The Two Pillars Of Customer Service

If you think customers aren’t important, try doing business without them for ninety days.

During the last ten years, you’ve heard the words “customer” and “customer service” preached over and over again. Thousands of company mission statements have addressed these issues, and thousands of training sessions have been dedicated to them. So you’d think we could forget about that topic and go on to something else.

I’m afraid not. Customer expectations are on the rise, and customer satisfaction is in decline. Bad service is so rampant that if I asked you to send me examples of the bad service you’ve received this past week I would receive thousands of e-mails.

I know that’s true of me. Last week I went to buy a loaf of bread at the bakery. No one was in the store except the clerk and her friend. They talked on and on about last night’s party, totally ignoring me. She eventually waited on me, but she offered no apology and offered me very little service.

I called one of the electronic superstores to inquire about a particular DVD machine I wanted to buy. I asked if they sold that particular model. He put me on hold for a long time, came back, said they didn’t sell it, and hung up. He didn’t tell me what they did sell, and he didn’t ask what features I needed. I was ready to buy, but he didn’t even give me a chance to do so.

Finally, in just the last week, I went to the doctor’s office. The receptionist was behind the desk, filing some papers. I waited patiently for quite a while, coughed slightly a couple of times to get her attention, and continued to wait. She then told me I shouldn’t interrupt her while she was working. As Steve Martin would say, “Well EXCUSE ME!” I was under the impression that the reason she was working was to serve the customer.

In each case, it didn’t seem like these customer service people placed a very high value on customers. They seemed to have more important priorities than serving me.

I suspect your life isn’t much different. You get a lot more mediocre service than awesome service.

And there seems to be two causes for this lack of awesome service. Many customer service people LACK THE APPROPRIATE COMMUNICATION SKILLS, and others LACK THE APPROPRIATE ATTITUDINAL SKILLS.

It’s like the man who called the doctor’s office. They answered, “This is the urology department. Can you hold?” Probably not, or the poor man wouldn’t be calling.

Or as another man told his plumber, “I’ve gotta leak in my sink.” The plumber said, Go ahead. It’s your sink.” Miscommunication? I think so.

In each case, the customer service people did not “send” very clear or helpful messages.

In other cases customer service people don’t “hear” or understand the customer’s situation. One customer received this notice from a company, “Sorry, we cannot fill your order until your previous order is fully paid for.” He replied, “Cancel my order. I can’t wait that long.”

Fortunately, customer service people can be taught effective communication skills. But they have to be taught. You can’t just expect people to serve customers and serve them well without sufficient training. I can help you with that.

The other cause of bad service is the lack of proper attitudinal skills. In simple terms, some customer service people just don’t care — or at least they don’t know how to project their caring.

Charles Winkler, in his book Handling Stress With Humor, talked about being very sick. He called the doctor’s office to set up an appointment, but the nurse told him, “The next time the doctor can see you is two weeks from today.” He explained, “I could be dead by then.” The nurse said, “Well that won’t be a problem. Just have someone let us know, and we’ll cancel the appointment.” Obviously, there wasn’t too much caring there.

As many of you know, I spent fifteen years as a university professor. I loved it. But I was often troubled by the lack of caring I observed in some professors. They didn’t seem to care about their students or “customers.” As professor and author Richard Huber says, “University teaching is the only profession in which you can become a success without satisfying a client.”

To enhance your caring skills, or to help your employees do so, CONSIDER THE BAND-AID TECHNIQUE. Put a Band-Aid on the back of your right hand with the number 96 on it.

Psychologists say we think about ourselves 96% of the time. However, if you’ll take your eyes off of yourself and look at other people for a moment, if you’ll look for their hurts, if you’ll try to understand what they’re dealing with, the more impact you’ll have on them. You’ll gradually transform your customers–from satisfied into enthusiastic customers. (I’ll share more specifics in next week’s “Tuesday Tip.”)

Another way to enhance your caring attitudinal skills is to THINK ABOUT THE LIFETIME VALUE OF YOUR CUSTOMERS. If you think about a customer as a mere transaction or as a single sale, it is easier not to care. Afterall, a Coke customer might not be worth more than a dollar.

On the other hand, if you consider a customer’s lifetime value, each customer becomes very important. According to USA Today on July 7, 1999, Coca Cola says its average customer is worth $6000.

Or at General Motors, it’s not the $15,000 Chevrolet Cavalier that counts. It’s the fact that this Cavalier sale is the first installment on the $276,000 that the average lifetime customer spends on GM products.

Dell Computers also knows this. The non-technical computer user, who puts off computer purchases as long as possible, has a lifetime value of $25,000. The sophisticated user who buys a new machine and software every two years is worth $45,000. Bob Langer, one of the directors at Dell says, “The approach we take is all about handling long-term relationships with customers. The end of the transaction is the beginning of the relationship.”

Few things in life are more important than your customers. Do your customers feel that way after doing business with you? Your answer will make all the difference in the world.

Action:  Take an assessment of yourself. When you deal with customers, how would you rate your communication skills on a scale of 1 to 10? How would your customers rate you?  And how would you rate your caring attitudinal skills? How would your customers rate you?  If you have any scores less than 8, you’re losing money, and you’re losing business. It’s time to get some additional training.