As Customer Service Week (October 2 to 6) comes to a close, it's a great time to reflect on the importance of customer service. Business owners across the nation are well aware of how critical good service is to company survival. For many businesses, how customers are treated is top priority.
“In today’s competitive business environment, customer experience is everything,” says Clate Mask, CEO of Infusionsoft, which makes automation software. “Quick, friendly service is expected and your most powerful tool in boosting organic, word-of-mouth marketing.”
Micah Solomon, author of The Heart of Hospitality, agrees.
“Customer service is the new marketing,” says the customer service consultant, trainer and speaker. “For brand fans it’s easier than ever to spread the word about your company. What I call ‘word of thumb’ is very powerful today.”
As a business owner, you know full well the importance of good customer service. But how well do your employees understand this golden rule? Since your workers are often on the front lines, it’s important that they buy in to the importance of providing excellent customer service.
Learn how the following company owners instill the necessity of superior customer service into their employees.
Serve by Example
If employees are to take customer service seriously, it’s a good idea if leadership demonstrates how vital it is to have satisfied customers.
“If the leadership team lives and breathes customer happiness, employees will do the same,” says Jon Beekman, founder and CEO of Man Crates, which carries gifts tailored to men.
“Great customer service is contagious,” adds Tawanda Johnson, president of RKL Resources, a national human resources consulting firm. “It’s important for managers and executives to lead by example and provide excellent customer service.”
Develop Clear Customer Service Protocols
If your employees are going to deliver excellent customer service, it’s important that they know the required steps.
—Marilyn Suttle, CEO, Suttle Enterprises
“Develop protocols and policies that employees can use to assist customers when situations arise,” suggests Susan Unes, founder and president of Lotus Tree Massage & Wellness, which offers massage therapy, energy work and yoga instruction.
When relaying protocols to employees, Unes finds it helpful to role play. “Employees and management can learn from one another by sharing real life examples from the trenches,” she says. “These stories are the most effective teaching tools for anyone who handles customer service.”
Those employees who have the necessary direction and a green light from leadership to use their judgment tend to provide great customer service.
At Man Crates, Beekman says the company empowers employees to make their own decisions when it comes to customer service. “We don’t have a rule book or guidebook for our customer service team,” he says. “Instead, we’ve given them free reign to do whatever it takes to make customers happy.”
Human resources expert and consultant Laura MacLeod, who runs From The Inside Out Project, believes that employees are best served when encouraged to build relationships with customers. “Too often scripted customer service responses are taught to employees, but that doesn’t allow them to be unique,” says MacLeod. “Encourage employees in customer service roles to use humor and express their interests and personality.”
Craig Malloy, CEO of Lifesize, a video and web conferencing company, makes it clear to his employees that the customer always comes first, and that employees will never be penalized for abiding by this rule.
“We adhere to the following ladder of priorities: Help your customer, help your coworker, do your job. This reminds our support team to always put the customer first and reassures them that they’ll never be reprimanded for helping customers,” says Malloy. “The next priority is helping your coworkers, because by doing that you’re most likely also helping customers.”
Use Empathy to Enlighten During Customer Service Week and Beyond
One of the most effective ways to teach employees about the importance of good customer service is to encourage empathy, believes Sotereas (Teris) Pantazes, CEO and founder of the home improvement platform EFynch.com.
Pantazes used to own a solar construction company. “I would ask my employees to put themselves in the shoes of our customers and to think about how we’d be going into their homes and onto their roofs,” he says. Pantazes finds that doing this humanizes the customer and makes employees relate to them in a more helpful manner.
At Emocha, a mobile health company focused on medication adherence, they go so far as to create circumstances that allow employees to have a customer experience. “We believe it’s more impactful for our employees to experience customer needs,” says the company’s CEO, Sebastian Seiguer. “We’ve sent designers and engineers into the field in locations such as Puerto Rico. They return with an understanding of the impact our product can have on real people.”
Analogy and empathy go a long way toward impressing on employees the importance of customer service, adds Mark Goulston, CEO of the Goulston Group, a management and business advisory company, and author of Just Listen: Discover the Secret of Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.
Goulston suggests using the power of analogy by having employees share stories when they’ve been frustrated and disappointed from receiving poor customer service and then stories about receiving excellent customer service.
Reward Employees for Superior Customer Service
When they’re rewarded for a customer service job well done, employees are likely to see the value of making clients top priority.
“I recommend rewarding employees for handling customer issues from start to finish,” says Matt Leuschner, managing director at Gopher Leads, which helps companies accelerate sales through referrals. “We’ll thank employees by giving them a reward like a gift card to their favorite restaurants.”
Marilyn Suttle, CEO of Suttle Enterprises LLC, a customer focus and communication training company, agrees. “Your employees are your internal customers. Appreciate them. Gather for a “thank you” celebration. Express genuine appreciation to all employees for their parts in creating strong and loyal customer relationships. What happens on the inside of a company eventually shows up on the outside.”
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