Preventing Customer Problems Before They Happen

Patton’s Law: A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

Problems are a fact of life. No matter how committed you are to customer service, you’re going to have some problems with some customers. And there’s only two things you can do about it: PREVENT as many problems as you can and RESOLVE the rest. Try these strategies for PREVENTING customer problems.

=> 1. Listen for unspoken needs.

To PREVENT customer problems, the number one thing you can do is listen. Listen to what the customer says. That’s obvious.

But just as importantly, listen for the little things. Look for the little clues that tell you what a customer really wants and needs.

You see… no customer is ever going to call you and say, “If you do these ten things for me, I’ll be a loyal and satisfied customer.” Nope. They expect you to figure it out. And you’d better figure it out if you’re going to survive and thrive in your organization.

So how do you figure it out?

Make everyone in your organization a listening post. Make it their “job” to listen for what the customer needs… and then pass along their discoveries.

Disney does a great job of this. At the Disney resorts, a few select employees or “cast members” are designated as “Super Greeters.” They walk around the park with laptop computers and survey about 1000 guests a day. The results are compiled and fed back to the rest of the staff.

But every Disney employee is a listening post… listening for customer needs. At The Disney Polynesian Hotel, for example, a food and beverage manager overheard a husband apologizing to his wife for not making dinner reservations on this very busy night. And it just so happened to be their 10th wedding anniversary.

The manager immediately pulled the hostess aside and suggested that she give them the next available table… telling her and the waitress that it was the couple’s 10th anniversary. As soon as the couple went in, the hostess told the others waiting in line what happened. And they were happy to be a part of the couple’s anniversary celebration.

In his book, “Inside The Magic Kingdom: Seven Keys To Disney Success,” author Tom Connellan said one Disney manager told him, “We have some 45,000 cast members. That gives us 90,000 ears. We think of that collection of ears as one giant listening post.”

Could the same thing be said of your organization? I hope so.

=> 2. Record your customer’s wants and needs.

After you’ve learned what your customer wants and needs, you’ve got to share those wants and needs with your coworkers. It’s a critical step in the process of delighting and keeping your customers… as well as PREVENTING with them.

Ritz-Carlton Hotels has mastered this concept. Every staff member is trained to listen for and record their guests’ preferences… on everything from the type of room that is preferred to the customer’s preferred brand of bottled water. Such preferences are then entered into a computerized file called the Guest History.

Each night that file is downloaded into the chain’s database. So if you were to stay at another Ritz-Carlton Hotel the very next night… or at any time in the future… the staff would know your preferences. In fact, the staff would check your reservations against the Guest History file and would have all preferences ready and waiting for you.

What about your organization? Do you have a similar system in place?

And what are you doing to share your customer’s needs with the other people in your organization?

=> 3. Make sure your people and processes are aligned with your customers’ needs.

If you do the first two things I’ve been talking about… listen to your customers and record their needs… if that’s all you do and nothing else, your efforts are meaningless. You’ve got to DO something with what you learn. You’ve got to ALIGN your people and processes to meet those needs.

In fact, the only way you can stay in business is to keep on meeting the needs of your customers. So take this quiz to see how well you’re set up to meet their needs. You should be able to answer “yes” to most of the questions.

* Have you communicated quality service standards and behaviors to everyone in your organization?

* Are staff empowered and trusted to make effective decisions in order to satisfy customers?

* Are staff encouraged and rewarded for taking the extra step in service?

* Do staff know and follow specific guidelines for handling typical as well as challenging customer service situations?

* Is customer service training given to all staff on a regular basis?

* Is everyone in your organization trained in customer expectations and how to meet them?

* Does management set the tone for quality service by demonstrating it personally?

* Does management communicate with and listen to internal and external customers regularly and visibly?

* Does management focus its time, money, energy, and resources on activities that support quality service?

* Does management lead the way by frequently communicating the organization’s commitment to quality customer service?

* Does management solicit information and feedback from a variety of sources to identify service issues and opportunities?

* Does management share customer service success stories and plan celebrations for victories in service?

Whew! That’s quite a quiz. You probably had some “no” answers. Most organizations do. No problem. At least you’ve identified what you need to start working on.

And if you want some professional help, take a look at my half and full-day program on “Creating Moments of Magic: Moving From Customer Service To Customer Enthusiasm.” Scott Molitor, the Director of Marketing at Compuware/Covisint, said, “In a mere 4 hours, I was able to reset and refocus my customer thoughts and behaviors. Now I know exactly what I have to do to build up, encourage and positively impact our internal and external customers.”

Action:  Select 3 of the above questions where you answered “no.” Write down 3 things you and your team can do… right now… to make improvements in these areas.