Customer service is everyone’s business. Act as if you’re on the front lines — even when you’re in the back office.
68% of your customers would switch to one of your competitors … “if they could find better, faster, more reliable service elsewhere” … according to the research done by Accenture. Sixty-eight percent! That’s a whopping number that you cannot ignore … because the very survival of your company and your job depend upon it.
And one of the best times to cement your customers’ loyalty is when they have a problem. You have a chance to help them and impress them. As author Jim Rohn says, “One customer, well taken care of, could be more valuable than $10,000 worth of advertising.”
Here are a few ways you can take good care of your customers when they have a problem.
1. Keep a service-minded attitude.
Your attitude will make all the difference in the world.
Of course, some of you may get a little defensive and say, “Dr. Zimmerman, that’s easy for you to say. You don’t know the kinds of customers I have to work with. How I am supposed to keep a service-minded attitude in the midst of all this economic and organizational turmoil?”
I would tell you to do the math. At the end of the day, spend a few moments reflecting on what you have accomplished. You might be surprised to find out that on any given day, there were more “pluses” than “minuses.” It will help you keep things in perspective.
Sure, you will always have a few angry customers, and you will always have few customers you can never please. But don’t let those negative customer contacts overwhelm you. Take two or three minutes to tally your successes. Recall the customers who said “Thanks!” and really meant it. And think about all those customers who will keep on doing business with you and your company because of the help you gave them.
After all, customer-service work is very challenging. It’s tough to keep on giving and giving and giving to your customers day after day. But you’ll be able to do it … if you keep a service-minded attitude.
2. Remind yourself that customer service is EVERYONE’S business.
Don’t ever think you’re off the hook … that this customer-service stuff doesn’t apply to you … because you’re stuck in some back office or on an assembly line … where you never even see a customer.
You’ve got to remind yourself that customer service is NOT a department. It’s an attitude and a set of behaviors you apply to everyone inside and outside your company. It doesn’t matter if you interact with any external customers or not. You’ve still got a host of co-workers, internal customers, or other departments you have to serve and serve well.
As Frederick Reicheld wrote in his book, “The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value,” the average American company loses half of their employees every four years and half of their customers every five years. In other words, there seems to be a strong connection between employee attrition and customer loyalty. But if you treat your fellow workers well, they tend to stay … and they tend to give your customers great service as well. That’s why customer service is EVERYONE’S business.
With points 1 and 2 pinned down, you’re ready to take some concrete action steps to resolve your customer’s problems. You’re ready to…
3. Get a clear understanding of the problem.
It’s all too easy to think you’ve heard it all and seen it all when it comes to customer complaints and problems. And it’s all too easy to think you know what your customers are going to say even before they say it.
You may be right. But that’s irrelevant. Your customers still feel the need to explain their problem, and they still want you to listen.
So make sure you get a clear understanding of the problem before you go one step further into solving their problem … because you may be wrong. One of my friends was.
As my friend shared a hospital elevator with one of the hospital employees dressed in the traditional “whites,” she noticed the employee was in charge of a complex piece of equipment. It was all chrome with a myriad of handles, bars, valves, gauges, dials and inverted bottles. Finally my friend said, “I would sure hate to be hooked up to that machine.”
“So would I,” the attendant replied. “This is a rug shampooer.”
Once you have a clear understanding of the problem…
When your customer has a problem because of a mistake made by someone or something in your organization, apologize. Say you’re sorry for their inconvenience. You won’t appear incompetent, only human, and you send the message that you’re big enough to admit it. In fact, you usually gain the respect of a customer when you apologize in a simple, direct, and straightforward manner.
Just the opposite happens when you can’t or won’t apologize. Such was the case with one distributor who didn’t take responsibility for their shipping problems. When a retailer placed an order for a large quantity of merchandise, the distributor emailed back, “Cannot ship until you pay for your last consignment.” The retailer replied by saying, “Unable to wait that long. Cancel the order.”
Once you’ve given a sincere apology,
5. Make things right.
The faster you address the problem and resolve the problem, the greater the appreciation and loyalty you’ll receive from your customers. Make things right.
That’s what a lawyer and farmer tried to do when they had a head-on car collision on a country road. Neither one of them was badly hurt, but both men were shaken. So the farmer went to his car, got a flask, and offered it to the lawyer. He said, “Here, you look like you need a drink.” The lawyer took a couple of swigs, and at the farmer’s urging he took a few more.
Afterwards, the lawyer handed the flask to the farmer and said, “Your turn.”
“No thanks,” said the farmer. “I’m waiting for the sheriff.”
You’ve got to make things right, and then…
6. Ask if there is anything else you can do.
After resolving your customer’s problem, ask if you can help in any other way. Maybe he needs a couple of questions answered, or maybe she would appreciate a small discount on her next order. It’s a great time to build some extra goodwill between you and your customer.
And it tends to pay off. As Rohn stated in another one of his books, “Good service leads to multiple sales. If you take good care of your customers, they open doors you could never open by yourself.”
7. Follow up after you’ve resolved the problem.
Contact your customer. Call him up. See how things are going. You’ll boost your reputation for being responsive, concerned, and proactive … because most of your competitors will never bother to do this.
I know this very technique saved one hotel hundreds of thousands of dollars. After eating at their restaurant and getting food poisoning, I was picked up by an ambulance, sent to a nearby hospital, had my stomach pumped, and stayed on IV tubes for a couple of days. I had every right to sue the hotel, but I didn’t do that because the hotel staff seemed more concerned about my health than their pocketbooks. And they continued to check on my health for several weeks after the incident.
8. Fix the cause of the problem.
Use your customers’ problems as a way to learn more about your operations. You may find a policy or procedure that is causing the problem, and that item has to be fixed so the same problem doesn’t occur and re-occur.
It’s what John Manning, the Vice President of the WOW Department at Commerce Bank, does. He says, “One way to deliver smart service is to stop doing dumb things. That’s why at Commerce Bank we have a ‘Kill a Stupid Rule’ program. If you identify a rule that prevents you from wowing customers, we’ll pay you fifty bucks.”
Horace B. Litton, the Executive Vice President of a New England manufacturing company, works along the same lines, having his team root out the causes of customer problems. As Litton says, “The only thing I refuse to tolerate is the repetition of mistakes that can be avoided. The more you review and analyze past mistakes — human, unavoidable errors excepted — the more error-free performance you can expect.”
And in today’s economic environment, this is critical. As consultant Art Hall puts it, “Customers are totally out of patience. They won’t tolerate an organization making mistakes over and over again.”
9. Keep a record of which customers need some extra nurturing.
If you do the 9 things listed above, you’ll be in pretty good shape when it comes to helping your customer resolve his problem and you’ll be in pretty good shape when it comes to keeping that customer. Nonetheless, it would be worth your while to keep a record of the customers who have had a problem with your product or service.
At Jim’s Formal Wear, a tuxedo wholesaler in Trenton, Ill, with seven regional centers nationwide, they do this by having an “extra eyeball board.” In a common work area, the employees list on a dry-erase board the names of customers whose orders were handled poorly or incorrectly. All workers receive a printout of those accounts. When an order comes in from a customer on the “extra eyeball board,” employees double check it for errors.
To take it one step further, Jim also has those accounts put on a “nurturing list.” Those accounts receive an “Oops” card that apologizes for the mistake and promises not to repeat the mistake. Plus, when those customers order again, they get an extra dose of nurturing that goes beyond a simple “Thank you,” and they get a service rep that calls to ask if everything is all right.
In short, it doesn’t matter what your job title is. You’re in the customer service business, and your business will do quite well when you take these 9 skills to heart.