Customer service has often been hailed as a key ingredient to becoming a successful business. But, what does customer service really mean in our current state of big data and machine learning—an environment where technology has allowed owners to have more insights into what customers want? Jacqueline H. Williams, founder and CEO of JRH Consultants, offers her perspective on what it takes to serve customers in a manner that results in business growth.
Based in Maryland, JRH Consultants has uniquely positioned itself as a niche player in a competitive IT environment. That's because Williams understands the importance of customer service. Her mission is clear: to provide IT solutions that improve customers' bottom-line. Williams provides key tips that are applicable for many business owners who have a desire to grow through customer service.
What does customer service mean to you?
Customer service means listening, understanding and anticipating. Listening to what the customer is saying and what the customer is not saying. Sometimes you learn more from what is not being said in the room, so training your ear for silence is important. You want to listen for the customer's concerns, goals and mission. You have to ask yourself and your team, "What is it that this customer is trying to accomplish?"
—Jacqueline H. Williams, CEO, JRH Consultants
People often want to provide a canned solution without fully understanding the problem, impact, and risk to the customer. If you take the time to connect with the customer and understand what they want to accomplish, you'll position yourself to provide good customer service. For great service, you should understand why they want to go in a certain direction.
Both listening and understanding helps you to anticipate your customer's need. Businesses that anticipate their customers' needs can position themselves for success, elicit a “wow" response and position themselves for expanded scope and/or repeat business.
How do you provide customers with more than what they ask for?
Step one: Ensure that you have a good grasp of what's important to the customer, do your research and tailor options based on their goals and mission.
Step two: Configure the delivery team to meet the customer's needs. Some companies miss this step because they are more concerned [with] how best to deliver from their perspective, rather than the perspective of the client. In order to avoid this mishap, businesses can do a gap analysis between what the customer needs and what they can provide.
Step three: Be responsive to the changing needs of the customer. A business's ability to respond quickly to these customer changes—and set up their own infrastructure to support these changes—can help set itself up to provide more than what the customer initially scoped in their contract.
As CEO, how do you ensure that your employees are fulfilling your customers' needs?
It's the CEO's job to provide the vision and leadership for the company. Part of leadership involves staffing the right people on the right projects. Configuring an optimal delivery team for the customer's needs is paramount to providing excellent service.
Also, a CEO must trust the team managing the day-to-day customer responsibilities. In order to help establish trust, the team should know their roles and responsibilities and execute proven processes. It's the CEO's responsibility to make sure that the team understands the mission and goals of the customer and can deliver accordingly. From the beginning, the customer should feel engaged in the solution process. The CEO can help their team by checking in on the customer at a high-level with a personal touch.
What strategies have you employed to improve your ability to provide excellent customer service?
JRH Consultants has a culture of investing in its people and continual process improvement in order to always improve outcomes. Our team constantly works at improving our efficiency and capabilities across the board. Also, we recognize when we must sometimes partner with other companies to achieve a heightened solution to our customers' needs. Our company must stay abreast of what's going on in the industry, adapt to burgeoning market trends and stay knowledgeable about our competitors. One tactical approach is to surround ourselves with a diversity of thought leaders, albeit cross-sector or geographically disparate.
How do you get your current customers to talk to others who may hire you in the future?
One of the best ways to get customers to hire you in the future is to deliver, plain and simple.
Over the years, we've learned that customers value honest communication, especially when things don't go as planned. When we identify a problem, we do not wait until the problem escalates before we raise an issue to the customer. In turn, customers value our transparency throughout the challenges because they know we want what they want—the best solution.
We approach our customers with a proven process that has both transparency and integrity—two attributes that go a long way to making customers feel comfortable about talking about our service to others.
So, we do not ask for referrals, but rather, customers speak about our work on their own volition. Ultimately, it comes down to performance. We believe our work speaks for itself and as a result the customer becomes the messenger.
If you could sum up your customer service advice in one sentence, what would it be?
Understand what your business does well, match your value to what the customer needs and then know your client's business so that you can deliver across the board.
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