You need to define your internal and external customers… so you know who they are.

** You need to have an explicit, written goal for meeting and exceeding your customers’ expectations.

** You need to spend time with your customers so you can learn their wants and needs… first hand.

** You need to collect data from your customers to learn what they value the most in your service.

** You need to analyze your customer data to discover trends and solutions before they become a problem.

** You need to ask your customers to evaluate your service system on a regular basis.

** You need to have procedures in place to make sure you listen to the needs of your customers.

** You need to involve your customers in plans for change, innovation, or improvement.

** You need to make changes in your service in response to what your customers tell you.

You may be feeling a little overwhelmed by the list. So am I. Most of us have plenty of room for improvement.

But feeling overwhelmed will get you no where. Instead, take note of the activities you’re already doing, and do something about those activities where you’re falling short. Start with one activity, and the progress you make there will spill over to some of the other activities.

Action:  Ask 10 to 20 of your customers to tell you what they like the very best about your service. You’ll quickly learn what determines their satisfaction and drives their loyalty.