The main differences between “best-in-class” and “mere mortal” customer service and support organizations may best be summarized as follows. “Best-in-class” customer service and support organizations actively:
- Encourage customer feedback
- Seek to delight their customers
- Understand their customers
- Manage customer expectations
- Know how to say “No”
- Maintain the human touch
Encourage Customer Feedback
In many of the “mere mortal” customer service and support organizations, customers typically have no idea who they need to talk to if they have a problem that is anywhere out of the ordinary. In fact, most customers will think that it is simply not worth the effort to complain, “create waves”, or “rock the boat” – because it is unlikely that anything constructive will ever come out of it! Some may also be skeptical as to whether the organization will actually do anything at all, or they may even fear retribution from certain impacted individuals.
However, “best-in-class” organizations actively encourage customer feedback – even complaints. Some companies refer to what they do to encourage complaints as “marketing” their complaint system. Many companies (perhaps yours) hand (or mail) out customer service/satisfaction cards immediately following service calls. Most solicit feedback wherever they can, and make it easy for the customer to fill out a form and mail or e-mail it back to the appropriate department for review and response. Without customer feedback, services organizations operate in a vacuum; however, only with the ability to “hear” the voice of the customer will they (and you) ever hope to be able to identify the key areas that require improvement.
Seek to Delight Your Customers
“Best-in-class” organizations often use the phrase “delight the customer” to signify the extent to which they “go out of their way” to “exceed customer expectations”. Sometimes, all this necessitates is the ability to “lend a compassionate ear”; other times, it requires a much more proactive, and interactive, approach.
If all you ever do is just what the customer expects from you, then it is a fair bet that you will only be able to satisfy them – but that won’t delight them, and it certainly won’t make them loyal. Only by going “over and above the call of duty” will you ultimately be able to delight them with your ability to meet – and exceed – their needs.
Understand Your Customers
“Best-in-class” organizations also tend to demonstrate a much greater commitment to understanding the customer – but, from the customer’s perspective. Many companies conduct customer surveys on a regular, periodic basis to see exactly where they stand with respect to customer service and support, and how their performance may have changed over the course of a year or so. Some also conduct surveys among customers who have recently experienced “poor” service, or who may have otherwise complained with respect to a recent service call.
The best way to look at it is that every time a customer communicates with you, it is providing you with “free information” about their service and support needs, requirements, and expectations. And this is information that you can use to improve the way you are able to support their needs in the future – through this increased understanding.
Manage Customer Expectations
“Best-in-class” organizations do not typically wait for customers to come to them – they go directly to their customers on a regular basis. Since you are already in direct contact with your customers on a frequent basis, you are in an excellent position to be able to anticipate their needs and problems – before they hit the radar screen – and to set realistic expectations for them through company and/or self-taught customer service and support education and communication strategies.
Past studies have shown that up to one-half of complaints typically come from customers who have received inadequate, or incomplete, information about a product or a service. Using your own customer input/feedback communication channels to collect information that allows you to understand your customers’ expectations and needs better will allow you to “tune in” better to their innermost concerns and, thereby, put you in a much better position to manage their expectations more realistically.
Know How to Say “No”
Sometimes the answer will be “yes”; but, sometimes, it may have to be “no”. In every case, it will be helpful to know when – and where – you have to draw limits. In those circumstances where it is not possible to give the customer what it wants, it is still possible for a customer to feel that he or she has been “heard”, and has been treated fairly. However, this will be almost entirely up to you, as you are typically the one that has most of the interaction with your customers.
While you should always strive to provide your customers with full and “total” solutions, sometimes, it simply cannot be done. However, much of the negative fallout from having to say “no” may be avoided simply by your ability to conduct yourself in a professional and caring manner at all times until the situation is finally brought to a close. In some cases, it may be necessary to close a call even though it is felt on the customer’s part that the company has not done everything that could be done. Recognizing that it is not always possible to satisfy every customer, it is important to feel confident that you are supported by the proper processes, policies, and procedures – and training – to handle these cases to the best of your ability.
Maintain the Human Touch
Technology does not do the job – people do the job! Technology merely supports the people. Customers cannot make eye contact with technology – they make eye contact with you. Therefore, you must always make sure that you allow this eye contact to take place – and that you maintain the human touch as much as possible. Don’t use technology as a crutch; use your own people skills to deal directly with the people whose equipment you support.
Stifling customer feedback, providing “average” customer service, treating all customers the same, being “surprised” by customer wants, saying “yes” all the time (even when it cannot be done), and hiding behind technology is what makes “mere mortal” service organizations “mere mortal”. However, encouraging customer input and feedback, seeking to delight them with your customer service skills and expertise, understanding their service needs and requirements, managing their expectations, knowing how to say “no”, and maintaining a human touch at all times is what will make you a “best-in-class” service technician – even if your company has not yet become a “best-in-class” customer service organization.