Evaluating your own customer service and support performance is a critical component of your job position. Your employer does it on a regular basis and, as such, it would make great sense for you to perform your own self-evaluation on a regular basis as well (i.e., probably before your employer does).
The key to achieving success in customer service is to distinguish yourself and your company – positively – against the competition by doing everything it takes to make your customers happy. But, in order to do so, you will first have to:
- Totally embrace the CRM philosophy of managing your customer relationships better;
- Accept the principle that “the customer is always right” – and learn to practice it every day in the “real world”;
- Work toward gaining a more thorough understanding of your customers’ specific services needs, requirements, preferences, and expectations; and
- Set your own goals, objectives, and targets for customer service improvement.
Once you have accomplished this, you will also need to master the ability to:
- See things through your customers’ eyes (i.e., not just through your own, or your company’s);
- Support them with dedication, compassion, competence, and professionalism; and
- Work as hard as you can to get the job done, and provide your customers with a “total” solution.
The United States Government, Academy for Educational Development (AED) suggests that “customers are constantly internalizing their customer service experience. What this means is they are grading your customer service during each transaction, but you rarely know it”.
In a published report, the agency cites six basic needs that stand out in the minds of customers with respect to customer service and support. They are:
- Friendliness – the most basic need, directly associated with courtesy and politeness.
- Empathy – the need to know that their service provider understands and appreciates their wants, needs, and circumstances.
- Fairness – the need to feel that they have received sufficient attention, and reasonable answers.
- Control – the need to feel that their wants, input, and feedback have had some influence on the overall outcome.
- Alternatives – the flexibility to choose the service and support options that will best satisfy them.
- Information – the need for precise – and concise – information about products and services, provided in a pertinent and time-sensitive manner.
Therefore, the key questions you will need to ask yourself as part of any self-evaluation process are:
- Do my customers believe I am friendly enough when I’m dealing with them? Am I accessible enough? Do I treat them with courtesy and politeness, or am I at times unapproachable or condescending? Do I come across as being too formal? Or not formal enough? Do I comport myself in a professional manner? Or do I show up at their site looking unprepared or unable to do the job?
- Do my customers believe that I understand their day-to-day challenges, trials, and tribulations with respect to the use of their business imaging systems and equipment? Do they think I’m sincere? Do they think I care about their situation, or the fact that their system is down? Do I look like I have other things on my mind while I’m working to fix their problem? Or do I look like everything I’m doing is just for them?
- Do my customers believe I am treating them fairly? Or do they think that I’m not treating them as well as some of my other, larger, or “more important” customers? Do they think I’m showing favoritism to others, but not to them? Do I make them feel uncomfortable, or less important than they really are?
- Do I communicate well enough with my customers? Do I listen attentively to them? Do I “hear” and understand everything they say? Do I respond to their input and feedback quickly enough? Do I give them the sense that what they say is important? Or do they think I am just giving them “lip service”? At the end of the day, do they really believe they’ve had some say in the way things turn out?
- Do I listen to what my customers tell me, and give them “real” choices based on the options I have at my disposal? Am I too rigid in my approach to providing them with practical, tactical business imaging service and support strategies? Do I need to be more flexible in dealing with their critical needs? Are my interactions with them too one-sided, or are we truly working as an interactive “partnership”?
- Do I provide my customers with enough information? Or do I give them too much information? Is the information I give them really actionable, or is it just “nice-to-know” information with no specific purpose or use? Do I have enough information at my disposal to provide them with everything they need when they ask for it? If not, do I know where to get it?
Keep in mind, that merely evaluating yourself on the basis of individual “line item” attributes will not provide you with a realistic assessment. Every facet of your self-evaluation must be measured in terms of its overall contribution to your ability to establish and maintain an “interactive partnership” with them. However, the only way this will happen is if your customers truly believe that you have their best interests at heart, and with the various skills and abilities you have acquired over the years, you are capable of providing them with “real” solutions.
Some of the key benefits of attaining real “partnerships” with your customers may be best illustrated by the following examples:
- Only after you have earned their complete trust and respect will your customers feel comfortable enough to be completely forthcoming with you; but until they do, you might find it difficult to get to the root cause of some of their more complicated customer service problems. Therefore, it is essential that you allow your customers to gain your trust as early as possible in your relationship with them.
- Building strong, interactive relationships with your customers allows you to be “less than perfect” from time-to-time. Your customers realize that everyone makes mistakes at some point, and while they may never forget them, a strong customer relationship will allow them to forgive them that much sooner.
- Customers are people, and people like to do business with other people – not necessarily with companies, organizations, or enterprises. Humanize your interaction with your customers; act as an ambassador of your company, but do it on a personalized basis.
The key questions to ask at this point are:
- Have you gained the respect and trust you deserve from your customers? Or do you still have a way to go?
- Have you been able to build strong enough, interactive relationships with your customers to allow for an occasional misstep from time-to-time? Or are you still “walking on eggshells” when you’re dealing with them?
- Do you present a warm, caring, human presence to your customers? Or are you perceived as just another interchangeable service technician that simply arrives on-site from time-to-time to fix their equipment?
Whatever you do, you need to be honest and forthright with your customers – because, if you are not, they will know it in an instant! The minute your customers believe you are being less than honest with them, hiding something from them, or not telling them the whole story, you’ve lost them – period. If your customers do not believe you’re being honest with them, it almost doesn’t matter how well you are performing on any of these other self-evaluation points – you’re already “dead in the water”.
In summary, the three things that you will ultimately need to do to ensure that you have laid the proper foundation for a successful customer service and support “partnership” are:
- Expand your idea of service – chances are your customers have a more broadly defined idea of what “total customer service and support” means than you do. Try to approach the way in which you support your customers using their definitions as much as you can. Don’t necessarily give away the shop – but, be prepared to address any gaps between what the customer wants, and what you are realistically able to provide them.
- Know who your customers are – you can really only know who your customers are by knowing what they do, how they use the business imaging systems and equipment you support, what happens when their systems go down, and how important your contribution is to their overall ability to get their work done.
- Develop customer-friendly service techniques and processes – make sure that the way in which you support your customers is highly accessible, logical, flexible, and understandable. This is the only way that your customers will truly believe that you are working in their behalf, and that you are all in it together.
The key self-evaluation questions to consider in these areas are:
- Do I share similar definitions of “customer service and support” with my customers, or are we talking about two different things in some cases? How can I make sure that we are always on the same page?
- Do I really know who my customers are? And more importantly, do they think I know? Is there a disconnect; and if so, how can I successfully bridge that gap?
- And I truly accessible to my customers? Do they feel they can talk to me? Confide in me? If not, what can I do to convince them otherwise?
[Watch for Part 2 to provide additional guidelines for evaluating and improving your customer service and support performance.]