By focusing your service and support performance on the specific needs and requirements of your customers, you are much more likely to end up with a satisfied customer base. However, in order to build a loyal customer base for yourself and your company, you will need to go well beyond merely keeping them satisfied.
During the 1990s, a new philosophy of customer service was adopted by some of the more progressive services organizations – the philosophy of becoming an “interactive” partner with their customers by working closely with them to gain a better understanding of:
- What products and services they use,
- How they are being used,
- When they are being used,
- Who within the organization uses them,
- What impact downtime has on their business operations, and
- How they ultimately use their products and services to help them run their respective businesses better.
This philosophy has assisted many services organizations in “turning the corner” on their ability to provide “world-class” service and support to their customer base.
A true (i.e., interactive) services partnership must, first and foremost, be focused on the specific needs and requirements of the customer. However, by doing so, you will find that the ultimate outcome will likely be a “double-edged sword” in terms of its potential benefits to both you and your customers. For example:
- You, and your company, will both stand to benefit significantly through an increased understanding of your customers’ total services needs and requirements, thereby leading to a better knowledge of what it will take to successfully meet them;
- Your customers will also stand to receive higher – and more consistent – levels of service and support as a result of your increased ability to focus your attention on the specific areas that are most important to them; and
- It will be easier for you to obtain more direct customer input and feedback in the future, resulting in fewer lingering customer service problems and quicker overall solutions in most cases.
There are many other benefits that can ultimately be realized through the establishment and maintenance of a customer partner relationship, but it must be a continuous and interactive process in order for it to truly succeed. It will require significant effort on your part – as well as on the part of your customers – and it will involve ongoing communications and interaction between each of the parties.
Partnerships require a great deal of work on both sides – first, to build them and, second, to maintain them over time. You must never lose sight of the importance of these partnerships, as once your customers believe you have “forgotten” about them, all of your credibility will be gone, and your service and support capabilities will become nothing more than a commodity provided to them by relatively interchangeable vendors.
You also need to focus your customer service and support energy directly on the customer. Having a customer focus means that you are always conducting your business in a manner where the customer does not have to make multiple calls, visit numerous web pages, or explain his or her problem to more than one person. In other words, you are conducting your day-to-day business in as responsive a manner as possible – with your customers’ best interests first in mind.
Best practices services organizations do not settle merely for customer satisfaction, but instead seek to gain customer loyalty as their primary goal. These types of organizations are typically focused more on the concept of “lifetime customer value”, rather than on a “quick fix”, quick sales, or generating a “one-time” satisfied customer.
By looking at your customers through this more broadly defined perspective, you will be better able meet their demands and needs over time, generate customer satisfaction, and build the foundation for customer loyalty. But, this will only happen if you are truly responsive to the customer. To ensure that you are, you should follow the following guidelines:
- Listen to your customers; then make the necessary changes to the way you approach their needs based on what they tell you;
- Use a variety of listening and learning strategies (i.e., LOTS) to continually obtain customer input and feedback reflecting their perceptions of your performance, matched against their needs and requirements, expectations, and preferences; and
- Improve the way in which you support them based on the feedback you receive on a continuous and ongoing process.
It is very humbling to realize that no matter how good you are at customer relationships, you can always do better. The best advice you can follow is to:
- Listen to your customers – you can’t know what they really want unless you ask them; and you can’t tell if they are truly satisfied with your performance until they tell you, one way or the other.
- Once they tell you what they want, either respond to them quickly, or tell them when you will have an answer for them – and then provide them with the answer as quickly as possible.
- Don’t hit your customers with any surprises; if you promise them “A”, then you need to deliver “A” – not “B”, or “C”, or “A-“, and then tell them it’s an “A”.
- Confront all customer issues quickly, firmly, and as if they are the most important issues you will be facing all day – because they are.
Customers can oftentimes be very fickle – but generally only when the service and support they are receiving is erratic, inconsistent, or inadequate. However, if the customer service and support you provide is focused, consistent, and frequently perceived as being “over and above the call of duty”, then you will find your customers to be more than merely satisfied – they will be loyal.
It is once again very humbling to remember that your customers’ perceptions of your service and support performance may be only as good as the last service call you’ve made in their behalf. Despite an impeccable service performance track record over the past year or more, all you have to do is mess up just one time, and you may find yourself right back to square one.
Unfortunately, the converse is generally not true; that is to say that if your performance all last year was unsatisfactory and, all of a sudden, your last service call was perceived to be “superior”, don’t expect everything to change overnight – because it won’t. Customers have long memories – especially when something “bad” is involved.
The more loyal a relationship you and your customers have built over time, the more “forgiving” they are likely to be should you “mess up” on occasion. Partners do that – they forgive each other when there is reason to do so. Partners are honest, they rally to each other’s side when they are in need, and they work together toward the common goal of making their jobs – and their lives – easier to deal with. Otherwise, you’re just a vendor, and they’re just a customer – and they’ve got a handful of you, and you’ve got dozens (if not hundreds or more) of them. Establishing a good, strong, interactive services partnership makes each one of you more important to the other – and that essentially lays the foundation for a successful customer relationship.
In the most successful services organizations, the voice of the customer ultimately drives its customer support operations. However, acceptable customer service – from the customer’s perspective – generally requires cross-functional teamwork and processes on the part of your organization. Some of this will be entirely under your control, and some will not.
Accordingly, your role will be to take whatever is under your control, and apply it to your customers in the “real world”, in a professional and courteous manner, and with your own style of “human touch”. In this way, you and your customers will be able to work in unison toward common customer service goals and objectives. Your ability to provide them with seamless customer service and support will represent a good first step toward building and maintaining a satisfied – and loyal – customer base.