The Four Ps of Customer Service

“If you aren’t serving the customer you better be serving someone who is.”

Karl Albrecht, author

When you look around your company or the places where you do business … would you say that customer service has gotten better, stayed about the same, or gotten worse in the last few years? Most people report that it has gotten worse. In fact, the research from Everson Consulting indicates that service levels have stayed about the same over the past many years. What has changed is the customers’ “expectations”. Customers expect more than ever.

To manage, satisfy, and even delight your customer expectations, my colleague Terry Everson recommends the 4 P’s. Let me explain them and put my own twist on each of them.

1. Professional

Your look, your feel, your mood, your manner, your words, your office. As Terry would say, “They all speak volumes.” What are you “telling” your customers?
That you’re a true professional or just another hustler trying to make a buck?

John Milne, a customer service expert in Australia, gave one example … an all-too-common example of unprofessional service. Milne told me about Barry, an award winning franchise owner in an Australian city, who went to a specialty shop to purchase some materials for his four franchises. Although there were eight staff in the shop and few other customers, Barry could not find anyone to welcome and serve him. Amazingly everyone was pre-occupied, one filing, one texting, and two chatting. After a few minutes he left, went to a competitor’s shop and spent several hundred dollars. The ugly thing is not one employee realized the loss to the business that day and every day in the future … the loss in revenue and reputation.

2. Positive

No matter how good or bad a customer might be, you still control you … yourself … and your attitude. You can be positive with any customer, even if the customer is wrong. And more often than not, your positive attitude will rub off on the customer making him or her easier to deal with.

When appropriate, even humor can be effective. It can catch a customer’s attention, put a smile on his face, and help him remember you for a long time after your interaction.

Burma Shave, the men’s shaving cream, mastered that technique back in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s. Before there were interstate highways, when everyone drove the old two-lane roads, Burma Shave signs were posted all over the countryside in farmers’ fields. They were small red signs with white letters. Five signs, about 100 feet apart, each containing one line of a four-line couplet……and the obligatory 5th sign advertising Burma Shave. The signs not only promoted the product but also made a positive impression on people as they urged people to drive safely.

For those of you too young to remember the signs, here are a few examples of the actual signs:

Don’t stick your elbow
Out so far
It may go home
In another car.

Trains don’t wander
All over the map
‘Cause nobody sits
In the engineer’s lap.

Don’t lose your head
To gain a minute
You need your head
Your brains are in it.

Drove too long
Driver snoozing
What happened next
Is not amusing.

Brother Speeder
Let’s rehearse
All together
Good morning, nurse.

Cautious rider
To her reckless dear
Let’s have less bull
And a little more steer.

Speed was high
Weather was not
Tires were thin
X marks the spot.

The midnight ride
Of Paul for beer
Led to a warmer

Around the curve
Beautiful car
Wasn’t it?

No matter the price
No matter how new
The best safety device
In the car is you.

A guy who drives
A car wide open
Is not thinkin’
He’s just hopin’.

At intersections
Look each way
A harp sounds nice
But it’s hard to play.

The one who drives
When he’s been drinking
Depends on you
To do his thinking.

Car in a ditch
Driver in tree
The moon was full
And so was he.

Passing school zone
Take it slow
Let our little
Shavers grow.

How could you not feel positive about a company that puts up signs like that? They not only entertain you but educate you … and chances are, gain a permanent place in your memory.

3. Personal

You need to show the customer that he or she isn’t just another impersonal number. You need to make your customer FEEL like he or she is the most important person in the world to you … at the moment you’re serving him or her.

Of course, if you’re in the customer service business, you know that isn’t always easy to do … especially when many companies are expecting fewer people to do more work. After a certain point, the “lean and mean” philosophy or “do more with less” gets to be a bit ridiculous.

Milne talked about that when he explained John’s situation when he visited one of Australia’s leading department stores to buy a new pair of shoes. John looked far and wide but couldn’t find a salesperson to help him. So John called out, “Hello, anyone home?” An experienced salesman appeared in the distance with the promise of service in his eye and saved the day. He found the perfect shoes and shyly explained that staff cutbacks had gone so far that twelve people had been reduced to two. Nonetheless, during their time together, the salesperson made John feel like he was extremely important to him.

You can do the same thing. Instead of being a negative, whining customer service rep who thinks, “Oh no, there comes another customer, just when it’s time for our break.” you can be the service rep who makes every interaction with a customer FEEL personal.

4. Present

As much as you might pride yourself on being a multi-tasker, the customer can sense if you’re really “present” or have your head somewhere else. Simply put, you cannot be reading your e-mail while talking to a customer on the phone, and you cannot be thinking about your upcoming date with an exciting new man or woman while interacting with your customer. You’ve got to be “present” in mind and body.

I had to learn that lesson the hard way. When one of my kids asked me if we could watch a Veggie Tale video before church one Sunday, I said sure. I would be glad to watch the movie with her. She got all excited, put in the DVD, came back and sat on my lap. And then with all the innocence of a child she asked me, “But Daddy, can you watch the movie with me with your eyes open?”

My “customer” realized that even though I was “with” her, I wasn’t “present.” And your customers can tell the difference as well.

You can’t control your customer, but when you implement these 4 P’s of extraordinary customer service, you’ll create satisfied customers … and perhaps delighted and loyal customers as well most of the time.

Action: Rank order the four P’s of customer service in your department from one to four, with one being the best. Which item ranked # four? What are you going to do about it?